Plastic Pollution: Time for a Change

The world is abundant in beauty, and I have been captivated by its intensity in many moments. The Rockies of BC have taken my breath away with their majestic grandness that reaches into the heavens; the deserts of Arizona have captured my heart in tranquility; the Grand Canyon and Colorado River have left me in awe with their mystery, and the oceans have taken my heart with their duo personality—able to caress one softly and yet also fiercely take life away. Each of these places is different from the other and teeming with life that is just as spectacularly different and yet in some way or another each of these unique ecosystems is strongly influenced by the other. How horrid to see any of nature’s beauty destroyed.

I was walking along a stretch of rocky beach, away from the rich homes that line the coast in an area of the Riviera Maya on the Caribbean sea, into an area left to its own devices—nothing but wind and waves to groom it. It was a beauty, I thought. Not a person around. I eagerly trekked on, ready to be swallowed in the splendor of the new discovery.

I approached. The plastic appeared first as a few remnants of garbage that perhaps had floated in from a nearby vessel. A plastic bottle, a worn out blue flip flop, a white fork with one prong missing, a few plastic bags entwined among the seaweed. A few more steps into this paradise, and I was taken aback.

There was a trove of nondescript mounds of plastic in colours of all sorts and sizes, and a sidewalk sale of plastic crap. My heart sank.

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Photo: Chris Jordon

There were long sticks of white things, round blue things, red oval parts, yellow doohickeys, green morsels, purple pieces everywhere I looked, covering every portion of the rocky floor, all polished by the sea from sitting and floating for many years. They were now all just plastic coloured bits remaining, unrecognizable in their slow deterioration.

Joining the rainbow of bits, a newer collection: diapers, sunglasses, many, many plastic bottles, bottle caps, part of a lawn chair, a toothbrush, a lighter, a deflated air mattress, ropes, broken buckets, tattered nets, plastic cups, Tupperware, straws, and a million broken plastic toys.

I stood there with my horror. In every single piece of crap on that beach was a part of me, and my life on this planet. What have I done?

This is just one little deserted stretch of coast in the Riviera Maya.

I have also cut down the trees in the Amazon, spilled oil in the Gulf, killed coral reefs around Australia, sprayed pesticide on foods that killed the bees, and tossed mounds and mounds of garbage into landfills that polluted the soil. Yes, I am guilty. And so are you. We are all guilty. Anyone who purchases the products that cause destruction to the earth is just as guilty as the ones producing it. This statement is not an easy one to declare, however the first step to make a change is recognizing our responsibility as consumers.

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Death by Plastic. The Albatross of Midway, a remote island in the middle of the Pacific. Photo: Chris Jordan, www.chrisjordan.com

Many years back, while I was stuck in a boat yard working on my sloop. I decided to take a part-time job at a big local retailer, one of those places with bulk food, clothing, electronics, kitchen gadgets, and every single thing your home could desire. This store had decided they wanted to go green, support the environment, and do the right thing, so it started charging customers five cents a plastic bag to encourage people to buy the sturdy cloth bags at about $2 a pop. Great idea right? Just think about how many plastic bags they were going to save! Not so much.

Unknown to the customers, in the back storage area, tons of merchandise arrived daily on pallets. Each pallet was wrapped in plastic, and contained several boxes, each box also wrapped individually in plastic. Each item in each box was wrapped in plastic. All of this plastic, from every delivery, every day, went straight into the garbage.

Sometimes, as consumers, we don’t realize the harm we cause the Earth. Did we let big business take over our souls for convenience? Have we turned into those three idiot monkeys… hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil? Does your five cent bag make you feel better inside? And are we all wearing polyester plastic panties without even realizing it?

We are killing our Planet. Ecosystems are dying. Wildlife is disappearing. Biodiversity is fading.

According to Population Action International out of Washington DC, human population size, growth, density, and migration are the underlying causes of biodiversity loss. They have determined that the increased demand for goods and services, mostly resources such as food and fuel, to meet the needs of a growing population could mean the end of ecosystems, genes, and species.

The World Wide Fund for Nature agrees, that the earth is unable to keep up in the struggle to regenerate from the demands we place on it.

