Man created the plastic bag and the tin and aluminum can and the cellophane
wrapper and the paper plate, and this was good because Man could then take his
automobile and buy all his food in one place and He could save that which was
good to eat in the refrigerator and throw away that which had no further
use. And soon the earth was covered with plastic bags and aluminum cans
and paper plates and disposable bottles and there was nowhere to sit down or
walk, and Man shook his head and cried: "Look at this God-awful
mess." Art Buchwald, 1970
In my world travels from the Arctic to Antarctica, I found that humanity holds
little sacred on this planet. I have sailed and used my Scuba gear across
all the oceans and seas. I have rafted or canoed rivers from the Amazon
to the Mississippi to the Yangtze. I have explored all the Great Lakes
and many unknown lakes around the world. I have walked on the Hawaiian
Islands to the Galapagos Islands to Ross Island at the bottom of the
world. I bicycled along the North Sea in Norway and around Lake Titicaca
in South America.
At every location on our globe that humans inhabit, humanity throws its trash
in every conceivable form.
But by far the most dangerous—any way you cut it—plastics prove themselves
humanity’s worst invention. Ubiquitous, forever, deadly and ugly!
As a teenager, I enjoyed Scuba diving in pristine waters from Lake Huron, to the
Hawaiian Islands, and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean. I saw
magic at 40 feet below the surface on coral reefs! Incredible
Thirty years later, my dives carried me into the most disgusting sights on the
planet. Plastic drift nets, cut away by fishing captains, killed innocent
sea life--forever! For the past 40 years, humans have tossed their
plastic containers, pop tops, disposable diapers, billions of bags and every
kind and size of plastic trash into our lakes, rivers and oceans.
Plastic destroys everything it touches.
As I canoed down
the Mississippi River from its beginning at Lake Itasca, Minnesota, it started
out as beautiful as a dream. Within five
miles, I watched hundreds and then thousands of plastic containers float
alongside me after having been pitched by other boaters. Plastic bags
hung from trees and billowed in the water as they draped from branches along
Old Man River. People drove cars over the river’s edge and left couches
and lawn chairs on sand bars. Clothes and junk got tossed along its 2,552
mile trip to New Orleans. It sickened me daily. I filled two large
trash bags a day and I couldn’t begin to get it all.
On my bicycle ride from Norway to Greece in 2005, we boarded a ferry from
Brindisi, Italy to Petros, Greece. Along the way, we witnessed huge
floating gobs of plastic trash collected in ugly swarms hundreds of yards
Plastic proves the worst human invention, besides chemicals, because plastic
doesn’t break down or biodegrade. About the only thing that destroys it
is fire, but then, the pollution from the smoke proves fatal to the
Alan Weisman, author of “Polymers are forever” published in the May/June 2007 issue of Orion magazine: http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/270
He wrote, “The true answer is we just don't know how much is out there.”
Weisman wrote about Richard Thompson, “He knew the terrible tales of the sea
otters choking on poly-ethylene rings from beer six-packs; of swans and gulls
strangled by nylon nets and fishing lines; of a green sea turtle in Hawaii dead
with a pocket comb, a foot of nylon rope, and a toy truck wheel lodged in its
gut. His personal worst was fulmar bird carcasses washed ashore on North
Sea beaches. Ninety-percent suffered plastic in their stomachs—an average
of forty-four pieces per bird.”
“There was no way of knowing if the plastic had
killed them, although it was a safe bet that, in many, chunks of indigestible
plastic had blocked their intestines. Thompson reasoned that if larger
plastic pieces were breaking down into smaller particles, smaller organisms
would likely be consuming them. When they get as small as powder, even
zooplankton will swallow them."
"Can you believe it?" said Richard Thompson, one of the men researching
how widespread plastic moved into water systems. "They're selling plastic
meant to go right down the drain, into the sewers, into the rivers, right into
the ocean. Bite-sized pieces of plastic to be swallowed by little sea
If you are old enough to remember Dustin Hoffman in, “The Graduate”, you may
recall the older man telling Hoffman, “Plastic, my boy, that’s the future!”
