Plastic: solution or pollution?

Beyond the Curb


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When we think of birds, we think of freedom, beauty, nature, not plastic. That is why a video showing how much plastic is found in birds and their young was shocking to watch. 

Photographer Chris Jordan brings to us one of the effects of plastic pollution and the “Great Garbage Patches.”

“Garbage Patch” is the name given to areas of the ocean where garbage is trapped by circular ocean currents, also known as ocean gyres, formed by global wind patterns and forces created by Earth’s rotation. The five major ocean gyres in the world are North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Indian, North Pacific and South Pacific.

There are bits of plastic floating in all of the five major gyres but so far scientists have identified two great garbage patches: the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific gyre and the Great Atlantic Garbage Patch in the North Atlantic gyre. 

It is not known for sure how much garbage is trapped in them but scientists discovered patches of more than 100,000 pieces of plastic per square kilometer in the Atlantic Gyre. 

As the world produces and uses more and more plastic — it is cheap, light and durable — the issue of plastic pollution becomes more critical.

According to EPA’s 2014 generation rates report, in 2012 plastic made up 12.7 percent of the total municipal solid waste generated against 0.4 percent in 1960. 

Even though the American Chemistry Council agree that “plastics don’t belong in our oceans [and we should] focus greater attention on litter prevention, including efforts to increase plastics recycling,” we should really focus on reducing the amount of plastic we use. 

From Discovery.com, “What’s needed is a grassroots effort to reduce our addiction to single-use plastics.”

Plastic, a synthetic chemical, breaks down through photodegradation, the kind of decomposition that requires sunlight. When out in the ocean, it eventually degrades turning into tiny pieces of material that may contain toxins such as bisphenol A (BPA) and PS oligomer. Even in small pieces, those are still chemicals that may be ingested by animals and might end up in our bodies too.

While the industry appeals to the practicality and cost-effective benefits of using plastic, we need to look beyond that and invest in real solutions. Perhaps a plant-based hydro-biodegradable plastic would be a good compromise, but in the long run to effectively cut down pollution, practicing the first R (reduce) is what we could do with the most.