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Incoming Friday, we will be celebrating our 16th World Ocean Day since it's establishment by the UN in 2002. Never has there been so many severe problems facing the waters surrounding us; climate change, overfishing, habitat loss and ocean acidification just to mention a few. Plastic pollution also seems to be getting worse by the day and it is expected to continue as the global plastic production continues to grow.
It might be easy to think that there is only so much a single person can do at the grassroot level. We are all busy with our careers, raising our children and figuring out how to best live our lives. However, we must keep in mind that signs of catastrophic shifts in many ecosystems are already here and if we keep doing business as usual, we should also be preparing ourselves for the worst case scenarios. There have always been judgement day predictions, but never before have we had such good scientific models of what the future might bring. Changes never happen over a night and blinded by the process, we might not be able to distinguish where something ends and begins and recognise that we are actually in the middle of that process.
So what can we do to prevent the worst case scenarios? According to a recent study published in the journal Science, the single most efficient way to reduce our impact on earth is to avoid meat and dairy. Leaving out animal products has a far bigger impact than reducing flying or using a car. Not only is farming animals on land responsible for habitat loss, fresh water pollution and green house gas emissions, but also fresh water fish farming, constituting almost all of the fish eaten in Europe, is a massive contributor to pollution and green house gases. So should we all go vegan? Quite frankly, yes. Luckily, it has never been easier to do so. The internet is full of wonderful, inspiring blogs and the grocery stores full with vegetable based protein sources. Just pick and choose.
Second, we need to rethink our use of disposable plastic. Now at the latest it is time to start carrying that fabric shopping bag and mesh fruit bag with you in your purse/man bag/car trunk. Choose the unwrapped vegetables, use cloth diapers with you babies, swop your sanitary towels/tampons for a lunar cup if you are a woman, even consider changing your shampoo flask into a shampoo bar (wrapped in paper). Use a keep cup for coffee, buy less stuff, invest in quality before quantity.
Pick up trash you come across in nature, go plogging (=jogging while picking up trash at the same time). Set example to your children by your own actions and accustom them to eating vegetables rather than meatballs and sausages (this will also improve their health). Support responsible companies and put pressure on politicians. And let's not do this only on June 8th, but every day of the year, each year. The last big extinction event, the one where the dinosaurs went extinct, took a good 5000 years to happen. Now we are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction event, but the question remains in which end of the event we are - in the beginning or the end. If we are in an early stage, we might still be able to influence the outcome. Let us make sure that our children and grandchildren can keep on celebrating the World Ocean Day.
As tempted I am to think that all the plastic, paper, metal and everything else I recycle, all the second hand shopping I do and all the meat I choose not to eat is saving the planet, unfortunately, science does not support my thoughts. In a study made in 2012, there were no significant differences in the ecological footprint of green consumers and regular, "brown", consumers. In a recent blog post, blogger Alden Wicker takes it as far as saying that conscious consumerism is a lie, and that all it does is to make us conscious consumers feel better about ourselves. Despite many good points in the blog, I feel a strong need to comment on this statement.
Believing that individual choices play no role is an extremely dangerous path to go down and in that sense, we would not have to worry about anything at all. Ever. Of course, on a universal scale, this is also true. But right here and now I believe we can do a lot. The most important thing being that we can influence other people´s way of thinking. We have to be loud about the most pressing problems, pinpoint what needs to be done and at the same time put pressure on companies and politicians. Our small actions in recycling and consuming, although little or no environmental impact, function as examples to our children, our future politicians and entrepreneurs. To a large extent, our children inherit our values and refine them to even better values in the future if we are lucky.
Some time ago, I posted something on Facebook stating that we have to cut down on meat and milk. This provoked some people, feeling that it should be everyones own choice whether to consume meat and dairy or not, and that such value-related things should not be posted on social medias. The problem is just that it is not an individual choice - if people cut down on meat, it will directly affect how much meat and dairy is produced and thereby how much green house gas emissions are being puffed into the air. A good example is alternative milk. There has been a massive uprising of milk alternatives here in Finland in recent years, and even milk giant companies now have their own lines of vegetable-based milk products. At the same time, regular milk consumption has gone down. So clearly, the need for non-dairy products has been heard.
