The Straw Thing: Technology & Education for Sustainable Oceans
By Laurel Wong
They entangle marine plants and animals, they cause sickness when ingested by ocean life, and they contribute to the 8 million tons of plastic waste that pollute the world’s oceans. Yet, Americans alone still use 500 million plastic straws each day . On Thursday, June 8th, 2017, the NGO Committee on Sustainable Development NY hosted the UN Ambassador of Vanuatu and representatives from various organizations that are leading the world in technology and education to discuss sustainable water and healthy oceans. An important point of discussion was ocean pollution, and more specifically, “the straw thing,” how small actions like not using plastic straws could lessen the excessive amount of plastic that is dumped into our oceans. While human action is a challenge in itself, there are many technological and educational solutions that can be implemented in the global campaign for sustainable water.
Often, people are unaware of an issue unless it is directly affecting their everyday lives. To resolve this gap in communication, companies like Peace Boat have created educational spaces for the public and the global community to engage across cultural and state boundaries . Technological advancement has made sharing information and ideas globally much simpler and created a platform for the public to be involved in finding solutions. With unprecedented means of communication, people in the most remote or distant area can stay informed. While the average person cannot make an immense impact on their own, they can inform others and influence their leaders to address the issues.
Technological advancement provides endless opportunities to find solutions. Having healthy water sources does not only include cleaning the waste and plastic debris from our oceans, it also means ensuring safe water sources for all people to use. Gululu, a computerized water bottle, is a tech product that was created by Bowhead Technology to resolve several issues regarding safe water practices. The product itself uses interactive technology to engage youth, encourage them to drink water, and record their water intake. This technology helps children develop healthy hydration habits, allows parents to keep track of their children’s’ water intake, and provides financial support for the company to aid communities in developing nations in creating safe water sources for their people . This kind of innovation exemplifies how technology is being used to change the way we approach problems and development.
Finding alternatives to dumping waste, using plastic, and other unsustainable practices have posed their own issues. For example, alternatives such as incinerating trash and substituting plastic with other materials products come with their own batch of dangerous environmental pollutants. Many organizations launch aid initiatives in developing areas, but fail to create long term solutions. Finding sustainable alternatives is a challenge that can be overcome by using communication, education, and technology.
The 2017 UN Ocean Conference is over, but the sharing of ideas, inspiration, and innovation is not over: the 2018 World Ocean Summit is just around the corner. Through education and technology, the global community can start with, “the straw thing,” and eventually ensure safe, sustainable water sources for all.
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 Jambeck, Jenna R. (2015). “Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean.” Science. The American Association for the Advancement of Science. Washington. <http://science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/768>
 “What is Peace Boat.” (2010). <http://peaceboat.org/english>
 “What Gululu Shared on the United Nations’ Stage.” (2017). Bowhead Technology. <https://blog.mygululu.com/what-gululu-shared-on-the-united-nations-stage/>