Three hundred million tons of plastic are produced every year, and over 8 million tons of it winds up in our oceans. There is currently no landscape that hasn’t been touched by plastic. Even remote islands without any human inhabitants have beaches filled with plastic.
It’s actually raining micro-plastic pieces now. Plastic has been found in the arctic, in salt, 84% of drinking water worldwide, and as deep as the Mariana Trench. Plastic is everywhere.
And, plastic doesn’t ever go away. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade. It won’t turn back into soil. Instead, over time, it becomes brittle, and it breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces until it’s so small it’s a micro or nanoplastic.
A microplastic is a tiny piece of plastic on average 3mm-5mm. Some plastics are created small like microbeads and glitter while others become microplastics - think your leggings shedding polyester fibers in the wash, tire treads slowly wearing away, fishnets being thrown overboard, and common types of plastic like water bottles, plastic bags, coffee cups, etc. breaking apart due to rough ocean conditions.
To be honest, the microplastic problem seems distant and foreign to me. Yes, even someone who talks about the plastic problem ALL. THE. TIME. can have issues with grasping the actual scale of the problem since I’ve never experienced it in person. This is why it’s been AMAZING to follow along with The Vortex Swim.
I’m very excited to be partnering with Icebreaker who sponsored The Vortex Swim to raise awareness around these issues. All thoughts and opinions are my own. For more information, please see my disclosure policy.
The Vortex Swim started in Hawaii where Ben Lecomte, a long-distance swimmer, spent 100 days at sea swimming (YES. SWIMMING!) through the Pacific Ocean right through the heart of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch AKA the Plastic Vortex.
He was followed by a crew on a boat to study these problems. He swam 350 nautical miles collecting 45,000 microplastic samples from the Vortex to raise awareness around plastic pollution in the ocean, and to collect data for scientific research.
I got to meet Ben and talk with him about the experience, about some of the most common types of plastic he found. And, some of the weird things he found too like toilet seats, crates, and a surprising amount of laundry baskets.
One of the things I admired most about the trip (beyond an incredible human SWIMMING from HI to CA) was the entire crew tried to keep the boat plastic-free and zero waste! How amazing is that! They used Super Bee Wax Wraps to avoid plastic wrap, Plaine Products shampoo that comes in a refillable aluminum bottle, and Avasol sunscreen that comes in a compostable tube! You can see more on their Instagram Feed.
Getting to see Ben swim under the Golden Gate Bridge was so inspiring. There was so much energy at the beach on Saturday morning. I was surrounded by news crews, the Icebreaker team, and so many people there to cheer him on.
After he arrived, I got to meet the ten person crew. I was honestly shocked so many people fit on that teeny-tiny boat. There was a photographer, social manager, even an on board doctor!
The goal of this mission was to shine a light on the microplastic Every day the team would skim the waters for 30 minutes to collect and count the microplastics in that area. All of the data was sent off to be studied and used to create legislation to prevent these problems in the future.
Another reason they took the trip was to debunk the idea of a garbage island floating in the middle of the ocean. It’s not an island rather a chunky soup filled with microplastic pieces
One of the things I found interesting was how marine life created habitats out of the plastic. You can see all of the crustaceans living on the baskets, and schools of fish nesting in old nets. It was so odd to see them living in pollution which could eventually kill them.
The crew often saved marine life from being entangled in plastic, and they talked about the dichotomy of being excited to save them at the same time as being horrified that it’s a problem in the first place.
Icebreaker is selling the official crew shirts if you want to check them out. I love that Icebreaker sponsored this incredibly eyeopening expedition.
One of the reasons, I love their clothes is that they’re made with natural fibers. Icebreaker offers an average of 84% natural raw materials one of the highest documented in the clothing industry, and they’re taking it even further to completely remove synthetic content from their collections by 2023. Including switching from plastic bags in shipping to a water-soluble bag by the end of the year.
Learn more about how Icebreaker is reducing plastic
1. reduce single-use plastics:
It should come as no surprise that my first suggestion is to reduce single-use plastics in your life. After all, that’s kind of what this blog is about…
But, I think you’d be surprised how much plastic you can eliminate from your life just by being conscious of the plastic you use. When it’s time to make a new purchase, a quick google search will turn up tons of sustainable, plastic-free swaps so you can switch out items like your toothbrush, disposable coffee cups, and water bottles etc.
