How to Be a More Conscious Consumer 

Asian woman surrounded by neutral coloured clothing, emphasising our overconsumption mentality. Ocean Generation is sharing 5 strategies to become a more conscious consumer in this article.

5 Tips to become a more conscious consumer.

Overconsumption is one of the hallmarks of modern societies. We are quite literally sold the idea that consumption will boost our happiness. Clever marketing campaigns and the media champion this ‘more is better’ lifestyle.  

It can be easy to be caught up in this world of overconsumption. It’s easy to forget the impacts that our consumption habits have on both people and the planet.

We’re sharing a brief overview of these impacts below. Take a deeper dive into the impact of both appliances and textiles as part of our “What we Purchase” series. 

Man in a simple t-shirt and jeans handing off a bag to an extended hand while reaching for a new bag that looks exactly the same. The image symbolises how we over-consume fast fashion. To protect the planet, we need to address our more is best mindset. Ocean Generation is sharing tips to be a more conscious consumer.

The products that we consume impact the environment throughout their lifespans. From the sheer volume of water used in textile production to the generation of vast amounts of e-waste.

Waste from discarded products not only contaminates the environment, but also puts human health at risk. 

Globally, there is uneven distribution of these environmental and societal impacts of product consumption. Most impacts are felt in developing countries which receive exports of discarded products. This is despite developed countries being the primary product consumers.  

We need to start taking responsibility for our overconsumption.   

What we purchase directly impacts the use of natural resources, production practices, and the quantity of waste accumulated.

So, making more sustainable decisions about what we purchase has the power to reduce not only greenhouse gas emissions, but also wider environmental impacts.    

How to be a more environmentally conscious consumer:    

We’re all taught in school to reuse, reduce and recycle but there’s much more we can do to tackle overconsumption.

Our Plastic Intelligence Framework – which breaks down a hierarchy of actions; The 5 R’s: rethink, refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle – can be used to guide consumer decision making around plastics

Ocean Generation has developed a Plastic Intelligence Framework that outlines the most impactful ways individuals can make a positive impact and curb their waste generation. The 5 most impactful ways we can address plastic pollution in order of positive impact are: Rethink, refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle.

The order of these actions is deliberate, with the most impactful change being to rethink, followed by refuse, reduce, reuse, and finally recycle.  

Utilising the 5R framework, we can also address broader sustainable consumption. How? What do these steps actually involve? Let’s start from the top.  

How to be a more environmentally conscious consumer:    

1. Rethink your relationship with products 

To do this, we need to remember that our ‘needs’ may differ from our ‘wants’. Have a think about what items you consider to be essential for your well-being and happiness.  

Advertising and media influence the perception what we ‘need’. It is our responsibility to acknowledge this and form our own opinions about what items are necessary in our lives.  

If you decide that you do really need an item, then that’s okay! The focus of rethinking is to slow down consumption. This is achieved by taking a moment to consider our relationship with items. 

2. Refuse to purchase unnecessary items.  

Female hand trying to force and over-full closet closed. The image symbolises our overconsumption habits when it comes to fashion and shopping.

Is an item of clothing part of a fast fashion trend, destined to be worn once then live at the back of your wardrobe until it is discarded?  

Do you really need multiple devices, or will one do the job? 

Refusing to purchase unnecessary items minimises waste produced.  

3. Reduce your overall consumption. 

If you find yourself needing to buy something, then where possible, opt for quality over quantity.  

If a product is low-quality, it is likely to be less durable and have a shorter useful lifespan. Question if you need the low-quality item. Can you wait until you have the resources to buy a better-quality product; built to last longer?

The result? Less waste. 

4. Reuse products to extend their lifespan.  

Reuse can take many forms.  

In the world of textiles, renting, remaking, repairing, and reselling are all part of the transition to ‘slow’ fashion. Online resale and rental platforms are becoming increasingly popular, along with second-hand shops and upcycled items.  

Explore repairing your damaged items before discarding them. It is never too late to learn how to sew a button. For more complex repairs, such as of household appliances, try checking out a local repair workshop.  

Before buying new appliances, consider refurbished items (products that are repaired/restored to working condition) or remanufactured items (used products that get dismantled, their worn parts replaced, and reassembled to like-new condition).  

Ultimately, reusing items decreases demand for resource extraction and minimises waste. 

We can't recycle our way out of our waste problems. Reducing waste - at its source - is key. To achieve that, we need to rethink our consumer behaviour.

5. Recycle at designated points.  

Remember that while the rethinking, refusing, reducing, and reusing are more impactful, recycling is still a valuable process. This is because again it reduces the amount of waste generated.  

If an item is truly at the end of its lifespan, recycle it at a designated recycling point.  

We don’t have to be perfectly zero-waste or plastic-free consumers to make a positive difference   

However, what we all must do is start making changes. Here are 20 ways to address your daily plastic waste on a daily basis to get you started.

   

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The History of Fast Fashion

Green leaf poking out of a jean pocket, representing sustainable fashion. Shared by Ocean Generation.

A brief history of fast fashion and its impact on the planet. 

100 billion items of clothing are produced every year. That’s a 50% growth in just 15 years and the main culprit for this growth – fast fashion – shows little sign of slowing down. 

We’ve stitched together a brief history of fast fashion; from when fashion become fast, the impact it’s had on our blue planet, and what we can do to become sustainable fashion devotees.  

First: What is fast fashion?

Fast fashion can be defined as low-cost, trendy clothing rapidly produced by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends.  

The focus of fast fashion is affordability and convenience – largely at the cost of people and the planet.  

Fast fashion plays into the idea that outfit repeating is a fashion faux pas. If you want to stay relevant, it’s believed you should be sporting the latest looks while they’re happening.  

Overproduction and overconsumption has resulted in the fashion industry being one of the world’s largest polluters. Jump here to read about the environmental impact of fast fashion.  

But how did we get here?  

Definition of fast fashion: Fast fashion is low-cost, trendy clothing rapidly produced by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends. Fast fashion has a massive impact on our planet. Ocean Generation is sharing a brief history of fast fashion.

Once upon a time, in a slow fashion world

More than 20,000 years ago, people began hand sewing; using animal bones and horns as needles.  

Up until the early 1800’s, most people raised sheep or saved up to purchase wool to spin yarn to weave cloth and hand sew… You get the idea. 

Adding garments to your closet was a slow, infrequent process, driven by seasonal changes and growing pains. 

When was the first sewing machine invented?

It was only in 1830 – during the Industrial Revolution – that the fast fashion story really starts with the invention of the sewing machine. 

Barthelemy Thimonnier, a French tailor, invented a sewing machine that used a hooked needle and one thread to create a chain stitch (which is still commonly used in denim jeans). 

The first sewing machine was invented in 1830 by
Barthelemy Thimonnier. It had a hooked needle and created a chain stitch, which is still used on jeans today. Shared by Ocean Generation in the history of the fashion industry article.

With the advent of the sewing machine, clothes became easier, quicker, and cheaper to make. Clothing began to be made in bulk, in various sizes, rather than just being made to order. 

Dressmaking shops emerged to cater to the middle classes and – for the first time – people started wearing clothing for style, not just practical reasons.  

The fashion industry used to be slow. Sweatshops were the beginning of the end of that.

Shared by Ocean Generation this is a sweatshop of Mr. Goldstein, 30 Suffolk Street, New York City, photograph by Lewis Wickes Hine, February, 1908

What is a sweatshop?

Sweatshops are factories or workshops, especially in the clothing industry, where manual workers are employed at low wages for long hours and poor (or downright illegal) working conditions. 

To cater to the demand for clothing, sweatshops emerged in the 1800’s (and don’t be fooled: They still exist today.) 

“Fast fashion isn’t free. 
Someone, somewhere,  is paying.” 
Quote by Lucy Siegle regarding the fashion industry. In the image, an asian woman wears pink gloves poised under her chin.

Clothing becomes a form of personal expression: 1960s

By the 1960s and 1970s, young people were creating new trends and using clothing as a form of personal expression. 

There was increasing demand for affordable clothing. Textile mills opened across the developing world, and low-quality, mass-produced clothing took over.  

Shopping for new clothes became a hobby and a means of social status.  

When was the term fast fashion coined? 

In 1990, the New York Times published an article using the term ‘fast fashion’ for the first time. The piece was about a new fashion retailer with a mission to transform a garment – from an idea in the designer’s brain to being sold on racks in store – in only 15 days.  

