Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The World's Largest Dump

Call it a water fill or a water float just as long as you also call it terrifying or shameful or disgusting.  It's the North Pacific Garbage Patch and it's about half the size of this country just floating east of the Hawaiian Islands.  The garbage goes below the water's surface at least a hundred feet. This rubbish-strewn patch of water floats within the North Pacific Gyre, the center of a series of currents several thousand miles wide that create a circular effect, ensnaring trash and debris.  Around and around the currents go and in that holding pattern floats bottles, plastic bags, fishnets, clothing, lighters, tires, toothbrushes, and traffic cones.  The trash stays in that vortex until it either disintegrates, escapes to travel to other oceans, or bobs out of the vortex to wash up on yet another beach to eventually return to the seas and back to the vortex.  Some of the garbage drops off and sinks to the ocean floor.
A single one liter water bottle could break down into enough small fragments to put one on every mile of beach in the entire world.
This perhaps wouldn't be too much of a problem if the plastic had no ill effects. The larger items, however, are consumed by seabirds and other animals which mistake them for prey. Many seabirds and their chicks have been found dead, their stomachs filled with medium sized plastic items such as bottle tops, lighters and balloons. A turtle found dead in Hawaii had over a thousand pieces of plastic in its stomach and intestines. It is estimated that over a million sea-birds and one hundred thousand marine mammals and sea turtles are killed each year by ingestion of plastics or entanglement in plastics.
Some of the plastics in the North Pacific Garbage Patch will not break down in the life times of the grandchildren of the people who threw them away to begin with.
Environmental organizations such as Greenpeace are trying to do something about the world's largest landfill.
We can do something, too.  We can contribute to such organizations.  They always need our financial help.  We can also think before we toss stuff into the trash.  Certainly none of us would toss our empty water bottles onto a beach but how about instead of the trash we recycle?  Or even more radical, how about we stop buying those individual water bottles.  How about we buy a good, reusable water bottle and fill it from if not the faucet our filtered water or our five gallon home delivered water bottles?
At the very least we can be aware that most of the things we throw away are never actually gone.

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