Then what about the recycling, should I continue to sort plastics? Circular economy right now is more popular than ever. Plastic waste is being turned into clothing and goods, bio-sewage is being turned into energy etc. And most importantly, money is being pumped into research and solutions. Once we make it economically beneficial for companies to recycle, they will most certainly do so. By being part of this recycling trend and making a big fuzz out of it, we sow seeds of circular thinking around us, some of which might come up with effective solutions and lead to something big. So yes, I will continue to recycle. I will also continue to make a big deal of my choices on social media. In my opinion, the worst alternative is to quietly sit around and do nothing.
“If you think we can't change the world, it just means you're not one of those who will.”
― Jacque Fresco
My friend recently posted a picture on Instagram from Indonesia of a sandy beach completely covered in trash with the text “Where to place my towel?”. It is the monsoon season and reality is hitting hard - there was literally not one single spot free of litter to be seen on the entire beach strip. We have all seen similar pictures: beaches drowning in plastics, sea turtles entangled in fishing gear, microplastics in the tissues of marine biota and plastics in the stomachs of whales just to mention a few. The plastic chaos has not gone unnoticed by global policy makers: China just placed a ban on imported foreign plastics, Kenya made plastic bags illegal and EU announced their Plastics Strategy.
The goals of the EU plastic strategy are ambitious. It aims at making all plastic packaging reusable or recyclable by 2030 and four-folding the sorting and recycling capacity compared to 2015, generating 200 000 new jobs, spread all across Europe. Also, the markets for recycled and innovative plastics are expected to quadruple and the intentional use of microplastics is banned. This is most certainly good news, but naturally, the question of how all of this will be achieved rises.
As I see it, first of all, innovations and funding are in the key position. We need self-degrading packaging materials, a new technology for removing harmful substances out of recycled plastics so it can be used for other purposes than flower pots and improved durability for biodegradable materials. EU needs to generously sponsor new innovations in order for this to happen. Second, we need tighter legislation for plastic waste. At the time being, producers of plastic articles and packaging have little or no interest to take into account the needs of recycling or reuse when they design their products and the demand for recycled plastics is weak. This means that technological solutions are also held back.
Third, international cooperation is mandatory to tackle the plastic crisis. Plastics travel great distances with ocean currents and an effort limited to only one region might be too little too late. Asia surely is a ticking plastic bomb. Oceans are our common heritage, and the costs of marine ecosystem destruction are going to be high for future generations unless we quickly take action. EU now has the chance to act as a guide. Let’s hope they succeed and that other regions will quickly benefit from the new innovations and solutions.
As the plastic pollution of our oceans continues and overfishing is depleting marine life, another concern is raised by scientists in a recent number of Science. Oxygen levels are declining in many marine areas, altering the biogeochemistry and biodiversity of the oceans. According to researchers, low oxygen areas have expanded by several million square kilometers and hundreds of coastal sites now have extremely low oxygen concentrations. The reasons for the vanishing oxygen are rising temperatures and increased nutrient loads, both directly linked to human activity.
So called "dead zones" - areas devoid of oxygen, have set their all-time record this year: more than 22 500 square kilometers - areas as big as the whole of the EU (!) were detected in 2017. A big player in the game is the modern industrial agriculture. Our addiction to cheap meat, fed on fattening crops in enormous indoor factories, comes at a high cost in environmental destruction (and human health problems). None of these costs, of course, are paid for by the companies that produce the meat.
The meat industry has undergone massive changes in recent decades. Animals have been moved to big inside halls and they are pumped with drugs to make sure they withstand the harsh conditions of the high-density living. They are grown fast with crops that are grown in vast, fertilised areas and herbicides, fungicides and pesticides are used to ensure growth. Unfortunately, much of the fertilisers and pesticides wash into streams and rivers, and eventually end up in the sea.
