By Sophie Goodwin-Rice
When I first saw my mom’s marine debris bucket, I’ll admit that I laughed a little bit. Ironically, it itself was a piece of marine debris that she picked up on the beach, and even more ironically, it has the words “eco-smart” printed on it.
Now equipped with her reusable pail, she occasionally roams the beaches in my hometown and picks up the garbage that litters the sand. When I joined her over Spring Break, though, I stopped laughing even at the irony.
Plastic bags are stuck in the brush, tiny bits of plastic are scattered everywhere and there are some areas where it seems people just decided to dump their daily garbage into nature. It would take far more than just one person to clean it all up, and even then the debris would just replace itself in a few days.
Although we may not all be completely aware of its true effects, marine debris is an issue that severely plagues the Earth. Perhaps you’ve seen pictures of a sea turtle with a straw up its nose or choking on a plastic bag that was mistaken for a jellyfish, or any sort of marine organism entangled in plastic wrapping. These things didn’t just randomly end up in the ocean – they were deliberately constructed, used and disposed by humans as just a part of our daily lives.
We may not think about the consequences of the materials we are consuming, but the truth is that there are massive, swirling piles of our garbage floating in the ocean. And, on top of that, they are increasing in size. The amenities that convenience us every day become the toxins that shorten the lifespans of the other organisms we share a planet with.
So what can we as a campus do to help? While it isn’t feasible for us all to make the trek out to the beaches to pick up trash, or journey to help disentangle marine organisms, the effective answer is simple and easy: limit single-use plastic. Even nearly a hundred miles away from the ocean, our use of such materials has a direct impact on its environment (as well as on-land ecosystems and bodies of water such as the Willamette River), and it’s our duty as consumers to act responsibly.
Those ubiquitous plastic bags that somehow always seem to be floating through parking lots can be replaced with cloth bags, which are also conveniently much sturdier. Instead of purchasing bottled water or coffee in a to-go cup, bring your own mug or water bottle. Instead of buying the refrigerated juices at Goudy, opt for the fountain drinks or water.
And, perhaps most importantly, refuse the straw. What was once an ingenious invention has become a detrimental factor in the environment, yet we can decrease its impacts just by breaking the habit. I’m still getting used to requesting no straw at restaurants and coffee shops, but it’s a routine worth getting into. Although it may not seem like your individual changes are doing anything, if every “one” person made these slight adjustments to their daily lives, results would be monumental.
One of the most common conceptions about our consumerist waste is that it’ll keep us from leaving a clean and bright future for our future generations. Yet what we need to start doing is thinking beyond just our own species, and including the others that share our planet. The time to make a change is absolutely right now, in order to ensure a sustainable future for life on Earth as a whole. As posited by many marine debris action organizations, we wouldn’t want to bathe in a soup of everlasting garbage, so why should they have to live in it?