It took a sea horse to wake me up. A tiny sea horse that popped up on my Instagram feed late one night… clutching a cotton bud.
That started my research. “Seahorses ride the ocean currents by grasping floating objects with their tails,” explained National Geographic. Except that, with our oceans more full of trash than sea grass, this tiny creature latched on to the only thing it could spot – the cotton bud.
Which, along with other forms of plastic, had no business being in our waterways in the first place. However, little do we realise that all plastic that enters our waterways ultimately ends up in our oceans.
“It’s a photo that I wish didn’t exist but now that it does I want everyone to see it,” wrote photographer Justin Hofman on Instagram. “What started as an opportunity to photograph a cute little sea horse turned into one of frustration and sadness as the incoming tide brought with it countless pieces of trash and sewage. This photo serves as an allegory for the current and future state of our oceans.”
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Our oceans. Our source of life. Which we seem hell bent on destroying.
According to Science Advances, we have produced around 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic since the 1960s and 6.3 billion tonnes of that is still hanging around in our environment, as trash.
Research by The Green Alliance shows that around 12.2 million tonnes of plastic is dumped into the marine environment every year. There are five trillion pieces of plastic floating in even the remotest parts of the ocean right now.
The United Nations predicts that by 2050, our oceans will have more plastic than fish.
And a recent study by Professor Richard Thompson has found plastic in a third of UK-caught fish.
Why is this a problem? Besides turning our oceans into a plastic soup, which is horrific in itself, these floating particles resemble food to fish, seabirds, plankton and other marine life. And once ingested, it starts accumulating in their stomach, blocking the digestive system and ultimately causing them to die of starvation.
And it doesn’t end here. Plastic debris also becomes toxic over time, degrading marine habitats and causing the death of oceanic life.
Yes, the problem does not rest with the beauty industry alone. However, it’s definitely on the top of the list, given that it generates more than 120 billion units of packaging every year, most of which is not recyclable. And that’s not even counting the glitter and microbeads and other such plastics.
So, what are we going to do about it?
This World Oceans Day, I pledge to do at least these three things to save our planet. They are simple and won’t cost you a dime.
What about you?
1. I am turning down the glitter
Glitter looks like glamour, glitz and games. Till it ends up in the stomachs of our fish and other marine life, starving them to death. That’s because these shiny shards, like the banned microbeads, are a microplastic – which refers to pieces of plastic smaller than 5 mm.
Microplastic is almost impossible to control so like microbeads, glitter ends up in the seas. In fact, some studies estimate that microplastics actually account for 92.4% of the plastic pollution in our oceans.
But don’t worry – you don’t have to give glitter altogether. There are now enough alternatives available in the form of plastic-free biodegradable glitter, so you can continue to sparkle and shine. You just need to know where they look.
2. I am giving up wet wipes and plastic-based cotton buds
Started the day with a cotton bud to clean up that errant mascara? Or brought out a wet wipe to take off your makeup? Your beauty routine may be less ocean-friendly than you would like to believe.
Cotton buds and wet wipes are virtually indestructible, and will ultimately end up in our oceans as they pass through all the filters of our waste water treatment works. Is this the footprint we should be leaving on the planet?
Want to make a change? Swap the plastic-stemmed cotton buds (which may actually get banned, like plastic straws) for eco-friendly bamboo ones. And look for wipes that are biodgradable – like Yes To’s cellulose version. Or listen to Caroline Hirons and just switch to face cloths… could not be simpler. And better for your skin!
3. I will look at my sunscreen labels
Sun protection may be the foundation of good skin but certain sunscreens are incredibly harmful to the ocean. The leading culprit is oxybenzone, which leads to coral bleaching and can ultimately kill off entire reefs. Hawaii has become the first state to ban the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and we hope others will follow soon. Till then, use your discretion and ability to read ingredient labels!