Plankton, microscopic algae that drift around in the water column, are regulated by available nutrients. When nutrients from farmlands leak into the oceans, the planktic organisms start growing extensively and trigger a massive growth of biomass at the lower end of the food chain. When the short lived organisms then die, they sink down to the sea floor and consume all the oxygen when decomposing, leaving behind dead areas devoid of oxygen.
The warmer water masses dissolve less oxygen and prevent water cycling so we are really talking about a bad loop. Again, meat industry is a key player, emitting about one third of the human produced greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Nitrogen oxide (N2O) is produced from agriculture, carbon dioxide (CO2) from machines, production of fertilisers and transport and methane (CH4) from ruminant digestion.
We need to seriously think about our diet if we care about this planet. By choosing what we eat, we can make a huge deal and the best thing is that a vegetarian diet is also beneficial for our health! Win-win for us, the environment, not to mention the animals.
Tappaako lihantuotanto meremme?
Merten muoviongelman ja liikakalastuksen lisäksi tutkijoiden huolen herättää uudessa Science-lehdessä julkaistussa artikkelissa merten happikato. Häviävä happi liittyy lämpeneviin vesimassoihin ja ravinnekuormituksen kasvuun ja seuraukset ovat suorastaan katastrofaaliset. Hapettomilla pohjilla ei muutamien mikrobilajien lisäksi esiinny juurikaan elämää, eikä lämmin vesi kierrä yhtä hyvin kuin kylmä.
Hapettomien pohjien määrä on lisääntynyt viime vuosien aikana huimasti ja hapettomien pohjien laajuus on vuonna 2017 lyönyt kaikki ennätykset: hapetonta pohjaa, niin sanottuja "kuolleita vyöhykkeitä", löytyy globaalisti arviolta tällä hetkellä 22 500 neliömetrin alueelta. Suuruusluokka vastaa koko EU:n yhteistä pinta-alaa. Tärkeässä roolissa merten huonontuneeseen tilaan on teollinen lihantuotanto. Halpaa, päivittäistä lihaa pidetään nykypäivänä itsestäänselvyytenä ja sitä kasvatetaan teollisesti valtavan kokoisissa sisähalleissa nopeasti lihottavilla rehuilla. Luonto maksaa tästä kovan hinnan. Hinnan, jota tuottajat eivät millään tavalla joudu tällä hetkellä kompensoimaan.
Miksi lihantuotanto kuormittaa vesistöjä? Suurin syy ovat päästöt. Noin kolmasosa kaikista kasvihuonepäästöistä linkittyy suoraan liha- ja maitoteollisuuteen. Typpioksidia syntyy maanviljelyprosesseissa, hiilidioksidia koneista, kuljetuksista ja lannoitteiden tuotannosta ja metaania lehmien märehtimisprosesseissa ja hapettomissa maaperissä. Metaani on myös hiilidioksidia vaarallisempi kasvihuonekaasu, sillä se vangitsee auringon säteilyn jopa 80 kertaa tehokkaammin. Kasvihuonepäästöt aiheuttavat ilmaston lämpenemistä ja lämpimään pintaveteen liukenee niukemmin happea. Lämmin vesi ei myöskään vajoa pohjaan, ja näin ollen vesi ei pääse kiertämään pohjaa myöten jolloin happi kuluu loppuun.
Myös lannoitteet aiheuttavat suurta happikatoa. Normaalisti kasviplanktonin määrää vedessä rajoittavat typpi- ja fosforiravinteet, mutta teollisuudesta mereen vuotava lisäravinne kiihdyttää kasviplanktonin kasvua, saaden aikaan räjähdysmäisen biomassan kasvun vesipatsaassa. Kun tämä biomassa sitten kuolee ja vajoaa pohjaan, se kuluttaa pohjan happea hajotessaan. Jäljelle jäävät kuolleet, hapettomat, rikkipitoiset merenpohjat. Vesiin joutuu lannoitteiden lisäksi antibiootteja, tuholaismyrkkyjä ja hormoneja jotka ovat osaltaan myös ongelmallisia.
