The New York Times estimated that 13 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year. But where does all that plastic pollution come from?
People seem to think ocean plastic pollution is from directly dumping waste into the ocean from a variety of vessels, but that is rarely the case. Believe it or not, plastic waste typically comes from the land, by either people directly or indirectly littering. Direct littering is what comes to mind when we think of littering; it’s when someone dumps garbage along the side of the road and leaves it. Indirect littering is when refuse materials are blown out of the trash and recycling cans by the wind.
In New Jersey, laws are in place to prohibit littering and individuals face fines up to $500. While the laws try to prevent direct littering, waste still ends up in our waterways. And what’s stopping indirect littering? What’s to stop that waste from making its way into the ocean? This is where volunteer cleanups come in handy.
For the last two semesters, Rider Eco-Reps and several student volunteers, have traveled to a local park not too far from Rider’s Lawrenceville campus to participate in the annual Abbott Marsh Cleanup.
Members from Rider’s Green Team and Circle K International (CKI) headed to two separate locations along Duck Island in Hamilton, New Jersey to help clean up. Rider science students and geological, environmental and marine Sciences students, in particular, are well acquainted with Duck Island. Duck Island is an area where science professors host experiments that allow students to obtain hands-on experience.
While Duck Island is great for experimental procedures, this site has a lot of problems. The issues stem from the plastic pollution it faces. At the two locations, the group of Rider volunteers on the Nov. 10 trip were able to collect a total of 26 bags of trash. Volunteers found everything from plastic straws and plastic bags, to a pool float and tarps.
When asked about his experience, junior global supply chain management major and CKI secretary Steven Evans said, “The cleanup was an eye-opener for sure. So many people don’t realize just how much garbage we create, and seeing it all collect in our waterways made me realize we need to take much better care of our environment.”
Many of the volunteers couldn’t believe how much trash they were seeing. Freshman environmental science major Victoria Harripersad was extremely disappointed in what she saw and experienced.
“This pollution could have been stopped at the source easily if people would simply throw their trash away rather than into streams or onto the ground. The devastating human impact that destroyed such a small area of forestry was truly terrible” Harripersad said.
Although participating in this cleanup was extremely disappointing and heartbreaking to some, it energized others.
Junior marine science major Marissa Murdock said, “The marsh cleanup really opened my eyes to how people today can be careless. But, there are still people out there who are willing to set aside time on Saturday mornings to help clean up the marsh to not only help the local wildlife, but to also create a cleaner and safer environment.”
Another volunteer, sophomore health sciences major Sarah Walraven mentioned that, “The marsh was a great experience. I felt like I was able to actually make a difference in the community and the environment. The experience also made me realize the importance of recycling. Much of the litter I picked up was plastic and glass bottles that should not have been thrown away.”
In order to help and protect local communities, focusing on the four R’s —refuse, reduce, reuse and recyclewill definitely aid in the preservation of the land and water. Purchasing reusable products such as bags and bottles to replace your single-use items, can reduce your plastic waste drastically. Reducing the potential sources of waste can aid in the reduction of waste ending up in the wrong place.