By now you have likely heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a tragic byproduct of the plastics industry and consumerism that is an island of garbage floating in the northern Pacific Ocean. Originally the size of Texas and approaching the size of the Sun, this gargantuan pile of plastic is collected by currents that swirl around in a big circle. Most of the debris is picked up from the shores of both China and North America that sandwich it.
As plastic never goes away, it eventually crumbles up into tiny bits (photo-degrades). These bits of plastic enter the food supply and are passed from the jelly fish all the way back up to humans where it is stored in their livers (that part is only fair). Plastic also pollutes the water with PCB’s (PolyChlorinated Biphenyls, dangerous carcinogens and hormone disruptors).
While no one person is to blame, every person has contributed to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (it’s a safe bet the Atlantic also has one lurking somewhere). Whether one throws litter on the ground or trusts in their municipal trash companies to do it for them, everyone throws away plastic and it ends up in the ocean and then back in our bodies.
While some say cleanup is impossible, hopefully someday someone will find a solution. Perhaps they will find a way to convert plastic to energy (it is made of oil after all), and they can make a ship refueling station out there that will produce energy from plastic. Or perhaps nanotech robots can disassemble it and bring it to the recycler. In the meantime there are many things people can do to at least help prevent this pile of garbage from getting any larger.
Ways to Reduce Plastic in Landfills
1) Avoid Products that use Plastic to Begin With
Plastic is made from petroleum hence it is so ubiquitous today. Plastic is convenient but most of the cheaper grades (the clear stuff) find its way into our food, often leaving a film on anything that is wrapped in it and which we then eat. Microwaving anything in plastic cooks plastic residues right into the food, vaporizing other chemicals that contaminate the food and air. Consider the amount of sheer waste a single meal or even serving produces (Kraft Singles is second only to Individually Wrapped Breaths of Air ™ in the Most Wasteful Products Award). Reuse glass or Tupperware containers for leftovers instead of plastic wrap. Store water in the high grade blue plastic bottles only. Prefer cheese that is made from raw milk.
2) Kick the Bottle
High on the list of most wasteful products is Individually Wrapped Drinks of Water, a lingering 1990’s fad for those pretending to be health conscious. Picture a lake compared to a lake of plastic bottles and that is basically what we now have in the Pacific. Corporations are taking over town aquifers and selling it back to the people for $2 per bottle. Shipping one bottle of water costs on average 1/3 bottle of fuel. It is best to filter or distill your own water and use metal or glass containers. Companies like Nalgene make trendy reusable water containers of high grade plastic. Opt for tap water with lemon in restaurants. Note: wait staff seem trained to always supply a plastic straw with every drink (probably so you don’t notice the lipstick on the rim of the glass), so remember to request no straw with your drink.
3) Recycle or Reuse Materials
Plastic can be recycled and you will find that when you start recycling you at least save money on trash bags. Many containers can be washed out and reused (though they should be sterilized with apple cider vinegar). Note that only the higher grade plastics can be reused.
4) Choose Products with Biodegradable Plastic
Now many plastic cups along with packaging peanuts and other supplies are available in a biodegradable form. Companies like Ecosafe and Natur-Tec are providing real solutions to the plastic problem.
5) Repair, Sell or Upgrade Gadgets
Many people run out and buy the latest new cell phone or iPod more often than needed, discarding their old phones in the rubbish where they not only add to plastic landfill but also leak out various other contaminants like Mercury. Meanwhile older components, while larger, are often superior as they tend to be constructed of much more solid materials. By repairing your items you can keep things in top shape much longer. Tackle small problems when they arise. Take the time to fix things right. Buy used products when possible and sell your items when they are no longer needed. Prefer products that offer replacement parts.
6) Recycle Computer Parts
If you must discard items like monitors or printers, at least take them to an electronics recycler. Staples accepts old monitors, etc. for a small fee.
7) Use Cloth Grocery Bags
While this is more of a challenge for men as they look like pocketbooks, it is important to avoid bringing home so many plastic bags. Cloth bags can help. Some shoppers at the farmers market seem afraid to let any vegetables touch any other vegetables, insisting that each be individually wrapped. A better method is to use as few bags as possible, to reuse those taken, recycle them when they tear, and especially to avoid using them to begin with by bringing your own bag. Eventually this will save money as stores are considering charging for them.
8)Do Sweat the Small Stuff
The worst pieces of plastic are the tiny bits. These are the ones that birds, turtles and fish mistake for food and eat and then can’t pass them. Eventually these poor animals become full of plastic and they die of starvation, or they are consumed by larger animals and the process continues. After these animals die, the plastic is the only part that is left behind where it kills again.
9)Don’t be a Litter Bug
Many feel that if they don’t litter, they will be putting the garbage man out of a job. Some will simply chuck their used car batteries (full of sulfuric acid) into the woods behind their home. The truth is that this debris will persist for decades and humans leave enough of a footprint without adding insult to injury. In the 1970’s there were TV commercials with Woodsy Owl reminding us to “Give a Hoot Don’t Pollute”. In today’s corporate controlled media the best we get is talk about the Carbon Tax. Even the threat of Nuclear War is brushed aside by the media in favor of the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, and the War on Manners.
10)Clean up your Neighborhood Ponds
Many neighborhoods have small ponds containing water that is cleaner than their municipal tap water. These ponds are often teeming with fish and turtles that help keep them pure. Sadly however these ponds (and wildlife) are normally loaded with plastic debris. By taking 15 minutes each week, one person can really help clean up their neighborhood. The process is surprisingly relaxing and the animals will appreciate it. Do note that random passerby will think you are out on parole, so wearing an orange jumpsuit is not recommended. Ideally, organize a neighborhood trash pickup (nowadays that may require legal waivers in case participants obtain a boo boo).