Mikäli haluamme vaalia merten (ja koko planeetan hyvinvointia), meidän on korkea aika miettiä ruokailutottumuksiamme. Kasviperäiseen ruokaan siirtyminen on nopea ja tehokas tapa vaikuttaa kasvihuonepäästöjen määrään ja mikä parasta, se myös edistää terveyttämme! Luonto kiittää, hyvinvointimme kiittää ja ennenkaikkea tuotantoeläimet kiittävät. Myös Itämeren luonnonkalojen syöminen vähentää biomassaa, joten verkot vesille.
The Christmas season is upon us again and massive amounts of waste is being generated in the form of packaging, unnecessary items and gift wrapping. In fact, during holiday season, we generate 25 percent more waste than usual. For several years now, I have stressed to my relatives and friends that we do not need any material gifts in this house since all of our drawers and closets are already packed to the limit with stuff. Instead, on my wish list is quality time and services. I would love a new hair cut, quality dinner time with my man, or maybe a spa day. My children would certainly appreciate activities like concerts, a theatre play or a movie together with loved ones. In these hectic times, I feel that time is the most valuable thing you can give someone and frankly, giving gifts to adults seems unnecessary - they probably already have what they need.
If, for some reason, you are unable to give time, here are some tips that can help reduce the holiday waste load.
1) Make your own gifts. Bake sweets, sew an oven mitt or if your time is limited, by consumable goods like wine or chocolate.
2) Wrap your gifts in old magazines, boxes and cloth.
3) Shop in flee markets - everything does not have to be new!
4) Remember responsible shopping; sometimes it is necessary to buy something material but be aware of your choices! Choose natural materials, durability before price and choose certified products. Buy locally grown and seasonal products which support the local economy, need less packaging and have smaller ecological footprints.
5) When it comes to food; use leftovers for pizza, lasagna or tortilla stuffing and calculate how much food you really need before buying.
Here are some voucher ideas if you want to go with the immaterial gift:
1. A gift cards to a spa, massage, hair dresser, restaurant or adventure park.
2. Gift card to Itunes.
3. Movie tickets.
4. A voucher to Netflix or HBO.
5. Offer to be a nanny for a day, extremely appreciated among parents to young children.
6. A voucher to a cleaning service.
In a recent study by the University of Lund, researchers found that nanosized plastic particles in the water can be transported to fish brain tissue via the food chain and cause behavioural dysfunction. Now this does not sound too funny - what if the particles are further transported to humans eating the fish? With all the plastics found in water, this could be a serious concern. With this said, so far all the nanoplastic experiments have been conducted in laboratory condition and to my best knowledge, no nanoplastics have actually been detected in any natural aquatic systems. This is a new emerging study area and detection methods are still in an early stage of development.
In Thailand, we found microplastic particles only sparsely on the heavily used recreational beaches of Phuket. Off course, it is possible that the particles were broken down to such a small size that we were unable to detect them, but on a microscale, it seemed that the plastics did not stay in the shallow 1-10 meter the beach zone where most of the biota is found. This off course is an interesting finding since we detected large amounts of bigger plastics lying on all the beaches - surely the particles must end up somewhere - just not on the local shallow sea floors.
In many countries, including Finland, fish and invertebrate tissues are screened regularly for microplastics. So far, nothing alarming has been found. In the North Pacific gyre, in the huge floating garbage patch, microplastics was found in 35% of the sampled fish. However, most marine animals are good at extracting unwanted items. Let´s hope that new nanoplastic detection methods will not reveal any significant changes in these numbers. After all, approximately one billion people are dependent on fish as the principal source of animal protein. In addition, domestic, local fish is an ecologically sustainable, healthy and tasty food item!
Nanoluokan muovihiukkaset voivat kertyä kalan aivoihin - pitäisikö meidän olla huolissamme?
