Discarded nets choking light-dependent corals in their deadly embrace. Eerily floating plastic bags forming a silent but deadly armada of waste. Dead whales and dolphins who eat what they surely think are jellyfish. The plastic menace is wreaking more havoc each year.

Pollution is slowly but surely choking our oceans. Anywhere from 8 to 12 million metric tons of plastic waste alone enter our oceans each year. Scientists estimate that if we continue at this rate – the equivalent of dumping an XL-sized truckful of garbage into our oceans every 60 seconds – then by 2050, and there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish.

Like it or not, most of the waste we produce on land eventually reaches the ocean, either from deliberate marine dumping or because inland waterways like canals, streams, and rivers naturally flow out to sea.

The health of our oceans hang in the balance, but we can do our part to minimize the dirty, dirty effects of pollution. Here are 10 tips to minimize oceanic waste.

1.Segregate trash

Marine biologist Darrell Blatchley shows some of the 40 kilograms of plastic ingested by a Cuvier’s beaked whale recovered in Mindanao in 2019, clear proof that the world’s whales and dolphins are dying because of plastic pollution. (D’Bone Collector Museum)

Over 80% of marine pollution comes from land-based activities. Most waste thrown inland eventually make their way out to sea, so we should dispose of our trash carefully. Biodegradables, non-biodegradables, and recyclables should be thrown in separate bins. Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) are excellent platforms to recycle pre-loved items.

Darrell Blatchley, a marine biologist and owner of D’Bone Collector Museum in Davao City, said that in the past decade, his team has inspected 70 dead whales and dolphins. A shocking 49 of them had died because of eating plastic.

Last year, Blatchley’s team recovered a Cuvier’s beaked whale with 40 kilograms of trash in the gut, including 16 empty rice sacks. “It’s disgusting,” he lamented.

There’s no doubt that untold numbers of charismatic marine creatures are dying each year because of mistakenly eating floating plastic.

2. Minimize the use of plastic bags

Plastic bags by themselves aren’t bad. They’re essential in keeping conditions sanitary and they hold up moisture better than paper bags. What’s bad are single-used plastics, which are senselessly discarded soon after use.

Most plastics don’t biodegrade. Instead, they photo-degrade and break down into smaller and more toxic particles, which are often ingested by fish and other animals because they resemble tiny, glittering plankton.

The danger is real and alarming. In a planet where everything is connected, these chemicals enter the food system to eventually poison humans. Curbing our over-reliance on plastic bags by using tote bags or reusable containers dramatically minimizes this.

3. Bring your own water tumbler

High concentrations of plastic bottles may block the breathing passages and stomachs of many large marine species like sharks and whales. Plastic bottles are also some of the most common pieces of trash polluting the world’s seas.

4. Dispose of cigarette butts properly

Did you know that cigarette butts are the top items collected at International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) drives globally? They’re closely followed by food wrappers and drink bottles.

5. Reuse disposable food containers

Taking out your tira or leftover food from the restaurant? It’s likely that you’ll bring home your food with a disposable plastic container. But you can reuse it to store more food and household items.

6. Watch what you throw out

Interesting items collected at coastal cleanup drives include enough items to furnish a modern condo unit: kitchen sinks, refrigerators, air conditioning units, rugs, tables and chairs, curtains, desks, mattresses, pillows and pillow cases, toilet bowls, massage chairs, dolls, dice and lightsabers. You name it, it’s probably floating at sea somewhere.

7. Be creative

Take part in upcycling activities that reinvent once-useless products into new, useful materials. Many of these products can already be seen at eco-conscious stores and bazaars.

8. Support products that use less packaging

Buy in bulk. Buying lots of smaller packs generates more waste. Bulk purchasing saves money, too. Choose brands that have less packaging and don’t forget to refill shampoo, soap, wax, and other consumables in top-up stores, which are sprouting all over the metro.

9. Influence your community

A striped Blenny (Meiacanthus grammistes) peers out of a discarded plastic bottle in Anilao, Batangas. (Danny Ocampo)

Learn about waste management policies at your local public officials before voting for them. You can also write to your mayor or local representative to ask for tougher action against garbage, which end up polluting our seas or accumulating in landfills.

10. Take action

Even if it’s not a coastal cleanup day, make sure to pick up trash wherever you are. Remember our promise at The Wild Side: turn every dive into a cleanup dive and every climb into a cleanup climb. If more good souls become mindful of their consumption and the way they dispose of their trash, then our life-giving seas have a chance to brim with fish, not plastic.

You might want to read:
– Meet the caterpillars who can help fight plastic pollution
– Microplastics found inside commonly consumed fish, Filipino researchers report
– Japan unveils policy to curb plastic waste before G20