Plastic isn’t the only thing polluting our waterways

shipping container

People living on the Dutch islands of Vlieland and Terschelling got some bonus Christmas presents when a Mediterranean Shipping Co. (MSC) container ship lost 270 containers in the North Sea. According to a news report in the Wall Street Journal, “everything from flat-screen televisions and car parts to Ikea furniture, shoes and toys” washed up on the islands’ beaches, resulting in a mad scramble by residents to collect the free goods.

The MSC Zoe, one of the world’s biggest cargo ships, spilled the containers just off the German Island of Borkum. Geneva-based MSC said it hired a salvage company to handle the “substantial spill.”

While environmentalists are concerned with single-use plastics such as water bottles and drinking straws proliferating our oceans, every year hundreds of shipping containers fall overboard from their cargo ships. Many of them break open and spill products made from metal, plastic, textile and other materials into the ocean. Some of the goods sink to the bottom, while others wash up on shore.

There are a few major container spills, such as the one in October 2011 in which the MV Rena lost an estimated 900 containers when it ran aground off the coast of New Zealand. The World Shipping Council (WSC) said the exact number of shipping containers lost at sea each year is difficult to estimate, but the organization undertook the first survey of its member companies in 2011. Updates were provided in 2014 and 2017.

The July 2017 update estimated that 1,390 containers were lost at sea each year over the previous three years (2014, 2015, 2016), but that was 16% fewer containers than the average 733 that were lost in 2011, 2012 and 2013. When “catastrophic events” were included, the average annual loss for that three-year period was approximately 2,785 containers.

2013 saw the complete loss of the MOL Comfort in the Indian Ocean and all of the 4,293 containers on board. It remains the worst containership loss in history, according to the WSC. In 2013, 5,578 containers were lost, 77% of which were from the MOL Comfort.

The floor of our oceans and seas must be littered with tons of trash, but this goes unnoticed by environmentalists, who dedicate their efforts to cleaning up our oceans and seas by banning plastic cups, lids, drinking straws, bags and single-serve coffee capsules. Let’s face it—the world is filled with trash and until people take more responsibility, including battening down these stacks of containers, there will always be a problem of ocean contamination.

Plastic is perceived as the worst culprit because it is lightweight and can easily be seen as it floats along to end up on some shoreline. Then people rant and rave about how terrible plastic is; how it’s destroying our oceans. There’s more than one material contributing to the contamination of the world’s waterways.

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