Juuri julkaistussa tutkimuksessa Lundin yliopistosta tutkijat löysivät nanoluokan muovihiukkasia kalojen aivoista, jonka seurauksena havaittiin käyttäytymishäiriöitä. Muovihiukkaset olivat kulkeutuneet kalojen aivoihin levien ja pienten äyriäisten kautta ja läpäisseet aivo-veriesteen. Tulos oli pelottava ja herätti monta kysymystä - voiko nanomuovi kenties myös kertyä ihmisten aivoihin seafoodin välityksellä? Tämä voi olla vakava uhka ottaen huomioon kuinka paljon muovia vesistöistämme tällä hetkellä löytyy. En kuitenkaan heti lopettaisi kalan syömistä. Kaikki tutkimukset jossa nanomuovia on tavattu eliöissä on tehty laboratorio-olosuhteissa ja tietääkseni yhdestäkään luonnollisesta ekosysteemistä nanomuovia ei ole vielä löydetty. Tutkimusala on uusi ja menetelmät vasta kehitysasteella.
Thaimaasta löysimme suhteellisen pienen määrän mikromuovia kovassa käytössä olleilta Phuketin turistirannoilta. Toki on mahdollista että muovipartikkelit hiekan seassa olivat hajonneet niin pieniksi partikkeleiksi että emme löytäneet niitä, mutta ainakaan mikroluokan muoveja ei näyttänyt kertyvän suurina määrinä 1-10 metrin hiekan sekaan. Tulos oli sinänsä mielenkiintoinen, sillä suurempia muoviroskia oli kaikilla rannoilla pilvin pimein. Jonnekin muovin on päädyttävä, tulosten valossa ei kuitenkaan paikallisille matalille rannoille.
Monessa maassa, Suomi mukaanlukien, kalojen ja selkärangattomien kudoksia on alettu tutkia mikromuovin varalta. Vielä mitään hälyttävää ei ole löydetty. Pahimmassa Pohjoisatlantin roskalautassa muoveja löydettiin noin 35 prosentista tutkituista kaloista. Tosin useimmat mereiset eliöt ovat hyviä poistamaan kehostaan ei-toivottuja esineitä ilman suurempia ongelmia. Toivottavasti uusien nanomuovimenetelmien kehittyessä nämä luvut eivät pahene. Arviolta noin miljardi ihmistä on riippuvainen meren antimista ensisijaisena proteiinin lähteenä. Lisäksi kotimainen kala on ekologisesti kestävä, terveellinen ja herkullinen ruoka.
I recently attended a webinar hosted by VTT about bio-based plastics. Traditionally, plastics has been manufactured by using crude oil as raw material. Researchers have now patented a number of bio-based polymers with all the same qualities as oil-based plastic polymers and to some extent, even better qualities. Bio-based plastic is projected to reach up to 20 percent of all markets by 2025 so this is a huge business right now!
There are big advantages to making the plastic out of bio-waste compared to oil:
1) Non-edible bio-waste such as citrus fruit peel and sugar beet pulp can be used. A polymer called furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) has been developed and it can be used to make a material called PEF, highly resembling PET which is the material used in drinking bottles for example. Not so surprisingly - Coca Cola company holds many of the FDCA patents today!
2) The carbon footprint of FDCA is lower than that of oil.
3) Bio-based plastics is independent from oil markets and have low production costs.
The bio-based plastics can also be recycled using the same technology as traditional PET-plastics. However, as I see it there is one big problem to be solved - the plastification of our environment. These new biomaterials are not biodegradable, meaning that unless we do something very drastic, the new material is going to end up in our oceans just like the oil-based plastic. There are of course other, 100 percent biodegradable biopolymers that are used instead of plastics that are also an emerging business, but up to date is it a question of biodegradability versus durability.
Japanese researchers have recently found species of bacteria that can use PET plastics as their major energy and carbon source. With the alarming new findings of microplastic in a number of marine organisms, plastic mineralization technology is urgently needed. Will bacteria come to our rescue once again?
