Plastic Water

Plastic Water

By: Tony White I was having dinner with my mom last weekend, and we were talking about her upcoming trip to Hawaii.  Needless to say, she’s very excited to return to Hawaii after having lived there while my dad was in the service.  She is looking forward to visiting the normal tourist spots but commented she can’t wait to visit the hospital where she worked and where I was born. “I wonder if the debris from the Japanese tsunami will be there yet, I heard it’s making its way across the ocean,” she commented. Mom’s concern about everything the tsunami swept out to sea — from boats to cars to houses and all the remnants of a civilized society – got me thinking. How will anyone be able to distinguish the tsunami debris from the 3.5 million tons of trash already swirling around the Pacific Ocean known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP)? The GPGP is composed mainly of plastic.  Plastic drink bottles, plastic fishing nets, plastic shampoo bottles, plastic hard hats, plastic toothbrushes, plastic forks, plastic detergent bottles all come together to create this toxic soup. The plastic is broken down by sunlight into smaller and smaller pieces.  Unfortunately plastic never completely goes away.  Unlike organic matter it does not decompose.  The small pieces are eaten by birds and fish that mistake the pieces for plankton and other sea life. Needless to say, this is NOT a good thing for the health of the ecosystem.  Not only are the tiny pieces of plastic not digestible, other toxins are attracted to the plastic pieces and are ingested along with the plastic. So why not just clean it up? Easier said than done. The GPGP is a moving target estimated to be up to twice the size of Texas, yet not evenly distributed.  It isn’t the floating mass of trash we might think. Most of the debris is microscopic in size and is found in the same areas as marine life.  It isn’t the floating landfill image we have in our mind.  Skimming for the debris would also collect marine life. The Pacific Ocean covers 30% of the Earth’s surface.  Surveying 1% of the Ocean would take 68 ships working 10 hours a day an entire year to complete.  Daunting? Yes.  Costly? Yes.  Likely?  Probably not, just think of the carbon emissions that would create. What can I do about this? Even though the situation seems overwhelming, we can all make a difference.  Each American is responsible for ~15.13 pounds of plastic making its way into the world’s oceans every year.  What if each of us reduced that amount?  That wouldn’t be taking anything out of our oceans, but it also wouldn’t be adding to the problem. Here are some easy things to try:

  • Reusable drink bottles—a reusable water bottle keeps as many as 167 single-use bottles from entering the environment
  • Reusable shopping bags—sea life mistake plastic shopping bags as jelly fish
  • Reusing plastic bags for lunch foods—better yet don’t use them at all
  • Compostable dog waste bags
  • Remind others to reduce, reuse and recycle

What are some other ideas you have to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle? Visit these sources for more information on the GPGP: http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/info/patch.html http://planetgreen.discovery.com/travel-outdoors/ocean-bound-plastic-interview.html http://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/crowd-sourcing-solutions-to-plastic-filled-oceans.html http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=en4XzfR0FE8&feature=player_embedded http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/info/plastic.html

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