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By Aleisha Dennie,
Research Staff
Institute of Marine Affairs

It is said that human beings have a complex relationship with our natural environment. We have become masters of exploiting our resources to the benefit of our social and economic well being. Food, fiber, biomass fuel, medicine, freshwater all derived from the earth’s bounty. It is a troubling notion though, that this supply is being threatened with every passing generation.

Plastic is one of the major pollutants found in our environment to date. Improper disposal of plastic waste has led to the destruction of the aesthetic beauty of tourist destinations, the entanglement and suffocation of marine organisms and accumulation of contaminants in the food web.  The latter is most likely a result of microplastic ingestion. Plastic debris can range in size, but those less than five millimeters are termed microplastics. The effects of micro plastics have not been conclusively determined, but it is perceived to be mistaken for food particles by birds and aquatic organisms. On the other hand, large pieces of floating plastic have even been known to contribute to the spread of invasive species. According to the MacAuthur Foundation in partnership with the World Economic Forum, by the year 2050 the quantity of plastics in oceans will surpass that of fish. But all is not lost!

Non-profit organisations like the Plastic Free Foundation established in 2017, have developed a variety of initiatives aimed at rewiring our habits for plastic consumption and waste production. This month of July has been declared “plastic free” by the foundation. The challenge is extended to individuals, businesses and even local governments with the hope that the practice of living plastic free can extend far beyond the month of July and become part of our daily lives. Last year approximately 250 million people participated in the challenge across 177 countries. It was estimated that this initiative contributed to a total saving of 825 million kg of plastic waste. Above all, the impact addressed the UN’s sustainable development goals 11, 12, 14, and 15 (sustainable cities and communities, responsible production and consumption, life below water and life on land respectively).

The idea is not to massively alter our way of life, but to implement minute changes that reduce plastic waste and hence preserve our natural environment. At the Institute of Marine Affairs, the Green Team was created in 2016 by a group of environmentally conscious staff members. To date our numbers have increased proportionally to our ambitions. The Green Team was charged with developing and enforcing environmental friendly practices. This included the increased use of recycling bins placed at strategic locations in various departments, bin audits to assess staff compliance and competency with recycling, reusable waste collection challenges and beach cleanups. In March 2018, The Green Team encouraged staff at the IMA to take part in the global trash campaign that sought to pictorially highlight the impacts of trash clearance at various sites. It is the hope that stimulating environmental best practice in the workplace would result in the same principles being implemented at home.

There are many avenues to living plastic free. One can simply start by purchasing perishables in plastic free packaging, and using reusable shopping bags, water bottles, straws and coffee cups. Alternatives to plastic decorations can also be utilized for festivities. However the main route to achieving a plastic free life would be to buy less, especially in case of single use plastics.

Additionally, workplace kitchens are encouraged to use more reusable cutlery in exchange for plastic, signage encouraging environmental safe practices can be placed in communities, schools and businesses. Direct community outreach in the form of workshops and forum sessions can help educate individuals on the importance of leading an environmentally mindful life. Citizens can lobby for their local government to develop and enforce the necessary polices for the protection of the terrestrial and the marine environment.

It is safe to say that the adverse impacts of plastic pollution are a concern we all should have. Most of the responsibility for reducing plastic pollution falls on the shoulders of individuals. It is up to you to reduce consumption of products contained in plastic packaging, reuse plastic products where necessary and recycle your single use plastics. On behalf of the Green Team of IMA, I challenge you to participate in the plastic free July initiative and make your contribution towards a more sustainable future.