In many ways, what we find in our oceans tells us about our society. What is not found tells us even more. No matter where we travel, the same beach litter can be found; plastic bottles, fishing gear, microplastic from clothes, car tyres and cosmetics and industrial waste products. Because litter in the ocean has the ability to disperse over long distances, it really does not matter if you are looking at a beach in Europe or in Southeast Asia. The same goes for marine life; no matter where you deplete a resource, the effects are cascaded over international borders.
So what do the oceans tell us then? First of all, the plastic litter tells us that our societies strive at getting everything fast, easily and at a low cost. These are all qualities found in many plastic materials and the same qualities transform them to litter once used. Since the industry and consumers are free to use plastic materials without any regulations, they tend to end up in our oceans where they travel to "no mans land". Unfortunately, this also means that no one has to take responsibility. These qualities are poorly matched with sustainability and they reflect our short-sightedness. We tend to value money before environment, but forget that economic growth is impossible without a healthy environment. Common guidelines and legislation regarding plastic use should urgently be implemented.
What else can the oceans tell us about our societies? We can take a look at the ocean chemistry: researchers tell us that ocean acidification is taking place at an alarming rate. Acidification means a drop in the pH, and is related to the rising levels of CO2 in our atmosphere. The CO2 dissolves into the oceans and lowers the pH. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the pH of surface ocean waters has dropped by 0.1 pH units. Now this might not sound like a lot, but given the logarithmic scale of pH, it actually means an approximated 30 percent increase in acidity! All living organisms are extremely sensitive to changes in pH, but especially marine organisms with calcium carbonate skeletons or shells are in danger - most often the ones found at the bottom of the food chain. This shift in pH tells us about our energy policy and it tells us to shift away from fossil fuels (= going oil free) as soon as possible.
Marine ecosystems worldwide are facing an accelerating loss of populations and species with largely unknown consequences. Many regional ecosystems such as coral reefs, estuaries and fish communities have witnessed a rapid decline in populations, species, or even entire ecosystems. Given the known species losses over the past few centuries and millennia, we might even be witnessing the sixth wave of mass extinction as we speak! To date, marine protected areas and fishery quotes do exist to some extent, but the problem is that there is poor surveillance of what really goes on out at sea! I remember Anu and me sleeping over in a tent on a beach in a marine protected area in Similan, Thailand, in 2010 where we conducted our sea turtle study. After dark, the fishing boats just kept coming in long lines, throwing out their bates, trawls and long lines. There were hundreds of boats, and yet it was supposed to be a protected area! Likewise, the fishery quotes for many endangered species are exceeded by hundreds of tons each year because no one is there to supervise the catches. We have to ask ourselves if we really want to leave behind an ocean full of plastic but with no marine life?
So what should we be doing to improve the situation? I believe that the solutions are found in education, reward systems and sanctions. Although many countries have already made big leaps forward regarding plastic use and education, a huge amount of work still remains to be done. Just count the amount of plastic bags, coffee mugs and plastic wraps in your average shopping mall! As for reward systems, companies using plastic should be given economic benefits for recycling their materials and punished for not doing so. The average consumer should also have to pay extra for using plastics. This is already the case for plastic bags in many European countries, but travel to Southeast Asia and you will get 12 thin plastic bags without even wanting one for your groceries.
They say that a person is remembered for three generations - what do we want to be remembered for? We have all the power to influence our societies, but it has to be now. Working together, scientists, industry partners and coastal managers can make significant improvements to reduce marine litter. Also you can make an impact: choose wisely what you buy, recycle when possible, avoid plastics and vote for politicians who genuinely care about our environment.
40 years. That is the estimated time window we have left to turn the boat around and solve the great global challenges like climate change, loss of biodiversity and ocean acidification according to researchers from Helsinki University. If we keep doing business as usual, Earth as we know it will dramatically change. There will be floods and other extreme weather phenomena, conflicts due to massive amounts of climate refugees and mass extinctions of plants and animals. All of this during our lifetime! It is fair to say that the Earth is now at a tipping point.
