When plastic pollution has been discovered in even the most remote depths of the world's oceans, its clear that nowhere is safe from the scourge of plastic waste. Recent research published in the journal Nature, Ecology and Evolution revealed alarming levels of toxins in crustaceans living in the Marianas Trench, the deepest known ocean trench.
More than 10,000,000 tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans every year, with China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Thailand the top contributors according to a 2015 study published in the journal Science.
Indonesia alone uses more than one million plastic containers per minute, half of which are single-use items such as plastic straws, stirrers and water bottles.
THINK GLOBAL ACT LOCAL
The thought of cleaning up so many old water bottles, discarded lighters and cigarette butts is a daunting one but dedicated volunteers across Thailand have taken up the challenge, proving that individual action can make a difference.
Armed with little more than rubber gloves and bags, an army of volunteers do battle with waste in Thailand's waterways every week. These dedicated individuals commit their time and energy to clearing damaging plastic waste from our oceans and it's having real results.
Between the 26 chapters across the country 1543 cleanups have been organized and the groups have removed more than 263 tonnes of trash from the ocean. The waste is weighed, separated and recycled where possible.
FROM LITTLE THINGS, BIG THINGS GROW
Trash Hero began in December 2013 on Koh Lipe, Thailand's southern-most island along the Andaman Sea coast, where 17 people decided to take action about waste issues on their beach. The first organize meetup has swollen to more than 31,000 volunteers including 5100 children, starting the next generation on their journey towards a sustainable future.
The message has spread beyond Thailand too, with regional chapters established across nine countries including Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia and even as far as the United States.
One of the early barriers the group found to participation is a negative association of picking up garbage but creative branding has helped with their image. "The main challenge was to transform the negativity around collecting trash into a positive message." said Swiss native Roman Peter, one of the Trash Hero founders. "That's why the name fits perfectly."
Their work is finding creative outlets for exposure now too. The group partnered with Wonderfruit Festival in creating art projects constructed from recycled trash in collaboration with Thai artists and designers. By the end of 2016, the group had won two Thailand Green Excellence Awards.
PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE
Cleaning existing trash from waterways is important but the group concentrates on more than just cleanup efforts, aiming to prevent garbage from entering oceans and waterways to begin with.
The group sell reusable bags and stainless steel bottles and to date, more than 5,400 reusable bags and 42,000 reusable bottles have been sold. The group estimate that if each bottle is used just once a day for a year, over 15 million single use plastic bottles will not be purchased.
While addressing the global pollution problem may be complex, when passionate people take personal responsibility for the environment around them, amazing things can happen.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
You can find Trash Hero groups all around Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and across the globe. Groups like Beach Patrol operate in Australia too. If you can't find a local group, consider starting one!
We can all make a difference and it starts today!