The sun beats down as you gaze out over the cobalt blue ocean. The thunderous waves continue their relentless pounding as you curl your toes into the hot sand. Breathing in the warm salty air tickles your nose while you lean back in your beach chair. Here and there along the shore, you come across a half-buried plastic bag, an empty soda bottle coughed onto the sand, and an old fishing net lazily bobbing in the surf.
For many of us, this is the extent of our experience with ocean garbage. On vacation at our favorite beach spots, we might come across some evidence of trash once in a while. But that’s barely scratching the surface of the problem. Like particle physics, it’s hard for us to wrap our heads around the amount of trash floating around our blue planet without interacting with it or seeing it.
How did we get here?
The majority of stuff floating around in the ocean used to be things like wood, seaweed, and shells. Now, it’s mostly plastic. Since it was first introduced in the 1950s, bad waste management, fibers washed out with our laundry, agriculture, and just plain littering have all led to as much as 3.6 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the ocean. More is added each year since it virtually never fully decomposes. It is now the most common thing found in the ocean. In 2018, a plastic bag was found at the bottom of The Mariana Trench, the deepest spot on Earth. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic by weight in the ocean than fish.
Huge amounts of this debris can be found in five known garbage patches around the world, including the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. A combination of ocean currents, winds, tides, and the Earth’s rotation means floating trash gets stuck in one of these areas and hardly ever leaves. Eventually, the sun’s rays beat down on the plastic so much that it breaks apart into small pieces called microplastics. These are mistaken as food leading animals to eventually starve to death. Furthermore, the microplastics are eaten by fish that are then consumed by humans meaning we are directly impacting our own health.
June is National Oceans Month. To help ease this plastic crisis in the ocean, we’re highlighting a few things businesses can do to help keep plastic out of the water.
What can businesses do to help the problem?
Use less plastic and have plans in place
When it comes to plastic, just how important is it to your operations? With a majority of consumers reporting they’re willing to pay slightly more for environmentally-conscious products, there are opportunities to examine this.
• If plastic is critical, can you use recycled material?
• Can your products themselves be recycled?
• Are there places you can eliminate single-use containers?
• Is it possible to switch to something highly recyclable such as cardboard?
• Can you install a bottle filling station in place of single-use plastic bottles in the office?
Consider supply chain sustainability
The plastics supply chain was a roller coaster these last few years. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down many sources from Asia. Severe weather events then pummeled what capacity was left domestically. It forced many businesses to immediately reexamine how they manufacture, package, and/or ship products. This new exploration into plastic alternatives means many companies are now changing their operations. Supply chains are starting to include more products with eco-friendly materials closer to home thereby trying to avoid disruptions.
With three-quarters of the planet covered by water, the ocean is a massive highway with goods shipped around the world every day. Logistics companies can protect their profitability by reducing their environmental impact. A 2021 survey showed that 64% of the CEOs of European companies said they’re working to reorganize their supply chains partly from pressure to increase sustainability. Weather events, such as hurricanes and typhoons are incredibly disruptive to shipping lanes, forcing boats to alter course or stay in port and burn more fuel.
Shoring up supply chains can not only protect the ocean, but it can also contribute to a better ESG rating. The SEC is proposing new emissions reporting regulations that could be enacted later in 2022. Directly asking suppliers if they’re measuring greenhouse gas emissions can save money, time, and resources. Putting in the effort now could yield major results in a few short months for a business and the ocean.
Reduce your carbon footprint
The ocean is a huge reservoir of resources. It produces oxygen and absorbs carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in huge quantities. Seagrass, salt marshes, and even whales are all able to sequester massive amounts of the gas.
Start by shutting off the lights and powering down equipment when not in use. Commercial buildings contribute about 16% of all U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. Energy-efficient products and powering off things like the lights cuts the amount of energy needed to be produced. This contributes to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Amid the “Great Resignation,” employees are asking for flexible work schedules to better fit lifestyles. Can your company offer work-from-home days? This cuts car emissions because employees won’t have to commute to the office. Also, think about upgrading your company fleet to electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles.
Perform a waste audit
Performing a waste audit can show where things are working well and what needs to be improved which in turn has a positive impact on the environment. Take a hard look at recycling and composting programs. Are they working for your business or can you implement them if you haven’t already done so? Examine the types of materials your business uses, what is being disposed of, and how it's being managed. There are opportunities to save money in this realm for your business and to ensure things like clean-stream recycling actually make it to a facility.
Ensure the ocean stays healthy for the future
The ocean is the driving force behind all life on Earth. While plastic isn’t the only problem with the ocean, it is one of the largest. Every person doing their small part can have an impact. Every business working toward implementing sustainable goals can help. The ocean isn’t at a tipping point yet, but it is quickly approaching that mark. What is good for your business is good for the ocean at the same time. Protecting the coral reef means you’ll also be able to enjoy your favorite beach vacation spot for decades to come.
High tide or low tide, RoadRunner’s at YOUR side. Find out how our green technology can improve sustainability, save you money, and help the oceans all at the same.