“We are the original conservationists.”
That’s what Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, often tells audiences, referring to our long-standing concern for clean water. So, while it’s upsetting to read recent headlines about 79,000 tons of plastic debris in one area of the Pacific Ocean alone, it also highlights issues that marine dealers can get behind and promote to customers.
The story is that some 1.8 trillion plastic pieces now float in a study area the size of France. Dubbed the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” it draws attention to the problem found in waterways everywhere. Indeed, if you do as much boating as I do, you’ll regularly see things floating like empty plastic drink bottles, food takeout containers, foam bait boxes, plastic drink containers with straws and much more. Not long ago, I picked up a plastic bag on one of my outboards triggering the overheating alarm.
Plastic in any form is uniquely problematic because it’s not biodegradable. Even worse, scientists say a huge amount of the plastic pollution isn’t even visible because it is microscopic particles of plastic debris that poses physical and toxicological risks to fish and other organisms. And, you don’t have to be a microbiologist to follow it up the food chain to … well, us.
It’s not that fish eat plastic water bottles or plastic bags. These days people enjoy the feeling of tiny plastic beads used in scrubs and body washes. And while some states have banned microbead products, according to the National Resources Defense Council, many waste water treatment plants can’t get rid of the tiny plastic beads that wash down the drain, so they end up in the waterways. Fish and other organisms mistake them for food.
In fact, plastic in our waters is so serious now even the lowly plastic straw is a target. Across the country, from Florida’s Fort Myers Beach to Malibu, Calif., communities are targeting single-use plastic straws, either discouraging their use or outright banning them.
Our straw use is mind boggling. On average, Americans use 500 million straws a day, according to the National Parks Service. Plastic straws are now in the top 10 trash items found on coastlines, says the Ocean Conservancy. They break into bite-size pieces rendering them an insidious threat to marine animals and the fish we eat.
Promoting debris-free waterways is a worthy outreach in which every dealer can be engaged. From participating in special events to providing literature and posting appropriate signs, dealers can urge customers to never toss plastics of any kind into the water.
For example, when it comes to great events, the annual Waterway Cleanup by the Marine Industries Association of South Florida is spot on. Held annually since 1970, the cleanup is supported by MIASF members and successfully involves more than 2,000 volunteers on land and in over 100 boats removing more than 40 tons of trash from area waterways that could have ended up in the ocean and on beaches. So, teaming up with your marine association or other local groups in a cleanup effort can garner recognition for helping keep waterways clean.
But there are other ways any dealer can become recognized as a champion of clean water. Here are a few to consider:
Urge customers to give up water in plastic bottles or never throw one overboard. If you’re a marina, have recycle receptacles on the docks. Last year, Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles, averaging 167 per person. People say they’re for recycling but they only recycled 38, according to the environmental group Ban the Bottle.
Stating you support the “don’t use plastic bags” idea is another winner. Grocers adopted plastic bags in the 1970’s to reduce costs, according to The Atlantic -- 1,000 plastic bags cost $24 compared with $30 for the same paper bags. Several cities and the state of California have banned single-use plastic bags while others are fazing them out or imposing fees (Chicago) on them. Urge customers to adopt reusable bags.
How about plastic knives, forks and plates? We all use them and we discard about 6 million tons of them each year. There’s no question much of that plastic ends up in waterways, according to OneGreenPlanet. Support the call to avoid plastic ware and encourage bringing durable utensils aboard boats.
The bottom line is today’s widespread pollution from plastics injects toxins into our waterways. In turn, these move up in marine food chain because the plastic can get broken down into tiny particles by seawater. Presenting your dealership’s support for keeping our waterways clean and free of pollutants, like plastics, is a position that these days will ring as responsible and meaningful to your prospects and customers.