Plastic, a curse of our time 4


I was reading the Arctic Circle, the comics strip (left) provided by the Daily Green, and this reminded me I never wrote about what is referred to as the Pacific Trash Vortex.

Spreading from California to Japan and Hawaii, it is the world’s largest dump and the biggest sign – with the billion tonnes of CO2 – that we have gone way to far in polluting our planet.

But the Pacific is not the only one: all our oceans are polluted by million tons of plastic. I collected for today’s post two articles on that most dreadful fact.

The UK newspaper The Independent wrote a most interesting article on that topic:

A “plastic soup” of waste floating in the Pacific Ocean is growing at an alarming rate and now covers an area twice the size of the continental United States, scientists have said.

The vast expanse of debris – in effect the world’s largest rubbish dump – is held in place by swirling underwater currents. This drifting “soup” stretches from about 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast, across the northern Pacific, past Hawaii and almost as far as Japan.

Charles Moore, an American oceanographer who discovered the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” or “trash vortex”, believes that about 100 million tons of flotsam are circulating in the region.

Marcus Eriksen, a research director of the US-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation, which Mr Moore founded, said yesterday: “The original idea that people had was that it was an island of plastic garbage that you could almost walk on. It is not quite like that. It is almost like a plastic soup. It is endless for an area that is maybe twice the size as continental United States.”

(…) The “soup” is actually two linked areas, either side of the islands of Hawaii, known as the Western and Eastern Pacific Garbage Patches. About one-fifth of the junk – which includes everything from footballs and kayaks to Lego blocks and carrier bags – is thrown off ships or oil platforms. The rest comes from land.

(…) Unless consumers cut back on their use of disposable plastics, the plastic stew would double in size over the next decade.

(…) According to the UN Environment Programme, plastic debris causes the deaths of more than a million seabirds every year, as well as more than 100,000 marine mammals. Syringes, cigarette lighters and toothbrushes have been found inside the stomachs of dead seabirds, which mistake them for food.

Plastic is believed to constitute 90 per cent of all rubbish floating in the oceans. The UN Environment Programme estimated in 2006 that every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic,

Dr Eriksen said the slowly rotating mass of rubbish-laden water poses a risk to human health, too. Hundreds of millions of tiny plastic pellets, or nurdles – the raw materials for the plastic industry – are lost or spilled every year, working their way into the sea.

(…)  “What goes into the ocean goes into these animals and onto your dinner plate. It’s that simple,” said Dr Eriksen.

This image provided by the Independent gives us a grasp at the size of the phenomenon.

An article from TreeHugger also had some serious impact on me:

In the most polluted areas, the plastic-to-plankton ratio is 48 to 1. It’s become part of the oceanic landscape. Net a piece of plastic, and you’ll find barnacles and small crabs clinging to it. Not a good thing for fish, birds, and mammals that mistake it for its natural food, such as eggs, jellyfish, or other sea creatures.

Most of the plastic will eventually photo-degrade into small, dust-like particles to the point that it will be non-detectable to the human eye, but ingestible by sea mammals, birds, and fish—many of which we then consume ourselves.

One thing the captain said to me really hit home. “I lived in a world that was pre-plastic,” he said, turning to face me. “I am the last generation to witness a clean ocean, free from plastic. All succeeding generations will only see an ocean filled with trash.”

To exemplify this, Marguerite experienced this first-hand during one of her trip to Hawaii.

This is unbelievable. So much waste, so much pollution… Yet, some hope remains.

Indeed, we are beginning to mine landfills (it will be the subject of a future post), we may also one day clean up the oceans on a much larger scale than we are currently doing.

Meanwhile, it is time for us all to adopt those great tips provided by Daryl of Verda Vivo.


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