Friday, October 26, 2007

Plastic is Forever

I used to think that it was silly to worry about plastic garbage in the midst of more "serious" environmental threats like deforestation, overfishing, and population growth. I figured that trash on the ground or in the water was really just a cosmetic concern; ugly but harmless. But now I've realized that plastic in the environment is a much greater problem than I thought. Here's why:

1. We use a shit-ton* of disposable plastic products and packaging materials every day, and even when we throw them away or recycle them they often end up in the environment by spilling out of a truck or a landfill. *I.e. in the US we trash about 1000 plastic water bottles per second.

2. Plastic floats, so it pools up on the surface of the ocean and on beaches, in ever-increasing amounts. Photobucket In college we took a field trip to a nature-reserve island off the coast of Texas, and the beaches there were piled high with mounds of trash that had washed in from the ocean. (Ironically, it's the less-inhabited beaches where the trash is more obvious, because no one picks it up.)

3. Animals eating and getting entangled in plastic is more than just the occasional seagull sticking its head through a six-pack ring; it happens ALL THE TIME. On those beaches in Texas, many of the plastic items we found had diamond-shape notches missing, indicating sea turtle bites. Turtles, birds, and fish can all go belly-up from the indigestable plastic waste that accumulates in their stomachs.
Even if the plastics don't directly kill the animal, they can leach out chemicals that disrupt normal body chemistry and cause cancer, infertility, etc.

4. Plastic in the environment doesn't go away. Even when the sun breaks it down into brittle little pieces, the pieces stay. This blew me away: Scientists towing fine mesh nets through the ocean have found that in many places, the mass of tiny plastic particles is 6 times the mass of plankton. That means that any animal that tries to eat the plankton, like a whale, is swallowing tons of plastic instead. That can't be good. People have been wondering why whales haven't recovered their populations since we stopped whaling. This could be a reason (along with illegal whaling and harmful noise from boats and military sonar).

Check out this video about the problem:

Oh, I should probably mention something that can be done about this. First of all don't litter. Second, don't buy stuff with excessive packaging or stuff that you don't really need. Third, re-use bags and containers whenever possible. And finally, for crying out loud, stop buying bottled water. If you're worried about drinking tap water get a filter.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful post! I live in Oakland but am originally from Maryland and campaigned to protect the Chesapeake Bay back in the 80's. Now, my whole focus is on plastic and the ways we can reduce our plastic consumption and plastic waste, and it was all triggered by an article I read 6 months ago about plastic in the oceans.

Here's the link to my blog:

Please feel free to comment and leave suggestions. I'm looking forward to reading more of your blog.

James Douglass said...

Beth, thanks for the link! It's tough to find alternatives in a society saturated with plastic, but your blog can help us show us the way.

Paul Richardson said...

Great post. Great video. Sad story. Seems like people are a little more aware and hopefully, more proactive in the future. Are you old enough to remember the "Tylenol terrorist" who poisoned people with by poisoning Tylenol? I forget how he did that but after that, manufacturers were required to put plastic safety seals on everything. It seems like there was a spike in plastics after that. Maybe it's just a personal perception, but I feel like that's when the age of plastics really began, for me.

KiMMiG said...

so sad!! we have 'clean up australia day' here, but I cannot fathom why do people litter in the first place... why do we all need personal bottles of water when it comes free out of the tap. beyond comprehension really.

Shiya Priya said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.