Fourteenth in Bare Necessities- Zero Waste India’s series on SDGs in relation to zero waste, circular economy methodology and sustainability is Goal 14: Life Below Water.
There is a location in the Pacific Ocean a day’s sea travel from its nearest neighbour, Henderson Island, an uninhabited island. It “lies in the world’s third-largest marine protected area- an 830, 000 square kilometre ‘no-take zone’. Fishing, aside from some traditional, and non- commercial catch, is illegal, as is seafloor mining. Yet of the six tonnes of garbage collected on a June (2019) science and conservation expedition, an estimated 60 per cent appeared to be associated with industrial fishing” (source). Added to this, although the majority of waste found originated from South America there were items found from as far away as Japan and Scotland. The ocean carries all our waste, and it occasionally will drop its bounty on our shores, where we will hopefully recognise and address the mess that we have made by unsustainable practices.
“There may now be around 5.25 trillion macro and microplastic pieces floating in the open ocean. Weighing up to 269,000 tonnes... Recent studies have revealed marine plastic pollution in 100% of marine turtles, 59% of whales, 36% of seals and 40% of seabird species examined... 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and 1 million seabirds are killed by marine plastic pollution annually" (source). The way that products are used on land is having a detrimental effect on all life at sea and in rivers. These are ecosystems that the world relies on to remain capable of sustaining life as we know it. This must be addressed, we cannot continue to pursue a linear process of production and consumption. The ocean has the ability to recover but it needs humanity to move toward a system that values everything in the supply chain in a circular, sustainable fashion that does not allow harmful materials to be used.
Tremendous innovations- that admittedly are still being trialled- have been launched recently including, but not limited to, The Ocean Cleanup. They are using a collection system to collect refuse in the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California. If left to circulate, the plastic will impact our ecosystems, health and economies. Solving it requires a combination of closing the source, and cleaning up what has already accumulated in the ocean” (source). They are cleaning by collection and closing the source through the promotion of alternatives that do not involve plastics and are not single-use items.
Within India, there has been a move toward more efficient segregation, collection and recycling due to policies and mandates (source). Additionally, “technological advancement for processing, treatment and disposal of solid waste” is helping address a root cause of ocean waste. Although “converting the waste into renewable energy and organic material (has benefits) ideally, it falls in the flow chart after segregation, collection, recycling and before getting to the landfill” (source) where the toxins and discards will potentially end up in waterways and could find a way to get to Henderson Island or to the Great Pacific Garbage patch. In a way, it is fortunate that islands covered in waste do exist today because without them it would be difficult to visualise the extent of the damage caused by a linear economy of production and consumption. As unfortunate and devastating as it is to live in that area for people to become more and more aware images and conversations about the situation needs to happen- it is likely that there is much more below the surface (source).
The “single biggest reason for water pollution in India is an urbanisation at an uncontrolled rate” (source) and no doubt the same can be said for other locations around the world. Therefore, we must understand why we are growing this way and make every person in every country an active citizen in limiting the effects of waste into the environment. Life on this planet deserves to be treated better than we currently are treating it. This situation is complex but can be one that is solved if people are encouraged to contribute, images of improvements to the environment like those found on Mumbai’s beaches shared (source) and we move toward a sustainable system where products are valued. By valuing them within a circular economy, instead of creating single-use items, we can start to make a difference. Enough of those little differences have the potential of making an improvement in the waterways of India and on an uninhabited island in the Pacific, and many other locations beside.