Plastic is everywhere. It is in every room of my house. The kitchen is especially brimming with this non-biodegradable phenomenon. Plastic can be found drying in my dish rack, piled in my pantry, and lined up under my sink. Most purchased food is in plastic. Thick plastic, thin plastic, hard plastic, pliable plastic. I think most people don’t see plastic. It just is, much like air. It is accepted as material essential to our lives.
Stepping away from the home and out into space, I now bring my focus to the Northern Pacific Gyre, also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where an estimated 225 million pounds or 113,000 tons of plastic waste twice the size of Texas is residing. A similar patch of floating plastic debris is found in the Atlantic Ocean.
Because plastic is photodegradable, not biodegradable, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces over time which become easily mistaken for plankton. And so, the fish, swimming in their beloved sea, unaware of human life, eat this plastic plankton. Yum! And of course, we eat the fish.
What if a waiter brought you your requested menu choice and asked if you’d like any fresh plastic with that. He’d pull out the plastic grinder from under his arm and proceed to cover the salad beside your almond-crusted halibut. A look akin to horror covers your face. Plastic? I didn’t ask for plastic with my halibut! How preposterous (or something like preposterous), you might think. Think again.
Back to my kitchen. I recently began cleaning out my pantry in which there was a giant bag full of bags. I never wanted to throw them into the Earth so over an eight-year period I just kept stuffing them into this bag. Bags from shoe stores, clothing stores, department stores, bookstores, toy stores and so on. I finally realized the overflow was out of control, so I went through the bags.
I was amazed at how thickly plastic some of these bags were, as if I were coming home with a twenty pound set of wrenches, when all I had purchased was a sweater. Most of the bags were not recyclable. However, because I am being driven crazy by the amount of stuff that has been accumulating in our home, I sorted out the best of the bags, recycled what I could, and threw the rest into the Earth along with a lot of guilt.
According to the Marine Conservation Society of the UK it takes 450 -1000 years for plastic bags to break down. So that bag from the Motherhood store is going to be around until something like the year 3000.
Given 1) the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; 2) our addiction to fossil fuels and the unwillingness to go full-speed behind clean energy; 3) the overwhelming presence of petroleum-based products and the toxic manufacturing process that comes along with them; 4) and the chemically-saturated food, air and water we ingest on a daily basis, these plastic bags may well outlive the human species. A true scientific possibility. A possibility I’d rather avoid if possible. And it is possible.
It’s hard to get away from plastic – and our addiction to petroleum in all its forms; a subject too big for this blog post – but small changes do contribute to a shift toward organic materials. I always take bags with me when I shop. I am reducing the amount of plastic I purchase, supporting alternatives as they show up. I reuse and recycle.
Will this get the plastic out of the fish? Well, in my spare time, I am working on inventing a giant airborne vacuum made out of recycled plastic that has the capacity to suck up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and transform it back into pure stardust. What are you up to?