“Ocean” and “garbage” shouldn’t be in the same sentence. Unfortunately, when you’re talking about the Atlantic and Pacific Garbage patches, they are inseparable. Most people have heard at least an inkling about the Pacific Garbage Patch, so we’ll start there. Basically, much of our plastic is winding up swirling in the ocean off the coast of California. Even though we use plastic in our culture for “disposable” products, plastic doesn’t biodegrade. In the oceans, it breaks into smaller pieces, soaks up pollutants, and then marine animals mistake it for food and eat it. The photo on the left shows an albatross carcass cut open to show the plastic contents of its stomach (photo from Algalita.org). If you think this is just a problem for marine life, think again. Have you eaten fish lately? Here’s a TED video of a talk by Captain Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. He explains how we became a “disposable” culture and shows photos and video of his exploration of the Pacific Garbage Patch.
Now, a recent article from National Geographic brings awareness to the Atlantic Garbage Patch as well.
So what can we do about it?
Well, even though Charles Moore doesn’t think there’s any hope, I do. One of the most obvious things we can do is stop using unnecessary plastic! Look around you. Plastic is everywhere. Just because it’s everywhere doesn’t mean we have to buy it. We can buy fresh, unpackaged produce, instead of produce wrapped in plastic. We can bring reusable water bottles or jars with us instead of using a new plastic water bottle every day. We can bring cloth bags to the store instead of getting new plastic bags every time. When you buy something, ask to have it without the bag. We can’t rely on plastic recycling because only 6.8% of plastic is recycled (EPA website 2008 statistic), and the products made with recycled plastic are often “disposable” products that go back into the stream of waste. What we can do is change our personal habits. That’s why Mark and I have dedicated this year to no new plastic, and we’re documenting our discoveries, solutions, and stumbling blocks at on this site. But you don’t just get to read about it, you can join us! You can make a difference! Tell us how you are reducing the plastic in your life, too!