While WWII created research for plastics, after 1970, this unnatural substance
changed everything and it became everything. Once it became a container,
all hell broke loose. Every time a group of environmentalists tried to
get a 10 cent deposit/return placed on it, corporations overpowered do-gooders
with negative advertisements to defeat return laws.
Soon, the disposable diaper arrived! On my bicycle travels across America
and the world, I’ve seen tens of thousands of soiled, plastic baby diapers
thrown into every corner of the planet.
Weisman wrote, “What happens to plastic, however, can be seen most vividly in
places where trash is never collected. Humans have continuously inhabited the Hopi Indian Reservation in
northern Arizona since 1000 AD—longer than any other site in today's United
States. The principal Hopi villages sit
atop three mesas with 360-degree views of the surrounding desert. For centuries, the Hopis simply threw their
garbage, consisting of food scraps and broken ceramic, over the sides of the
mesas. Coyotes and vultures took care of the food wastes, and the pottery
shards blended back into the ground they came from.
“That worked fine until the mid-twentieth century. Then, the garbage
tossed over the side stopped going away. The Hopis were visibly
surrounded by a rising pile of a new, nature-proof kind of trash. The only way it
disappeared was by being blown across the desert. But it was still there, stuck
to sage and mesquite branches, impaled on cactus spines.”
On our oceans, “In 1975, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences had estimated
that all oceangoing vessels together dumped 8 million pounds of plastic
annually. More recent research showed the world's merchant fleet alone
shamelessly tossing around 639,000 plastic containers every day.
“The real reason that the world's landfills weren't overflowing with plastic,
he found, was because most of it ends up in an ocean-fill. After a few
years of sampling the North Pacific gyre, Moore concluded that 80 percent of
mid-ocean flotsam had originally been discarded on land.”
Weisman wrote, “During his first thousand-mile crossing of the gyre, Moore
calculated half a pound for every one hundred square meters of debris on the
surface, and arrived at three million tons of plastic. His estimate was
corroborated by U.S. Navy calculations. It was the first of many
staggering figures he would encounter. And it only represented visible
plastic: an indeterminate amount of larger fragments get fouled by enough algae
and barnacles to sink. In 1998, Moore returned with a trawling device,
such as Sir Alistair Hardy had employed to sample krill, and found, incredibly,
more plastic by weight than plankton on the ocean's surface. In fact, it
wasn't even close: six times as much.”
As you read through this information, it gets uglier than you can imagine. “As
for the little pellets known as nurdles, 5.5 quadrillion—about 250 billion
pounds—were manufactured annually—perfect bite-size for little creatures that
the bigger creatures eat, were being flushed seaward.”
total plastics production now surpasses 1 billion tons
Dear reader: as you can appreciate, it’s what you can’t see that produces
incredible damage to our planet home. As I said, plastics prove the worst
invention of humanity. They prove insidious, sinister, menacing and
deadly to this planet’s living creatures.
Any questions? Why would someone knowingly toss 639,000 plastic
containers into our oceans daily? Why would Pete Coors, owner of Coors
Brewing, Golden, Colorado tout himself as a Colorado environmentalist, yet
spend millions of dollars to defeat our bottle/return laws—not once but
twice? Short answer: he personally makes $13 million a year, but
that’s too little! He requires more profit with total disregard for all
the trash his cans, bottles and the plastic waste generate across the
landscape. Just think of all corporation heads thinking and acting like
Pete Coors. Sickening!
The next time you’re at the grocery checkout, they may ask, “Paper or
plastic?” You answer as you pull them out, “I’ve got my cotton bags,
thank you.” You may spearhead a 10 cent bottle deposit/return law in your
state that duplicates Michigan’s highly successful law.
It’s a start. Nature thanks you!
For further insights into our ongoing onslaught of this planet, Alan Weisman's
article is an excerpt from his book, The World Without Us, published by
St. Martin's Press in July, 2007.
Take action: www.numbersusa.com ; www.thesocialcontract.com ; www.frostywooldridge.com