This was the first article ever published using the term fast fashion. In 1990, the New York Times published an article about Zara stores coming to New York. Ocean Generation is sharing the impact of fast fashion on the planet.

It’s safe to say fast fashion had arrived.  

By the mid-1990s, online shopping took off – accelerating what was already a dizzying rate of textile consumption.  

No matter where you are in the world, chances are: If you see an outfit you like, online, you can buy it and have it on your doorstep in days. But at what cost?  

Two sets of socked feet are up in the air. One pair of feet is wearing green socks and the other is wearing mustard yellow socks. They are both wearing white strappy high heels and blue jeans.

Being fashionable shouldn’t cost the earth.  

All areas of fast fashion – super speedy production, use of synthetic fibres and dangerous chemicals, and competitive pricing – have massive negative impacts on our blue planet and the people involved in garment manufacturing.  

What’s more: Rapidly changing trends and clothing available at shockingly cheap prices instils a throw-away culture; as though clothing isn’t meant to be long-lasting or worn more than a few times.  

5 fast facts about fashion’s environmental impact.

And that’s the tip of the iceberg.

We’ve hardly touched on overconsumption, water usage, waste and haven’t even mentioned microplastics yet.  Read more about the impact of textiles on people and the planet.

Woman breaking through a piece of clear plastic with her hands. Learn about plastic pollution with Ocean Generation.

How does fast fashion impact the Ocean?  

Textiles in the fashion industry generally fit into two categories: Natural and synthetic.  

Natural materials (like wool and cotton) are made from plant and animal sources. They tend to be more expensive and last longer.  

Fast fashion relies on the cheaper (less, environmentally friendly) option: Synthetic materials. You’ll recognise these plastic-based materials in your clothing: Polyester, acrylic, and nylon. 

Synthetic fibres make up almost 60% of annual fibre consumption. Said differently: Our clothes are around 60% plastic. 

More than ever, our clothes are made of plastic. Just washing them can pollute the Ocean.  

Rainbow over the Ocean. It's like the Ocean is a pot of gold and really: it is. Our Ocean provides us with many resources and produces half the oxygen on Earth. Learn about the Oceans with Ocean Generation.

These synthetic fibres produce non-biodegradable waste that pollute the Ocean. How? A single 6kg laundry load releases up to 700,000 synthetic microfibres which pass through our drains and into our Ocean. 

Once in the Ocean, microfibres are ingested by Ocean life and end up making their way back up the food chain, to us, and pose numerous health risks.  

We can put fast fashion out of style.  

More and more, consumers are demanding sustainable clothing and calling out the true cost of the fashion industry. As a result, we’re starting to see some changes in the fashion industry, but there’s a long way to go.  

As recently as 2018, the fashion industry produced ~2.1 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally. Luckily for us, we can all directly influence the fashion industry and the impact it has.

As individuals, the first thing we need to tackle is our relationship with consumerism. 

Asian woman surrounded by a pile of clothing. Just her face showing amongst all the clothing and textiles. This photo represents the overconsumption in the fashion industry.

“What can I do to tackle fast fashion?” 

  • Continue to learn about how to spot fast fashion brands (then steer clear of them). 
  • Embrace buying less fast fashion items. (In a week or two, that item will be out of fashion anyway, right?) 
  • When you do shop for clothing, ensure you’re purchasing with long-term wear in mind. 
  • Support responsible, ethical clothing brands.  
  • Buy second hand. 
  • Only wash your clothes when they’re actually dirty.  
  • Be an outfit repeater (re-wear your clothing until it really is end-of-life). 
  • Repurpose clothing when they’re end-of-life. 
  • Remember that the most sustainable piece of clothing you have is the one already in your closet
  • Join the Wavemaker Programme for tools to accelerate your social actions. 
  • Subscribe to our newsletter for Ocean news, stories, and science.  

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The impact of fashion on people and planet: What we purchase

What's the impact of fast fashion on the environment? Ocean Generation is diving into fast fashion, textile production, where clothing actually goes when we recycle it and how we can all be sustainable fashion lovers. Image is of three ethnically diverse and fashionable women, looking off into the distance. They're each wearing a power suit.

What you need to know about the environmental impact of the textiles in fashion.

Textiles – including clothing and footwear – are an everyday essential across the world. Our clothes can not only keep us warm in the cold, dry in the rain, and protect us from the sun, but they can also be an invaluable way to express ourselves through fashion. 

Despite their prevalence in our lives, it can be easy to overlook where our textiles come from, and the impact that fashion items have on both people and the planet.  

In this article Ocean Generation is sharing the impact of fashion on the environment. In this image a woman in a bright, flowing yellow dress is at a skatepark. You cannot see her face but you can see her black sneaker resting on the skateboard.

Let’s look deeper into the textile industry by discussing the following key areas:  

  • Overconsumption 
  • Environmental Impacts of Textiles 
  • Societal Impacts of Textiles 

What are the origins of the textiles that we know and love? 

It is important to consider the behind-the-scenes processes involved in textile production and distribution. These are illustrated below. 

Infographic describing the behind-the-scenes processes in textile production: fron fibre production, spinning, knitting to wet processes, assembly and distribution. This article looks at the impact of fashion and textiles on the planet.

What’s the impact of overconsumption in fashion? 

With the rise of fast fashion and increasing connectivity in this digital world, getting swept up in fashion trends has never been easier.  

But let’s slow down for a minute to think about our changing consumption habits. Between 2000 and 2015, clothing production doubled from ~50 billion units to over 100 billion units. This trend is driven by an increasing middle-class population globally and rising per capita sales in mature economies.  

Why are sales rising? Fast fashion is the prime culprit here.  

The fast fashion phenomenon began in the 1990s, with low-priced and short-lived items being generated by cheap manufacturing. Today, influencers on various digital platforms often promote rapidly changing trends, driving frequent consumption.  

On top of this, we wear clothes significantly less during their lifespans. This is not without considerable economic loss, with US$ 460 billion of value lost globally each year from people throwing away clothes they could still wear.  

Hands working with a sewing machine. A piece of navy fabric is being transformed into a piece of sustainable fashion. Shared by Ocean Generation - experts in Ocean health since 2009.

How do textiles and the fashion industry impact the environment?  

It isn’t just the economic loss that is a problem, however, as textile production, use, and disposal have significant environmental impacts which we’ll explore next.  

In 2018, the fashion industry produced ~2.1 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally. This weight is equivalent to that of 350 million adult male African Savanna elephants. GHG emissions are important to consider as they contribute to climate change.  

The textile value chain (the whole product lifecycle) is notoriously water intensive, consuming 215 trillion litres of water annually. This is equivalent to 86 million Olympic-size swimming pools.  

The fashion industry produced 2.1 billion tonnes of GHG in 2018; equivalent to the weight of 350 million adult male African elephants.

Overexploitation of our finite water sources can lead to major environmental disasters. An example of this is the Aral Sea Crisis, where water extraction for cotton irrigation desiccated what used to be the fourth largest lake in the world. 

Chemical contamination of textile wastewater is an environmental concern. The textile industry uses over 15,000 chemicals, many of which are harmful to the planet. Toxic substances such as reactive dyes and heavy metals often pollute local aquatic ecosystems.  

Did you know that washing textiles releases microfibres into the environment?   

All textiles are culprits, whether natural (such as cotton), semi-synthetic (including viscose) or synthetic (for example polyester).  

It was found that an average 6kg wash load of synthetic acrylic fabric releases over 700,000 fibres. These microfibres have been found in a range of environments, from the deep sea to Mount Everest, and can be ingested by aquatic organisms including sea cucumbers and hermit crabs.  

So far, we have investigated the impact of textile production and use on the environment.

What is the fate of discarded textiles?

In 2015, just 13% of total material input was recycled following clothing use. Most post-consumer waste is instead incinerated, landfilled, or exported to developing countries to be sold in second-hand markets.

Infographic from Ocean Generation sharing the fate of discarded clothing. Only 13% of clothing is actually recycled - the majority is exported to developing countries, incinerated or landfilled.

This is not to mention the pre-consumer waste comprised of new, unworn, or returned clothes that fail to be worn by consumers. The result? The accumulation of enormous quantities of textile waste.  

What are the societal impacts of textiles?  

