HomeScienceEnvironmentAre ocean plastic cleanup efforts really making a difference? It's complicated

Are ocean plastic cleanup efforts really making a difference? It’s complicated

The Ocean Cleanup is one of the more prominent organizations dedicated to cleaning up both the ocean and other bodies of water. Scientists are a bit sceptical of the material they put out, such as flashy videos on social media showing literally tons of plastic dragged from the ocean. Experts reached by Soutside Fried Science expressed some alarm about the Ocean Cleanup’s efforts, especially when it comes to how the group’s techniques could affect marine life. Many felt that the group’s founder was missing important information about the nuances of plastic waste cleanup and promised to achieve goals that sounded downright impossible.


Others, including experts who have spoken hakai believes last year that the Ocean Cleanup’s efforts are just one part of tackling plastic pollution, though those efforts may inadvertently send a signal that individual and policy changes are unnecessary if the Ocean Cleanup is seemingly doing the job. Both Jonathan Shiran, one circular economy expertand John Hocevar of Greenpeace USA believe that “turning off the tap”—in other words, eliminating plastic production altogether—may play the most important role in tackling plastic pollution in the ocean and on land.

“We are making the problem worse at a rate far beyond what we could ever clean up. We need to turn off the tap as soon as possible,” Hocevar said hakai. “Then I feel more like cleaning up the mess.” Ultimately, it comes down to reducing the amount of plastic that ends up in, for example, the five gyres in the world’s oceans such debris tends to float, compared to the amount of plastic that continues to be generated and – more often than not – thrown away.

The Columbia Climate School gets to the heart of the matter while highlighting research to which Shiran contributed:

What is needed is fundamental and systemic change, including banning single-use plastics in favor of products designed to be recycled or repaired, and more recycling infrastructure. Breaking the plastic wave, a Pew report identified the measures that, if implemented, could reduce annual plastic dumping into the ocean by 80 percent over 20 years. These include reducing plastic consumption, replacing plastic with compostable materials, designing products and packaging with recycling in mind, increasing recycling, properly disposing of plastics that cannot be recycled, and reducing the export of waste.

A range of solutions make a real difference in tackling plastic pollution and even reducing emissions as the world continues its fight against climate change. This is reported by MIT Climate, plastic emits its own greenhouse gases and may even impair the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon. There’s nothing wrong with keeping the beach clean and removing what we can from the ocean before it’s reduced to microplastics. But policy changes and push for circular, sustainable production are the only way to ensure that these efforts are not just for show.

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