I don’t often write about environmental issues, as there are those who are much better at it than I. However, like many of you, I am concerned about our planet. I actively recycle and find myself many times in rather heated debates with certain people who would just let the earth suffer a slow death. I am glad that there are so many people dedicated to exposing the wanton pollution that is destroying our planet, and lately you’d have to be living in a cave to be unaware of the damage done by oil spills, exhaust gases and non-biodegradable products that are choking our landfills. There is another source other than BP that is polluting our oceans, and doing so on a much larger scale. However, it is getting very little press. It’s called “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch”
A Vortex Of Death…
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also described as the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a gyre of marine litter in the central North Pacific Ocean. Current estimates state that it is larger than the U.S. state of Texas, with some scientist claiming it larger than the continental United States. The Patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge, and other debris that have been trapped by the currents.
After checking and crosschecking several respected environmental websites, the best guess is that it contains approximately 3.5 million tons of trash, just floating around out there. Items like shoes, toys, bags, pacifiers, wrappers, toothbrushes, and bottles. My research shows that there are a few major sources responsible for this floating landfill. The world’s navies and commercial shipping fleets contribute close to 700,000 pieces of trash thrown overboard every single day. That sounds like a lot, but it only amounts to about 20%. It has been estimated that about 80% of it was initially discarded on land.
The garbage that we throw out of our car windows, toss onto the ground or is carelessly transported by inadequately sealed trucks and trains on the way to landfills get blown by the wind. It gets into rivers, streams and storm drains and then rides currents out to sea. Another, more direct source, is litter dropped by people at the beach. Data regarding the dumping of refuse by the countless number of cruise ships is incomplete, but you don’t have to be a mathematical statistician to guess on their contribution to the problem.
It has been estimated that the plastic in the Garbage Patch is killing about a million seabirds a year, as well as approximately 100,000 marine mammals, including turtles, which choke to death on items like bottle caps, pocket combs, cigarette lighters, tampon applicators, cottonbud shafts, toothbrushes, toys, syringes and plastic shopping bags. How do we know this? These items, and many others, are routinely found in the stomachs of dead seabirds and other marine mammals, such as the aforementioned turtles, dolphins and even whales. To give you a better idea, a study of fulmar carcases that washed up on North Sea coastlines found that 95 per cent had plastic in their stomachs. This does not even take into account the loss of marine life due to being poisoned by the oily toxins that accumulate in the plastic.
They feed, and they die. They feed, the end up on our dinner plates, we ingest poison. Nobody wins.
We Must Do Better…
It would appear that Americans and the Japanese are largest contributors. The sad part is that advances in the Plastics Industry have seen the development and manufacture of products that are biodegradable and recyclable. Developed nations have enacted strict penalties for pollution don’t really seem to working toward slowing the growth of the Garbage Patch because little or nothing can be done to enforce anti-polluting laws in international waters.
The only real solution would be to remove what amounts to be endless miles of trash, which has its own myriad of environmental problems. Not to mention the billions of dollars it would cost. As well, getting international cooperation would be problematic because it isn’t good press. There are no pictures of birds covered in oil or cute animals to save. You can’t see an island of garbage on satellite maps because the plastic degrades into tiny, bite-sized particles, and they simply don’t look horrific on camera.
Human beings are the only ones to blame for this, and it is a sad legacy we are leaving that makes a statement about our general disregard for our home. There is a wealth of information on the Internet about this problem, and I urge you to use your favorite search engine to learn as much about this problem as you can, and post it on your social networking site of choice, tell your family, your friends and neighbors. Perhaps more awareness about this immense floating island of human, non-biodegradable garbage will have some positive effect on the situation.
Capt. Moore and TED...
Here’s a video by Captain Charles Moore from TED Talks:
Maybe knowing that we are slowly poisoning ourselves and not just marine life will give us pause regarding the careless attitude that we have about what is done with our trash.