While textiles are undeniably harmful to the planet, their production, use and disposal can have negative impacts on people too.  

The untreated textile wastewater that pollutes aquatic ecosystems also harms the communities using contaminated water systems for fishing, washing, and drinking.  

Breaking news: Plastic has been found in our lungs, blood, and even breast milk. Ocean Generation - experts in plastic pollution - share facts about plastic and the harms of plastic on human health.

Microfibres released into our waterways infiltrate human diets via tap water, beer, sea salt, and seafood, and have even been detected in human lungs.  

Textile waste exported to developing countries is sorted for sale in second-hand markets by low paid workers in unsafe conditions.  

The impacts of the textile industry are unevenly distributed, with the brunt being taken by developing countries where textile and garment manufacturing occurs. This is despite consumption primarily occurring in developed countries.  

Sounding familiar? The fate of textile waste mirrors that of both plastic and electronic waste.  

Global clothing production doubled from 50 billion units to over 100 billion units between 2000 and 2015. Fast fashion facts shared by Ocean Generation.

So, what is being done to repair the environmental impacts of the textile industry?  

There has been progress at reducing the environmental impact of the textile industry at various stages, from treating textile wastewater using plants to the degradation of textile waste by enzymes produced by bacteria and fungi.  

While these innovations are exciting, further development is needed before wider use.   

In the meantime, increasing awareness of the negative environmental and societal impacts of the textile industry has resulted in rising interest of new business models. Reselling, renting, repairing, and remaking increase product lifetimes, and this is a vital step in the move towards ‘slow’ fashion.

What is my role in the future of sustainable fashion – specifically, textiles?

You, as a textiles consumer, can drive change.

Here’s what action you can take:

  • Try to rethink your relationship with clothes. Some helpful tips on how to become a slower, more mindful consumer can be found here: How to take the fast out of fast fashion
  • Have a think about whether you need and will value that garment before making a purchase.  
  • Browse a second-hand shop before buying new.
       
  • Refuse to purchase unnecessary or low-quality, less durable clothes where possible.  
  • Think before putting your clothes in the wash. If possible, air out clothes or hand wash to remove specific stains. Try to avoid tumble drying too.  
  • Look into washing machine filters or washing bags designed to catch microfibres. 
  • Explore renting, leasing, updating, repairing, or reselling textiles to extend their lifespan. 
  • Try your hand at simple textile repairs, such as sewing buttons or patching up a hole, either by teaching yourself or attending a local repair workshop. 
  • If your garment is truly at the end of its lifespan, recycle it at a designated recycling point. 


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The rise of e-waste and what we can do about it: What we purchase.

Old TV set in a wheat-field. Ocean Generation is sharing facts about the rise of e-waste, the environmental impacts, and what we can do about it.

What you need to know about the environmental impact of e-waste.

Appliances are a marker of technological advancement and play a significant role in many of our lives. While they can be beneficial, it is important to consider the impact that these appliances, as e-waste, have on both people and the planet.  

Imagine your typical day, what appliances do you use? Do you work using a laptop or browse social media on a phone? Maybe you use a washing machine to do your laundry? Or perhaps you listen to music using headphones or use a refrigerator to keep your food fresh? 

Globally, the consumption of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) is rising by 2.5 million metric tons (Mt) each year (excluding solar electricity panels). This is due to higher disposable incomes, more people living in towns and cities, and further wide scale development of industries.  

In this article Ocean Generation is sharing facts about the rise of e-waste, the environmental impacts of e-waste, and what we can do about it.

What is e-waste

Despite increasing government influence over how discarded electronics (known as ‘e-waste’) is dealt with, and innovative e-waste recycling strategies, the sheer quantities and hazardous contents of e-waste remains a concern. 

We will discuss three main areas of interest when it comes to the impact of appliances:  

  • Use of Natural Resources 
  • Creation of E-waste  
  • Impact of E-waste 

What kind of materials can be found in appliances? 

Many materials are used to build the appliances that we know and love.  

From precious gold to hazardous mercury, up to 69 out of the 118 elements from the periodic table can be found in EEE.  

Depleting these limited natural resources is an issue in and of itself, not to mention the greenhouse gas emissions associated with resource extraction which contribute to climate change.  

The variety of materials in appliances also make it much more difficult to deal with e-waste, and we will return to this issue after discussing how e-waste is generated.  

How is e-waste created?

What happens when appliances are no longer used?  

Disposal of ‘obsolete’ appliances contribute to e-waste. This is one of the fastest growing solid waste streams in the world, with 53.6 Mt of e-waste generated globally in 2019 and expected growth to 74.7 Mt by 2030.  

To put this into perspective, the weight of e-waste that we produced in 2019 is equivalent to that of 53,600 blue whales, with an expected increase to the weight of 74,700 blue whales in 2030.  

Image of a blue whale in the the Ocean - Earth's biggest mammal. The text reads: The weight of e-waste produced in 2019 is equivalent to the weight of 53,600 blue whales. Facts shared by Ocean Generation.

What is causing growing quantities of e-waste?  

You may have heard of the term ‘planned obsolescence’.

This refers to goods being produced with intentionally short useful lifespans, encouraging consumers to buy a replacement sooner than they should have to.  

Planned obsolescence is one of the big contributors to the rise of e-waste, and examples can be found throughout the tech world, from the deliberate slowing down of smartphone processors to companies frequently creating new models to make old ones seem unfashionable.  

This new ‘normal’ perception of appliances having short lifespans fuels unnecessary consumption.  

What’s the environmental impact of e-waste? 

But why does it matter that e-waste is on the rise? In short, e-waste is problematic because of low recycling rates, export to developing countries, and the environmental and human health risks associated with improper e-waste management.  

Below is the fate of e-waste generation in numbers:  

Infographic from Ocean Generation. In 2019, 17.4% of e-waste generated was formally documented as collected and recycled. 82.6? of e-waste had an undocumented fate.

Many disposed appliances end up in landfill or incinerators in developed countries or are exported to developing countries.  

Ocean Generation shares an infographic asking what happens to the 82.6% of undocumented 
e-waste? In 2019, 8% was landfilled or incinerated and between 7-20% was exported to developing countries.

The lack of e-waste recycling means more raw materials are extracted to meet the growing demand for electronic products.  

Additionally, as seen with plastics and textiles, the export of e-waste to be dealt with by informal sectors (unregulated economic activities outside government control) in developing countries is a major issue. 

Out of sight, out of mind? No longer.  

Despite the efforts of the Basel Convention to restrict the transport of hazardous waste between countries, e-waste exporters often exploit loopholes, such as by labelling shipments as “charitable donations” or by claiming that the e-waste is “repairable”.  

The consequence?

Informal sectors in developing countries are dumped with large quantities of e-waste. Low paid workers in unsafe conditions process this e-waste using rudimentary techniques including manual disassembly, open incineration and acid dipping. Their aim is to tap into the literal gold mine of valuable resources hidden amongst this waste.  

Did you know: Up to 69 of the 118 elements in the periodic table can be found in electronic e-waste.
Infographic shared by Ocean Generation.

However, while there are valuable materials to be retrieved, e-waste also contains many hazardous substances which endanger the environment and humans alike.

Pollution of soil, air, and water with flame retardants and heavy metals (such as lead, copper, and cadmium) negatively impacts a variety of organisms, including reptiles, fish, crustaceans, and birds.  

Not only is wildlife impacted, but these dangerous substances also harm humans both through direct contact with workers and by making their way into the food and water that civilians consume.  

For example, the levels of lead and cadmium in polished rice from an e-waste recycling area in Southeast China were found to be 2-4 times higher than what is considered safe. Drinking water in this area was also contaminated, containing levels of lead up to 8 times higher than the local drinking water standard.  

So, what is being done to tackle the environmental impacts of e-waste?  

While 71% of the world’s population was guided by some form of national policy, legislation, or regulation to govern e-waste in 2019, this equates to less than half the countries in the world.  

This means that there is still much progress to be made until e-waste is sufficiently managed across the world.  

Interestingly, valuable materials can be extracted from e-waste using bacteria and fungi, but these recycling techniques still have some way to go before they can be scaled up.  

How can I become a conscious appliance consumer   

Having a responsible relationship with appliances is possible.  

