A recent article in the New York Times revealed that plastic pollution within our oceans is getting worse. It now stands as the number one ocean pollutant. According to an article written by Captain J. Moore, leading scientist on the impact of plastic pollution in the North Pacific Gyre, there was an enormous increase in the amount of plastic floating at sea since his last journey to the Gyre in 2009. Ten research missions to the gyre – his last a six week mission late in the summer of 2014 – left Captain Moore absolutely astonished by the hundreds and hundreds of miles of floating plastics.
Plastics saturate our modern day lifestyle. It seems as if there is no way to get around it. Everything from toothbrushes, bags, food containers, toys, and even clothing has traces of plastic in its makeup. The overuse and poor disposal of these plastics is choking our oceans and our shot at a healthy future. According to Moore, plastic now covers as much as 40 percent of the planet’s ocean surface which is nearly 25 percent of the entire earth. The number of plastic floating objects out at sea is unfathomable and each and every piece is polluting our waters, our animals, and putting our personal health at continued risk.
So why we can’t just clean it up? It’s no simple task. Because these tiny plastic products break down into smaller and smaller pieces over the course of their 400 year lifespan, thy are nearly impossible to trace. Scientists, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, and national and international governmental agencies have been working for years to find a solution, but a comprehensive cleanup plan has yet to be reached. A water sampling study was conducted back in 2010 by Captain Moore and his team, and it showed that around 2.3 billion pieces of plastic floated from Southern California’s urban centers into coastal waters in just three days. The problem is growing exponentially and for every minute we fail to come up with working solutions another albatross is dying a slow death of starvation from indigestion of plastic, another sea turtle is finding itself strangled in plastic lines and another breast feeding mother is exposed to poisonous chemicals leaching from the plastics into our water ways. Moore states that our “Plastic Footprint” has become such a problem that estimates show more animals are being killed by plastic debris than the habitat alteration of climate change.
So what do we do? We can lead beach clean ups and come up with contraptions for removing debris from our beaches and oceans. But what about the garbage gyres that are in a continual state of growth, like the North Pacific Gyre? At over twice the size of Texas, the floating mass of garbage poses a rather large problem. How are those who don’t live near the ocean supposed to contribute to the clean up? One of many solutions rests in our daily consumption decisions.
At the root of the problem is the operation of an economic system based on wasteful production and packaging; a throwaway society that consumes plastic unconsciously with an out-of-sight-out-of-mind mentality. The first step as a living being on this planet is to begin to spread awareness and take immediate personal responsibility for consumption patterns. We have ample access to alternative resources and enough brain power to demand necessary and sustainable changes in production of the products we consume.
Movements to ban plastic bags in grocery stores, standardizing production so that all products must be designed with an end shelf life, strictly regulating the use of plastic products in aquaculture, and putting in place structural controls, such as covering gutter and catch basins with screens is a start, but we must do more. If we don’t take personal responsibility for our daily plastic consumption and educate ourselves on what it is that we are actually consuming and the horrific consequences it has on the health of our natural world, we will be swimming neck deep in a sea of plastic before we can even say the words recycle.
So my question to the everyday reader is this: what will you consume today?