Diners at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Cafe might not notice what's missing from our beverage case. There's plenty to choose from: water, milk and juice; iced tea, soda and beer. But there's barely a speck of single-use plastic.
This transformation reflects a broader effort to reduce plastic waste for the health of our ocean. The science shows we have a problem: Almost 9 million tons of plastic enters the global ocean each year—equal to a full dump truck every minute. In the United States alone, plastic waste averages more than 200 pounds per person each year, and recycling isn't keeping up with the pace of production. If nothing changes, by 2025, the flow of plastic to the sea is expected to double.
Aquariums across the United States are on the case. The Aquarium Conservation Partnership, which the Monterey Bay Aquarium co-founded and chairs, is raising its collective voice to support policies—at local, state and national levels—that reduce the flow of plastic into our ocean, rivers and lakes. In July, the partnership launched a digital campaign encouraging the public to become a part of the solution. The campaign reached almost 5 million people via email and social media.
The partnership announced that its members—22 U.S. aquariums with a collective reach of 25 million visitors per year—have stopped using disposable plastic straws and bags, and pledged to significantly reduce plastic beverage bottles by late 2020. At the Monterey Bay Aquarium, we've already eliminated plastic bottles (as well as straws and bags), and are working to reduce the plastic packaging in our gift shops.
"The public trusts aquariums to do what's right for the health of the ocean and for ocean wildlife," said Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard. "We're just beginning to understand the full impacts of ocean plastic pollution on ecosystems, marine life and human health. But we already know enough to say that now is the time to act."
In July, the partnership launched a digital campaign encouraging the public to become a part of the solution.
Next Generation Leads the Fight Against Plastic Pollution
If we take a cue from kids, the ocean's future looks bright. Young advocates are behind two recent efforts to reduce single-use plastic waste: One is a vision for a month without straws, and the other is a local city's ban on plastic straws and utensils.
Shelby O'Neil, an Aquarium Teen Conservation Leader and founder of Jr Ocean Guardians, is the driving force behind No Straw November, which encourages companies and individuals to reduce their straw consumption for one month. More than 1,000 businesses across the country have made No Straw November pledges, and several jurisdictions on California's Central Coast have signed on, too. The California Coastal Commission also voted to support Shelby's idea. If the Legislature passes a supporting resolution in 2018, the No Straw November movement will go statewide.
Meanwhile, a group of elementary school students in the city of Carmel-by-the-Sea took civic action to reduce ocean plastic pollution. Backed by restaurant owners and conservation orgainizations, including the Aquarium, the kids persuaded city official to ban single-use plastic serviceware (including straws and cutlery) at local restaurants, replacing it with reusable and compostable alternatives.
Shelby and the Carmel students are a part of California's leadership in tackling plastic pollution—including the nation's first statewide ban on single-use plastic carryout bags, which the Aquarium championed. We're cheering on these young ocean champions as they create the change they want to see in the world.