The oceans annually receive more than 25 million tons of waste, about 80% of which originate in cities and correspond to garbage that is not collected and has an inappropriate destination, with the other 20% from maritime activity.
Gone are the days when returning from the beach full of sand and sunburn added up to the worst experience one could have when visiting the seaside. Today, even before reaching the sand, we come across residues left by other visitors who, due to lack of awareness or initiative, believe that the ground would be the most convenient place to discard what no longer serves them. However, this is a small percentage when compared to garbage that is not collected and has an inappropriate destination.
According to the Brazilian Association of Public Cleaning and Special Waste Companies (“Abrelpe”), plastic materials and cigarette waste represent more than 90% of the waste found in the Brazilian marine environment.
In Brazil, 2 million tons of this waste reach the oceans every year, being the 4th largest producer of plastic waste in the world, with 11.3 million tons, behind only the United States, China and India. Of this total, more than 10.3 million tons were collected (91%), but only 145 thousand tons (1.28%) are effectively recycled, that is, reprocessed in the production chain as a secondary product. Source: WWF Brazil.
It is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans. Whether that's true or not, we know that marine wildlife is suffering from the effects of plastic pollution. Animals often suffocate from floating litter and many ingest this waste, mistaking it for food. Plastic enters the food chain and it is estimated that regular seafood eaters ingest around 11,000 pieces of microplastic a year . According to Ecycle, microplastic is present in tap water all over the world, in salt, in food, in beer, in the air and also in the human body.
What type of ocean do you want to enjoy?
Is recycling the solution?
Recycling is a topic that has been gaining more and more space among those who question the effectiveness of garbage collection and management programs: it is the process of modifying solid waste, that is, garbage. This involves altering their physical, physical-chemical or biological properties in order to transform these materials into inputs or new products.
According to the definition of the Ministry of the Environment, recycling is a set of techniques for reusing discarded materials, reintroducing them into the production cycle. Of all the waste produced in Brazil (about 76 million tons per year), 30% has the potential to be recycled, but only 3% of this total is actually recycled.
It is important to note that only 22 million Brazilians are covered by municipal selective collection programs, which represents 18% of the population and demonstrates a great barrier for recycling to be effective in the country. Without proper management, waste can fall into rivers and streams and, sooner or later, reach the sea. No wonder there are now plastic islands in the Pacific Ocean with a size equivalent to twice the size of France.
As mentioned above, plastic steals the show when it comes to the variety and volume of objects present amid the waste disposal in rivers and seas.
But where does all this plastic come from? In addition to fishing gear, which is one of the main sources of plastic in the ocean, an article by Louisa Casson of Greenpeace UK and the NGO OrbMedia explains that there are a few other sources: garbage produced in cities, plastic microbeads , industrial spills, washing synthetic fiber clothes, rubbing tires on the streets and incorrect disposal of certain materials used in construction.
“Major rivers around the world carry approximately 1.15 million to 2.41 million tonnes of plastic into the sea every year – that's equivalent to up to 100,000 garbage trucks,” says Casson.
The scenery looks scary but not all is lost.
Programs and initiatives related to public policy changes, campaigns to encourage conscious consumption and NGOs and independent groups that promote periodic cleaning of beaches and rivers have proved to be effective when it comes to rolling up their sleeves and changing old habits.
And it was this yearning for change that caused 4% of the population of Estonia, a small nation located in the Northeast region of Europe, to set out to clean the entire country of illegally dumped waste in a matter of hours. It captured the imagination of people around the world, who were inspired to follow the same ambitious “one country, one day” formula.
This initiative grew, becoming a worldwide movement called World Clean-up Day, which this year takes place on September 17 engaging more than 196 countries, over 20 million volunteers and a single day to clean the Planet.
Through day-to-day choices, seeking to adhere to the principle of “conscience instead of convenience” and also to the idea of a circular economy, it is possible to reduce the environmental impact and thus preserve our coast, once famous for inspiring musical works and poetic.