Jann Suurkula, M.D. and chairman of Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Application of Science and Technology, also states that the impact of human-caused global warming, large-scale agriculture, and industrialized fishing alone will create a large global extinction of species, having an unknown impact on the ecosystems and biodiversity of our Planet.

As you can see, there are many ways that humans are destroying the Earth—more ways than can be discussed in just this one article.

However, it was easy for me to relate to the plastic litter on the beach, as I could see it with my own eyes, I could touch it, and it destroyed my piece of paradise.

It’s ugly, so we can just go clean it up? Not so fast.

The plastic on the beaches is not just ugly. It is rapidly degrading the health of marine life and marine ecosystems around the world.

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Photo: http://plasticoceans.weebly.com

Fauna & Flora International gives us a break down of these problems in its fact sheet, found a thttp://www.fauna-flora.org/wp-content/uploads/Fact-sheet-why-is-it-a-problem.pdf.

There is an estimated 100,000 tons of plastic in the world’s oceans, with the North Atlantic and Caribbean having the highest concentrations of plastic debris exceeding 200,000 pieces per square kilometer.

Plastic pollution generally relates to large, visible pieces of debris. However, a less publicized but equally serious threat has emerged with microplastic (smaller than 5 mm) pollution. The surface of these microplastics often becomes colonized with microorganisms, causing it to become embedded in the seabed, shoreline, and in plant matter. Clean up operations are impossible. These plastic particles obstruct the flow of oxygen through sediment and cause death in oxygen-dependent fauna and flora. It is also harmful to lugworms, mussels, seabirds, and a multitude of other marine animals. Fauna & Flora International says once consumed, these particles can lead to physical blockages, malnutrition, choking, and even starvation.

How do we prevent the destruction of our Planet?

As mentioned, according to most mainstream views, population growth seems to be the rationale for the crisis. Of course, population control and depopulation, is an extremist solution.

However, population may not be the main cause of the crisis. Waste, greenhouse gases, large-scale agriculture, and industrialized fishing may contribute on a scale relevant to the amount of population, but that is a narrow visualization.

In David Harvey’s book, Space of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography, the overpopulation argument stands on three specific pillars—subsistence, resources, and scarcity.

Subsistence means the bare minimum people need to stay alive. Resources refers to ̒nature’s supermarket’ made available to humans, and scarcity is about what people want and can’t have—societies’ goals and their means to achieve them.

These three pillars are based on the way of life of societies today, mostly in the non-negotiable American way of life. People want to live the way they want to live and they do not want to change.

What we need is a change in which we organize our societies, and base them on available natural resources instead of on monetary gain, greed, and gluttony. And I am certainly not talking about the average eyes-glued-shut citizen of the world, but those who are leading the sheep to slaughter.

In reality, those who advocate population control are usually acting as if to address climate change and your carbon footprint by avoiding the real problem of replacing fossil fuels 100 percent with renewable energy.

It is also important to note that most plastics are commonly derived from petrochemicals—commonly using petroleum gases and natural gases.

Hence, replacing fossil fuels should be the first step in cleansing our fuel-based diet as a society and getting rid of the plastics in our oceans.

Did you know in 1941 Henry Ford used hemp-and-sisal plastic to build car doors and fenders? In fact prior to the 1940s hemp was used to manufacture many plastic products.

Today, the basic building block of plastic is cellulose taken from petroleum, but plastics can be derived from plant cellulose as well… and hemp is the greatest cellulose producer on Earth.

However, the 1950s anti-drug legislation made it illegal to raise hemp, even though hemp does not have the THC content of its cousin marijuana.

Changing our plastic from fossil fuel back to hemp is just one of the ways we can help rid our oceans of the poisonous plastic. There are also many other ways, and I encourage everyone out there to start looking for alternatives, and use your purchasing power to make a change.

And now, I have got to get back to the beach to clean up this mess.

Please note in the feature photo I am holding a water bottle from Cristal, a plant bottle, made from 30% plant products and 100% recyclable. Certainly it is not much, but it is a start. 

written by Teena Clipston

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