I was reading a paper by the Ocean Protection Council in order to figure out strategies to prevent and clean up marine litter. In order to narrow down what to focus on, they use data from Ocean Cleanup Day in which volunteers counted the number of pieces of different items found on the beach:
Cigarettes/Cigarette filters 6,992,106 37.76%
Food wrappers/Containers 1,940,013 10.48%
Caps/Lids 1,619,071 8.74%
Bags (paper and plastic) 1,462,726 7.90%
Cups/Plates/Utensils 1,014,229 5.48% ... etc.
From this data OPC concluded that most of the litter is land-based and they should focus on strategies which minimize these top pollutants. However, it doesn’t make sense to base litter from a count rather than volume or weight…. and to base it from just what gets to the shore.
According to National Geographic: "Microplastics make up 94 percent of an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic in the [pacific garbage] patch. But that only amounts to eight percent of the total tonnage. As it turns out, of the 79,000 metric tons of plastic in the patch, most of it is abandoned fishing gear—not plastic bottles or packaging drawing headlines today".
There is little regulation regarding fishing gear pollution in California. You have to label your gear with your ID fishing license number, but if you lose it, which is very common, especially in the crab fishing industry, there are no consequences.
I'm glad that the video with the turtle suffering from a straw stuck in its nose got viral and started an anti-straw movement, but straws have become a superficial scapegoat rather than substantial change in reducing plastic pollution. All plastic in the ocean is dangerous, some organisms get stuck in it others consume it. It is not okay that the media is focusing on a small percentage of the problem and making people feel like if they buy a metal straw, they are saving the world... Every single piece of plastic that you buy will stay on this planet for hundreds of years, and if you live a comfortable life in the US you will probably not see it ever again. Some may say that it gets recycled, but 90% of plastic doesn't get recycled, and quite honestly the process of sorting trash is very difficult and only a small number of people do it correctly. But since majority of people don't know how to properly sort it out, recyclables are simply worthless.
I understand plastic makes our lives much more convenient, but I wonder how we can possibly improve our economy and culture to be more sustainable... starting with the right education and media coverage.