Last week, walking through my "idyllic" campus, I found a lot of plastic, including this bottle near a storm drain. What really caught my eye was the cigarette right on the edge, ready to become part of the local stream network. I posted the photo on the Wiley Concept Caching site, to which I am a regular contributor, hoping to get students nationwide to think about this problem.
I am not terribly optimistic, however, since the offending litter was just feet away from the building in which we do much of the environmental education on our campus. Moreover, we seem to be losing the educational battle around plastic, as we actually encourage the sale of beverages wrapped in plastic -- five minutes of refreshment followed by centuries of degradation.
The Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. mantra is well known, but it is not widely understood that with respect to plastic (and many other materials) this is a best-to-worst ranking. The only real way to eliminate plastic from the oceans, land, and waterways is simply not to produce it. Reusing plastic items delays the path to the hydrosphere. Recycling shortens the polymers, making them progressively less useful, but does not eliminate them.
Certainly, once something has been produced, reuse and recycling are to be encouraged, but they are not really sufficient measures to protect oceans, and institutions that do environmental education have an obligation to reduce demand where possible.