Monday, December 31, 2007

The Plastic Killing Fields

I’ve been following with interest the progress of Gooseflesh’s Rubbish Vortex a project connecting our throw away plastic society with the environment, and creating awareness of our part in helping protect it.

So when The Sydney Morning Herald article called The Plastic Killing Fields appeared I read it with a feeling of horror and helplessness.

This is quite a long blog (for me!) so I hope you'll take time to read and maybe follow the links to find out more.

Tonight is recycle night, our bin goes out with all the xmas empties (this article put a whole new slant on the expression ‘dead marine’) and we have a little feeling of righteousness that we are doing our part to save the environment, but is it enough?

From SMH 29 December 2007:

“In one of the few places on Earth where people can rarely be found, the human race has well and truly made its mark. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean lies a floating garbage patch twice the size of Britain. A place where the water is filled with six times as much plastic as plankton. This plastic-plankton soup is entering the food chain and heading for your dinner table.

For hundreds of years, sailors and fisherman have known to avoid the area between the Equator and 50 degrees north latitude about halfway between California and Hawaii. As one of the ocean's deserts, the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre lacks the wind that sailors need to survive, as well as the nutrients to support large fish or the men who hunt them.

But 10 years ago, Captain Charles Moore took a short cut through the airless doldrums in his catamaran, Alguita, and caught sight of something that changed his life. As he looked out at what should have been a clear blue ocean, Moore saw a sea of plastic. As far as he could see, day after day, were bottles, wrappers and fragments of plastic in every colour.

Historically, the ocean's circular currents have led to accumulation of flotsam and jetsam in the subtropical high, where the waste has biodegraded with the help of marine micro-organisms. But since humans developed a material designed for durability, which can survive exposure to any bacteria, the gyre has been filling with a substance it can't get rid of. Rather than biodegrading, plastic photodegrades, breaking down in the sunlight into smaller and smaller pieces. But no matter how small it gets, it's still plastic, and causes havoc when it enters the stomachs of marine life.”


(continue reading here)

The Los Angeles Times is running a five part series Altered Oceans
Here's a quote from part four:Plague of Plastic Chokes the Seas

"MIDWAY ATOLL -- The albatross chick jumped to its feet, eyes alert and focused. At 5 months, it stood 18 inches tall and was fully feathered except for the fuzz that fringed its head.

All attitude, the chick straightened up and clacked its beak at a visitor, then rocked back and dangled webbed feet in the air to cool them in the afternoon breeze.

The next afternoon, the chick ignored passersby. The bird was flopped on its belly, its legs splayed awkwardly. Its wings drooped in the hot sun. A few hours later, the chick was dead.

John Klavitter, a wildlife biologist, turned the bird over and cut it open with a knife. Probing its innards with a gloved hand, he pulled out a yellowish sac — its stomach.

Out tumbled a collection of red, blue and orange bottle caps, a black spray nozzle, part of a green comb, a white golf tee and a clump of tiny dark squid beaks ensnared in a tangle of fishing line.

"This is pretty typical," said Klavitter, who is stationed at the atoll for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "We often find cigarette lighters, bucket handles, toothbrushes, syringes, toy soldiers — anything made out of plastic."

It's all part of a tide of plastic debris that has spread throughout the world's oceans, posing a lethal hazard to wildlife, even here, more than 1,000 miles from the nearest city.

Midway, an atoll halfway between North America and Japan, has no industrial centers, no fast-food joints with overflowing trash cans, and only a few dozen people."

and Google provided me with this link:
PLASTIC IN THE SEA written by Paul Goettlich - Living Nutrition v.17 5oct2005
This is where I found this horrifying photo (photographer Cynthia Vanderlip)
"Remains of adult albatross - The plastic goes down the gullet quite easily. But since it is not digested, as in the original plan for all life, it gets stuck before exiting the stomach. There it sits to block the entry and digestion of legitimate food. Even the tiniest of pieces can cause blockages. "

The Plastic Killing Fields

and another:

OUR OCEANS ARE TURNING INTO PLASTIC...ARE WE?

a quote from this site left my little recycling effort pretty flat:

“ Glass, at least, is easily recyclable. You can take one tequila bottle, melt it down, and make another tequila bottle. With plastic, recycling is more complicated. Unfortunately, that promising-looking triangle of arrows that appears on products doesn’t always signify endless reuse; it merely identifies which type of plastic the item is made from. And of the seven different plastics in common use, only two of them—PET (labeled with #1 inside the triangle and used in soda bottles) and HDPE (labeled with #2 inside the triangle and used in milk jugs)—have much of an aftermarket. So no matter how virtuously you toss your chip bags and shampoo bottles into your blue bin, few of them will escape the landfill—only 3 to 5 percent of plastics are recycled in any way.

“There’s no legal way to recycle a milk container into another milk container without adding a new virgin layer of plastic,” Moore says, pointing out that, because plastic melts at low temperatures, it retains pollutants and the tainted residue of its former contents. Turn up the heat to sear these off, and some plastics release deadly vapours. So the reclaimed stuff is mostly used to make entirely different products, things that don’t go anywhere near our mouths, such as fleece jackets and carpeting. Therefore, unlike recycling glass, metal, or paper, recycling plastic doesn’t always result in less use of virgin material. It also doesn’t help that fresh-made plastic is far cheaper.”


Happy New Year world, you poor old bugger

2 comments:

arlee said...

omg that is horrifying..........we religiously recycle BUT.......it scares me to think of all the garbage floating around, on land and sea. Thanks for an informative post. I've seen the bodies of gulls like that here on Vancouver Island and it makes me cry......

Erica said...

thanks Arlee - we do our bit but it all seems so futile when you read reports like this

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