Part 33: Plague of plastics—forever!
In my world
travels from the Arctic to
At every location on our globe where home sapiens 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
Scuba dived in pristine waters from Lake Huron, the Hawaiian Islands, from the
Atlantic Ocean to the
As I canoed down
the Mississippi River from its beginning at
On my bicycle
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 environment.
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 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
“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 creatures."
For those of you old enough to remember Dustin Hoffman in, “The Graduate”, do you remember the older man telling Dustin, “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 ads to defeat return laws.
Soon, the disposable diaper arrived! On my bicycle travels across
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
“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,
Weisman wrote, “DURING HIS FIRST
THOUSAND-MILE CROSSING of the gyre,
As you read through this series, 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 for bite-size for little creatures that the bigger creatures eat, were being flushed seaward.”
That half-century's total production now surpasses 1 billion tons.
Ladies and gentlemen of
Any questions? Why would someone knowingly toss 639,000
plastic containers into our oceans daily? Why would Pete Coors, owner of Coors Brewing, pretend to be an
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.”
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