Here is a frightening fact that really resonates with me, and I think it will with you too:
EVERY piece of plastic EVER made still exists in some form, some where on Earth.
Think about that for just a moment. Think about how much plastic you might use in your daily life. Think about your own recycling bin contents. Now multiply that by every other human being on Earth… that’s a lot of plastic. A lot of plastic that is going nowhere. So where is it?
Well, one place is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean… in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This is an enormous patch of plastics, chemical sludge, and debris trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. The gyres rotational pattern draws in marine debris and traps it. Because much of the debris consists of small particles and is suspended underwater, it is difficult to determine the exact size, but estimates state that it is “twice the size of the continental United States.” This patch, while the largest known at this time, is not the only one.
Researchers recently discovered that this patch is now developing it’s own islands. Literally trash islands, over 50 feet long that are sheltering clams, mussels, sea anemones, and seaweed, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/plastic-trash-islands-forming- in-ocean-garbage-patch/.
Another way that this constant supply of plastic is “hidden” from us is through the process of photodegradation. Plastic, unlike natural materials, does not biodegrade. Organic material, such as wood or food scraps are broken down by bacteria and turned into new, useful organic materials. Plastic, however, is unrecognizable by bacteria, so they skip it. Leaving it fully in tact even after many, many years of burial in a landfill.
Sunlight, however, can break plastic down, but it does not create a useful organic substance as in the case of decomposed natural materials. What it does create are tiny little pieces of highly toxic material. These pieces, some so small that they are invisible to the naked eye, float in our oceans and litter our beaches.
Even though I have known this for a long time, I have to admit that when I came face to face with the “reality” of it, it was shocking… and deeply upsetting.
I was sitting on a beach enjoying a nice cup of coffee, watching the kids play. I mindlessly started straining the sand through my fingers when something caught my eye. My first thought was, “what type of shell could that be.”
My second thought, “wow, it’s everywhere.”
Then the final realization, “…it’s plastic.” I dropped the coffee and started crawling around on my knees analyzing the sand. Sure enough, it was filled with pieces of tiny plastic, all different sizes and shapes and colors. It was so prevalent, it was just a part of the sand. A person standing up (rather than crawling around) wouldn’t even notice it. Within 20 minutes we had collected a bucket full.
The feeling was indescribable. My oldest children started talking about a video we had watched years before about a plastic beach. Check it out.
Then they, obviously, started asking if all beaches would end up like the plastic beach…. At that moment I was reminded of Dr. Seuss’s book, The Lorax:
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”