Science Death by Plastic
posted by July 23 at 16:08 PMon
Of all the disturbing, eye-opening images brought up during Alan Weisman’s “The World Without Us” presentation last week, one stood out most vividly. Weisman was talking about the widespread transition to plastic packaging 50-some years ago and the accumulated environmental effect of the 120 billion pounds of plastic produced every year now. There is, he reported, a floating mass of plastic bobbing in the Pacific Ocean, composed of non-biodegradable petrochemicals. He said this flotilla of eternal junk is estimated to be some 800 miles wide, bigger than Texas.
There are plenty of reports about the “Eastern Garbage Patch.” It circles in the North Pacific Gyre, a slow, clockwise-spinning current in a vast swath of usually untraversed ocean between Japan and the West Coast of the US. What used to be one of the most pristine, remote, and desolate places on earth has become a swirling trash heap.
The problem is plastic. It floats, it blows, it doesn’t biodegrade. Instead it photo-degrades, meaning as it floats in the currents, it’s broken down by sunlight into smaller and smaller particles but never completely disappears.
It’s no longer just a six-pack ring showing up around a seagull’s neck—plastic pollution is affecting the entire food chain. Trace particles of petroleum-based plastics are showing up in zooplankton, the microscopic animals that form the basis of the aquatic food chain. From bottom to top, we’re all eating plastic.
And we’re getting massive islands of garbage and endless schools of plastic bags in what used to be untouched ocean.
Thankfully, Seattle is considering a ban on plastic bags. That’s something we all have to get behind 100%. It’s hard to believe we—ANY city, really—has gone this long without one. Convenience is no argument against health.