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It’s a sunny afternoon and a crew of kids is building an epic sand castle on Willows Beach in Victoria, British Columbia. Using a fleet of toy trucks, they haul in moist sand from the shoreline to construct their masterpiece. One child pulls a toothbrush from the tipper and triumphantly sticks it in the sand castle like a flag on a turret. It’s hard to image what country the flag would represent; the ocean is full of toothbrushes and other plastic waste that know no borders.
Every minute, the equivalent of one real-life garbage truck full of plastic is dumped into the ocean. That’s according to a 2016 World Economic Forum report that estimates that more than 150 million tonnes is already swirling around at sea. And if no action is taken, there will be more plastic than fish (by weight) in the ocean by 2050. It’s an apt time to reflect on the strides we’ve taken to tackle this challenge, what we can do in the future, and the impact our plastic pollution is already having. From the toll on our physical and mental health, to the work being done at the grassroots and governmental level, here are 17 stories from around the globe.