Our Ocean Garbage; Our Responsibility

If you make a mess you clean it up. You don’t leave it for somebody else to deal with. Obviously, it is better to not make a mess in the first place but sometimes it happens. It is then a case of taking responsibility and sorting it out.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an area of marine debris that covers 1.6 million square kilometres (that’s three times the size of France) and comprises of an estimated 80,000 metric tonnes of plastic (that’s equivalent to 500 Jumbo jets). It is continuing to expand.

Such an accumulation is an environmental outrage. Humanity should be ashamed of itself.

The Ocean Cleanup project, led by Boyan Slat, is attempting to remove the garbage and after many difficulties and failures it is finally beginning to make some, though minimal headway.  Any clean-up will be a long and expensive process.

Yet such actions are vital if we want to make real progress towards clean oceans and the acceptance of our global environmental responsibility. We will not fully solve on-going polluting issues – in this case, the attitude that the oceans can be used as a waste dumping zone – until we have recovered the damage that we have previously done.

This is because our behaviours are tied into our human psyche. Consider it from a local, street level: Clean streets tend to stay clean; littered streets tend to attract more litter.

There are a number of reasons for this but the main two are psychological. People think as follows:

  • There’s already litter about; my bit won’t make much of a difference.
  • If other people drop their litter, then why shouldn’t I?

The same basic thinking applies on a global scale with regard to the way countries think about pollution:

  • It’s not my problem.
  • The damage has already been done.
  • It’s not just me doing it.

Any solution therefore needs to be two-fold:

  • Legal and educational measures need to be in place to reform offending polluters.
  • We need to undertake a mass clean-up operation.

The first of these is about correcting behaviour. People need to understand the consequences of their actions. They need to be aware of the damage they are doing, and they need to realise that their polluting actions are unacceptable and will incur penalties for them.

The second solution – that of repairing the damage that has already been done – is arguably the more difficult undertaking. Generally, we would rather pretend that the problem isn’t there then have to go through the arduous task of dealing with it.

And yet, because of those psychological impulses, fundamental advances towards a cleaner world will not happen unless we are actively taking positive steps to clean up the ocean.

It’s a simple but valid comparison. Nobody deliberately drops litter in Disneyland. This is not because Disneyland have signs telling people not to drop litter. It is because they have created a world where the dropping of litter is an unacceptable thing to do:

  • Visitors do not want to spoil the beauty of the place.
  • There’s a team of people clearing up accidental droppages not only in order to keep the park looking great but also to deter others from thinking that the leaving of litter is acceptable.
  • There’s plenty of bins for visitors to deposit litter in.

Disney attach such high importance to this that everyone working there at all levels of the business are inculcated with a “Don’t walk by” attitude. If you see a piece of litter, you pick it up and dispose of it properly.

If only we lived in a Disney world!

The same outlook needs to be adopted in relation to the way we see and treat our environment.

One of the first lessons I learnt when I started work many years ago was that when you finish your shift you should always leave the place as you would want to find it. The person who follows you shouldn’t have to pick up on jobs that you have left them and that you should have done yourself, before they can get on with doing their own thing.

The same is true regarding humanity. We should think about future generations and what we are passing on to them. They shouldn’t have to clear up after us.

That’s why the work of the Ocean Cleanup project is so important.


Further information on their work is available on the following link: https://theoceancleanup.com/