Plastics In The Great Lakes
Written by Laura Michelle Burns
When I read Beth Terry’s, Plastic-Free: How I kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, I was shocked by the sheer volume of plastic in our world. One of the many things she talks about is the presence of plastic islands in the Pacific Ocean that are literally made of waste from our water runoff and selfish littering.
If you live in Ohio, like I do, you know we have our own air and water quality issues: drama with hydraulic fracturing and high asthma rates, so pollution in the Pacific Ocean slowly drifts out of your mind. Not because you don’t care, but because it seems so far away. Then suddenly, it’s not. EcoWatch recently brought to light the research of the 5Gyres project. 5Gyres’ mission is to conduct research and communicate to the rest the world the powerful impact plastic has on our oceans. Recently, they did an expedition in the Great Lakes to collect data and quantify the amount of plastic in our water source.
Here’s why we don’t want all this plastic in our Great Lakes: Plastic is made from the fossil fuels oil and natural gas which inevitably release toxic chemicals like benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylene, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide while they are extracted from the Earth. These chemicals are hazardous to anyone within breathing distance. Additionally, as these chemicals are refined and produced into plastics, they continue to release harmful chemicals like carcinogenic dioxins into the atmosphere which we in turn breathe.
Our ecosystem is fragile, intricate, wonderful — and completely interconnected. To think that plastic pollution wouldn’t touch the air and water of the Great Lakes was so foolish of me. In samples taken from the Lakes, the same particles that are floating around the Pacific, contaminating the marine population, are found right in our own backyard. One sample had more the 600 plastic particles!
What are those plastic particles? Turns out those little micro scrubbers in your facial wash are actually polyethylene beads. Perhaps, you have clear glowing skin after using soaps with microscrubbers, but as you rinse your face, those plastic beads are flushed down the sink and into our waterways and collect along the shores. Plastic isn’t known for its tendency to break down, and while they float around, plastic particles are off-gassing, especially if the plastics are new.
Plastic is everywhere in our world and although it’s often designed to be thrown away, plastic made from petroleum is designed to last forever. As discouraging as this is, we can’t give up!
What can you do to prevent plastic pollution in the Great Lakes? Inspired by Beth Terry, I’ve given up my facial scrub that contained those “scrubbing beads” and traded it in for a homemade concoction of castile soap and tea tree oil. My face is happier, my conscious is lighter. What else can we do?
1. Bring your own bags when you shop.
2. Stop buying individually wrapped snacks.
3. Drink water from a reusable bottle.
4. Skip the plastic bags in the produce section.
5. Join Moms Clean Air Force as we continue to remind our government to honor the provisions of the Clean Air Act by not allowing the energy and chemical industries to skirt the protections for our health!
Photo credit: Shutterstock