The impact of our choices
It’s great that everyone is up in arms about the massive oil hemorrhage taking place in the Gulf of Mexico, and clearly, I agree that BP, and the rest of their industry needs to be held accountable for the ridiculous lack-of-action they took that led up to this.
However, this is just something that we’re talking about because it’s news-worthy. In comparison, I can’t really say this is the worst thing we Americans have done to the ocean this decade even.
I know that sounds radical, and probably insensitive, to say. I also know that until a few months ago, I was also largely ignornant to the harm we are causing our oceans.
For one, take a look at the Great Pacific Garbage Float. Estimated to be twice the size of the US, and upward of 100 feet deep, a near island made of the solid bits of floating plastic trash, surrounded by miles of “plasic soup”, smaller pieces of plastic that are photodegrading.
We all know that plastic doesn’t biodegrade, but it DOES photodegrade. Exposure to the water & sun makes the plastic split up into smaller & smaller pieces of plastic. Considering that a large amount of the plastic soup started out at industrial grade plastic pellets, you can imagine it doesn’t take long for this stuff to break down to the point that it looks like a goldfish pellet.
As the plastic flotsam photodegrades into smaller and smaller pieces, it concentrates in the upper water column. As it disintegrates, the plastic ultimately becomes small enough to be ingested by aquatic organisms which reside near the ocean’s surface.
Once the plastic is broken down small enough, the marine life mistakes it for food (remember, a lot of animals get by eating plankton), and then the plastic, along with the chemicals it bears, are passed up the food chain.
From Discover magazine:
Fish and seabirds mistake plastic for food. Plastic debris releases chemical additives and plasticizers into the ocean. Plastic also adsorbs hydrophobic pollutants like PCBs and pesticides like DDT. These pollutants bioaccumulate in the tissues of marine organisms, biomagnify up the food chain, and find their way into the foods we eat.”
The worst part, or perhaps the most convenient part, is that nobody can say for sure where the plastic comes from. Current estimates say 80% of the float originated from land, between North America & Asia.
So, while I don’t drive a car, and can remain relatively conscience free about the Texas Tea that the gulf is being turned into, I do certainly use a lot of plastic. I’m typing to you on a keyboard made of plastic, sitting on a chair with plastic bits, waiting for my plastic-cased phone to charge.
I don’t know that any of what I dispose of is responsibly disposed of or recycled. Really THAT should be the next step. Find out what happens after I’m done with something, instead of just believing someone else puts it in the best place possible.