September 2, 2008

Plastic Ocean

I recently read an article from Best Life magazine about the “Eastern Garbage Patch.” You can read the article in its entirety here, but I wanted to cut and paste some of the points that stuck out for me. I am still a bit wiped from my Obama post, so I have no commentary on the information you are about to read, but I hope to do something creative with it soon, perhaps a short film, or maybe a Flowgram. In the meantime, I hope the data below strikes you the way it did me.
The gist of it is that there is now a wad, pile, mound, I don’t even know the right word for what it is, but whatever it is, it is made of plastic garbage twice the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean that is poisoning our food supplies and making us impotent as a species. The following is a series of cut and paste quotes from the article, please read the whole thing if you find my synopsis disjointed.
It began with a line of plastic bags ghosting the surface, followed by an ugly tangle of junk: nets and ropes and bottles, motor-oil jugs and cracked bath toys, a mangled tarp. Tires. A traffic cone. Moore (Scientist studying this blob of trash) could not believe his eyes. Out here in this desolate place, the water was a stew of plastic crap. It was as though someone had taken the pristine seascape of his youth and swapped it for a landfill.

Moore realized that the trail of plastic went on for hundreds of miles. Depressed and stunned, he sailed for a week through bobbing, toxic debris trapped in a purgatory of circling currents. To his horror, he had stumbled across the 21st-century Leviathan. It had no head, no tail. Just an endless body.

Dragging a fine-meshed net known as a manta trawl, he discovered minuscule pieces of plastic, some barely visible to the eye, swirling like fish food throughout the water. He and his researchers parsed, measured, and sorted their samples and arrived at the following conclusion: By weight, this swath of sea contains six times as much plastic as it does plankton. This statistic is grim—for marine animals, of course, but even more so for humans. The more invisible and ubiquitous the pollution, the more likely it will end up inside us.

bisphenol A (BPA), which scientists are discovering can wreak stunning havoc in the body. We produce 6 billion pounds of that each year, and it shows: BPA has been found in nearly every human who has been tested in the United States. We’re eating these plasticizing additives, drinking them, breathing them, and absorbing them through our skin every single day.

Most alarming, these chemicals may disrupt the endocrine system—the delicately balanced set of hormones and glands that affect virtually every organ and cell—by mimicking the female hormone estrogen. In marine environments, excess estrogen has led to Twilight Zone-esque discoveries of male fish and seagulls that have sprouted female sex organs. (Can we get a huge WHAT THE FUCK here please!)

“That’s a concern as plastic proliferates worldwide, and people run out of room for trash and start burning plastic—you’re producing some of the most toxic gases known,” he says. The color-coded bin system may work in Marin County, but it is somewhat less effective in subequatorial Africa or rural Peru.

“Except for the small amount that’s been incinerated—and it’s a very small amount—every bit of plastic ever made still exists,”

It has a point. Each of us tosses about 185 pounds of plastic per year. We could certainly reduce that. And yet—do our products have to be quite so lethal? Must a discarded flip-flop remain with us until the end of time? Aren’t disposable razors and foam packing peanuts a poor consolation prize for the destruction of the world’s oceans, not to mention our own bodies and the health of future generations? “If ‘more is better’ and that’s the only mantra we have, we’re doomed,” Moore says.
So there you have it! Maybe now you have a clear picture of what I mean when I say politics is too small a subject for the world we have created. Everything must change and that change must start with each of us. I hope to write soon about my plans to deal with the plastic in my life, and believe me; it won’t be easy. The shit is everywhere!

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