  • Remember that a ‘want’ may differ from a ‘need’, so question whether you actually need that appliance before purchasing it.  
  • Refuse to purchase unnecessary or low-quality appliances where possible.  
  • When purchasing appliances, investigate refurbished items (products that are repaired/restored to working condition) or remanufactured items (used products that get dismantled, their worn parts replaced, and reassembled to like-new condition) before buying new.  
  • If your appliance breaks, consider repairing it yourself or booking a certified repair service.  
  • If your appliance is at the end of its lifespan, recycle it.


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The History of Climate Change

A century of climate science history: Explained.

These days, you can’t go a week without the impacts of climate change making headlines – but that wasn’t always the case. When climate science first appeared in the media, it was batched with conspiracy theories and radical ideas.  

Now, we know better.

We’re hopping in a time machine to unpack the history of climate change, greenhouse gasses, global warming, and why climate skeptism existed for so long. 

When did climate science first make the news

Over a hundred years ago (hello, 1912), the Titanic set sail and sank, zippers were invented, Oreos were created. And Breaking News: Climate change entered the news for the first time.  

This caption appeared in the March 1912 publication of ‘Popular Mechanics’, directly linking burning coal and global temperature change: 

Snapshot of a caption that appeared in the March 1912 publication of ‘Popular Mechanics’, directly linking burning coal and global temperature change.

Several months later, on 14 August 1912, a paper in New Zealand re-shared the now-famous caption. They titled it: “Coal Consumption Affecting Climate.”

But before these publications, fundamental climate science was already understood.  

On 14 August 1912, a paper in New Zealand re-shared a now-famous caption titled: “Coal Consumption Affecting Climate.” 

Burning coal and climate change, for the first time, were linked in the media. Shared bY ocean Generation experts in Ocean health and inclusive environmental learning.

Scientists understood how greenhouse gasses contributed to rising temperatures in 1856.

What is the greenhouse gas effect and who discovered it? 

The greenhouse gas effect is how heat is trapped close to the Earth’s surface. Trapped by what? Greenhouse gas molecules like carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.  

John Tyndall, an Irish physicist, is commonly miscredited with discovering the greenhouse effect.  

In 1856 (three years before Tyndall’s work was published), Eunice Foote, an American scientist, concluded certain gasses warm when exposed to sunlight. She concluded that rising carbon dioxide levels would lead to atmospheric changes, which could impact the climate.  

Human activity was suggested as the main driver of climate change in 1896.

Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish scientist, suggested that as humanity burned fossil fuels (non-renewable energy sources like coal, crude oil and petroleum), which added carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, we’d raise the planet’s average temperature. 

Over 100 years ago, the science was there. Why does it feel like we’re only waking up now? 

Climate science wasn’t accepted by the public.

We can point to these news articles and research pieces and say, “It’s been a century! Why was nothing done?” But climate change began on the fringe of society. The science – and these scientists – weren’t taken seriously.  

“Humans? Impacting the planet? No way!” – someone in 1912, probably.  

Turning our backs on fossil fuels, which were building the modern world, seemed outlandish. When the world went to war in 1914, the topic lost momentum and only picked up again in the 1930’s. 

Ocean Generation is sharing the history of climate change. In this image, which is horizontally split in two, two sets of hands hold symbols of the modern world: a light bulb and a globe of Earth. The bottom image is of smoke rising from a factory, symbolising the connection between burning fossil fuels and the modern world.

The origin of global warming.

In 1938, Guy Callendar caused a stir in the science world when he put together weather observations and concluded that global average temperatures had already increased. 

Callendar was the first person to clearly identify a warming trend and connect it to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He was shunned by the science community for his research which became known as “the Callendar Effect.”  

Today, we just call it global warming. 

How does climate change impact our Ocean? 

The Ocean absorbs much of the sun’s heat which helps regulate land temperature and drive global weather patterns. More than 90% of the heat from global warming is stored in our Ocean. That makes the Ocean one of the most important carbon sinks on Earth.  

But this continual heat absorption is changing the characteristics of the Ocean. (Spoiler: not in a good way). Those changes have massive impacts on all life on Earth. 

Scroll: The 7 climate change indicators we’re seeing in the Ocean. 

How does climate change impact the Ocean? Ocean Generation has the answers. In this horizontally split image half is made up by an orange sunset, in the bottom image a scene under the Ocean is captured: there are vibrant corals and clown fish.

Why was climate scepticism so strong for so long?  

Scientific coverage in the media that pointed to the reality we all know now – that human activity is a key driver of climate change – was often published alongside pieces that were sceptical of such facts. 

As recently as 2003, it was covered that global warming amplified death tolls in the 2003 European Heatwave. In the same year, at a speech given on the US Senate floor, a former Chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee called climate change, “The greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”  

With contradicting statements everywhere, people believed that the jury was out on climate change. We know better. 

The best time to take climate action was in 1912.

The second-best time is right now and every day from now. Because the history of climate change is just that: History.

Each decision we take, today, tomorrow, in three weeks or four years, sets up the future health of our blue planet.  

A hand reaching out above a body of water. The hand's reflection looms below. Shared by Ocean Generation.

Actions you can take to fight climate change.

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The Ocean is turning green because of climate change

Breathtaking image of an Ocean wave breaking. The wave has a green hue. In this article, Ocean Generation explains why our Ocean is turning green because of climate change.

Over 56% of the Ocean is turning green.

More than half of our Ocean has changed colour in the last 20 years, turning more green than blue. (That’s more than Earth’s total land area.) The culprit? Climate change.

Nature published a study in July ’23 that analysed two decades of research which we’ve translated into a 5 minute read about why the Ocean is changing colour and why we should care.

More than half of the Ocean is turning green. It's changed colour in the last 20 years, becoming more green than blue. That's more than Earth's total land area. The culprit is climate change. Ocean Generation has translated the report into an easy read.

Why is the Ocean turning green?

Colour shifts in the Ocean happen for many reasons, like when light bounces off of particles (like plastic) and sediments in the water.

Phytoplankton (micro-algae) is the main reason the Ocean has a naturally green hue because it contains chlorophyll, like all terrestrial plants.

But phytoplankton is more than a just splash of colour. It’s the base of most Oceanic food chains, the main producer of our oxygen, and stores the bulk of our carbon.

So, shifts in Ocean colour aren’t really about the colour. We care about the colour shifts because they’re indicative of changes happening in important surface-level ecosystems.

How is the Ocean’s colour shift linked to climate change?

Good question. Tracking how changes in climate impact our Ocean can be challenging because of the sheer scale of our Ocean. So, often, time-series data is used to measure trends over long periods.

For this study, 20 years of observations from June 2002 to June 2022 by Nasa’s Modis-Aqua satellite were used.

By studying wavelengths of sunlight reflected off our Ocean’s surface, the scientists tracked the fluctuations in greenness (basically: How much phytoplankton is living near the Ocean’s surface, based on estimates of how much chlorophyll there is).

Satellite image of phytoplankton populations from space. Phytoplankton is a micro-algae but so important to all life on our planet. Ocean Generation shares the importance of this Ocean-surface ecosystem.

Of course, phytoplankton populations have natural fluctuations.
To assess the connection to climate change, researchers created a computer model.

The model measured how phytoplankton populations may respond to increases in greenhouse gases (without the natural variations).

The results (between reality and the only-climate-driven-changes model) matched almost exactly, prooving:

Oceanic plant populations (measured by the green they’re adding to the Oceans colour palette) can indicate climate health.

What’s the impact of a greener Ocean?

It all comes back to the phytoplankton.

If the health of phytoplankton is impacted, there are implications relating to:

  • Our Ocean ‘s ability to store carbon;
  • The entire Ocean food chain (and thus, ours);
  • Balance in the biogeochemical cycle (AKA: the water cycle, nitrogen cycle, etc).

We say it all the time. We mean it every time: A healthy Ocean is essential for all life on Earth.

Ocean Generation shares why a healthy Ocean is essential for all life on Earth. Image of a man floating on his back in the Ocean.

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10 Ocean actions from the Ocean Generation team

Hand cupping water presumably from the Ocean.

Every decision we make has an environmental impact

This means everyone can do something (or more than one something) to make our planet a bluer, healthier place to call home.

Our Ocean plays a critical role in regulating the climate and absorbing carbon emissions – most notably, through blue carbon ecosystems. So, taking Ocean action is in the best interest of all life on Earth.

Ocean action is climate action.

