Earth Friendly Water Blog

Our Ocean's SOS!

Plastic.  What today is not made of plastic? Credit cards, packaging, cutlery, portable pencil sharpeners, etc, etc, etc. It’s in just about everything, and seems to be everywhere.  Do you ever think about what happens to all that used plastic when it’s no longer serving a purpose?  All those countless water bottles, zip lock bags, toys, pens and tupperware?  Where does it all go once it leaves your garbage can?describe the image

“Out of sight, out of mind” is a childish game so many of us play.  Toss something we don’t want and POOF, it is gone, right?  No, that’s not how it works.  That plastic that seemed so harmless sitting on our desk or on our child’s playroom floor, isn’t as harmless as we might think.  The reason being is that plastic is 100% non-biodegradable, so it NEVER, EVER goes away. “The planet is a closed system, so everything that happens on earth stays on earth,” says Steve Fleischli, President of WaterKeeper Alliance.  Every bit of plastic manufactured in the past 50 years is still out there.  Leave an empty water bottle on the beach and it’s going to float out to sea.  In time, it’s likely to degrade into microscopic plastic pellets, but it won’t ever disappear. It will remain on earth indefinitely.

Charles Moore, founder of Algalita Marine Research Foundation detailed the consumption of plastic worldwide.  In 1985, it was 108 billions of pounds, 1995: 222 billions of pounds, and in 2007: 403 billions of pounds. In twenty years, the consumption of plastic worldwide has more than tripled. Yes, TRIPLED! Plastic consumption and the consequent plastic debris go hand in hand, so wherever there is an increase in plastic consumption, there in an increase in plastic debris.  If plastic is non-biodegradable, where does that debris go?  garbage in paradise resized 600Photography by: Fabi Fliervoet

According to a Greenpeace estimate, 10% of the plastic manufactured each year ends up in our oceans, more specifically in The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.   It has been called the largest garbage dump in the world, though the exact size is still unknown.  Some researchers report that it is the size of Australia, while others say that it is twice the size of Texas.  Regardless of the size comparisons being made, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch spreads across millions of square miles in the Pacific Ocean, extending just off the coast of California all the way to China. 

The Patch was discovered in 1997 by the aforementioned Charles Moore, as he sailed the Pacific.  It was an accident that Moore found The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an accident that he turned into his life work.   Since then, he has been collecting samples of the growing patch, and educating us about the legacy that we are leaving for future generations.

The garbage Patch is caused by a series of currents in the Pacific Ocean, which create a circular effect pulling trash from North America, Asia and the Hawaiian islands into a “graveyard of trash.”  Some estimate that it contains up to 100 million tons of plastic waste, some of it intact, and some widely dispersed as toxic plastic pellets.  “It’s like a minestrone soup that’s out there, and all the little vegetables are different colored bits of plastic,” says Moore.

The impact on wildlife caused by this marine litter is disastrous. There is six times as much plastic in the Garbage Patch than there is plankton, and plankton is the area’s most abundant food source. Fish, turtles and birds trying to determine what to eat have a better chance of selecting something made of plastic then real food.  Turtles eat plastic bags thinking they are jellyfish, and bottle caps become the food of birds. They mistake this plastic waste as food and die from either toxic poisoning or blockage of their digestive system.  The fish at the low end of the food chain consume the microscopic plastic pellets and in turn are eaten by the larger fish that we catch and eat.  Hydrophobic pollutants are released by the plastic, which harms the ocean’s food chain, and causes serious health problems for humans.

Our oceans are broken, as Moore confirms in his version of the familiar Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme: “All the King’s horses and all the King’s men will never gather up all the plastic and put the ocean back together again.”  Moore says this for a few reasons. 1. The plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is in various states of breakdown, making some pieces far too tiny to be strained. 2. The ocean is extremely deep and the plastic is making its way from the surface to the ocean floor.  3. The amount of fuel it would take to get ships out to the Patch to collect the plastic would emit dangerous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.   He says that “straining the ocean for plastic would be beyond the budget of any country and it might kill untold amounts of sea life in the process.”

When it comes to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, no one is guiltless.  “If you consume and discard goods, you are responsible for some portion of the plastic that is ending up in the ocean, even if you live hundreds of miles from the seaside. People create, consume, and carelessly toss plastics and the litter ends up in the water ways.  As the plastic reaches the shoreline, currents carry it out into the ocean and a convergence of currents swirls the plastics into one general area. All rivers lead to the sea, as they say.”  
Jaymi Heimbuch from Planet Green

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If the tide is going to turn, we need to step up and change our behavior now. It is up to us to handle plastic properly by keeping it on land, and recycling.  Plastic will continue to make its way to the oceans unless we keep it from doing so. We are the solution to the plastic pollution.

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Next Up:

Plastic - How To Reduce Your Use