Plastic pieces from the five gyres have not yet washed up on the shores of Wrightsville Beach, but three women are significantly reducing their plastic consumption to help prevent plastic pollution in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Author Beth Terry, local environmental blogger Danielle Richardet and Plastic Ocean blogger Bonnie Monteleone all read about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch near the Midway Islands before deciding to make the lifestyle change.
The women shared tips and knowledge of the negative plastic impacts in the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Lumina Theater on Monday, March 11.
“I was so bothered by it,” Monteleone said. “First of all, I wanted to know if it was urban legend.”
That was in 2008. Monteleone now travels to the same region once per year off the coast of Bermuda in the North Atlantic Ocean to collect samples to gauge plastic contents in the water.
“Every sample we collected contained plastic,” Monteleone said. “… We are keeping an eye on that right now to see if and when it happens on our coast.”
She said plastic contamination is far more aggressive in the North Pacific Ocean than the North Atlantic Ocean, and that smaller pieces of plastic are more difficult to clean up than larger pieces.
Terry’s book, “Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too,” is a guide with several ways to reduce plastic consumption.
Terry said reducing personal plastic consumption is a slow process.
“Don’t try to do this all at once,” she said. “This has taken me years. … Just go step-by-step.”
Terry downgraded her annual personal plastic consumption to one grocery bag filled with unavoidable items, such as prescription bottles and tape.
“The hardest part of all of this was doing the research and figuring out how to do this in the first place,” she said.
Terry said many people have told her that they recycle all of their plastic, but that recycling is the last R in reduce, reuse and recycle.
“Plastic recycling is more actively defined as down cycling,” Terry said. “… It’s really just a slower process to the landfill.”
She said many recyclables are shipped overseas and for recycling to be more effective, more infrastructure needs to be developed in the United States.
In the meantime, people can reduce their own plastic consumption by planning ahead.
“Our first strategy is bringing your own bag,” Terry said
Plus, bringing your own bottle, container, utensils and straws. The process gets creative when it comes to making foods or products that only come in plastic, like granola bars and deodorant.
Online resources like Etsy, Craigslist and tool and car sharing companies help foster a community of reusing, and consequently plastic consumption reduction. Additional steps include proactively asking companies to switch the materials they use and keeping up with the legislature.
“My personal actions are magnified by the example that I set,” Terry said.