I want to protect the oceans and build a better world at the same time. Sound like a fantasy? Sometimes I think so too, and then I realize that everything needed already exists it’s leadership that is lacking.
What I’ve learned over the last year is that cleaning up the oceans for the sake of cleaner oceans is not going to work. There is simply not enough incentives. The developed countries want the freedom to pollute, they want their plastic bottles, and grocery bags, and developed countries don’t have the infrastructure nor the ability to worry about plastic in their oceans while they are struggling against poverty and famine.
But plastic is a miracle material. It is versatile, malleable, durable, and ubiquitous. So how do we take this trash that pollutes these countries, and help them build safer schools? make clean water? power their cities?
First, act local. These solutions cannot succeed at a national scale. They must be powered by local initiatives, and they must create local success. Taking ones towns trash to build another school just creates animosity and disparity.
Second, keep it simple. If the process takes specialized technology, or costs lots of money, it’s not going to happen. This doesn’t have to be about the fastest, most efficient way to do something (the scientists in me, and I’m sure the engineer in my father is cringing). What it needs to be is functional.
Third, build for the future. If this type of development works, the goal is to remove litter from the environment while building up infrastructure to reduce the amount of litter in the environment. This means that building cannot be dependent on plastic, and as countries become more developed, and they have the capacity, it is important that they move away from plastic. Plastic is not the fix all, it is merely the transition material.
There are a lot of organizations that are tackling the marine litter problem around the world, but as far as I know, no organized attempt to initiate this type of development where it is needed.