The plastic plague: Can our oceans be saved from environmental ruin?

(CNN)The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has become the stuff of legend. This hotspot of marine waste, created by the spiral currents of the North Pacific Gyre, has been described as a floating trash island the size of Russia.

But when filmmaker Jo Ruxton visited the location, she found clear blue water, and a deep-rooted problem.


    “We are more focused on stopping pollution getting into the oceans,” says Nancy Wallace, director of the marine debris program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which leads beach cleaning and public education campaigns. “Ocean cleanups are like mopping the floor with the faucet still running.”
    The plastics industry also has a critical role, and leaders recognize the imperative to reform.
    “Our number one priority is tackling marine litter,” says Karl H. Foerster, head of industry association Plastics Europe. “We fully support the circular economy concept.”
    Foerster cites 260 initiatives the group has launched, from removing microplastics to improving wastewater treatment in developing countries, and developing biodegradable plastic.

    Tipping point

    Jo Ruxton wants to see greater responsibilities placed on plastic producers, such as in Germany where strict recycling quotas forced companies to use less plastic. Similar quotas will soon be introduced across the European Union.
    But the filmmaker is encouraged by the increased focus on the issue in recent years, and is confident that greater public awareness can have a significant impact.
    “If people realize how easy it is to make changes, and if they understand the consequences of not doing so, they want to change,” she says.
    Ruxton stresses that time is short. If the culture does not change imminently, more communities will face a grim fate.
    “We’re at a tipping point,” she says. “I see Tuvalu as a snapshot of the future for all of us if we don’t get this addiction under control.”

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