The greatest concerns of scientist can be summarised into four categories:
1) The melting of the Arctic summer ice and Greenland, causing more land to be exposed and thereby reinforcing the warming due to more absorbed sunlight. This would destroy the arctic ecosystems, have severe geopolitical consequences (=conflicts) as well as cause a rise in the sea level. It is estimated that the melting of Greenland alone could cause a sea level rise of up to 7 meters.
2) Extreme weather events become more frequent. Since the world oceans absorb 90 % of the heat trapped by the greenhouse gases, the ocean dynamics that control El Niño events are altered. This in turn would lead to even more frequent extreme droughts, flooding and hurricanes than today.
3) The Amazon rain forests turn into savannah grasslands. This is something that can happen rapidly once initiated and researchers estimate that the transformation can take place with just a 10 percent decrease in the forest cover. The reason is that water is lost from the system when trees disappear, and the system then enters a "bad loop". The Amazon hosts at least 10 % of the world´s biodiversity.
4) The destruction of boreal forests. The altered climate in the northern hemisphere is likely to take its toll on our forests. Boreal forests store large amounts of carbon in the soil which could be set free if the permafrost melts, resulting in feedback loops between climate and forest. Climate change will also affect fire frequency and severity in the boreal areas.
The good news is we can still do something about this. Here are some things:
1. Cut the methane emissions. Methane is a short lived, more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. This problem could be solved almost immediately by switching to a plant based diet since livestock production (cattle) accounts for about 35 percent of the total anthropogenic methane emissions.
2. Cut the carbon footprint. This is especially true for the biggest emitters China, USA and Europe (not looking to good for the US with Trump retreating from the Paris agreement though). Fly less, switch to non-fossil energy and have less children.
3. Stop cutting down forests. Rainforest nations should be awarded for preserving their forest. It is certainly in the interest of everyone that forest have a higher value alive than dead since global deforestation accounts for about 15 percent of the world’s carbon emissions.
40 years people, 40 years. If you can do something, I suggest you do it starting from today.
The rise of the plastic era was seen only a few decades ago. As a matter of fact, all plastics that has ever existed was made only within the past 13 years as revealed by a recent study! Along with climate change, plastic pollution is one the most severe problems facing our oceans today. The only difference is that the plastic problem is much more visible than climate change since the plastic garbage tends to pop up on our beaches, in the stomaches of wales and even on our seafood platters.
The problem has not gone unnoticed by political actors. Several countries have already placed bans on plastic bags, cutlery and other plastic items. However, there is one specific actor which should also rapidly be coming up with a new, environmentally friendly strategy and that is the manufacturer of drinking bottles.
Bottles and other plastic garbage on the island of Raya Yai, Thailand 2016.
The soft drink industry is responsible for selling over a million plastic bottles every minute. And they have no intention what so ever of reducing the use of these bottles, instead, a big increase is expected. Polyethylene terephthalate, commonly abbreviated PET, the material of drinking bottles, was one of the most common materials of microplastics found on the Thai beaches in our study last winter. Greenpeace has recently put pressure on the giant Coca Cola to step up to this problem and we should all do the same.
So what would the solution be? Although a funny idea, it is utopistic to think that the edible water bubbles would replace PET as a material and up to date, there is no durable, biodegradable material to replace liquid containers with. Should we then go back in time and use glass, made out of sand again? Unfortunately, also glass bottles end up in the oceans. European countries have solved the problem with highly effective recycling, and this is probably where the money should be targeted.
In Southeast Asia where a large portion of the plastic pollution comes from, it is not economically beneficial to recycle plastics. I suggest that the large soft drink sellers like Coca Cola started campaigning for plastic recycling worldwide and maybe even established plastic bottle recycling plants in poor economy countries. Now THAT would be stepping up.
Should the companies be responsible for getting their junk out of the waters?
The contributors to this blog are the marine biologists Maria Koivisto (left) and Anu Riihimäki (right).