Ben said one of the most common household plastic items they found were bottle caps. Bottle caps are made of a lighter plastic so they tend to float and stay near the surface, where the bottles themselves tend to sink.
Most plastic isn’t recycled. Only 9% of all the plastic ever produced has EVER been recycled.
And, to make matters even worse much of the plastic we “recycle” is dumped in countries that don’t have access to waste management infrastructure. Which means a lot of the plastic we’re “recycling” is actually winding up in the ocean.
This is why it’s so important to be mindful of the materials that you bring into your life. First, REDUCE what you you bring into your home. REUSE what you have, and then after you’ve reduced and reused all that you can - then and ONLY then… recycle!
Of course don’t forget to purchase products made with recycled materials. After all, are you really recycling if you’re not supporting companies using recycled materials?
Fishnets are one of the biggest polluters in the ocean. Many times old nets will be thrown into the ocean, which is horrible because marine life get trapped and are unable to escape.
One of the best ways to avoid this is to stop eating fish or greatly reduce the amount of fish you’re consuming and buy sustainable fish. Check out seafood watch from Monterey Bay Aquarium to learn more about eco-friendly fishing practices.
Yep, glitter is plastic. Glitter face masks, sunscreens, festival makeup…. this is all plastic. When you go to wash the glitter off of your body, it goes straight down the drain and into the water ways. Because, glitter is so tiny, it’s often too small to get filtered and winds up in the ocean.
Before you glitter, ask yourself if you really need to use it? I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a situation, where I just HAD to use glitter. But, they do make biodegradable glitter which is made from cellulose so it breaks down very quickly once you was it off. This one donates portions of the sales to Greenpeace International.
Microbeads, thankfully, have been ban by most countries. I think you’d have to go out of your way to find products with microbeads in them now, but they were a major contributor to microplastics in the ocean. Check your labels just in case and opt for microbead free products.
Now, this one absolutely shocked me. According the the Guardian, “68,000 tonnes of microplastics from tyre tread abrasion are generated in the UK every year, with between 7,000 and 19,000 tonnes entering surface waters.”
Our tires go bald due to the friction of driving. As they go bald, they lose tiny bits of tire which when left on the roadway make their way to the storm drains which lead out to the sea.
Driving less is the best solution. But, even if you’re taking public busses or biking there’s still a problem with tires shedding microplastic pieces. It’s probably time for the tire to get a makeover… which is happening! Michelin has just introduced a biodegradeable and 3-D printed tire that would last forever. Let’s hope this becomes a reality!
Lastly, microfibers are a major source of plastic pollution in the ocean. Every time you wash synthetic clothing like polyester, acrylic, and fleece, plastic fibers from the clothing are shed into the water ways.
A study by Plymouth University found that a single load of clothes could release up to 700,000 microplastic particles!
Thankfully there are a few ways that we can fix this problem!
1) Opt for Natural Fibers: When you’re shopping, try to buy clothing made from natural fibers. Here’s a list of natural-based fibers:
One of the things I love about Icebreaker is their use of sustainable and ethical merino wool.
Wool is amazing for temperature regulation. It’s very breathable and naturally anti-bacterial which means you can wash your clothing LESS! Like way less - I wore the same Icebreaker shirt every day for a week, and I didn’t have to wash it once.
And, I personally love it when being eco-friendly allows me to be lazy and avoid doing laundry. Talk about a win-win!
2) Wash Less: When it comes to washing your clothes try to stretch washes. This is a great way to save water and keep your clothes lasting longer.
Just because you’ve worn something once doesn’t make it dirty. If my clothes don’t smell, then I wear them… until they do smell. And, only then do I put them in the washing machine.
3) Air it out: A great way to extend the life of your clothes is let them air out. After I’ve worn a shirt, I like to turn it inside out and spray it with this mixture, and hang it up in the open air like on the door frame of the closet.
I don’t shove the piece back into my closet, I give it room to breath so air can circulate all around it.
4) Take Preventative Measures: I do not have a 100% plastic-free wardrobe, but I would say about 80% of my clothing is plastic-free. The thing is often times you need a little bit of synthetic fibers to really maintain the integrity of a piece. All thread is synthetic, and then there’s often a bit of spandex or maybe poly to help clothing from pulling or stretching out of shape.
So, it’s always best to take a preventative measures by using something to catch microfibers. There are several different options like the guppyfriend, microfiber ball, or a washing machine attachment.
How are you helping to reduce ocean plastic pollution?