Made for our benefit, treated without thought – How single-use plastics rule this earth

Living today is easy. Perhaps because everyday life has been made so easy for us. We have very few practical concerns when it comes to a working-day. Everything we need to live through another busy day is basically packed and ready to go, whether it’s coffee, lunch, toothpaste -well, you name it. And quite frankly, it is very handy in a world where everything seems to be heading somewhere every single day: Living today is busy.

The down side of all this is that we rarely have the time nor the strength to consider our actions and the effect our way of life has on the natural world. I guess we’re prone to an idea of living in a world where everything is fixed for you. But unfortunately, this is not the case, and more than often it comes with a great price.

Plastic litter is one of the problems we are forced to deal with due to our everyday life. Indeed, plastic from single use products is the most common type of litter in our seas. The reasons may lie in the poor state of waste management or insufficient infrastructure, but more than often the flaw can be found in human behaviour.  We do not pay attention to what happens after we dump a plastic wrapper on the street or throw a cigarette butt into the storm water drain – out of sight, out of mind. Unfortunately, we’ve been doing it for so long that the problem is hitting us with all its force, gained by decades of ignorance and insufficient waste management. Our Baltic Sea is no exception in this case.

It is estimated that 80% of all marine litter derive from land-based sources. Most of it originate from everyday consumer behaviour – bottles, plastic bags, cigarette butts and take-away packages. It is not only about people spending time directly by the water and leaving trash behind them – plastic litter is light and can travel a long way from its origin. No matter how far away from the nearest lake or sea, every piece of plastic left on the ground or flying in the wind has a potential of becoming marine litter.

Almost 60% of all marine litter in the Baltic sea consist of plastic, most of it durable enough to hold forever. The evidence of its resilience is sure piling up. During a field expedition east of Gotland 2015, a sediment sample from 250 meters was analysed onboard the research vessel Aranda. The sample revealed a variety of man-made items from candy wrappers to plastic debris, well hidden in the muddy depths of the Baltic Sea (Finnish Environment Institute/Outi Setälä).

All of this is very alarming, but there are ways to change the course.

But what can you do to improve the situation?

  1. The first step is realizing that your actions matter. We are all causing the problem, so only we can solve it.
  2. Consume less and make an effort of minimizing the use of all single-use items.
  3. Don’t succumb to ignorance – make good use of the existing infrastructure such as public bins, don’t just leave your trash lying around.
  4. Recycle plastic packages
  5. Demand action from politicians and businesses
  6.  Support initiatives and practices that provide alternatives to single-use plastics
    and perhaps most importantly:
  7. Educate each other and always pay the message forward!

The BLASTIC-project works for bringing in guidance to help municipalities, authorities and everyday citizens to reduce the inflow of plastic waste into the Baltic Sea. BLASTIC aims to deliver tools that can help authorities in municipalities to recognize local sources and pathways for plastic litter. Also, the project wants to raise awareness and to increase knowledge about marine litter pathways among the public.

Atte Lindqvist works as a project coordinator at KAT. He has a M.Sc. in Environmental and Marine Biology from Åbo Akademi University, and has also studied ecophysiology and stream ecology at the University of Gothenburg. Before starting at KAT in September, Atte worked as a planner at the environmental protection office in the City of Turku. His interests include biodiversity, environmental awareness and avian ecology. Today he focuses on issues in the Baltic Sea and Archipelago.

Anna works as project manager at KAT, covering for Hanna Haaksi and having responsibility over all the organizations project work. Anna has a background in environmental communication studies at SLU (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences) in Uppsala and a BA degree in human geography from Stockholm University. Through her studies and personal engagements she has been pursuing environmental awareness, focusing mainly on Baltic Sea related issues and sustainable governance of the seas. Anna’s working languages ​​are Finnish, Swedish and English. In her free time she likes to sail, travel and move outdoors. Anna describes herself as an archipelago child with great passion to work with environmental issues and promote sustainable exploitation of natural resources.