Dozing polar bear, Indianapolis Zoo

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Garbage Patch Kids

Photo: Melbourne Zoo

Ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? It's an ocean of crap, folks. Literally:

The North Pacific Gyre (also known as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre) is a swirling vortex of ocean currents comprising most of the northern Pacific Ocean.


The centre of the North Pacific Gyre is relatively stationary...and the circular rotation around it draws waste material in. This has led to the accumulation of flotsam and other debris in huge floating 'clouds' of waste which have taken on informal names, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the Eastern Garbage Patch or the Pacific Trash Vortex. While historically this debris has biodegraded, the gyre is now accumulating vast quantities of plastic and marine debris. Rather than biodegrading, plastic photodegrades, disintegrating in the ocean into smaller and smaller pieces. These pieces, still polymers, eventually become individual molecules, which are still not easily digested.[1] The photodegraded plastic can attract pollutants such as PCBs. The floating particles also resemble zooplankton, which can lead to them being consumed by jellyfish, thus entering the ocean food chain.

No, seriously. And you know what else? It's huge. It's as big as Texas. Yeah, that Texas. And the animals are eating it. (Updated: Want to know how much of it they're eating? This video isn't pretty, but everyone should watch it.)

Plastic has bugged me for awhile. It's hard to realize the ubiquity of plastic until you've had your attention drawn to it. And it lasts hundreds of years. Ever bought stamps or movie tickets at Costco? They come encased in ginormous book-sized plastic clams (which I believe are non-recyclable.) I ate a piece of string cheese yesterday individually wrapped in plastic. Hell, my free-range turkey breast slices are wrapped in plastic and then packaged in a plastic tub. (I don't buy those anymore.)

And then there's the deceptively humble plastic bag. The link above notes that between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are used every year. I think there are issues surrounding the ethos of individual action -- too often, the effectiveness of individual action is promoted and exaggerated by entrenched interests as a diversion from the institutional change that might impact those interests -- but it seems to me that this is an area that's ripe for it.

There is a certain evangelistic opportunity here as well. If you live in a less environmentally aware area, there is fun to be had by presenting the grocery store cashier with a bunch of reusable canvas bags. I think I'm going to start carrying around cards made from the sea turtle picture above and simply handing them out whenever I'm questioned about reusable bags.

There are several ways to make fun reusable bags. See this post by Redneck Mother for links. (I'm thinking about making a quilted bag out of some of my scraps.) I dropped this link in RM's comment section, which is a set of instructions for making an (aesthetically pleasing) reusable produce bag. My sister and I gave these as Christmas gifts one year. (Plunk in a compact fluorescent light bulb and a copy of An Inconvenient Truth and you have a good gift for environmentally clueless parents and grandparents.) Don't have the time or desire to make your own? Go here.

See also Rose's post on her personal bag journey.

But whatever you do, please don't feed the sea turtles.


Rose said...

What a great gift! You and your sis are way ahead of me on that one!

kris said...

So...I use the plastic grocery bags to pick up and dispose of poopers from the two poop-producing pooches I live with. I doubt that they're ending up in the ocean - but certainly either in a landfill or in the air after being burned. What do you use?

KCB said...

I think I'm going to start carrying around cards made from the sea turtle picture above and simply handing them out whenever I'm questioned about reusable bags.

This is a great idea. I freaked out a checkout clerk last week when I handed over my cloth bag. He turned it over and over, looking for a barcode.

Anonymous said...

Hi Trailhead,

Yeah it's scary to think where this enviroment is headed. I do what I can but it is little. I found the perfect theme song for your web site. It's called Pollution Pirates. Nina Hagen said in concert that this song was her 12 year old boy's favorite song. Actually the whole album is good. Rockin Mama at 50!


Trailhead said...

Kris, these are all over the Pac NW! I first discovered them when we moved from Indiana and started seeing them at dog parks and along the greenways.

kcb: Too true. Here in Portland, the cashiers usually don't bat an eye, but my sister in Indianapolis gets The Blank Look every single time. I'm going to send her the turtle card.

Toots, I'll definitely look that one up, thanks!

Kristy said...

I reuse my plastic bags from the grocery store for dog product disposal. Does that help? Or am I just kidding myself?

I have a bag that's crocheted from strips of plastic grocery bags. Excellent for swimming gear as it is impervious to moisture.

Anonymous said...

Hi Trailhead

I'm such a dingaling. Those were just lyrics. OK on this site you can preview Nina Hagen songs and Pollution Pirates is on the Revolution Ballroom CD;songs&om_act=convert&om_clk=arttabs


P.S. That turtle was so cute. IT's a shame what is happening to them and why do animals want to eat plastic anyway! My cat will chew on plastic. I have to hide it if I have any plastic wrapping and it comes on EVERYTHING

Trailhead said...

Kristy: That crocheted bag sounds interesting. I'm going to try it.

Toots: You're right, it's everywhere. Bleh.