THE PACIFIC VORTEX – GARBAGE MERRY-GO-ROUND

In the 1967 film “The Graduate,”
Mr. McGuire offers one word of advice to
Dustin Hoffman’s character, Benjamin Braddock

“Plastics”

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Today, plastic items of all kinds travel far and wide in their journey into eternity. One of those destinations is in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California and north of Hawaii. There it has decided that it is so comfortable that it swirls along with other throw away items in a mass of garbage called the “Pacific Trash Vortex.”

The very thing that makes plastic items useful to consumers – their durability and stability – also makes them a problem in marine environments. Around 100 million tons of plastic are produced each year. About 10% ends up in the sea with roughly 20% of this is from ships and platforms, and the rest from land.

The North Pacific sub-tropical gyre covers a large area of the Pacific in which the water circulates clockwise in a slow spiral. Winds are light. The currents tend to force any floating material into the low energy central area of the gyre. There are few islands on which the floating material can beach. So it stays there in the gyre, in astounding quantities estimated at six kilos of plastic for every kilo of naturally occurring plankton. The equivalent of an area the size of Texas swirling slowly around like a clock, entangling sea creatures in its snares.

Photo Credit: calvintang.com

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Unlike naturally occurring compounds, plastic does not photo-degrade, it simply breaks up into ever-smaller pieces and lingers in the environment as an invisible toxic dust. Walk along any beach anywhere in the world and washed ashore will be many plastic bags, bottles and containers, plastic drums, expanded polystyrene packing, polyurethane foam pieces, pieces of polypropylene fishing net and discarded lengths of rope. Together with traffic cones, disposable lighters, vehicle tires and toothbrushes, these items have been casually thrown away on land and at sea and have been carried ashore by wind and tide.

 

Photo Credit: Greenpeace
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Fortunately, some businesses are starting to realize the environmental harm that can be wrought by some plastic items, namely plastic grocery bags. Whole Foods has announced plans to stop offering disposable, plastic grocery bags in all 270 stores in the USA, Canada, and the United Kingdom by Earth Day — April 22. That means roughly 100 million plastic bags will be kept out of the environment between that date and the end of 2008.

Whole Foods decision comes as other cities and countries are moving in the direction of freeing us from those plastic bags that seem to multiply like rabbits. San Francisco banned them; Oakland is considering a ban. New York and New Jersey require retailers to recycle them, and China announced a ban this month.

Now, if China – that great energy-guzzling, product-spewing nation can ban plastic bags, then we are really behind as a society. Yup, plastics is the word, but it sure doesn’t have the same sense of destiny today that it did in the day of “The Graduate.”

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About Charlotte A. Weybright

I own a home in the historical West Central Neighborhood of Fort Wayne, Indiana. I have four grown sons and nine grandchildren - four grandsons and five granddaughters. I love to work on my home, and I enjoy crafts of all types. But, most of all, I enjoy being involved in political and community issues.
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4 Responses to THE PACIFIC VORTEX – GARBAGE MERRY-GO-ROUND

  1. Andy says:

    Thanks for bringing this to light. I believe if people were educated on the harmful effects plastic bags and other plastic products have on our environment, they would curb their usage.

    The amount of plastic waste we produce is alarming. The argument I often hear for plastic bag usage is its cheap and convenient.

    Forty years from now, when my grandchildren ask me how human beings could be so careless and wasteful with our planet, I sometimes wonder what my response will be.

  2. Andy:

    Many people mistakenly think that plastic bags degrade. They don’t degrade, they break up into smaller and smaller particles which remain suspended in the water.

    I like to use my canvas bags to shop. I belong to several organizations such as World Wildlife Fund, Nature Conservancy, etc. so I always ask for the canvas tote as my membership selection.

    • Jennifer Galarneau says:

      I was made aware of our sea turning into a “plastic soup” while listening to NPR(they used the Texas comparison as well, saying it was TWICE THE SIZE) I am amazed that our world, which no current plastic manufacturer could begin to duplicate, is being treated so horribly, as if it doesn’t matter. My son and I have always taken steps toward helping instead of hurting. Finding out about this makes us both sick. We are currently in search of dairies that use glass bottles, stores that have short receipts(just the main info),
      in addition to a pharmacy that lets you return your pill bottles to be used again. It is amazing all the items that are packaged in plastic, all the foods that if you want to eat it, you have to buy it in plastic. I’ve often thought of mandating stores that sell hair products as well as stores that sell mayo or milk, to sell the glass containers empty and have the sales be something like filling up a beer glass from a keg, if you want it you fill it. Jonathan and I are hoping that we(I) don’t go insane from this before we can make a posotive affect on it. Really, before I went back to school I would make some extra dollars by dumpster diving for recyclables at the KOA campground near my house. (which by the way doesnt promote recycling at all)The Tuesday after the Labor Day “Celebrations” left me sobbing while sitting on top of only my second (of more than 15)dumpster,sobbing in discust at all the incredible waste, the greed that runs our general population makes me wish I could police each trash can, roadside, and riverbank. I wish that cigarettes were not allowed to be made with filters or sold in individual containers, sell them out of a gardening store in the form of tobacco plants. If someone wants to smoke, they can grow it themselves, and use their pillow to make their own filters. I bet that would help alot of people stop smoking or at least get them to not litter as much. We are a spoiled,lucky,disrespectful greedy nasty country right now, aside from maybe the wonderful laws that our people have protecting them against being slave labor, even without any jobs to labor at. Maybe it is clear, I am angry. I want to MAKE a change not just believe that it could happen. I want to live on a world that has self-respect, that has respect for every other thing that shares it and their functions.
      Recycling in-house should be a law, where any manufacturer is only allowed to purchase or use a small percentage of materials while required to recycle their own waste to use in their factory or in their product. If I don’t go crazy over this stuff, I will be crazy-full of information about it and hopefully I can completely convert to plastic-free one day or even better, every one can because there isn’t any more sold!!!!!!!!!!!! lengthy, but truly, i’m just throwin a bit out as I am hammering away on the plastic keyboard. Dont be afraid to talk about not littering to strangers, and never bite your tounge about it if you see someone you know doing it. It would give me so much respect for any law enforcement agency or court if we saw the litter bugs going down too. The amount of litter along our roads alone proves it is much more popular than driving under the influence of anything !!! There is a county program here that handles all the DUI and drug offenses, couseling, rehab etc., Where are the litter police and how do I refer someone to their rehab?????????? enuf, thankyou
      ling and manufacturing should be one and no government

      employee, politician, welfare recipient(able bodied of course)or roadway should get another cent until our system is severly shaved of it’s wasteful ways and the damage we have already done well on it’s way to full recovery.

  3. Hauling says:

    Nice work on the blog. I definitely know how hard it can be to start to gain a following! 🙂 The issues we are facing just seem to get worse and worse and seems like people care less and less. Anyway to 2010 being a greener year!

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