Monday, July 21, 2008

"We've bitch-slapped the planet"

That was a quote from the article, "Plastic Ocean" featured in Best Life Magazine last October. The author interviews Captain Charles Moore about how he found a trail of plastic in the ocean that went on for hundreds of miles. It's called the Eastern Garbage Patch, and it's located in the North Pacific subtropical gyre, which is an area of the ocean that is very calm. In it he found everything from plastic bags to traffic cones to motor-oil jugs. And there are similar areas in the South Pacific as well as the Atlantic and Indian oceans. Put together, these areas cover 40 percent of the oceans, which correspond to a quarter of the earth's surface. Therefore, in Moore's words, "25 percent of our planet is a toilet that never flushes." Lovely.

After doing more research in the area, Moore found something even more disturbing: minuscule pieces of plastic that, by weight, were six times more prevalent than plankton. All the easier to ingest...

Another article describing these microplastics is "Scrubbing Out Sea Life" which discusses the exfoliating plastic microbeads in many body washes nowadays. The director of external relations in beauty care at Procter & Gamble (one of the main producers of these body washes), says that the total volume of the microbeads is too small to have an impact. He says that most of them will be removed during sewage treatment. But the article goes on to state that sewage treatment systems are not designed to remove microplastic, meaning they are likely to remain in the water.

The Best Life article goes on to describe how these plastics contain chemicals fount to disrupt the endocrine system by mimicking estrogen. There have been discoveries of male fish and seagulls that have grown female sex organs. The chemicals have been linked to enlarged breasts in men, and prostate cancer in rats. So not only are we screwing ocean life (one animal dissected contained 1,603 pieces of plastic) but we're also screwing ourselves.

Not a nice way to start a Monday morning, I realize, but I thought it was time to put the word out. I thought I was doing so well by recycling all the plastic that I buy, but it turns out only three to five percent of plastics are recycled in any way. The rest, well, they end up all over the place, including around the "waist" of this poor sea turtle. Lots end up in our landfills, of course, and on street corners, trapped by fences, hanging in trees.... The great thing about plastic bags and the like that are left lying around is that they collect rainwater, making them the perfect breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitos. But don't try burning your old plastics in an effort to remove them from the earth: burning plastic releases extremely toxic fumes.

So what the hell do we do? Make like ostriches and bury our heads? (If it kept me from ingesting plastic from the atmosphere, I just might.) Rather, simply consider trying to buy things that aren't made of plastic, or buying less overall. Considering that each of us throws away around 185 pounds of plastic per year, don't you think it's about time we took a good hard look at what we're buying?

For more info and tips on how to reduce plastic waste, visit Life Less Plastic, Fake Plastic Fish, Avoiding Plastic and PlasticLess.

That concludes my soap-box rant public service announcement for the day. Carry on.

(Unless of course you'd like to enlighten us and comment on how you've reduced your plastic waste.)

1 comment:

AGSoccerMom said...

Yikes...plastic beads something I did not know. Thank God I havn't bought these products. I have to read every label because of my son's alergies, so I have learned things I would rather not know. Thanks for your article, great info, even if I didn't want to know it. LOL