The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Okay, so it's not 'news', per se. I'd heard of it before, but not in great detail, so I checked it out. As a result of what I've found, it will be the subject of my next essay for college, and I'm considering requesting to change the thesis of my research paper as well. The upshot is this: There's a huge mass of plastic waste floating in the North Pacific Gyre, an area of natural rotation caused by ocean currents. It's currently estimated at over 540,000 square miles, which makes it larger than Alaska. "So what?", you might say, and I reply: "So what happened to all the so-called tree huggers? Where's the hard-core environmentalists?"
It doesn't seem so bad until you look into it. Our plastics producers spent time and effort concocting plastics that appear to biodegrade. That is, they disintegrate into smaller pieces on exposure to sunlight. Problem is, those smaller pieces don't go away, and don't break down into base chemical constituents: they remain plastics.
What's so bad about that? Everything. These plastics, especially polypropylene, float on the surface of the sea, absorbing toxic pollutants. These plastics outnumber zooplaknton by as much as 6 to 1, by weight. Fish and birds eat them, introducing such wonder chemicals as bisphenols, DDE and PCBs into the food chain. Bisphenols have been linked to miscarriages in humans; I think we all remember the horror story of Love Canal. Those who don't, need to look it up.
The plastics that haven't disintegrated yet are as much a problem as those which have. They are routinely eaten by marine wildlife, especially sea birds like the albatross. Current estimates are over one million sea birds dying per year due to plastics blocking their digestive tracts.
Now, as for my question: nobody is doing a bloody damn thing about it. The plastics manufacturers aren't to blame; we are, for buying products either made from, or packaged in, plastic. None of us miss cleaning up the busted glass from a dropped jelly jar, but it looks like we dismissed a larger problem. Once the plastic bag makers started making bags that disintegrate in sunlight, we quit caring about them: out of sight, out of mind. No thought to the billions of trash bags that get buried every year in landfills. Not even a single neuron triggered about where the plastic went.
So: where are the people that care? Is whaling a bigger issue, or just easier to publicize? Would it really be so hard to devise schemes to remove most of the plastic? I don't think so; we spend billions of dollars per year harvesting seafood, and marine researchers have already shown us the basics of trawling for plastic. We spend billions of dollars per month fighting terrorists who can only kill a few people, while facing a problem that can kill all of us. This I believe: we as a nation, and/or other people in their nations, can get it done.
One of my personal heroes, Jacques Cousteau, spent his life trying to teach the public at large of the value of our oceans, and marine life. In my fifty-one years, I've yet to see more than a handful of people actively try to control pollution. Maybe, just maybe, we need to start doing something, before it's too late.
This is just one of many environmental catastrophes we are faced with today. Abandoned mines, toxic waste dumps, and overflowing landfills are a few others; the legacy we are leaving to our children's children is one of devastation and death. The world may not end in 2012, or even 2052, but if we don't start cleaning up our messes, we may not survive to celebrate 2112. The time to speak is past; the time to act is now.
If we lose sea life, we lose the planet. Is this going to be Mankind's great legacy? Or is there someone out there with the courage to be the first to step forward, the first to help fix the problem?
There are currently two such patches, one between San Francisco and Hawaii, the other near Japan. Looks like we have more important things that whalers could be 'performing research' on!
April 9, 2009
Vulcan, I know if you are around LoS Angeles we have a sewer system and we also have the LA river storm drain system. We treat sewage and dump it into the ocean. Everybit of our rainwater takes everything from the gutters and storm drains and flows it right into the ocean. Debree from trees and leave to garbage ends up in the ocean. Plastic 6-pack things are a huge hazzard to the fish, not to mention all the things people do from old car oil to you name it. That sounds like a terrific paper to do, especially in the Green times that is a thrend. New York city just takes its garbage out in barges and dumps it in the Atlantic. At least we use Landfill dumps for our city garbage, and we have separate cans for trash, recyclables, and green trimmings.
Nope, I'm on left-right coast*. 😕
Anyway, I remember California, you guys did try to recycle. Deposits on bottles and cans didn't hurt. The grocery outfit I worked for recycled all their cardboard; we tried to recycle plastics, but had a lot of trouble getting buyers for unwashed & unsorted bales of the stuff. It's not easy to get recyclers to take waxed cardboard, either, most of it winds up in landfills.
Greeney, check out the Youtube link, if you haven't already; California may recycle, but things like the San Gabriel River are a contributor*. There must be a way to control all that plastic!
*West coast of Florida: cool sunsets, hot babes with a Deep South twang, no oil rigs in sight 😎
*Technically, that would be Californians; all any river normally contributes by itself is freshwater.
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