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To solve the ocean plastic crisis, we have to address the Red Zone of Ocean Plastic

Red Zone of Plastic.png

Six countries (in pink) and ten rivers (in red) provide the majority of ocean plastic to the ocean.

When we think about plastic and other trash in the ocean, we first think about the ocean gyres and the great Pacific Garbage Patch. More recently, we have become aware of the prevalence of microplastics, tiny bits of decomposing plastic that are now finding their way into fish and other animals.

Or we think about dead animals, from whales to albatross, that are found filled with plastic. And we think about beaches, covered with plastic and other trash, even in the most remote places in the ocean. We think about the turtle that had a plastic straw removed from his nostril.

Turtle with Straw in Nose.jpegWe address these problems by doing what we can. We recycle our plastic materials. We stop using and even ban single use plastics, like the straw in the turtle’s nose. We cleanup beaches, accepting that cleaning trash from beaches is a normal thing, a social event where we gather to assure ourselves we are doing the right thing.

What we aren’t doing is working on solving the real problem: trash management on land. 

It is no surprise to those of us in the ocean community that 90 percent of the ocean plastic comes from ten rivers in Asia and Africa, and that 60% of the plastic comes from five countries, all in Asia.

At OpenOceans Global, we call these ten rivers and five countries The Red Zone of Plastic. 

The Red Zone of Plastic 
Why are these countries and rivers the Red Zone? Because they have inadequate trash management practices. Uncontained trash is the rule, and uncontained trash finds its way by wind and water into rivers and the ocean. Eight million tons each year. Unless we address the trash management practices along this group of rivers and in those countries, all our other efforts will just be a drop in the bucket.

Yet we pledge to recycle and not use plastic straws without addressing the real problem. Why? Because we have been trained to have consumer guilt and to be guided by action bias. Action bias means that we are programmed to do something even if that something doesn’t solve the problem. “Well, at least I am doing something” is the thinking. “And really, how could we possibly change the trash management practices in China or Vietnam or any other country?

The answer is simple: if we don’t change the trash management practices in those countries for starters, then we have given up, and the ocean will continue to contain more and more trash, and the predictions will come true that soon there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean .


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