Plastic Emergency

I have been meaning to post a blog in this vein for the past week, but I kept dreaming about how it could be more impactful, how I could really make people feel the weight of the problem we are facing… I have lightened up a bit on that and have decided to go with what I first wrote, I’m sorry we have been away for two weeks, many more stories and fun stuff to come but for now:Plastic Emergency:

I truly hope this is 90 minutes I remember for the rest of my life – Place: Science World, Time: 7:30pm, Eye Opening Moment: Captain Charles Moore speaking about what is truly a plastic emergency.

Background – Charles Moore is a scientist and captain of the Algalita, and founder of the Algalita Research Foundation.  Cpt. Moore has dedicated years to studying what some call plastic islands (or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch) – what are really rotating gyres of plastic waste (5 of them in total) accumulating plastic in our oceans at an alarming rate.

For 90 minutes I sat with my eyes glues to pictures, video’s and the captain.  I had goosebumps for a majority of the presentation – and not the good kind, the kind that come from worrying about the long term health of our planet.  We are truly dealing with an emergency.

When I started this challenge I had some idea of what plastic waste was doing to us.  I had heard of these plastic gyres (though I had assumed they were actual giant islands of plastic), I had heard how much of our plastic waste ends up in the ocean, and I had even seen the images of albatross with their stomachs filled with plastic.

For whatever reason though I did not grasp the magnitude of the problem.  I knew there was a problem, enough to stop using plastic bags (for the most part), enough to worry just a little about how much waste we created – but really that’s about it.

I certainly didn’t realize that we can pull up samples of ocean water that contain more plastic then water.  I didn’t realize that plastic acts as both predator and prey in the ocean ecosystem.  Predator as it snags and traps large ocean creatures, prey as it is eaten by fish, and then predator again as it kills those who eat it.

The images where striking.  Photos of beaches all over the world, be it the Pacific Coast of the US, Hawaii, Japan – really any coastline in any country filled with plastic debris.  And it seems as if it will only get worse.

The thing that stuck with me most, and I have thought about this a lot since the event, is the lack of responsibility by plastic manufacturers, and the lack of will for us to go after them.  Think of this – after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico the response was immediate.  BP was held responsible (at least partially) for the clean-up of the spill, and communities and NGO’s came together to clean up the spill.

Now consider the plastic emergency.  We have new plastic entering the ocean every hour of every day.  We now see that the plastic is accumulating at a rapid pace in the deep ocean yet no company has ever been help responsible, there are few NGO’s working on the plastic emergency, and little political will to place any extended producer responsibility on the producers.

And lastly consider this.  If we measure the lifespan of these emergencies in years, the oilspill would be measures in decades while the plastic spill would be measured in centuries – plastics will remain in the water for hundreds of years.

Now I am not about to say that an oil spill is less of a disaster then is the plastic emergency, but I will say that we need to change the way we live.  We need to use less plastic, and we need to lobby for producer responsibility for the plastic that ends up in our ocean.  Unless we start to refuse the plastic this problem will continue, so please reduce, reuse, recycle, but please use the fourth ‘R’ as much as possible – refuse!


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