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Plastic and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

In Economy, Environment, Health, history, Media, National News, Opinion, Politics, Science on April 4, 2018 at 10:43 am

Deer In Headlines
By Gery L. Deer

Did you know that somewhere in the Pacific Ocean there is a gigantic patch of garbage that’s been growing for decades? According to a three-year study reported in Scientific Reports this month, it has grown to approximately 1.6 million square kilometers, 16 times larger than previous estimates. To put that in more familiar terms, it’s more than twice the size of the State of Texas.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch – Photo courtesy http://www.critfc.org/

Scientists used a variety of methods to measure the patch including aircraft outfitted with special sensors, crisscrossing more than 300 square kilometers of the ocean’s surface. Surveys estimate that half of the so-called, “Trash Isle” is made up of discarded, or “ghost,” fishing nets. About 20% of it is debris from the Japan tsunami of 2011, and the bulk of the trash is made up of large, plastic objects.

That’s a lot of garbage. For most people, it’s an incomprehensible scale and it’s just floating around out there. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been on the radar of scientists and environmentalists since the 1970s.

Plastic is one of the lightest and most versatile manufacturing materials ever created. To say that it’s durable could be an understatement. But, while that can be an advantage when considering consumer products, it’s a detriment once the product is discarded.

For example, in the ocean, it can take more than two decades for a plastic shopping bag to decompose. Those disposable plastic water bottles everyone carries around are estimated to take 450 years to degrade, and the fishing line could be out there for more than six centuries. It could actually take a lot longer. The fact is, there is no way to know for certain. Click to watch the NBC News story.

What is certain, however, is that the world’s tenants need to do something to reduce the amount of plastic dumped into Earth’s oceans and slow the growth of these trash isles. Otherwise, they’re just going to keep getting bigger.

Managing the trash not only helps to protect the environment and marine life but the economy of regions affected by its presence. Fishing is more hazardous in these areas and tourism can be dramatically affected – who wants to go to a beach where this junk is regularly washing ashore? For some areas in the Pacific, tourism accounts for the bulk of their income.

While politicians, diplomats, and environmentalists debate toward no useful resolution, there are things that individuals can do to help reduce the problem. Plastic straws, grocery bags, and one-use water bottles are reportedly some of the items most frequently tossed in the garbage can.

Recycle plastic products whenever possible. Instead of dropping a water bottle in the trash, use recycling receptacles marked for plastic and other consumer packaging.

First, water bottles. Nothing’s worse than a flat of those thin, flimsy discount store water bottles. So, why use them? If every person in every gym in America chose a reusable water bottle instead of a throw-away, just one time, there would be thousands less plastic bottles in the landfills and tossed into the ocean.

Reusable water bottles are inexpensive, as little as $2.00, and can last for years. Hint – go with a metal bottle instead of plastic but avoid ceramic-lined thermal bottles for daily hydration. They’re heavy and break easily if dropped.

Next, when a store offers the option between paper and plastic shopping bags, choose paper. If plastic is preferred, keep them and reuse them as many times as possible. Try to avoid using them as trash bags, however, because they can slow the decomposition of their contents.

A better option is reusable cloth or nylon shopping bags. It might take some planning to get into the habit of reusing them, but they are much stronger than their plastic counterparts and they’re washable.

Lastly, drinking straws. Strange as it may sound, some cities in America are banning the use of plastic straws; Malibu, Seattle, Fort Myers, and Miami Beach, to name a few. Paper straws are inexpensive and decompose easily. One downside, most don’t bend, so if that’s a required feature, reusable silicone straws might be a better option.

None of these will totally solve the plastic waste problem. But it can certainly make a difference if everyone does his or her part.

Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer. More at deerinheadlines.com.

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Alas, the plight of the plastic shopping bag

In Business, Economy, Education, Environment, Health, history, National News, Opinion, Politics, Science, Uncategorized on March 31, 2014 at 8:42 am

Deer In Headlines
By Gery L. Deer
The Jamestown Comet Editor

bag_blowingTake a look around outside after a storm and you’ll see them, clinging to the lathe of a garden fence like barnacles to a ship’s hull – those sad, indigent, plastic shopping bags. They’re everywhere, bouncing along the roadside, hung up in the branches of your backyard tree, even melted and tangled around the undercarriage of your car. Once revered for their strength and amazingly useful handles, these marvels of modern shopping are now the scourge of environmental political correctness.

With humble beginnings in 1950s Sweden, the modern plastic shopping bag was the creation of engineer Sten Gustaf Thulin who developed the simple, one-piece bag for Celloplast, the company which patented the design in 1965. Popularity of the product grew rapidly, for a time even knocking paper bags into relative obscurity.

Never again would husbands need worry about earning a night in the doghouse after losing a gallon of milk to the pavement when it crashed through the bottom of a wet paper sack. But, it was that set of wonderfully brilliant handles that really endeared the bags to shoppers. Since the dawn of time, mothers everywhere have struggled on shopping trips to juggle groceries and family.

With plastic bags, Mom now had the ability to carry half a dozen fully loaded bags on her arms while clutching Junior in one hand and the dog’s leash in the other. Her world now under complete control, at least for one brief moment, thanks to a simple pair of parallel holes in a plastic tube. Once the groceries were put away, she could even re-use them to line the bathroom wastebasket with a water-proof bag that fit both the can and her household budget.

PBThere was no doubt the plastic shopping bag was truly a miracle of modern commerce. By 1982, most major grocery chains, including Kroger, began replacing paper shopping bags with plastic citing cost savings and customer preference. Sadly, however, as with most other success stories, rival jealousy led to ridicule and scrutiny, mostly from operatives of the paper bag industry determined to unseat the plastic bag from its world-wide fame.

By the 1990s, world ecologists became increasingly vocal about plastic’s potentially destructive effects on the environment. Soon, the plastic shopping bag became an innocent by-stander, caught up in the ever increasing fight between good and evil, liberal and conservative, environmentalist and capitalist – or whoever was paying the most lobbyists. More than ever, environmental groups were touting the need for more extensive use of recyclable materials in consumer goods.

Almost overnight, the plastic shopping bag became the poster child for everything wrong with the environment as pundits heatedly debated their recyclability on cable news and in fiercely negative op-eds.  As usual, the critics had it all wrong because plastic shopping bags were every bit as recyclable as their paper counterparts, but were, in a way, victims of their own success.

As it turned out, the very innovations that made plastic shopping bags so powerful in the supermarket were like Kryptonite to the sorting machines used in recycling. When put through, they bound up the machinery and left it jammed and inert, and the cost to overcome that problem outweighed the benefits.

For years, rumors of a plastic bag uprising have permeated the media, suggesting that millions of these poor, trodden-down bags were massing a resistance in landfills all over America. There, they waited silently, collectively preparing to strike back against their opposition by refusing to decompose, even over thousands of years.

Sadly, an empty threat, since the structure of a landfill is meant to keep the refuse dry and stable, limiting degradation. Nothing is intended to fully decompose; not paper, not food, not plastic … nothing. In fact, newspapers buried in the 1960s have recently been exhumed intact and readable.

Perhaps one day, the full truth of their story will be exposed and plastic shopping bags will regain their once proud position at the end of the checkout. But for now, these bags exist as second-class totes, drifting like tumbleweeds on the wind, dancing their lament of a time when they were kings of the market.
Deer In Headlines is available for syndication. Contact GLD Enterprises Commercial Writing – http://www.gldenterprises.net.