Going plastic-free is the most ocean-friendly choice.
People visit aquariums to celebrate marine species, which is why it is somewhat incongruous to see visitors using plastic straws, shopping bags, and other single-use disposable items that are terribly damaging to the oceans. If anyone should take a stand against plastic waste, it should be aquariums and their visitors.
Finally, it appears this dilemma is being resolved – or at least is on the road to improvement. A coalition of 19 U.S. aquariums, all members of the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP) that receive a total of 20 million visitors annually, have just announced that they will be phasing out certain single-use plastics, effective immediately. As of July 10th, straws and plastic bags are no longer handed out, and disposable plastic bottles will be greatly reduced or eliminated by 2020. Simultaneously, the aquariums will launch a campaign aimed at educating the public on how to use reusables.
EcoWatch quotes Shedd Aquarium President and CEO Dr. Bridget Coughin:
"Approximately 22 million pounds of plastic flows into the Great Lakes each year—in Lake Michigan alone, it is equivalent to 100 Olympic-sized swimming pools filled with bottles. Small actions can turn into big solutions, and we believe the 24 million people in the United States who rely on this beautiful, massive resource for their drinking water, jobs and livelihoods want to be part of that wave of change. We look forward to working together in these commitments."
From the aquariums’ statement:
“[We] are taking action to greatly decrease our individual and collective plastic footprint. We’re doing this by collaborating with each other, and with our vendors and suppliers to make changes for the health of our ocean, rivers and lakes. These changes include offering products and packaging made of alternative materials, installing water refilling stations, and messaging to our visitors about the reason behind these changes. We also hope that by showcasing innovative alternatives to single-use plastic in our institutions, we can help increase demand for these products in the broader marketplace.”
These steps are admirable, though they do pale in comparison to measures taken earlier this year by the Vancouver Aquarium to ban all single-use plastics, from straws, bags, and plastic lids, to beverage bottles and disposable cutlery. The ACP’s rather vague mention of “reducing single-use plastic beverage bottles by December 1, 2020” caused me to raise an eyebrow. Can’t they do better than that?
Nevertheless, it’s a good start and one worth noting in the hopes that more institutions and individuals will catch on and take similar action.