Let’s Help Clean up Our Oceans – Using STEM!

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Calling all STEMologists! We have a big problem and we’re going to need some very smart people to fix it. That problem is plastic in the ocean.

turtle-with-plastic-pollution

On land, plastic can be very useful; in fact, it’s in almost everything we use! The trouble starts when we aren’t careful about what we buy or how we dispose of things when we’re done with them. If we don’t reuse or recycle our plastic properly and it ends up in a landfill or is tossed out as litter, it can easily be blown into a river or stream. From there, it will eventually end up in an ocean where it becomes a big problem!

What’s so bad about having plastic in our ocean?

fish-speech-bubble-oh-noApart from animals getting tangled in larger pieces of plastic, sea creatures can also mistake it for food. When eaten, plastic takes away space in an animal’s belly that would have been filled with food. This means they can’t get the nutrients they need to survive. The problem doesn’t end there. If a small fish eats some plastic and then is eaten by a larger fish and so on, the entire food chain is contaminated. So if we eat fish, we could be eating plastic too!

So how do we fix it? By using STEM, of course!

STEMologists all over the world are working hard to rid our oceans of plastics. Check out these examples:

Cleaning up plastic from the ocean

The Ocean Cleanup is engineering a floating cleanup system that will be moved by the ocean’s currents and will remove plastic from the surface of the water. When the system launches, it’s predicted that it will be able to clean up half the Great Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean in 5 years.

Ocean-cleanup-boat-credit-the-ocean-cleanup
Photo Credit: The Ocean Cleanup

Stopping plastic from getting into the ocean in the first place

One of the ways to do this is to make sure plastic doesn’t become litter. IBM and Plastic Bank are encouraging people in the poorest areas to collect plastic waste in exchange for digital tokens using a special technology called blockchain. Blockwhat? Don’t worry; we’ll break it down for you.

Blockchain is sort of like an online set of records that’s used to keep track of things like activities, trades, and purchases. Since these records are shared between a whole bunch of different groups, no one can mess around with the information without everyone else knowing. This means blockchain is always safe and reliable, and that’s the reason it’s being used in more and more things, including video games. Think about the video games you’re playing and how many gold coins you earned during your last quest. Imagine if you could turn that gold into something in the real world? That’s blockchain!

plastic-bank-collection-center

Blockchain allows Plastic Bank to keep track of the amount of plastic waste a person trades in and how many digital tokens they should receive in return. These digital tokens can then be traded for food, water, or phone credits – all through their cell phone. Not only is this helping to stop ocean plastic, it’s also reducing poverty at the same time.

What can you do to help?

Lots of stuff – remember, you are a STEMologist, after all! Here are some places to start:

Think before you buy – Look for things that aren’t made of plastic and try to get stuff with less plastic packaging.
Promise to recycle and never litter – practicing the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) is always a good idea.
Host a community cleanup – get together with your friends and family to help clean up a nearby park or clean a local beach. Check out the Shoreline Saver Mission to help you get started.
Say NO to single-use plastics – these are plastics that are designed to be used once before being thrown away, like cups, cutlery, water bottles, straws or bags. Cut them out of your life with the More Plastics, More Problems Mission!

How do you think we can use science, technology, engineering and math to keep our oceans plastic-free? Let us know in the comments below!

Series in collaboration with:

IBM and the IBM logo are trademarks of International Business Machines Corp., registered in many jurisdictions worldwide.

469 COMMENTS

  1. I am so sad that this is happening. We all must take action and save animals! And I am so glad that people are taking action! I am going to do whatever it takes to protect the planet and animals!

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