Would you support a Europe-wide ban on microbeads? In January 2018, the United Kingdom banned the use of tiny plastic microbeads in cosmetic products, including exfoliating facial scrubs and toothpaste. However, many countries in Europe still allow the manufacture and sale of products containing microbeads, which are small enough to travel through the sewer system and end up in oceans, contributing to the problem of plastic waste in the sea.
It seems like such a small thing, but it could help make a difference. There are currently an estimated five trillion pieces of plastic floating in the world’s seas, and there are plenty of examples of ways in which we could change our habits and behaviour (for example, by using fewer single-use plastic products) in order to avoid harming the environment even further.
How can we get people (and companies) to change behaviours? Do we need to write to our politicians, and take to the streets (or social media) in protest? Is it enough if we just change our own behaviour? Is it enough for individuals to do their bit? Or do governments need to step in and force entire sectors of the economy to behave in a more sustainable fashion, investing in solutions and introducing new regulations, sanctions, and incentives?
What do our readers think? First up, we had a comment sent in from Rosy, who argues that it’s much easier to prevent an ocean being polluted and contaminated than it is to clean it up afterwards. She believes that cleaning the Pacific ocean of waste, for example, will take a long time. Is she right? And exactly how long are we talking about? Years? Decades?
To get a response, we spoke to Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer and climate scientist from Utrecht University in the Netherlands. We asked him: What can the international community do to protect Earth’s oceans, and how long will it take to clean up the mess?
Next up, we had a comment sent in from Piedade, who wondered how Europe can protect the world’s oceans if the majority of plastic waste in the sea comes from countries in Asia, particularly China, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.
We put Piedade’s comment to Julia Schnetzer, Scientific Coordinator at the Ocean Plastics Lab, an interactive science exhibition about plastic waste in the seas that has been touring different countries to raise awareness about the issue. What would she say?
For another perspective, we also put Piedade’s comment to James Honeyborne, Executive Producer of the BBC documentary Blue Planet II, which helped open the eyes of many viewers to the scale of the problem facing our seas.
Finally, we had a comment sent in from Stephanie, who trusts that it is possible to change society and encourage people and businesses to alter their behaviour. Stephanie believes that a combination of social media, protesting, voting, and talking to politicians is enough to bring about change. Is she too optimistic?
To get a response, we put Stephanie’s comment to Melati Wijsen, founder of Bye Bye Plastic Bags. When she was just 10 years old, Melati and her sister Isabel (who was 12) began campaigning to introduce a ban on plastic bags on their island of Bali, Indonesia. Through a combination of persistence, organisation, media awareness, and old-fashioned campaigning and activism, they succeeded. So, can Melati share the lessons she learned from her campaign?
Would you give up your favourite toothpaste to save the oceans? How long will it take to clean the oceans of all the pollution? How can Europe help keep the seas clean if the majority of plastic waste is coming from other parts of the world? And can social media, protesting, and dialogue help change society and protect the environment? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!