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June 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 45, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Mission to Save Our Oceans By Next Year

how one dive company is convincing others to dump plastic

from the June, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Sometimes it seems as if our appeal to the diving industry to stop using single-use plastic packaging has mostly fallen on deaf ears. Even though we've written multiple articles recently about the environmental destruction plastic causes, and we also wrote to all the major manufacturers last year about their intentions regarding single-use plastic, only Scubapro replied to us -- and even then, its main switch has been substituting plastic card mounts with products fixed by endless numbers of plastic ties.

But we have found one dive gear manufacturer that stands out for the success it has achieved in enlisting bigger names in the industry -- and making them promise to dramatically reduce their use of plastic by next year.

Mission 2020 is a collection of pledges from organizations in the dive community to change their business practices around the use of plastics to help protect and preserve our oceans for the future. With a primary focus on the elimination of single-use plastic, the Mission 2020 project sets ambitious short-term targets of changes to be made before World Oceans Day on June 8, 2020.

The project is led by Fourth Element, a technical dive gear manufacturer in Cornwall, England, and they've gotten companies ranging from Aqualung and AP Diving to Mares and Suunto on board. On the Mission 2020 website (, you can read the specific promises companies are making to eliminate plastics use. For example, the dive manufacturer Mares states, "By World Oceans Day 2020, we pledge to reduce our environmentally unfriendly packaging, including single-use plastic, by 70 percent . . . and we will also innovate techniques in product development to reduce our environmental impact in the future."

The liveaboard company Blue 'o Two vows that its fleet will be completely single-use-plastic-free by the end of this year (single-use plastic water bottles have already been removed from its Red Sea fleet), and "we pledge to minimize pollution on our boats and in our worldwide offices, achieving this whilst educating yet also respecting local communities."

Fourth Element co-founder Jim Standing gives kudos to the dive companies that have signed on. "Companies are reluctant to make public promises they then cannot keep," he told Undercurrent. "Social media can be so full of vitriolic responses that anything less than 100 percent can lead to a pillorying, but I say they should measure what they have achieved so far in the reduction of single-use plastic in their packaging and 'own' that achievement."

In its written pledge, Fourth Element promises to eliminate single-use plastic packaging from its products by World Oceans Day 2020, and redevelop existing products with recycled material. "We are well on the way to our target, but at this moment we are only at 65 percent, thanks to clearance of previously packaged stock," says Standing.

He adds that other well-known dive companies are taking the matter seriously. Suunto no longer uses molded plastic in its packaging. AP Diving packages its BCs without single-use plastic, and is looking into alternatives for its blister packs. Halcyon is testing plant-derived alternatives to plastic. Dive Rite now packages its fins in a handy re-usable mesh bag (perfect for underwater and beach clean ups). Many training agencies are following the Rebreather Association of International Divers' digital example, reducing the need for manuals, packaging and shipping.

And new alternatives to plastic are arising regularly, says Standing. "For example, we have discovered a packaging material that is lower in carbon dioxide and totally biodegradable. We encourage other manufacturers to contact us for the supplier's details. The Plastic Bank, a for-profit organization in Vancouver, came up with a plastic recycling system after the earthquake in Haiti, where plastic waste collected was bought and recycled. Marks & Spencer, a big U.K. clothing retailer, uses hangers sourced from this plastic.

"This is all great progress and collectively represents real change, but there is still so much more that we can achieve. Manufacturers need to engage with each other to solve the problem. Businesses need to share information and learn."

And we need to look at the bigger picture -- and how we divers, and consumers, fit into it. "Our relationship with plastic is not the enemy," says Standing. "It's our relationship with waste."

We divers are at the forefront of seeing the damage done to the oceans by throwaway plastic. There are nonstop stories in the media about plastic's tragic effect on marine life. Such as a pregnant sperm whale that washed up on the Italian island of Sardinia at the end of March, carrying 49 pounds of plastic in its stomach, along with its dead fetus. A young curvier beaked whale washed up on a beach in the Philippines that same month, dead from the effects of 90 pounds of plastic, including multiple shopping bags, in its stomach.

Because plastic is virtually indestructible, you can keep those fins and snorkel for a lifetime, but it's disastrous if you want to dump them for something newer -- because it's the plastic wrapping they come in that does the real damage.

We're pleased to note that many dive liveaboards and resorts have switched from serving drinking water in individual plastic bottles to offering it from water fountains and permanently reusable bottles, but what about throwaway plastic cups, plates, cutlery and the blasted plastic wrap that covers so many things?

Scott Griesser (Boulder, CO) just returned from a Grand Cayman dive trip and says that "while Sunset House's dive operation was fantastic, and by no means a plastic offender, its restaurant more than offset any positive changes and behaviors of the dive staff. Every drink, from water to cocktails, is poured into a plastic cup with straw. Even when using my reusable water bottle, I was still served cups of water without a request. But there are other areas on Grand Cayman putting forth the effort to reduce their overall impacts, such as Dive Tech and Ocean Frontiers.

The good news is that there is a growing movement to do something about it in the wider commercial world, and the results can, indeed, be impressive. Maybe it's because most of Australia's population centers are within sight of the sea -- and thus, can see the environmental damage of plastic close-up -- that it took only three short months for that country to reduce its consumption of single-use plastic bags by around 80 percent.

That's why we need you, our readers, to continue telling us about dive operations that either don't subscribe to sensible plastics-free practices or making a concerted effort to do so. Keep an eye out for the use of disposable plastic on liveaboards and at the dive resorts (and their restaurants) you visit next, and add a pithy comment about them in your reader reports. We'll be sure to follow up with them. Or simply write to, telling us who the offenders--and who the trendsetters -- are.

Cutting back on plastic straws, bags, bottles, etc., is not just a drop in the ocean -- it is an important movement that will significantly improve the ocean.

-- John Bantin

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