Sunday, November 25, 2007

Plastic Sand Beach

Recently I saw a very eye-opening report on the news about the North Pacific Gyre (also known as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre), and I just cannot stop thinking about it. This gyre is a swirling vortex of ocean currents comprising most of the northern Pacific Ocean. The center of this area is mostly stationary, but the circular rotation of currents around it has drawn in waste material in two zones.

These zones have been named the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the Eastern Garbage Patch. Collectively, they have been termed the Pacific Trash Vortex. Historically this debris has been comprised of mostly biodegradable trash. Sadly, the vortex is now almost entirely comprised of plastics. T
he Algalita Marine Research Foundation has been following this trash vortex for years and took samplings of the water & then measured the plastic and plankton content. In 1999 they reported a plastics to plankton ratio of 6:1. In 2007 the ratio is 40:1. Yikes!

Even more stunning is where all this trash ends up after it floats around in the vortex for years. While the plastics bang up against each other in the currents they basically break apart into smaller bits and eventually make it to Kamilo Beach, on the southern tip of the Hawaii's Big Island. Because this beach is constantly exposed to the trade winds, it has become a "plastic sand" beach. (Can you just imagine generations after us going to the plastic sandy beaches of the world on exotic vacations??) Researchers have taken samples from both the vortex and the beach and studied it to determine where it's coming from. Ten percent is from the U.S.

Now all of you who appreciate nature (I hope) are sufficiently enraged by what humanity is doing to the environment, but obviously it goes well beyond beautiful beaches. Animals also end up stranded on this beach. They fill their bellies on brightly colored plastic thinking it's food only to become malnourished and weak and eventually die. (Note: red and orange are the colors most often consumed by animals because they resemble food sources for animals - sound familiar? It's no surprise that McDonald's, Wendy's & Burger King use those colors. They are appetite-inducing colors for people!) Other animals, such as seals and turtles get trapped in debris.

Turtle trapped in plastic wrap

Seal with what looks like cardboard, but it's old PVC pipe

National Geographic reports that water-averse toxic chemicals in the water from other sources cling to the plastics. Once ingested by animals it's leading to infertility. So, what can we do? Well, I don't want to come across as all "preachy" as I think most of the people who read this do their part, but perhaps we can tell our other friends and they can tell theirs, and so on and so on. Recycle is another easy thing we can do. Only 5% of all plastics are recycled in the U.S. This includes individuals and businesses. Either we can reuse what we're about to throw away or we can be responsible with our stuff. Here's a list of resources:

Ecology Austin

Ninth Street and IH-35 (on the southbound access road), and open M-F 10-6, S-S 9-5.

  • Newspaper Paper and Pressed Cardboard (like cereal boxes and egg cartons)
  • White office paper
  • Aluminum Cans, Foil, and Pie plates
  • Tin Cans and all scrap metal
  • Plastic bottles, jars, drink containers, and trays.
  • Glass Bottles and Jars
  • Corrugated Cardboard Telephone Books, Hard & Soft cover books
  • DURING BUSINESS HOURS: Cellphones, Batteries, Inkjet & Toner cartridges

Recycling Center

9405 Dessau Rd at Rundberg Ln.

Whole Foods

  • Plastic
  • Glass
  • Aluminum

Large green & yellow paper-only recycling dumpsters are located in various places around Austin, such as in the Austin High School parking lot and in the church parking lot at Woodrow and Morrow (near the Rogue LAB course).

You can also visit the Algalita Marine Research Foundation or the Marine Conservation Society.

Spread the word!

1 comment:

MikeW said...

i cut up all my plastic beer rings etc... i hear you, it's all staggering.
: (