Our new apartment is just a quick walk away from the beach, and it’s quite dreamy. Many people forget that Staten Island is, well, an island. It may not be tropical, but we are surrounded by water! And while I wouldn’t go diving into the water (it could stand to be cleaner), I do love walking along the shore. So in many ways, ocean conservation has a special place in my heart. The ocean is a huge carbon sink, which is just another huge reason to protect it. Just recently, I found a very precious spot near my home that actually made me quite emotional at how beautiful it was. And I realized: I want to protect this. This is my “why” – why I’m zero waste, why I’m an environmentalist. So I felt it was long overdo I wrote a post about ways to keep the ocean clean. Not just from plastic pollution – but also water pollution.
5 Best Ways to Keep The Ocean Clean
1. Careful what you flush
This should go without saying, but don’t flush anything down the toilet that isn’t human waste or toilet paper. Things like floss, makeup wipes, paper towels, tampon applicators, etc. do NOT belong in the toilet bowl.
All drains eventually lead back to the ocean. So, these items will find their way into our seas. I cannot tell you how many tampon applicators I’ve found on shorelines (and it’s not because people are using them on the beach)…
Plus, flushing these items can lead to clogged pipes. And that is just a headache nobody wants. So please, stick to human feces, pee, and toilet paper.
2. Avoid plastic packaging (when possible)
This may surprise you to know, but one of the most common items I found on a beach cleanup was water/soft drink bottles. The irony is these are often marketed to us as easily recyclable.
But if they’re appearing in droves on shorelines, I highly doubt they’re being recycled as much as they theoretically could be.
The truth is, we’re always better off avoiding plastic packaging when we can. I know sometimes it’s impossible to avert completely, but trying is worth it.
Here are some helpful blog posts I have about reducing plastic waste:
- 5 Easy Ways to Ditch Plastic
- 70 Zero Waste Swaps for Plastic-Free Living
- Zero Waste Stores: 20 Ethical Alternatives to Amazon
- 60 Easy Zero Waste Tips For Beginners
- Zero Waste Food Shopping: How to Use Bulk Bins Without Creating Waste
- How to Freeze Food Without Plastic (Using Glass Jars)
- Zero Waste Farmers Market Essentials
- Zero Waste Lunch Essentials (+ Zero Waste Salad Recipe)
- Zero Waste Beginners Guide: 20 Tips to Get Started
Be mindful you don’t need to get rid of all your plastic items overnight. That’s not sustainable either. I typically advise people to use up what they have, then replace it with something more sustainable.
The way we shop matters too: Try reaching for package-free options whenever you can (assuming you have access to them, and they’re not outlandishly priced).
When in doubt, choose organic options over package free (as these items contribute to less water pollution overall due to not being farmed with pesticides that runoff into water supplies).
3. Be mindful of microplastics
Ah yes, the bane of my existence. Microplastics. These are teeny tiny particles of plastic – think the size of plastic tags on clothing, or smaller.
Microplastics get into our water in so many ways. They have been found in our water supplies, in our soils, and even our bodies.
Recently, a study found we unwittingly eat a credit card size of microplastics every week. Microplastics have been found in everything from our blood, feces and even our placentas.
How this effects human health is still being researched, but it can’t be good. And neither can having microplastics in the ocean.
Researchers estimate that blue whales may each consume up to 10 million pieces of microplastic every day during their main feeding season as they chow down on plastic-filled prey. That’s very concerning and cannot be good for their digestion, nor their overall health.
So, what can we do? Stop buying so much plastic, for starters; Advocate for stronger EPR rates (extended producer responsibility) where businesses must have more responsibility for the end life cycle of their products (and get rewarded when they reduce their packaging); And then, learn how to avoid microplastics where we can.
4. Rethink what goes down the drain
We all use laundry detergent, body wash, face wash, shampoo and hand soap, right? But what if I told you those products we wash down the drain actually effect our waterways?
There are certain chemicals, like phosphates and surfactants, found in detergents that when washed down the drain can lead to eutrophication: Big algae blooms that can deplete the water of oxygen and kill off fish.
It’s really important to check the ingredients used in all the products you own, but specifically the ones you wash down the drain.
Here’s a list of zero waste and sustainable drain-friendly products you can trust:
I really recommend swapping out conventional products for any of the brands I talk about in those posts. Not only do those brands reduce packaging waste, but you’ll know their products won’t pollute waterways.
5. Host a beach/waterway cleanup
Cleanups are a bit of a band aid solution to our plastic pollution crisis. Obviously, the most sustainable solution would be to stop plastic production altogether (once there’s a viable alternative for it, like this mushroom – kid you not!), and get off fossil fuels.
BUT, that doesn’t mean beach cleanups don’t matter or make an impact. After all, even if we were to stop plastic production this very second, all the plastic waste in the ocean and on our beaches would still be there. And someone certainly needs to clean that.
So, hosting a beach or waterway cleanup would be a great way to ensure less trash ends up in our waterways. This has an immediate impact on local wildlife and helps ensure they won’t try to eat that trash, or get entangled in it.
Here’s how to host a beach cleanup:
- First double check your local beach cleanups – are any happening near you that you can join? If not, it’s time to organize your own!
- You’ll need the help of like-minded people, local representatives and your local sanitation department. I suggest reaching out to local representatives to see if they will provide you with the tools needed to complete the cleanup (trash bags, gloves, trash pickers, etc.).
- You will also need to provide things like hand sanitizer, wipes, first aid kit, water coolers. You can ask volunteers to bring their reusable water bottles, reusable garden gloves, sunscreen and bug spray.
- Local sanitation can help create a setup station to dump and properly dispose of whatever recyclables and trash you find. They may even be willing to take it away at the end of your event for you.
- See if a local business could provide drinks and food as well. Perhaps they can setup a tent nearby.
- Choose an area of the beach that absolutely needs to be cleaned and make sure to check it out before the cleanup is set to happen! Get permission, if needed, for the cleanup by talking to your local parks agency.
- Last but not least, make sure to promote your cleanup. Tell friends and family, talk about it on social media, make posters and ask businesses to hang them up, tell your local newspaper and radio stations about it, etc. Spread the word!
BONUS: Advocate for ocean conservation + protection
One of the best things you can do for our oceans? Keep advocating for them, and all the marine life that inhabit it!
Recently, the High Tides Treaty, a historic deal to protect international waters, was passed. Nearly 200 countries agreed to it – and we love to see it.
This treaty is crucial for enforcing the 30×30 pledge made by countries at the UN biodiversity conference in December, to protect a third of the sea (and land) by 2030.
Lets continue to advocate and make legislation that enforces the protection of our precious oceans.
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