We asked the team at Ocean Generation – from those in our science team; to our founder, Jo Ruxton MBE; to those who manage our youth engagement programmes – to share the ways they take Ocean and climate action each day.

10 daily actions our team of Ocean lovers takes to protect the Ocean:

1) Omit unnecessary car travel

10 ways you can take action to fight climate change. Tip: Omit unnecessary car travel.

2) Don’t pour cooking oil down the drain

Ocean health tip from Ocean generation: Don't pour cooking oil down the drain.

3) The best way to take Ocean action? Educate your inner circle about how important our Ocean is.

10 ways you can protect the Ocean shared by the Ocean Generation team. Tip: Educate the people around you about the importance of the Ocean.

Wondering where to start?
Incredible Ocean facts for you:

4) Shop second-hand

Sustainable living tip: Shop second hand and rethink your relationship with fast fashion.

5) Be a mindful toilet flusher

Ocean action tip: Don't flush anything down the drain besides toilet paper and bodily fluids. What goes down the drain ends up in the Ocean.

6) Share what you love about the Ocean with others

You can connect with the Ocean by visiting it in person or using digital means to explore the depths under the sea.

Fun fact: 2.5 billion people live within 100km of the coast. But, of course, not everyone can take a dip in the Ocean every day.

What you can do from afar is go on a virtual Oceanic expedition. Dive into Ocean ecosystems across the world on Google.

7) Say no to wet-wipes

Ocean protection tip: Say no to wet wipes. They don't degrade!

8) Integrate environmentalism into your career

10 ways you can fight climate change shared by the Ocean Generation team. Tip: Integrate environmentalism into your career and start talking about climate at work.

Easy ways to incorporate environmentalism into your work-life:

  • Bring the Ocean’s health and welfare of the planet into conversation.
  • Can you promote a paperless office?
  • How about suggesting old devices get recycled instead of tossed?
  • Try suggesting the use glasses instead of styrofoam cups at your next meeting or conference.
  • Send e-cards during the festive season and for birthdays – you can even donate the price of a paper card to a cause you care about.

9) Make these easy plastic swaps – and then swear off unnecessary plastic items forever.

Protect the Ocean by committing to never using a plastic straw, bottle or cup again. There are so many eco-alternatives out there.

At Ocean Generation, we promote an inclusive approach to sustainability. We recognise that zero-waste, plastic-free, vegan, and zero-carbon lifestyles don’t work for everyone – and that’s okay. The world needs all of us to do what we can, within our means.

But in saying that, it’s also important to recognise that too many of us still use single-use plastics too easily. When did you last purchase a plastic bottle, a take-out coffee mug or use a single-use plastic straw?

Most single-use plastic items are unnecessary. There are (excuse the pun) an Ocean of eco-alternatives available.

It’s time to break up with unnecessary plastic. Identify what unnecessary single-use plastic you use. ✅ Make the switch to eco-alternatives. ✅ Commit to never going back. ✅

10) Do your best to take environmental action daily, and accept that ‘your bestlooks different for everyone.

10 ways you can fight climate change and protect the Ocean shared by the Ocean Generation team. Tip: Do your best to take environmental action and recognise that your best and someone elses best look different. We don't have to take the same action to make a positive difference.

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15 Climate actions you can take to restore the Ocean’s health 

15 simple actions you can take to fight climate change and protect the Ocean, shared by Ocean Generation. Dark blue, foamy wave washing onto a beach.

What can I do about climate change?”

We’re regularly asked for practical climate actions. Thankfully, there’s a lot we can do to look after our blue planet.  

Every decision we make – from what we eat to how we move to the clothes we wear – has an environmental impact. But when faced with fear-mongering headlines and science-backed alarm bells that we’re reaching a climate tipping point, individual actions don’t feel like enough.  

Do individual climate actions actually make a difference?  

Yes. Think about it: Swapping out your plastic straw for a metal one may not feel like much, but if everyone in Europe did the same, 701 tonnes of plastic could be prevented from entering the environment every year.  

Collectively, individual actions are powerful propellers of positive change.  

The image is cut horizontally down the middle. The top image is four men and woman dressed for work in suits and coats, holding briefcases. The bottom image is of a bright yellow fish in an organge coral in the sea. Shared by Ocean Generation.

Why should the Ocean have a seat at climate conversations?  

The Ocean is a powerful climate change mitigator.

Here’s 3 ways our Ocean mitigates the impacts of climate change: 

  • The Ocean absorbs 90% of excess heat from our climate system, making it an impressive heat sink. In fact, the Ocean is the largest heat sink on Earth. 
  • 30% of human-made carbon emissions are absorbed by our Ocean.  
  • The Ocean plays a major role in climate adaption. (Said differently: the Ocean supports our planet’s adjustment to the effects of climate change, for example, through blue carbon ecosystems).  

But as much as our Ocean tackles climate change, it is also directly affected by it. (Read: Ways climate change impacts Ocean health.)

When we take climate action, we are simultaneously taking Ocean action and vice versa.  

From reducing your use of single-use plastics to addressing your carbon footprint, there are many effective ways to make a positive difference.

Here are 15 climate actions you can take to restore the Ocean’s health: 

1) Skip single-use coffee cups

Many of us start our day with a cup of coffee on the go. It’s a comforting routine that sets the tone for the rest of the day. 

If all of Europe made the switch from single-use plastic cups to eco-friendly alternatives, we’d prevent 1,500 tonnes of plastic waste a year.

Hand holding a reusable coffee cup, shared by Ocean Generation. The accompanying text says 'if all of Europe made the switch to eco-friendly cups, we'd prevent 1,500 tonnes of plastic waste a year.'

2) Understand the main 5 human-made threats the Ocean faces 

We can’t restore the health of the Ocean if we don’t understand what threatens it.

The UN released a 2,000-page document breaking down the various threats our Ocean faces. Understandably, most people don’t have the time (or desire) to read it. So, we transformed it into 5 easy-to-follow articles about Ocean threats. 

3) “What is my climate footprint?” 

Your carbon footprint is the measure of greenhouse gases produced by your daily activities.  

This includes things like driving a car, using electricity, the emissions linked to what you wear, and even eating food.  

When we understand our carbon footprint, we can shift our behaviours for the better. Here’s an online carbon footprint calculator (we can’t endorse any resource as ‘the most accurate measure of your CO2 footprint’ but this will give you a rough idea of your environmental impact).  

It’s important to remember that carbon emission world averages distort the unequal emissions in developed and developing countries. So, it’s helpful to compare your carbon footprint to your national average to assess where you stand. 

4) The food on your plate makes an environmental impact  

One third of carbon emissions comes from food production.  

What you eat tends to matter more than whether it’s produced locally or not, when it comes to decreasing your carbon footprint.  Read: Is locally sourced food better for the environment? 

General tips: Reduce your consumption of high-emission foods like meat and dairy in favour of seasonal fruits and vegetables and snacks that have negative emissions. 

5) Put your money where your heart is: Divest from fossil fuels 

Are your monetary investments benefiting the planet? Divesting from fossil fuels means taking your money out of the hands of the fossil fuel industry, which contributes significantly to carbon emissions and climate change.  

You can start by checking your bank and investment accounts and moving your money to institutions that don’t invest in fossil fuels. Even small divestments make a difference. 

Microplastics on a black background. Ocean Generation is sharing climate actions we can all take.

6) Avoid products with microbeads 

Microbeads are small plastic beads often found in beauty and personal care products. These tiny pieces of plastic easily slip down our drains, through water treatment plants and into the Ocean. 

Most of us purchase products – facial scrubs, toothpaste, nail polish, and abrasive household cleaning products – without realising they contain microbeads.  

Quick solution to the microbead problem: Check ingredient lists and front labels. Microbeads and polyethylene are often listed on packaging, making them easy to avoid. 

7) Think before you toss your clothes into the laundry 

Every time we do an average laundry load of 6kg, 700,000 fibres can be released into our waterways. Before you put something in the washing basket, consider if it can first be worn again.  

Take this a step further by investing in a bag built to capture micro-fibres and choosing sustainable clothing materials when it’s time to purchasing something.  

8) Conserve water  

Only 0.5% of water on Earth is useable and available as freshwater. So, we’re not joking when we say water is liquid gold.  

