By: Tegan Hansen-Hoedeman
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not a creative name. It is literally a huge, soupy mess in the middle of the Pacific made entirely of human waste that mother nature cannot decompose. This potent image of the consequences of our consumerism has devastating environmental impacts. Researchers have found dead baby birds because their mothers think that bottle caps are food. There is a tragic picture of a horribly deformed turtle living with a plastic ring around its middle. This “Trash Vortex” constantly accumulates more trash, as ocean currents pick up the new additions expelled from our shores. And with the rate that we are consuming and throwing away our purchases, this heap is only going to grow.
How many of you know exactly where your trash will end up? It’s a scary thing, when we realize that we are so used to our problems being outsourced; we think that they’re not our problems anymore, that they’re someone else’s. Or maybe we don’t think about it at all. But sometimes we hear things that catch our attention and make us think: if someone ever tries to sell you an “organic”, freshly caught fish from the Pacific, it’s a lie. You can’t buy organic from that market anymore. With the amount of garbage in the oceanic food chain, everything is contaminated.
Most people think that their garbage ends up in a recycling plant or a landfill, carried away by those oh-so-convenient trucks that come around when nobody is awake to see or smell them. But a disastrous amount of garbage ends up washing away from land, through rivers and other drainage systems, to the ocean. There, it gets caught up in ocean currents and is carried for tens of thousands of miles, sometimes spanning decades, before it washes back to land (if it ever does). It’s gotten to the point where there is actually a conglomerate of flotsam, estimated to be twice the size of France, in the Pacific Ocean made entirely of trash, most of it floating plastic that will not decompose.
There is no way to clean up our oceans. We have permanently polluted them. It would take more money than any country can afford to pay for the force necessary to do the job. We’re not talking about something the size of Lake Ontario or even Hudson Bay: these are the biggest bodies of water on our planet. And what would be the point of trying to clean them anyway, when we know that we are just going to keep adding to the dumpsite? The problem has to be tackled at the source: us. Our constant, consumer driven need to buy things that we will throw out within a few days, hours, or even minutes.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is not a friendly list of equally valued suggestions: it’s a hierarchy. Recycling, while better than just throwing stuff in the garbage, takes high amounts of energy and resources, and in some ways contributes to the problem by insinuating that it’s OK to buy things like bottled water, because you can just recycle the bottle after and HEY! that’s environmentally friendly, right? (Whew, run-on sentences are prime) Well if you have to, by all means recycle, but there’s a better option: reuse. Instead of buying bottled water, why not get a reusable bottle and fill ‘er up at the tap? Reducing trumps all of the above: there’s no way we can store or keep all of the stuff that we buy, so eventually most of it gets thrown out. Instead, why not just stop buying so much useless hit-say? I don’t know about you, but I don’t especially like that we live in a “throw-away society.”
If every time I go to buy something disposable, and I get the picture of floating garbage, dead baby birds full of bottle caps, and deformed turtles in my mind, I’m pretty sure I can kick the habit. And so can you! Convenience is not a good enough excuse anymore, if it ever was. My metal water bottle is clean and ready to go: is yours?
And now for someone with scientific clout!
Image Source: http://www.cookiesound.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/garbage-in-ocean.jpg