By Hannah Moskowitz from www.zerowaste.com
In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the damaging effects of plastic pollution on the marine ecosystem.
As a result, more and more people are looking for ways to reduce their reliance on single-use plastics and live a more sustainable lifestyle. One way to do this is by adopting a zero-waste lifestyle.
We can support a circular economy by reducing waste and imitating sustainable natural processes. Such an economy maximizes waste management, reduces the need for virgin materials, and extends the life of items.
What Is Zero Waste?
So what is zero waste? Zero waste often refers to a goal rather than a destination.
It is a goal based on the principles of preventing pollution, minimizing waste, and protecting our planet and its limited resources. Zero waste also emphasizes reuse and remanufacturing over recycling. The ultimate aim of zero waste is for 100% of materials to get reused without being downcycled or creating pollution.
However, we are not quite there yet. So, in the meantime, the goal is to send zero waste to landfill or incineration.
How Our Waste is Impacting the Marine Ecosystem
Every year, 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans. If we don't act now, this number will only rise. According to estimates, by 2050, more plastic will be in the ocean than fish.
Here are some of the ways that our waste is harming the creatures that call the ocean home:
When animals mistake plastic for food, they can suffer from choking, gastrointestinal tract punctures, and malnutrition.
Further, plastic also absorbs toxins like DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) and PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls), which can find their way to animals that eat it. These toxins can build up over time and harm an animal's reproduction, immunity, and behavior.
Animals can get caught in fishing nets, six-pack rings, and grocery bags. This entanglement can cause severe injuries or even death. Estimates indicate over one million marine mammals and turtles die each year from getting entangled in plastic debris.
Increasing amounts of plastic in the ocean deplete the ocean's oxygen supply. That is because when sunlight hits floating plastic debris, it causes a chemical reaction that creates carbon dioxide.
This gas dissolves into the water and uses oxygen that marine animals need to survive. This process is called eutrophication, a severe problem in coastal areas worldwide.
Not only does it suffocate marine life, but it also encourages algae growth, which can lead to harmful algal blooms. These blooms can poison marine life and humans, often leading to "dead zones" where nothing can live.
Why a Zero-Waste Lifestyle Significant to the Marine Ecosystem
A zero-waste lifestyle is significant to the marine ecosystem for various reasons.
Reduces Plastic Pollution and Clears Water Bodies
It has been estimated that more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic are floating in the world's oceans, harming marine life and polluting the water. Reducing our reliance on single-use plastics and other disposable items can help to reduce this problem.
Limit Marine Life’s Consumption of Microplastics
Another way that zero waste helps the marine ecosystem is by reducing the number of microplastics that marine life ingest.
Microplastics are tiny plastic often found in cosmetics, cleaning products, and clothes. Unfortunately, these pieces of plastic can be mistaken for food by marine animals.
As a result, they can cause them to suffer many of the same problems as larger pieces of plastic.
It Raises Awareness About the Need to Protect Marine Ecosystems
A zero-waste lifestyle can also help to raise awareness about the need to protect marine ecosystems. Many people are not aware of the devastating impact that our waste is having on the ocean. Living a zero-waste lifestyle can help educate others about this issue and inspire them to make changes in their own lives.
Zero Waste Saves Energy and Protects Human and Aquatic Health
Producing products from scratch requires a lot of energy. When we landfill waste, we also bury valuable resources–like the energy used to create them in the first place.
Zero waste reduces the demand for new resources, therefore conserving energy. Burning garbage in incinerators pumps harmful pollutants into the air. These include greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane, which contribute to climate change.
Microscopic particles from burning trash can also enter our bloodstream through our lungs, harming our health. Zero waste systems protect human and aquatic health by preventing pollution at its source.
They also conserve water and reduce hazardous chemicals in our environment. Simply put, zero waste is better for everyone and everything.
How Do We Get to Zero Waste?
The first step is changing how we think about resources and rubbish. We must move away from the "take-make-dispose" linear production and consumption model that has been damaging our environment. Instead, we need to adopt a "cradle-to-cradle" or "circular" approach that keeps materials in use and in the economy for as long as possible.
There are many ways we can achieve this, but some key strategies include the following:
● Reducing our overall consumption of stuff
● Designing products and packaging for durability, repairability, reusability, recyclability, and compostability
● Increasing our use of reusable products
● Repairing broken items rather than throwing them away
● Reusing secondhand goods rather than buying new
● Recycling everything that can't be reused or repaired
● Composting food scraps and other organic materials
By following these steps, we can help to protect the marine ecosystem and reduce the amount of plastic pollution in our oceans.
A zero-waste lifestyle is significant to the marine ecosystem for various reasons. It can help to reduce plastic pollution and clear water bodies, limit marine life's consumption of microplastics, raise awareness about the need to protect marine ecosystems, save energy and protect human and aquatic health.
To achieve a zero-waste lifestyle, we must change our consumption habits. We also must design products for durability, repairability, reusability, recyclability, and compostability. By following these steps, we can help to make a positive impact on the marine ecosystem.
About the Author
Hannah Moskowitz is the Sustainability Director for RTS and Zero Waste, and has been advancing clients’ sustainability initiatives since January 2020. She is responsible for ensuring quality data, implementing new and refining existing processes, and overseeing the hiring, training, and managing of our data analysis team. Hannah has served as our Sustainability Director since January 2022 and built her expertise of RTS’s technology and approach through her prior role as Sustainability and Sales Operations Manager.
Hannah holds a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.A. in Environmental Resource Policy from George Washington University, and participated in The Green Program at the Iceland School of Energy at Reykjavik University. She is also LEED AP O+M accredited and TRUE Advisor certified.