It’s a key prerequisite for human development and, already, a quarter of all cities are water stressed. Little actions add up: Cringe when you see a character in a movie running water for ages; make sure you turn your tap off while brushing your teeth; install a waster-wise shower-head; fix those leaks.  

You may feel that your climate action a drop in the Ocean – but the Ocean would be less without that drop.  

Every drop counts.

9) Understand the impact of fast fashion on the environment 

Fast fashion is responsible for 8 – 10% of global carbon emissions (which is more than all international flights and maritime shipping – combined).  

Outfit repeating, sustainable fabrics, shopping second-hand and only purchasing items you know you’ll re-wear over and over again are in fashion this season.  
Scroll: How to take the fast out of fast fashion

Car exhaust pipe with smoke coming out. Shared by Ocean Generation in a article about actions to reduce carbon emissions.

10) What’s the impact of how you travel

No one’s surprised to learn: Flying is one of the most carbon-intensive modes of transportation. But did you know that flying at night is actually worse for the planet than flying during the day? Now you do.

Walking and cycling are both climate-friendly and positively impact our health.  

Suggestions when it comes to catching flights:  

  • Where alternatives exist, don’t fly.  
  • When you need to fly, choose direct flights to maximise fuel efficiency and minimise emissions associated with take-offs.  

11) Plant a mangrove tree – with the click of a button – to take Ocean action 

Mangrove trees are incredible climate solutions.

We’ve written about their impressive carbon sequestering power extensively and have a Mangrove Mandate: A promise to plant a mangrove tree in Madagascar for every new follower on @OceanGeneration’s instagram.  

By planting a mangrove tree, you’re making a direct impact on the environment. Plant (follow).

12) Rethink your relationship with plastic 

You knew it was coming. It wouldn’t be a climate change actions list without mention of plastic.  

Plastic is everywhere – from the clothing you’re wearing to the spot you’re sitting right now and even in the food we eat. There’s no getting rid of a material designed to last forever, but reducing our consumption of single-use plastics is essential for a healthy Ocean and planet.  

Start by rethinking your relationship with plastic. Instead of leaning on recycling, start reusing, reducing, totally refusing plastic options where you can.  

Crashing Ocean wave, shared by Ocean Generation - experts in Ocean health since 2009.

13) Start saying ‘Ocean’ not oceans 

At school, we’re all taught about the Ocean having 5 regions, but our Ocean isn’t separated by borders. It’s one, connected system.  

What happens in one part of the Ocean impacts Ocean health as a whole. 

If we all understood this, we’d be more mindful of what we dump in the Ocean, what we take out of it, and how we use it daily. As you go about your life, start saying Ocean – big O, no s. Not only does it highlight the interconnectedness of the Ocean, but also how our daily actions impact it. 

14) Be a voice for our Ocean 

The Ocean is quite literally keeping us alive. It’s our planet’s life support system, but most people don’t realise that.  

By keeping yourself informed about the importance of the Ocean, the human-made threats it faces, and the various actions we can take to protect it – and then sharing that Ocean intelligence, you can propel a wave of positive change for our planet.

Sign up to our newsletter for monthly Ocean education. Submit a Wavemaker Story to let your voice for the Ocean be amplified on our channels. Share educational posts you come across. Be an Ocean advocate – not just on World Ocean Day but every day. 

15) Accept that you can’t do everything. Start where you are. 

It’s important to acknowledge that no one can do it all when it comes to tackling climate change and restoring the Ocean’s health.  

Striving to be a perfect environmentalist often leads to eco-anxiety and feelings of defeat about the amount of work to be done. The reality is: Imperfection is still helpful, and it’s a lot more inclusive than unrealistic demands for perfection. 

Our blue planet doesn’t need a handful of perfect environmentalists. Earth needs millions of imperfect people doing what they can to make a difference, and always trying to do better.  

Embrace imperfect environmentalism with us by starting where you are. Commit to one – or several – of these items right now. Collectively, we can make waves. 

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20 Actions to Reduce and Reuse Plastic

The most effective way you can address plastic pollution is rethinking your relationship with it.

We’re sharing 20 ways you can reduce and reuse plastic.

Making these simple plastic swaps and adopting more sustainable daily habits will reduce plastic use, pollution from reaching our Ocean and ensure a healthier, greener planet.

Enough talk – let’s take action.

1. Buy a reusable shopping bag or tote.

Reduce your plastic use by purchasing reusable tote bags.

2. Use a reusable drinking cup.

3. Buy fruit and vegetables with plastic-free packaging.

4. Buy dry goods using your own reusable containers, instead of buying them in a single-use packet.

5. Buy a plastic-free cosmetics or household products, like bamboo toothbrushes or a bars of soap.

6. Ensure that nothing you purchase contains microbeads. They’re often found in children’s toys, toothpaste, bodyscrubs, and household cleaning products.

7. Make your own lunch instead of buying one wrapped in a single-use plastic wrapper

8. Swap over to reusable milk bottles. Even plant-based milks can get delivered to your doorstep these days.

9. Try having a plastic free period – check out mooncups, period pants and reusable applicators.

10. Use a silicone container or silicone lid instead of cling-film to store food.

11. Buy your butter wrapped in paper – you don’t need a plastic butter dish.

12. Choose cans over bottles when buying fizzy drinks and never buy bottled water.

13. Don’t celebrate events with balloon releases, the chances are the balloons will land in the Ocean.

14. Cigarette filters contain plastic and butts are some of the most frequently-found pieces of marine litter.

15. Wear clothes made from natural fibres like cotton, linen, bamboo or hemp vs polyester, nylon or spandex.

16. Try using pencils instead of pens. If you use a biro – use one that can be re-filled.

17. Ditch the single-use razors, nappies, and lighters. We have so many alternatives available to make sustainable swaps and reduce our daily plastic consumption.

18. Avoid plastic accessories, such as, hair bands, hair clips and jewellery.

19. Say no to plastic straws – use paper or bamboo straws instead.

20.  Pick up litter – even if it isn’t yours! Don’t let it reach our drains and waterways.

Finally: Remember that plastic was designed to last forever,
it has no place as a single-use material apart from in medicine.

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Our Impact: Understanding the 5 Ocean Threats

The Ocean is a flourishing ecosystem that can maintain itself.

But our actions have been negatively impacting the Ocean for decades, at a rate our Ocean cannot keep up with. 

There was a time when we thought the Ocean was endless. So, we treated it that way: Taking what we wanted, when we wanted, in whatever quantity we liked.  

It took us far too long to realise the many ways we threaten our Ocean. But now we know better.

Our Ocean is one of our planet’s most valuable ecosystems.

The Ocean provides over 50% of the world’s oxygen, captures 30% of human-made carbon emissions, and mitigates the climate crisis. The bottom line: We need a healthy Ocean for a healthy planet. 

What are the 5 key ways human activity impacts the Ocean? Ocean Generation is sharing the human threats our Ocean faces. 5 images side by side represent the threats: a dry landscape for climate change; a plastic bottle in the Ocean for pollution; a dam wall for costal infrastructure; a caught fish for resource extraction; and a cruise ship for daily Ocean use.

How does human activity threaten the Ocean?

Our Impact work explores the 5 key ways human actions negatively impact the Ocean.

Many of the underlying actions causing these Ocean Threats have existed throughout the course of human history – but have become unsustainable more recently because of rapid population growth and the consequent scale of our impact on the marine environment.  

What human activity impacts the Ocean the worst?

There are no known, credible, scientific classification of the severity of these Ocean threats. What does that mean – simply? We can’t tell you which of the five threaten the Ocean the worst.

But there’s no doubt that all of these Ocean threats are inter-related and can combine to have vast negative impacts on Ocean health, marine habitats and marine life which, in turn, pose serious threats to human health.

What are the 5 human-made Ocean threats?

1. Climate change: We can’t talk about climate change without the Ocean

It’s widely accepted that human actions are the primary drivers of climate change. The biggest culprit? Burning fossil fuels (for example, coal, oil and gas) to produce energy is the main cause of climate change.

Signs of climate change are all around us – and impossible to ignore. But too few of us understand the important role our Ocean plays in mitigating the climate crisis.

How does the Ocean mitigate climate change?

Our Ocean plays a fundamental role in regulating global temperatures, storing massive amounts of carbon, and capturing heat from the atmosphere.

Although the Ocean drastically mitigates climate change, it’s also impacted by climate change. These changes (like increased Ocean heat), have negative consequences on Ocean health and thus, all of us.

