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People’s love for the ocean could help reduce plastic pollution

Millions of tons of plastic particles are buried in the oceans every year as a result of human activities. Researchers have determined that the best strategy to eradicate some of this pollution may be to appeal to the public’s love of the sea.

Scientists are exploring ways to slow down the amount of plastic pollution that is accumulating in the ocean. They are searching for strategies to recover the health of our seas, and striving to protect all of the human benefits associated with healthy oceans.

Researchers from the University of Plymouth and the University of Surrey looked at the history of how public pressure can lead to policy change. For example, public opposition led to bans on the use of microbeads in cosmetics and helped place restrictions on single-use plastic bags.

The researchers say that these types of public efforts are steps in the right direction, but they are not addressing the underlying issues. Their report, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, explains that there needs to be a more unified and interdisciplinary approach.

Dr. Sabine Pahl is an associate professor of Psychology and lead author of the report.

“The public’s love of the coast is obvious, so it stands to reason that they would play a role in preserving its future,” said Dr. Pahl. “Plastic pollution is a problem for all in society and while there are solutions out there, they must be socially acceptable as well as economically and technically viable. We need to work together across disciplines and sectors to build on the strength of humans to facilitate change.”

The authors of the report conducted previous studies which revealed the negative impact of marine litter on coastal environments. As a result of the current study, they compare ocean plastic pollution to other environmental threats like marine litter, where the symptoms occur some distance away from land-based causes.

“From previous research we know that people appreciate and value the importance of the ocean and see marine litter as a global problem,” said co-author Dr. Kayleigh Wyles. “Yet, the challenge is connecting the dots. So many of our behaviors and decisions contribute to this problem, but at those particular points of time, we often don’t think of how they can impact the environment.”

Dr. Wyles added, “Using behavioral sciences to understand drivers of human behavior will therefore help support ongoing initiatives that can look to clean up our environments.”

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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