Conversations about marine plastic pollution are growing faster than the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Between February 1, 2018, and March 15, 2018, conversation volume about plastic in the ocean increased by 637%. The primary contributor to this volume surge is the aforementioned Pacific Trash Vortex — with mentions of the 620,000 square mile eyesore growing by more than 2,900%. The impetus for this massive upswing in social chatter was a new study published by The Ocean Cleanup Foundation which found the Garbage Patch to be sixteen times larger than originally projected — or two times the size of Texas. The story was picked up by virtually every mainstream news media outlet and amplified by irate Twitter users, causing a sustained spike in mentions that lasted for over a month.
The Pacific Garbage Patch wasn’t solely responsible for the increase in conversation volume about plastic waste in the ocean. Plastic straws generated 11% of the total volume with over 5,000 mentions focused on a National Geographic study about the contribution of drinking straws to plastic waste in the sea. Another key driver of conversations was microbead contamination in the world’s water supplies. Mentions of microbeads spiked briefly in January (341% month-over-month increase) thanks to worldwide press around the United Kingdom’s ban on microbeads in CPG products. These conversations accounted for the majority of mentions tagged with positive sentiment. Thousands of people across social networks are calling for more government action to respond to the plastic in the ocean facts.
CPG brands didn’t escape angry social media users. Influencers across the major social networks criticized the role companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi play in plastic pollution in the ocean. Close to ten percent of the 50,642 total mentions of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch included the keyword “plastic bottles,” with the world’s two largest bottlers shouldering the brunt of user negativity. Overall, mentions of plastic bottles in conjunction with ocean pollution rose 219% between January and April. Plastic bags in the ocean also generated a volume spike (55% month-over-month increase) in January riding on the coat-tails of the more popular stories about microbeads and plastic bottles. Once again, major retailers around the world were tagged in Tweets and Instagram posts calling for their commitment to replacing plastic bags with recyclable paper sacks, which take less of a toll on the environment.
On the other hand, some brands took these mentions into serious account and considered what they can do to help. One brand positively reacted to this national disaster— Adidas. In 2017, they released a line of sneakers that were made from ocean plastics. Another brand joining the revolution is H&M. For their Conscious Exclusive collection, they meshed sustainability and style to create BIONIC® – a recycled polyester made from plastic shoreline waste. A final example is Method. They released a 2-in-1 dish soap made with a blend of recovered ocean plastic and post-consumer recycled plastic. What are some other brands that are rising to the occasion to make a positive impact? Tell us in the comments section below.
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