The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located a few hundred miles off the coast of California in the North Pacific Gyre, is the largest ocean garbage site in the world. This floating mass of plastic is twice the size of Texas, with plastic pieces outnumbering sea life six to one. Plastic constitutes approximately 90% of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile (1).
Unlike organic debris, which biodegrades, plastic does not. It can only photodegrade, disintegrating ever so slowly into smaller and smaller pieces, leaching potentially toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A, PCBs, and derivatives of polystyrene, until it ultimately becomes small enough to be ingested by aquatic organisms, thereby entering the food chain and wreaking havoc on the health and well being of many species, including us of course.
Another way these microplastics disturb marine food webs is by blocking sunlight from reaching plankton and algae below, decimating their populations and the populations of all the animals that feed on them, such as fish and turtles, and ultimately apex predators such as tuna, sharks and whales (2). Eventually, seafood becomes less available and more expensive and toxic for people to consume!
So where does all this plastic come from and what can we do about it? Most of it comes from plastic bags, bottle caps, and plastic water bottles. Just to give some perspective, every year, 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide, which requires at least 60 million barrels of oil to make them, and the average American family takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year!
Now that you are aware of the problem, the solution should be staring you in the face, namely, stop buying and using plastic products, especially plastic bags and water bottles! Personally, I take my Contigo thermos almost everywhere I go, keeping my cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot for hours! As for bags, it is incredibly easy to keep reusable bags or totes in your vehicle for all your shopping needs. I’ll even bring an empty backpack when I go to the mall so I can keep my hands free.
Unfortunately, our local recycling depot, like most, is not able to recycle plastic bags, which is one more great reason to go cold turkey on using them! In this day and age, plastic is everywhere. We can’t escape it, but there’s absolutely no reason not to Reduce, then Reuse, and at the very least Recycle it!