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