We drink plastic waste

Over the last years, we, humanity, have created a new phenomenon in nature: the infamous plastic soup. This is the name of the vast and disastrous plastic pollution that is threatening our oceans and seas. Current estimates suggest that our oceans contain a mass of at least 150 million tons of plastic waste, no only floating on the surface, but also hovering over the entire water column down to the seabed which is also littered with plastic.

And this problem is getting worse fast, very fast. Research indicates that this amount increases with a staggering amount of approximately 8 million tons per year. That is close to a truckload per minute, every hour of the day, every day of the year. And this plastic waste consists of plastic of all sorts and dimensions, from macro-plastic which is visible with the eye to micro-plastics which can even enter and threaten micro-organisms. Among them also plankton which is essential for the functioning of the marine ecosystems. Marine fauna depends on it as it is the basis of the food chain. But plankton is also vital for life outside the oceans, as phytoplankton is one of the main producers of oxygen on earth.

And we are willfully threatening it. Does this sound bad?

Well, more is coming. Plastic is pervading all ecosystems of the earth, on land as well as in the seas and oceans, from the roadsides in our countries to remote areas such as Midway and Antarctica which should still be pristine nature. But this is not the case. On the contrary. Evidence is everywhere. Look in your neighborhood, go see the move “Midway” or “A plastic ocean”. But be prepared to get heartbroken.
And now we are writing a new chapter in the history of plastic pollution. Research has shown that we are not only eating plastic which is eaten by mussels but we are also drinking it: drinking water is polluted with micro-plastics.

This has to stop as soon as possible.
But this will not happen without effort.
Everywhere around the world, initiatives to do something about this global problem are popping up.

In Belgium, we also have declared war on plastic pollution. And we do this by focusing on the reduction of plastic pollution of rivers. The reason for this is the fact that most probably up to 80% of the plastic soup originates from plastic pollution that is flows into sea via rivers.

Zero Plastic Rivers (www.zeroplasticrivers.com) is a Belgian NGO which unites organizations and people in a structured approach focused on three domains: measurement, prevention and remediation of riverine plastic pollution.
Up to now, we have joined forces with academic research institutes (e.g. University of Antwerp, people of the University of Leuven), governmental organizations and industry. This has resulted in a number of specific research projects, amongst which a doctoral research project related to the river Scheldt.
Now, in a next step, we are involving citizens to create local teams that will focus on the prevention of riverine plastic pollution by sensitizing people and by keeping riverbanks and the vicinity of rivers free of plastic. We hope to have our first Zero Plastic Rivers team operational by the end of this year.
But this is only in Belgium. And this is not nearly enough, not even remotely nearly enough.

So, Zero Plastic Rivers reaches out to organizations and people in other countries to join forces to fight a successful war on plastic pollution.

This story is only beginning.
We are all in this together.
Let’s stand together, let’s work together.


2 gedachten over “We drink plastic waste

  1. Thanks for the great reminder on the desk-sized installation vividly reflecting what we are doing to ourselves – before attending the workshop i had no idea that plastic is such a big issue, even if I was aware of the “islands of garbage” floating around oceans.

    Perhaps general awareness on how systems in nature are linked might help? I like the reference on plakton, made me remember first hearing about it in primary school. Since then, I’ve totally forgotten they are part of the very foundation of the sea food chain, and endangering that might collapse so much more then just one species. Let’s hope the good examples from Belgium will propagate well beyond its borders.


  2. I’m also very worried about plastic (especially micro plastic) pollution. There may be lots of negative unintended consequences for the environment and ourselves which we’ll find out about once it’s too late.

    I agree this plastic pollution has to stop and that it needs a worldwide approach – your examples of the war on pollution in Belgium is a great start!

    Yes, we need plastics in our lives. That’s a given. However, the amount of plastic that’s being used for the most ridiculous and pointless things is getting out of hand.

    For instance, I’ve just been to the supermarket where they had a few carrots, beans and broccoli packaged in a plastic tray, then wrapped again in plastic which would then probably be placed into a plastic bag once it has been bought (not by me). I’ve just come back from France where you could put your fruit and veg into biodegradable and compostable bags. What happened to the days where you could but your food in (recycled) brown paper bags or a box instead of everything being packaged into some form of plastic?

    I think there desperately needs to be a change in the packaging and marketing industry. However, until this change happens, we need to stop doing the damage by discarding plastics in very careless ways.


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