...and more to the point, why am I talking about it on a blog billed as being about making more informed purchasing decisions?
There are lots of elements to this, but as you know, I'm passionate about sustainability and business. The plastic is our ocean is so intricately linked to business that the two things can never be separated. Who is designing single-use products from a material that lasts forever? Who is making it and marketing it to millions, if not in some cases, *cough Coca Cola*, billions of people? Who then is not planning for end-of-life, and relying on governments and consumers to deal with the waste product? Because it doesn't matter how you look at it, all plastic is eventually a waste product.
You can delay this by recycling, which is a very important part of our current solutions (check out our eXXpedition title sponsor TOMRA!). But recycling has its challenges – did you know when recycling you usually have to add virgin plastic, you can only recycle plastic a certain number of times before it has to be discarded and only 9% of plastic produced is recycled globally? Your 'upcycled' product will again only be used for a period of time before it again needs to be thrown away. Burying it isn't the answer, we don't have enough land on this planet to do that, plus you risk chemicals leeching out into the soil and water table in the long term. Incineration is a tidier option than landfill, but it leaves behind toxic particles that also need to be buried somewhere. Plastic just doesn't go away – and most organisations are just not set up for extended producer responsibility, so this disposal falls onto everyone else. Is it any wonder that in a world where we produce over 300 million metric tons of plastic a year that eight million tons ends up in our oceans?
I'm involved in organising the eXXpedition North Pacific voyages this summer to tackle plastics and toxics in the ocean, but it's not a clean-up mission. The problem is impossibly big and vast for a small boat to take on. We will pick up plastic, because every piece we remove is one piece less and matters, but we are also thinking bigger. We are completing citizen science for our science partners all over the world, collecting data and samples so they can better understand what plastics and toxics are in our waters (and their potential harm), how microplastics are interacting with toxics in the ocean, whether ecosystems are growing on them (nature adapts), how they collect in sediment samples and much more.
We've chosen our crew carefully to ensure diversity, both geographically and professionally. We have six different nationalities on board, but we have even more range in the disciplines that they represent. We have scientists and sailors, but we also have teachers, artists, product designers, filmmakers, marketers, TV presenters and actors. These extraordinary women – we are an all-women crew – will get to experience plastic pollution first hand and take these experiences back to their businesses and communities. But they will also build a network with the passionate individuals on their voyage and through our wider eXXpedition network. This opens opportunities for collaboration and innovation through motivated multi-disciplinary teams, where everyone can apply what eXXpedition's co-founder Emily Penn calls their 'superpower'. These individuals will hopefully be a catalyst for change – as individuals, family members, community leaders, employees, managers, business owners, citizens of nations and as global citizens. There is a role that each of us can play on every level.
So this summer, I am working on a plastics project that I'm passionate about with some amazing women, who are also skilled employees with purchasing power, possible future communicators, innovators and entrepreneurs, on an issue that has been created by traditional businesses all over the globe. What do I think businesses need in order to have sustained change around this issue? They need to know about it, so we need to continue to raise the profile. They need to know the impact and potential threats, so we need more science. They need to be lobbied by employees, customers and wider stakeholders, so we are working on education and empowering people to take on the cause. Now I don't think that's too far from the core blog message is it?
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