The Ultimate Garbage Disposal. Let’s talk trash….. Only we humans make waste that nature can’t digest. Charles Moore. It’s as big as Texas….. Twice as big as Texas…. As big as the continental United States………..
It is connected to the entire ocean, the planet’s circulatory system, and all of that ocean, Pole to Pole is clogged with large, medium and especially small pieces of plastic and other goods discarded by people worldwide.
Bits of colorful plastic get caught up with bottles, shoes, plates, buckets, straws, tooth brushes, shavers, coolers, bags and much more, carried by ocean currents across the face of the planet but collected in especially highconcentrationsin afew favored places.
The bright side is that healthy natural systems can, in time soften heavy-handed human impacts. For example,
Glass bottles and metal cans are unsightly when tossed into the sea, but are basically inert. Cans corrode over time, and glass, while durable, appears to do no harm
Large pieces of trash are eyesores, and some kinds, especially plastic bags are lethal to sea turtles, whales, and whalesharks when the indigestible material is engulfed and jams their digestive system.
A whale washed ashore in California in 2007, died of unknown causes, but had 181 kilograms (400 pounds) of plastic in its stomach.
In one way or another, it has taken only about 40 years for nurdles and other bits of plastic to rival the grains of sand on beaches around the world. Beachcombing children call the pearly plastic spheres mermaid tears.
David de Rothschild dreamed up a way to create global awareness and encourage industry to focus on win-win solutions to plastic pollution. Of the 39 billion plastic bottles that are used in the United States alone every year (about 2 million every 5 seconds), only about 20 %get reused. Rothschild decided to make a message of the bottle…..thousands of them.
Getting at the small pieces mixed with plankton is much more challenging. Anything that could strain out the bits of plastic would take the plankton as well.
By chance, Moore encountered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 1997 while sailing to Hawaii. He was horrified when he came upon what appeared to be an enormous island. (floating trash)
On a 1999 expedition, Moore compared the number and weight of plastic pieces in samples taken with fine- mesh nets pulled through the Garbage Patch. He found that for every pound of plankton, there was six pounds of trash ( 6 times more plastic then plankton)
It also matters to fish that snap up bits too small to be noticed by birds. Moore examined the stomach contents of fish in the central Pacific and found that nearly all had at least some plastic. A lantern fish only 2.5 inches long was packed with 84 individual pieces.
Small pieces of plastic attract and concentrate toxins that are in the ocean such as mercury, fire retardants, pesticides. Nurdles sampled in water near Japan had levels of DDE (pesticide) and PCB a million times greater than were in the surrounding sea. The effect of biological magnification is intensified when toxin enhanced plastic is consumed.
There appears to be no limit to how far down the food chain the accumulation of plastics and their toxic chemical baggage can go. The consequences to ocean chemistry are simply unknown, but they need to be understood and factored in to the growing number of issues directly affecting the ocean’s health, and thus our own.
Those who consume seafood should be asking another question: How far up the food chain do ingested plastics go? Does it matter if we eat oysters or anchovies or clams that have stuffed themselves with something other than little shrimp and algae?
It has taken us a while, but maybe the concept has finally sunk in. We can shift our trash, move it, cover it up, toss it into the sea, and turn our back, but everything connects. There is no “ away” to throw to!