Plastic clutter, and why it's killing the ocean (and therefore us)

The guy who mans the mobile library that comes around to our town every second Friday is probably the ideal librarian. Not only does he know most of his customers by interest and reading style, he also seeks out books he thinks we'd be interested in. He's provided a bunch of train books for my rail enthusiast son and last week, after I took out a book on reducing household toxins, he found me this one.

It's about the Plastiki, a sailboat engineered entirely out of recycled plastic materials which crossed the Pacific Ocean on a voyage from San Francisco to Sydney, arriving in 2010.

The adventure was the brainchild of David De Rothschild whose aim was to draw attention to the massive plastic waste problem in our oceans.

Did you know there are five HUGE 'gyres' of plastic waste sitting out there in the middle of the sea? One of them is twice as big as the state of Texas. And the more plastic that gets washed into our sea, the bigger they get.

Did you know that 17 million barrels of crude oil are used to make the 29 billion plastic bottles Americans consume each year? Only one in six of them is recycled. And it's going to take 450 years for each one to degrade.

Plastic waste kills marine and bird life. That's 100,000 turtles, dolphins and whales per year. As well as a million seabirds.

I didn't know this stuff. I mean, I knew plastic bags weren't great, but I had no idea of the size of the problem and its systemic nature. I looked around at my house and tried to imagine a life without plastic and was amazed at how ubiquitous it is.

But the story of Plastiki is more than just doom and gloom (and honestly, I know that I refuse to listen to something that's only bad news). De Rothschild's aim was to raise awareness of the problem but also to challenge people to begin changing things.

He says: "Plastic is not the enemy. With [our project] we're showing how to better understand plastic and use it in a smart way...  While we can and should use much less plastic, the fact is that plastic is a miraculous material with far more potential - and a longer life span - than we give it credit for... If we're smarter about how we use it and dispose of it, we can stem the plastic tide.

Plastiki was not only a beautiful book to read and look at (the photography is amazing), it was also interesting from an engineering and design point of view. I'm not a boat builder but I was intrigued by the processes they had to go through to create something that would fit all their specifications.

The human story of the months at sea and the disappointments, elations and challenges they faced was both exciting and uplifting. I especially admired the captain, Jo, the only woman on board for two thirds of the voyage. She sounded like a very capable, very adventurous person.

I'm challenged personally to think more about my purchases and what I use and how to limit plastic use in my own life. Here are some things I'll be doing:

Limiting my use of 'throw-away' plastics and thinking ahead so as to avoid them.

Thinking through what I purchase in terms of packaging and lifespan, and trying to use less plastic packaging.

Recycling properly, not in the slap-dash way I've done it up until now.

Here are eleven more things we can all do to help save the oceans:

1. Use less energy at home and insulate better

2. Drive less, walk more

3. Use less water

4. Choose seafood carefully. (There's a smart phone app from montereybayaquarium.org that points the way to sustainable fish.)

5. Dump drugs safely.

6. Use a car wash instead of putting the soap and cleaners into the storm water drain.

7. Don't use exfoliators with tiny plastic beads in them. Natural products are better.

8. Use less shampoo, conditioners, soaps and other cleaning chemicals. (I'm already on the baking soda and vinegar!)

9. Use less chemicals on your lawn

10. Fix your oily leaking car. (Apparently car oil leaks are equal to an annual flow of pollution the size of the Exxon Valdez spill!!!!)

11. Pick up your dog poo. 

My challenge is to take my commitment to decluttering my life a step further and begin to help 'declutter' our fragile environment. Thanks Plastiki for bringing it to my attention!

What's your challenge? Go here to pledge to help.