Welcome to ‘Trash Isles’: a Plastic Heap the size of France
The name, ‘The Trash Isles’, has recently been circling around social media after entertainment company LADbible ran a feature claiming ‘the world’s first country made entirely of trash’. The company have begun a campaign to raise awareness of an area in the Pacific Ocean that consists of rubbish ‘cumulatively the size of France’. The Gryphon explores the implications of ocean pollution, the impacts on the food chain and the actions being taken to combat the problem.
LADbible claim that The Trash Isles fulfils most if not all the UN’s conditions to be recognised as a country and so have submitted a petition to the UN to acknowledge this. They believe that this will not only draw attention to the imminent problem of plastic waste in the ocean but also encourage other nations to take responsibility and assist in dealing with it. According to LADbible, the UN Environmental Charter states that: “All members shall co-operate in a spirit of global partnership to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the Earth’s ecosystem” and therefore by recognising the area as a country, other nations should help to ‘restore’ it.
Plastic is inexpensive, strong, light and versatile however its non-biodegradable nature has meant that there is a significant and growing problem of plastic waste accumulating in the ocean. According to the Plastic Ocean Foundation “We are now producing nearly 300 million tons of plastic every year, half of which is for single use. More than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into our oceans every year.” This demonstrates that this is a considerably important issue, but LADbible’s campaign methods have not been immune to criticism.
“people that eat shellfish are eating up to 11,000 plastic fragments each year. In addition, the University of Plymouth conducted a study which found plastic in a third of UK-caught fish.”
Some argue that those that campaign on the idea of a ‘plastic island’ in the Pacific Ocean create an image of there being significant amounts of large plastic waste which distracts attention away from the dangerous problem of microplastics in the area. Because plastic doesn’t degrade, it instead breaks into smaller pieces that can often be consumed and consequently accumulated in the body of various organisms – including humans. Many fish and seafood species that are consumed by humans have been found to have large amounts of plastic fragments within them. Scientists at Ghent University in Belgium have estimated that people that eat shellfish are eating up to 11,000 plastic fragments each year. In addition, the University of Plymouth conducted a study which found plastic in a third of UK-caught fish.
Others have stated that the notion of the Plastic Island simply allows people to yet again view it as a far away, distant problem that isn’t immediately affecting them in the here and now. Dr Angelicque White, Associate Professor at Oregon State University was quoted as saying in the Telegraph that ‘there are no islands of trash; it is more akin to a diffuse soup of plastic floating in our oceans.’
Nevertheless, the campaign by LADbible is focusing on an important issue and it is utilizing its social media and viral-based content reputation to shed light on the subject. The widening awareness of this issue has led to a number of law changes in the UK to tackle the problem for example the plastic bag charge. According to the government, since the law was introduced the use of plastic bags has reduced by up to eighty percent. Moreover, microbeads, the tiny beads found in many beauty products such as exfoliants will be banned from sale by the end of 2017. Microbeads are an example of some of the tiny pieces of plastic that have been swallowed by ocean sea life.
“microbeads, the tiny beads found in many beauty products such as exfoliants will be banned from sale by the end of 2017. Microbeads are an example of some of the tiny pieces of plastic that have been swallowed by ocean sea life”
Many environmentalist groups welcome the increased awareness and policies that have been enacted to confront the problem but they also stress that there is significantly more to be done. The Ocean society suggest that more should be done to encourage people to participate in beach and river clean ups which would prevent new rubbish and washed up rubbish being taken up into the ocean and causing further damage. Importantly, people should be encouraged to recycle or use biodegradable alternatives to prevent plastic accumulation. This suggestion is particularly important because most plastic thrown away is from single-usage. We should support and join organisations and groups that are not only increasing the awareness of these issues but are also taking steps to tackle them.
It is clear that plastic waste, particularly that which ends up in the ocean is an important problem that needs more attention. As we become more aware of our health, food and impact on the environment, there is an increasing awareness of the problems associated with them and the need to do more to reduce the harmful impacts. The United Nations Ocean Conference estimated that the oceans might contain more weight in plastics than fish by the year 2050 and so LADbible are highlighting an issue that needs addressing – even if they don’t always get all the facts completely right.
[Images: Consortium for Ocean Leadership, Zak Noyle, Justin Hofman]