Consumerism, Health & Disease, Water Contaminaton & Loss — by Craig Mackintosh PRI Editor September 29, 2008
We are turning our oceans into a chemical soup – the result being misery and death for billions of organisms, and serious health implications for ourselves.
When we throw things away, we must ask ourselves “where is away?” The clip below, one of the most frightening I have ever seen, will give you an idea of where at least one of these ‘away’ locations is. Much of our oil-based plastic products end up in our oceans, where they slowly break down into smaller and smaller pieces. Although this may sound like a good thing, in reality all it means is that they are more readily taken up by fish, dolphins, whales, turtles, birds and a myriad other organisms. The plastic molecules never actually disappear. Plastic diminishes in size until in appearance it almost perfectly imitates plankton – resulting in a situation where creatures actually compete with each other to eat it. And, worse, in some parts of the ocean the ratio of plastic to plankton is 6:1, and rising.
The following clip, put together by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, projects a vision of human stupidity that defies comprehension.
If you’re not familiar with the term ‘bio-magnification’, I’d recommend you read this post to gain a full understanding of the implications of these toxins entering our food chain.
A recent study (PDF) re-confirms what the clip above states, that these substances, dangerous in themselves, also attract and bind other harmful substances from the water, making their toxic intensity that much greater.
How much is out there? The following quotes refer to the North Pacific gyre alone:
A swirling pool of plastic in the pacific roughly the size of Africa, about 10 million square miles. There are six pounds of plastic there for every one pound of naturally occurring organism. Plastic is washing up on the shores of beaches like on the big island of Hawaii, turning the beach into a junkyard. Charles Moore captains the Alguita. He first came across plastic waste off the Hawaiian Islands. Moore created the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, leaving behind a successful business and his home in Long Beach. He set off on a 7,500 mile voyage. What he found was plastic everywhere. – Ecology Centre
Dragging a fine-meshed net known as a manta trawl, he discovered minuscule pieces of plastic, some barely visible to the eye, swirling like fish food throughout the water. He and his researchers parsed, measured, and sorted their samples and arrived at the following conclusion: By weight, this swath of sea contains six times as much plastic as it does plankton.
This statistic is grim—for marine animals, of course, but even more so for humans. The more invisible and ubiquitous the pollution, the more likely it will end up inside us. And there’s growing — and disturbing — proof that we’re ingesting plastic toxins constantly, and that even slight doses of these substances can severely disrupt gene activity. – BestLife
There are nine main ‘gyres‘ in our world’s oceans – where untold tons of trash are accumulating
More than 120 billion pounds of plastic resin are created in the U.S. alone – but only three to five percent of that is recycled in any way. Indeed, unlike glass, it is not possible to fully recycle plastic.
This news is depressing enough to make a person reach for the bottle. Glass, at least, is easily recyclable. You can take one tequila bottle, melt it down, and make another tequila bottle. With plastic, recycling is more complicated. Unfortunately, that promising-looking triangle of arrows that appears on products doesn’t always signify endless reuse; it merely identifies which type of plastic the item is made from. And of the seven different plastics in common use, only two of them — PET (labeled with #1 inside the triangle and used in soda bottles) and HDPE (labeled with #2 inside the triangle and used in milk jugs) — have much of an aftermarket. So no matter how virtuously you toss your chip bags and shampoo bottles into your blue bin, few of them will escape the landfill — only 3 to 5 percent of plastics are recycled in any way.
