If you have been following my writings here at Care2 or on my blog you’ve most certainly heard about the plastic mass that is floating out in the North Pacific Gyre. The gyre, one of several in the world, is a vortex of currents swirling inwards that lies between California and Japan. Like a toilet bowl that never flushes, it’s filled with plastic debris from man made items. So much so that from the first time it was studied until now, it has grown from the size of the state of Texas to twice the size of the continental United States!
How do I know this? Simple, my friends, Dr. Marcus Erikson and Anna Cummins, along with a bevy of other scientists, have traversed it, not once, but several times, in order to study what is actually happening out there. And what they found is truly disturbing. While the plastic soup is not concentrated, meaning you wouldn’t be able to see it from the air, once you get in the water, it can’t be missed. Thousands of tiny confetti-like pieces of plastic, filling otherwise pristine waters, waiting to be ingested.
And that’s just what happens. Petroleum based plastics break down, never completely, but over time getting smaller and smaller. As they do, fish and birds eat them and carry them forward. Some of the animals die. Some live on. And some are eaten by larger animals. As bigger fish eat smaller fish, the plastic particles and the myriad cancer-causing PCBs that they attract from unburnt fuel that falls on our oceans, move up the foodchain, and eventually onto our plates. As if Mercury wasn’t enough to worry about right?
As I mentioned, the North Pacific is only one of the Gyres in our seas, so Marcus and Anna and their colleagues have set out on the 5 Gyres project, a series of voyages to study the other 5 major gyres in the world, mostly in the North and South Atlantic. Presently they are studying the area between the US Virgin Islands, crossing the Sargasso Sea, and then ending in the Azores. Along the way they will collect samples, document debris and movement patterns, and report on what they are finding. They will also be stopping to speak with local officials on how to deal with this problem and make people aware of what they are finding.
In August they will be traversing the South Atlantic, from Rio De Janeiro to Cape Town South Africa, an area that has been left relatively undocumented. Then they will embark on a North American Speaking tour, traveling over 2000 miles by bicycle, in order to bring attention to what we are doing to our oceans.
While I think its important for everyone out there to understand this problem that we are creating, I think it’s more important to offer some ideas on how we can fix this problem. The simplest way to start is by not buying plastic. I know that seems ridiculously simple, and in many ways, impossible, but keep in mind, cutting your plastic consumption in half is better than not cutting it down at all.
Head to the store and see if you can do your shopping without buying any single use “disposable” packaging. If you’re like most Americans, that’ll be tough. Having said that, once you are aware, start buying what you can that uses no, or at least non-plastic recyclable/compostable packaging. But don’t stop there. When you get home, fire off a letter or email to the makers of the products you are no longer buying and tell them you stopped buying from them because of their packaging and will be happy to start again once they step up and fix the problem they are creating. Your message might not have an impact, but trust me, 100,000 of them will and you can be a part of that.
Want to step it up? Start writing to your representatives and tell them about the gyres. Ask them about considering legislation where manufacturers have to consider the endlife of their packaging. Why should we pay with our taxes to deal with packaging we don’t want in the first place?
Finally, if you are really gung ho, start leaving your packaging in the store at the counter–tell them you don’t want it and they need to deal with it. Again, one person is a nuisance, but 10,000 is a call from the store to the manufacturer and the message will get through.
There are certainly other ideas, but knowledge is the first step. Check out the 5gyres site for more ideas on what you can do, to donate to the cause and follow their exploits, and to spread the word.
Thanks for reading.