Pop-up exhibit travels the world showing impact of ocean plastic pollution

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Plastic: it’s a material that we use on a daily basis, and it’s causing big problems for the environment. The world’s oceans experience plastic pollution on a massive scale, putting marine life at risk. One traveling display is educating the public

CGTN’s Jim Spellman reports.

It’s a showcase of plastic debris, all pulled from our oceans. For a short time, it can be found on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It’s all part of an exhibit to raise awareness about plastic pollution in our seas.

Julia Schnetzer is scientific coordinator of the exhibit, called Ocean Plastics Lab. The size of the problem, she explained, is bigger than the public might realize.

“It’s estimated that about 8 million metric tons of plastic are dumped in the oceans every year. That’s about one of these shipping containers dumped in the ocean every two seconds,” Schnetzer said.

Some of the plastic floats and some of it sinks to the ocean floor, but much of it is microscopic. It’s a hazard to marine life, and potentially to human health as it ends up in food we eat.

“Most of the plastic is actually coming from land-based sources and not only from the coast, but also from the inland,” Schnetzer explained.

Most of the plastic found in the ocean starts off on land, ends up in rivers, then makes its way to the oceans where it can survive for hundreds of years.

The exhibit is funded by the German government, as well as European and U.S. institutions. It has made stops across Europe, and is headed for Canada next.

“This is a very public display. It’s meant to sort of get the public interested and engaged in asking questions on this topic, and make them feel empowered about what they can do to solve the problem,” said Katie Fillingham, a volunteer with the Consortium for Ocean Leadership.

Solutions really start at the individual level with simple acts, like using less plastic. It’s especially important to use less single-use plastic packaging, and things like plastic cups and straws.

“There is not one single solution to tackle this problem. We need to all work together, so we need private persons, we need politics, we need the industry, we need science to find different kinds of solutions,” Schnetzer said.

Schnetzer said governments should pass laws to reduce plastic pollution. An “Ocean Plastics Charter” was drafted at the recent G7 summit. It called for increased use of recycled plastic, and a reduction of plastics used once and thrown away.

However, the charter is non-binding, and the U.S. and Japan declined to go along. Many experts say governments aren’t taking the problem seriously.