Plastic Fantastic Oceans

Apparently whoever coined the phrase “nothing lasts forever” had never heard of plastic. Plastic may not really last forever but pretty damn close! Researchers estimate that it takes hundreds, even thousands of years for plastic to breakdown. Truth be told, plastic hasn’t been around long enough for us to really know, but believe it or not, all the plastic that’s ever been manufactured in the U.S. is still around today in one form or another, much of it as discarded waste. At best guess that’s about a billion tons of plastic waste.

Now I’m not an avid environmentalist nor do I go around hugging trees, but I do have a genuine concern for our planet. Until yesterday I had no idea there was so much plastic waste! It all began with an eye opening article I read yesterday afternoon about how tons of debris from Japan’s tsunami last year is caught up in the rotating currents of the Pacific Ocean and is making its way towards the west coast. Estimates are that debris could reach Hawaii sometime this year and our coast within two years.

But not all the debris will wash ashore. Some debris will break up in transit, some may split up and be carried north towards Alaska and a large portion will make its way into what is referred to as the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch!’ How much actually reaches our shores depends on the types of materials, buoyancy, wind and other factors. Most of the debris that reaches us will be plastics and other things that float easily and don’t break down easily in the salt water.

‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’? Huh? I had no idea what that was, and the article only said that it was a part of the North Pacific Gyre. Okay, so what the hell is a gyre? Well, needless to say, I had to look them up, inquiring minds need to know, you know. Well, after a little Googling and a stop at Wikipedia I learned that the North Pacific Gyre is the largest ecosystem on our planet. It covers an 8 million square mile area of the Pacific Ocean and is the site of an  incredibly massive collection of man-made marine debris, mostly plastic. It’s actually the largest landfill in the world, a swirling sea of debris, plastic bags, bottles and other consumer products and it floats in the middle of the ocean, like a thick plastic soup.

This plastic wasteland just keeps growing and growing. 80% of the waste comes from land, another 10% is from plastic commercial fishing nets that are left behind, and the rest comes from recreational boaters, offshore oil rigs and large cargo and cruise ships. There is plenty of metal, glass and rubber in the garbage patch but most of it sinks to the bottom or biodegrades, so the majority of material is still plastic.  The microbes that break down other substances don’t recognize plastic as food, leaving it to float there forever. The rays of the sun do eventually degrade the bonds in plastic polymers, reducing it to smaller and smaller pieces, but that just makes thing worse. The plastic still never goes away; it simply becomes microscopic and is eaten by tiny marine organisms, and enters the food chain. How wonderful! Toxic fish, just what we need.

Biodegradable, reusable plastic bags

So what can we do about this floating plastic wasteland? Of course the most logical move is educating the public of this potential disaster and the importance of wholesale plastic recycling programs and expanded research on a productive use of this potentially plastic waste. Some have suggested using our plastic cast offs as a fuel source which brings to mind the time travelling DeLorean of  ‘Back to the Future’ fame. Remember the doc using waste products to fuel his machine? Plastic bottle fuel? Now wouldn’t that be special?

The larger this floating ‘garbage patch’ becomes, the more dangerous it becomes, or so they say.  As you’ve probably guessed there is a whole other side to this plastic disaster tale. A growing number of people believe that the whole garbage patch, killer plastic thing is grossly exaggerated and is simply a grand hoax perpetrated by leftist environmentalist and is not nearly the threat it’s made out to be. In fact they claim the garbage patch doesn’t even exist. Perhaps the fact that much of the plastic in the patch is in small pieces below the surface of the water lends a degree of credence to their reports, but just because bottles and other plastic debris isn’t bobbing around on the surface doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

And who are these people who dispute the claims? Would you believe that plastic bag manufacturers like Crown Poly are behind it? Well they are! So once again their protest is about the money they’re losing and not the safety of the environment. They even have there own experts to bolster their claims. Just another example of typical corporate greed and bullshit.

The fact remains that big or small, the garbage patch does exist and is a plastic problem that will only get worse unless something is done about it and soon, This is our home, if we want it to continue to be home for  future generations then we better do something about these pollution problems now before it’s too late or worse yet too expensive…

Okay, I’m done preaching, but I’m just saying…

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