Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Boycott that bottle - don't add to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a Texas-sized ocean garbage dump of plastic debris concentrated by ocean currents that gradually turns into a life-killing sludge, was predicted by the NOAA in 1988 and explored by sailors Charles J. Moore, David de Rothschild, and trans-Pacific rower Roz Savage.

The Pacific Gyre picks up flotsam, plastic bottles, containers and objects from ships and shores, which photodegrade into ever smaller pieces, while remaining chemically a polymer even when ground down to the molecular level. Some plastics decompose within a year of entering the water, leaching potentially toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A, PCBs, and derivatives of polystyrene. Light enough to float, and invisible to the eye, this plastic sludge poisons the web of life (neuston) of surface waters.

Besides the particles' danger to wildlife, the floating debris can absorb organic pollutants from seawater, including PCBs, DDT, and PAHs – thus concentrating toxics and endocrine disruptors. The particles are small enough to be ingested by diatoms, plankton, fish and birds and thus enters the food chain. Next stop: you.

photo: Abbotsford Today 28 Sep 2010
When Roz Savage rowed more than 18,000 km across the Pacific, she encountered the visible marks of the GPGP: “Today...the worst I have ever seen it. I saw about 30 plastic bottles, yoghurt pots and bits of packaging. There is something deeply upsetting about seeing a beautiful blue ocean glinting in the sunshine, marred by a plastic bottle bobbing along on the surface.”

Savage at sea 27 Dec 2005: photo from flickr.com
Her journey took her almost a year, and 3 ½ million oar strokes – what counts, she says, is that “people are getting the message that when it comes to taking care of our planet, just like my oar strokes, every individual action counts.”

courtesy of franklygreen.com
David de Rothschild and Plastiki, courtesy of The Guardian
De Rothschild built a catamaran from 12000 bottles, the Plastiki, to sail from Sydney Australia cross the GPGP, to raise awareness of plastic pollution. He says,”Waste is a design flaw that doesn't occur in nature. It's time to rethink the life cycles of the materials we create...” Remember the 3Rs: reduce, re-use, recycle.

There is more than one toxic ocean dump. Another is reported in the Atlantic, and recent samples of albatross suggest a second garbage patch in the Pacific. Due to the small size of the particles, the patches cannot be detected by the naked eye or by satellite, only by towing fine nets through the water.
Quotations from UNEP "climate heroes" Savage and de Rothschild are from Tunza magazine vol.8, no.3. De Rothschild has written The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook: 77 Essential Skills to Stop Climate Change—Or Live Through It, and an action graphic novel, The Boy the Girl the Tree. See also rozsavage.com. Wikipedia articles are referenced in the links above, and see our previous post on seabird ingestion. An essential industrial solution is cradle-to-cradle design

But the greatest impact could be made by you: boycott bottled water (which is often ordinary tapwater, resold to you at obscene profits), refuse to patronize its vendors, bottlers, and financiers. Above all, be conscious of your impact on the planet.

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