“ There’s no legal way to recycle a milk container into another milk container without adding a new virgin layer of plastic,” Moore says, pointing out that, because plastic melts at low temperatures, it retains pollutants and the tainted residue of its former contents. Turn up the heat to sear these off, and some plastics release deadly vapors. So the reclaimed stuff is mostly used to make entirely different products, things that don’t go anywhere near our mouths, such as fleece jackets and carpeting. Therefore, unlike recycling glass, metal, or paper, recycling plastic doesn’t always result in less use of virgin material. It also doesn’t help that fresh-made plastic is far cheaper. – BestLife
We may well be feeding plastic
to creatures we’ve never laid eyes on
This is a perfect example of creating products without considering the full life-cycle. And ‘cycle’ is the key word here, as it never really goes ‘away’. Many kinds of plastic are less dense than water – which means they easily float, facilitating their transport over hundreds, even thousands of miles on river and ocean currents. Plastic can float for decades, slowly breaking down into tinier and tinier pieces and being taken up by wildlife – or it may finally sink to the ocean bottom as an unnatural toxic sediment, to affect an ecosystem we barely know anything about.
If we have a 6:1 ratio of plastic to plankton in some parts of the ocean today, how will it be as China, India and other Asian nations continue with their rapid growth?
Around 4.2 billion people rely on seafood as their primary source of animal protein. Ocean currents and the movements and migrations of sea- and bird-life can ultimately transfer dangerous toxins across the globe and onto your dinner plate. There is no way for scientists to accurately gauge how many creatures are suffering and/or dying as a result of living in this increasingly toxic soup, but recent, and even not-so-recent studies show it is now nigh impossible to catch uncontaminated fish and seafood. This is a serious problem.
“Except for the small amount that’s been incinerated—and it’s a very small amount—every bit of plastic ever made still exists,” Moore says, describing how the material’s molecular structure resists biodegradation. Instead, plastic crumbles into ever-tinier fragments as it’s exposed to sunlight and the elements. And none of these untold gazillions of fragments is disappearing anytime soon: Even when plastic is broken down to a single molecule, it remains too tough for biodegradation.
Truth is, no one knows how long it will take for plastic to biodegrade, or return to its carbon and hydrogen elements. We only invented the stuff 144 years ago, and science’s best guess is that its natural disappearance will take several more centuries. Meanwhile, every year, we churn out about 60 billion tons of it, much of which becomes disposable products meant only for a single use. Set aside the question of why we’re creating ketchup bottles and six-pack rings that last for half a millennium, and consider the implications of it: Plastic never really goes away. – BestLife
The next short clip vividly demonstrates the kind of quantities we’re dealing with. You’ll be amazed at how much plastic they pulled from just one albatross chick sample – dead on a beach amongst dying birds 1,000 miles from anywhere.
We can’t remove the plastic that has already accumulated in our oceans, but we can stop adding more. Indeed, we must.
There is a little good news in all of this. The word is getting out, and people are beginning to see that it’s just crazy to create single-use products (like plastic bags that get used for an average of twelve minutes each before getting thrown into our environment) when they can last centuries, killing over and over again. Many countries have begun to either ban them or discourage their use by charging for plastic bags at checkout, etc.
Key: OB= Outright ban.
Bangladesh, (OB) Ireland, Taiwan, France, (OB 2010) West Bengal, (OB) Tanzania, (OB) Switzerland Rwanda (OB) Pakistan, (OB) Denmark Germany South Africa, (OB) Italy Australia, (OB in supermarkets 2008) India, (OB in area’s including Mumbai) Somalia, (OB) Botswana, (OB) Philippines, (OB, coming soon) Uganda, (OB) Kenya, (OB) Japan Turkey Zanzibar, (OB) Eritrea, (OB) Ethiopia, (OB) Papua New Guinea, (OB) Samoa, (OB) Belgium South Korea Singapore Sweden Bhutan, (OB) Malta – PlasticBagFree.com
I trust these facts will remain with you as you go through your day. But, in case you’re a forgetful type, here’s a catchy tune to aid in retention:
- Persistent Organic Pollutants: A Global Issue, A Global Response
- Persistent Organic Pollutants: Hand-Me-Down Poisons that Threaten Wildlife and People
- Real Player Interview with Dr Roger Payne (after a five-year sea study)
- Plastics in the Sea and Lakes
- Plague of Plastic Chokes the Seas
- Taking back our stolen future – Hormone disruption and PVC plastic
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