Plastic, plastic everywhere.....

Plastic, plastic everywhere…..

 We’ve come a long way since 1967, when The Graduate was playing in movie theaters.  Most of our readers are too young to remember it – the story of a young man (played by Dustin Hoffman) who has just graduated from college but has no ambition for the future.  During the party his wealthy parents throw for him, a middle-aged man corrals him, “Come with me for a minute.  I wanna talk to you….I just wanna say 1 word to you.  Just 1 word.  Are you listening?  Plastics.  There’s a great future in plastics.  Think about it.”

 Think about it.  It’s been 51 years since that movie came out.  In that time, plastic production has increased 20 times (from 15 million tons to 311 million tons).  It is predicted that by the year 2050, the number will grow to 1,124 million tons.  Too much of it is used once and thrown away.  Only a small percentage of it is recycled.  Where does it all go?  Unfortunately, our waterways are especially susceptible to being clogged with plastic litter.  The equivalent of 1 truck of plastic waste is dumped into the ocean every minute, which equals 12.7 million metric tons of plastic every year.  Due to currents that form vortices or ‘gyres’, plastic collects in certain areas of the oceans.  These have been named according to their locations: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (two separate accumulations connected by a 6,000-mile marine litter ‘corridor’ known as the North Pacific Convergence Zone), the Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch (between Japan and Hawaii), and the Western Garbage Patch (between Hawaii and California).

 Rivers, lakes - even The Great Lakes have been inundated with plastic. 

 Plastic is not biodegradable, but environmentalists have found that it is photodegradable.  It decomposes when exposed to light and water, much more rapidly than had been believed and with much more toxic consequences than previously thought.  Although large pieces of plastic litter are everywhere, most of the plastic pollution is invisible to the naked eye because it has been broken down into tiny particles, some thinner in diameter than a human hair.  The smaller the plastic particles, the more dangerous they are to marine life since they often look like fish eggs or other items of food. 

 Ocean water has become like a soup full of these particles, called microplastic.  The ocean garbage patches, full of microplastic pollution, stretch for hundreds of miles and are about 30 feet deep.  This debris results in harm to 800 species of marine life, from the smallest microscopic organisms to birds and large mammals.  According to the NOAA, 100,000 marine mammals and millions of birds and fishes are killed each year by plastic detritus.

 In 2002 a dead whale washed up on the coast of France with 1,760 pounds of plastic bags in its stomach.   The Midway Atoll is 2,000 miles away from the nearest continent, but massive amounts of plastic debris have landed on its shores.  Thousands of albatross carcasses cover the beaches, each with a pile of plastic bits where the stomach used to be.  Ninety percent of all seabirds have plastic in their stomach.  50 to 80 percent of sea turtles found dead have ingested plastic.

 Not only do plastic particles obstruct the airways, stomachs and digestive tracts of marine animals (even coral), but they contain their own toxins as well as other man-made pollutants they have absorbed from the water.  PCBs, heavy metals and even DDT (pesticide banned in the US in the 1960s) are found on plastic particles "at concentrations up to 1 million times higher than in ocean water" (Moore et al, 2001, quoted in When the Mermaids Cry: The Great Plastic Tide).   These poisons accumulate and concentrate in the flesh of seafood and are passed all the way up the food chain to human beings.

 The cost of dealing with plastic debris is incalculable.  Not counting illness and death, $500 million is spent EVERY YEAR just to clean debris from the West Coast of the United States.  There is an estimated $13 billion damage EVERY YEAR to marine ecosystems.  The problem is gigantic and seems impossible to reverse.

 In 1967 the future of plastic may have seemed great.  Now we know better, so we must do better.  We can’t give in to despair.  We must act as if we can make a difference, because we can.  To quote Commandant Jacques-Yves Cousteau, “The impossible missions are the only ones which succeed”.  

 Where to start?

 1.      Reduce your use of single-use plastic items like grocery bags, straws, utensils, take-out containers, etc. 

2.       Re-use items that are intended to be single-use.

3.       Re-purpose plastic items instead of throwing them away.

4.       Recycle – check out for places that accept recycling.

5.       Refuse plastic whenever you can!  So-called ‘biodegradable’ plastics are not any better – avoid it all!

6.       Participate in a beach or river cleanup (see below for resources)

7.       Support bans on single-use products.

8.       Avoid microbeads – found in some face scrubs, toothpastes and bodywashes.  Look for ‘polythelene’ and ‘polypropylene’ on the label.

9.       Use a Cora Ball in the washing machine to collect plastic microfibers from your clothes.  Go to

10.     Spread the word.  Tell your friends and family about what you’ve learned.  Get people together to watch a documentary about plastic pollution.  Some examples are:  Addicted to Plastic, A Plastic Ocean, A Plastic Tide, or Plasticized.

11.     Support Organizations that are working for a solution.



 ·        Charles Moore, Algalita Marine Research Foundation

·         When the Mermaids Cry: The Great Plastic Tide

·         Ocean Conservancy

·         The Ocean Cleanup

·         NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

·         Surfrider Foundation

·         Chris Jordan, Photographic arts

·         Cousteau

·         The Coral Reef Alliance

·         The Plastiki

·         Project Kaisei “Ocean Planet”

·         Coastal Cleanup

·         Plastic Pollution Coalition

·         The Clean Seas Initiative

·         Experience Life

·         Plastic Oceans

·         Center for Biological Diversity

·         Rozalia Project

·         American Rivers







Kathy Standing RN/Health Coach

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