2. Pollution: It’s not just plastic polluting our Ocean. 

Plastic is, by far, the most common and impacting pollutant in the Ocean.

80% of plastic in our Ocean comes from the land and most of that is made up of single-use plastic items; products we use once, then throw away. And that’s the biggest problem with plastic: there is no “away.”

This Ocean Generation above and below image shows human impact on the Ocean in the top half of the image with an oil spill in the Ocean and in the bottom half, the flourishing Ocean. An array of fish are swimming among bright blue corals.

3. Coastal Infrastructure Development: Why do we need to protect our coastlines?


2.5 billion people live within 100km from our Ocean.

Coastal regions are densely populated areas with increasing rates of population growth (and who can blame them? Living near the Ocean has numerous benefits.)

But rapid urbanisation of our coastlines has negative impacts on the environment – many of which are linked to climate change.

With higher frequencies of natural weather events (like cyclones and hurricanes), erosion and land loss, and flooding, coastal regions have never been this vulnerable.

4. Resource Extraction: What resources do we extract from the Ocean? 

Around 3 billion people rely on the Ocean for their primary source of protein: Seafood.

Seafood is the most notable thing we extract from the Ocean but it’s not the only thing. We also extract minerals, fossil fuels, and plants from the Ocean.

Our Ocean – as incredible as it is – is not limitless.

We must recognise the limits of Ocean resources and control the quantity and frequency at which we extract resources from the Ocean; allowing it time to replenish and regenerate. Otherwise, we will reach a point of no return.

A fisherman, standing knee deep in the Ocean, is holding up a fishing net. It is sunset and only the outline of the fisherman and his hat can be seen against the yellow sky. In this blog, Ocean Generation is sharing the negative impact of resource extraction on the Ocean.

5. Daily Ocean Use: What’s the impact of daily human actions on the Ocean?

Humans work hard and always have something on the go. The Ocean is no different.

All around the world, our Ocean is in use every day. From cargo shipping for trade, passenger traffic for travel to commercial fishing and research – the Ocean is used widely. How we make use of the Ocean is what’s important.

We need to turn to using the Ocean sustainably to protect the awe-inspiring ecosystem that supports all life on Earth. 

What can I do to protect our blue planet?

Understanding the 5 main threats our Ocean faces is step one. Step two is doing something about them. Some of these Ocean Threats can feel overwhelming – but they don’t have to be.

Working together is humanity’s superpower. And it remains our best tool for solving the world’s biggest problems, and simultaneously, restoring our Ocean.

Three ways you can take environmental action – with a focus on the Ocean – right now:

  1. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive monthly impact in your inbox; explore our Science Hub; or visit our Instagram page for bite-size environmental education.

  2. Recognise that you don’t have to be perfect.

    Ask yourself: What can I do right now to decrease my carbon footprint? What can I do to be a voice for our Ocean and empower others to do the same?

  3. 20 actions to reduce and reuse plastic.

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Our Impact: It’s not just plastic polluting our Ocean

This is part of our Four Pillars work that highlights the importance of the Ocean, the human-made threats it faces, and the solutions our Ocean provides.

It’s not just plastic polluting our Ocean

With plastic encroaching so many parts of our lives since the 1950’s, it would be hard to find a person today who hasn’t heard of this life-changing material. Despite all its uses, it is undeniable that plastic is choking our Ocean. 

But it’s not just plastic.

Marine pollution can be observed in many different forms (see figure below).

From chemical waste to noise, let’s explore the alarming ways in which we pollute the Ocean.

Types of Ocean pollution: Plastic pollution, nutrient pollution, light, noise and industrial pollution. Ocean Generation is breaking down the kinds of pollution that impact our Ocean.

We are drowning in plastic  

Plastic is the greatest concern of all the marine litter in the Ocean.  

With 80% of plastic originating from land, it is clear that our mismanagement of plastic is threatening marine life. In fact, marine debris from waste streams on land and at sea into the Ocean from rivers are estimated at 1.15–2.41 million metric tons annually.  

Plastic also reaches the Ocean as a result of extreme events and natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, and tsunamis.

One study even states that millions of tons of plastic may reach the Ocean this way, matching the magnitude of plastic from land.  

The most common way plastic harms marine life is through entanglement. This is not to mention the repercussions felt through the food chain when species ingest plastics (and microplastics) unknowingly. 

From whales, to birds, to turtles, plastic is mistaken for prey and consumed with traumatic consequences like infections and internal injuries. 

In the UN report, Second World Ocean Assessment (WOA) 2021, it was stated that scientific and medical understanding of the health threat of plastic pollution was inadequate. But since then, scientists have published studies confirming the presence of plastic in our blood and lungs.

These findings have sparked a greater support for more research into the effects of plastic on human health. 

Changes to marine communities are far from being the only effects of pollution.  

Half of the image shows a beautiful blue, clean Ocean. The other half shows a polluted, grey, Ocean with plastic bottles and nutrient pollution. Ocean Generation shares ways to tackle plastic pollution and other Ocean threats.

The nutrients we allow into the Ocean 

The increasing amount of nutrients seeping into the Ocean aid the excessive growth of algae.

This is called nutrient pollution. When the nutrients in question are nitrogen and phosphorus (from organic matter), this process is called eutrophication. It results in undesired changes to the health of coastal ecosystems.  

Nutrient changes in the Ocean threaten: 

– Carbon sequestration which limits climate change, 
– Fisheries, affecting their mortality, 
– Abundance of biodiversity, 
– Production of oxygen, and the 
– Mitigation of coastal flooding.  

The single largest source of nitrogen and phosphorus are synthetic fertilisers.

Other agricultural inputs include animal husbandry and monocultures of legumes. Another source of nitrogen is the combustion of fossil fuels, releasing nitrogen in the form of NOx. 

The most prevalent source of nutrient pollution is human sewage.

This is not a surprise considering 80% of municipal wastewater being released into the environment is untreated. Regionally, treated sewage varies from 90% in North America, 66% in Europe, 35% in Asia, and 14% in Latin America and the Caribbean to less than 1% in Africa.  

This means that across the Ocean, we see an increase in phytoplankton and a decrease in oxygen levels. This disrupts fish stocks and increases the number of waterborne diseases.  

A water treatment plant.

But nutrients are not the only thing to worry about… 

Ocean pollution – in different industries: 

Industrial pollution can be observed from many sources. They are:

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs):
They are a complex group of substances known for their ability to endure in the environment. At present, we have observed declines in some regions, thanks to regulatory standards set by the Stockholm Convention but POPs are still a global concern.

For example, cetaceans have been detected with PCB (a kind of POP) concentrations which also affects the food chain, increasing the risk of cancer and infertility in humans. 

Metals:
Humans are responsible for large influxes of metals being released into the environment.

This includes metals such as mercury, lead, and cadmium but also rare earth metals. Metals do not disappear over time and can be trapped in sediments.

It was found that some Artic marine mammals are at high-risk with the concentration of methylmercury in their diet. This poses a risk to the food chain, and subsequently, human health. 

Radioactivity:
The discharge of radioactive substances into the Ocean from nuclear power plants continue to decline with the help of improved technologies. 

Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products:
This includes all chemicals used for healthcare, cosmetics, and medical purposes. The process to remove these substances from wastewater is not efficient.

As a result, the most frequently detected compounds are antibiotics. There have been some cases like the antibiotic resistant bacteria and soil found in the Artic and Pacific but overall, there is limited data on the true impact of these products in the Ocean.  

Pharmaceuticals end up in our water stream and impact marine life. The image shows a white bowl filled with pills in different hues of blue.

Shipping:

Globally, there is a decreasing trend in oil spills (over 7 tons), possibly owing to improved surveillance and increased awareness.

Shipping also increases the likelihood of marine litter, with the World Shipping Council estimating that on average, a total of 1382 containers are lost at sea each year.  

Oil spills are catastrophic to Ocean health and hard to clean up.

Sound pollutes the Ocean (and we’re not considerate neighbours). 

Human-made noise makes its way into the Ocean via vessels, renewable energy development, sonar, and seismic exploration. Marine traffic also contributes to noise pollution.

Over the past 10 years, there’s been increasing interest in developing guidelines to regulate noise in the Ocean.  

