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
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.
(Such technology would be extremely dangerous as it would
have to be careful not to accidentally disassemble Kenny
Rogers face). 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 (tm) 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).