We continue to learn and understand the impact of the noise we make on marine animals. Some of the observed examples are as follows: 

– Increased stress levels in North Atlantic right whales 
– Humpback whales: changes in foraging behaviour and vocal calls during breeding season 
– Fish and coral larvae are less able to select appropriate habitats 

Humpback whales are impacted by noise pollution. Image shows a close up of a humpback whale looking at the camera.

Hit the lights: Do you know how light pollution impacts marine life

Although all living beings are sensitive to light in the environment, if organisms are subjected to light at the wrong place and time with varying intensity, it’s known as light pollution.

This affects the behaviour of many marine mammals. For example, on one Turkish beach, light pollution from a coastal village, paper mill and a tourist resort resulted in less than 40% of logger-head turtle hatchlings being able to reach back to the shore.

They get disoriented and sometimes are at risk of predation.  

Baby turtle finding its way to the Ocean form the beach.

The most impactful way humans project artificial light is through urbanisation of coastal areas. The light we emit can be seen from space.

In fact, up to three quarters of seafloor close to coastal cities are exposed to artificial light. But other water bodies are not immune. In freshwater ecosystems, melatonin levels which are responsible for sleep or day and night cycles, are affected in freshwater fish. 

In the Ocean itself, offshore development is of concern when assessing light pollution. Artificial light at night can penetrate deep into water (over 40m) depending on the clarity of water, with humans having the most impact in the top one metre of water.  

Coastal city lit up at night near the Ocean. Cities never sleep.

What can we do to restore the Ocean?

We need to develop a wide range of solutions to combat the different types of pollution affecting the Ocean.  

To tackle plastic pollution, a Global Plastic Treaty is underway to ensure optimal waste management and promote sustainable consumption and production of plastics.

As a society however, it is still in our best interests to reduce our reliance on plastic where possible. We need to dispose plastic in the safest way possible, not allowing it in our waterways.  

Community garden featuring a middle aged Asian woman and young African child working in the garden.

Nutrient pollution can be curbed with the help of top-down approaches but also public awareness.

As a community, we can take a stronger stance and equip ourselves to monitor water quality, pushing for stronger policies. Those who have lawns and gardens can also minimise their pollutant run-off through many ways.  

Moreover, better sewage systems are needed to achieve standards set by the World Health Organisation (WHO). In India, for example, despite efforts to operate better systems, nutrient pollution still persists. Industry stakeholders must develop and promote solutions to address pollutants in the agricultural sector. Innovative solutions are needed to reduce emissions and spills in shipping.  

Lastly, there is a need to promote and fund the research required in further understanding all these issues because our Ocean is running out of time, awaiting solutions for the threats we’ve created.  

There is only one Ocean, and it connects us all. 

Why is the Ocean so important?

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The History of Plastic Pollution

Understanding the plastic problem

Worldwide, up to five trillion plastic bags are used every year and up to 422 million tonnes of plastic are being produced annually.

As if that isn’t bad enough, half of all plastic produced is for single-use purposes, meaning it’s used once and then thrown away. In reality, there is no ‘away’ for a material designed to be indestructible.

For decades, our Ocean has been a dumping ground for plastic, sewage, industrial and chemical waste. While the Ocean is vast, it’s not bottomless and it’s certainly not a landfill site.

Single-use plastics are the biggest contributors to marine litter and pose severe threats to marine life, human health, and the planet. But how did we get here? When was plastic created? What can we do to take action and reduce the plastic polluting our blue planet?

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What is the history of Ocean pollution?

We’re used to having our rubbish collected, sorted, recycled or put into landfill – but for millennia, people didn’t dispose of their waste as we would today.

Instead, waterways were used as a means of waste disposal or rubbish would be burned. As a result, pollution would end up in our Ocean or in the atmosphere.

Before the advent of plastics, and with a relatively small population, the amount of waste in the Ocean was rather small. 

The invention of plastic: The dawn of pollution

In 1862, Alexander Parkes developed the first man-made plastic. The product, called ‘Parkesine’, wasn’t a commercial success, but it was an important step in the development of man-made plastic.

A staggering number of plastic innovations emerged in the period surrounding World War II, from 1933 – 1945. Plastic technology came to the forefront because copper, aluminium, steel and zinc became highly sought-after metals used only for the war effort.

In the 1960s, it became clearer how polluted our Ocean was getting.

A styrofoam food pack from a grocery store, which usually contains meat or fish, is filled with plastic pollution found in the Ocean: a discarded can of soda snack wrappers, tissues, and plastic packaging. A label on the front reads: Catch of the Day. Atlantic Ocean. In this article, Ocean Generation shares the history of plastic pollution.

Hold on: What is marine pollution?

Marine pollution refers to waste ending up in the Ocean and causing adverse effects. Specifically, marine pollution is a result of human impacts. A combination of chemicals and trash – most of which comes from land – is tossed, washed, or blown into the Ocean.

When was Ocean pollution – specifically, Ocean dumping – first reported?

We can assume that Ocean dumping has been in practice before anyone investigated it, partly because scientists didn’t attempt to research this issue before the 1960s. Many organisations used to dump their chemical by-products into waterways to remove their waste. 

In the 1960s, scientists from the National Academy of Sciences discovered some alarming news: More than 100 million tonnes of waste had been dumped in our Ocean.

This report discounted plastic pollution, which we now know is one of the major pollutants in our Ocean, because it had just recently become a mainstream material. Instead, the Ocean pollution that these scientists reported largely relates to chemical, industrial and sewage waste. 

How have plastics developed into a major Ocean polluter?

Between the 1970’s and 1990’s,
plastic waste generation more than tripled.

Realisation hit in the 1970’s: Plastic doesn’t ‘go away’ and it doesn’t break down; it breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces, called microplastics. 

During this period, there was a significant rise in plastic production too, which resulted in more and more pollution. Scientists also discovered that seabirds were ingesting plastic materials and seals were getting trapped in plastic netting.

Scene from a beach clean. White tennis shoes of a litter picker are visible. The beach cleaner is picking up a pink plastic bottle off the beach. In the background, a plastic trash bag can be seen. Ocean Generation shares the history of plastic pollution in this blog.

How have we tried to de-pollute the Ocean?

There have been legislative attempts to de-pollute the Ocean and remove plastic from our waterways. 

Four years after the National Academy of Sciences scientists discovered how much waste had really been dumped into the Ocean, the U.S Congress passed the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries act.

By the 1980s, the Society of the Plastics Industry developed the plastic resin identification code, to make recycling and disposing of plastics easier. But our reliance on plastic had already taken hold. 

In the early 2000s, the amount of plastic waste we generated rose more in a single decade than it had in the previous 40 years.

Plastic pollution has negative consequences for all life on Earth.

Even though we know plastic pollution is bad for our blue planet, we continue to produce millions of tonnes of plastic from plastic bottles and plastic forks to plastic shopper bags to giant plastic commercial containers.

A key reason plastic continues to contribute to marine pollution is lack of awareness.

From individuals to businesses to governments – if we don’t understand the problems associated with plastic pollution and the importance of having a healthy Ocean, we won’t do anything to change our ways.

As of 2022, there are 8 billion people on Earth. We need millions of those people understanding that a healthy Ocean is essential to a healthy future for all life.

Necessary legislation to reduce plastic production and pollution will only be implemented when the masses understand how necessary that legislation is.

Up to 422 million tonnes of plastic is being produced annually.

What does the future of our Ocean look like?

We make decisions about what to purchase and what to wear daily. Choices made about how we live right now will impact the Ocean for decades to come.

So, the future health of our Ocean isn’t set. We have the ability to decide the magnitude of the plastic pollution problem. We can start making choices today to turn the tide.

Seagulls in flight. With the Ocean int the background, four seagulls are in various stages of taking flight; their wings flapping as they set off. Ocean Generation - experts in Ocean health since 2009 - shares the history of plastic pollution in this article.


We can right the wrongs of our plastic pollution history, and embrace the Ocean as the life supporting ecosystem that it is, rather than use it as a dumping ground. 

We are the first generation to deeply understand Ocean issues, and the last generation who can stop them. We are all the Ocean Generation.

How can I start taking Ocean and climate action?

Get informed. Our monthly newsletter provides Ocean positive news, easy to understand Ocean science, and engaging pop-culture pieces to help you understand the human-made threats our Ocean faces and what you can do to make a difference. 

Why is the Ocean so important?

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