Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Plastic Trash

I've been meaning to blog about the enormous plastic trash collection floating in the North Pacific Gyre since I first heard about it last week. How could I have possibly not heard about it before last week??? Anywho, Paulina did a nice post about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

I turned in my review paper (10.5 double spaced pages) and only spent 9 hours at school today (although I still have at least an hour of grading to do). I should start keeping track of how many hours I spend on 'work.' I think lately it has been something disgusting like 70+ hours/week. Let's hope the trend doesn't continue.


Alexandra said...

I read your post and found it very interesting. I read the post you linked to and that was also interesting. Then I looked at other things on the internet. Although not the most reliable source, Wikipedia says there is no Great Pacific Garbage Patch. There isn't really something the size of, or twice the size of, Texas floating around. Here is why I believe that:

1) I can't find an aerial view of such a thing. You'd think that if it existed there would be a photograph of it. I agree with your point (made outside your posting) that it makes sense that Google Earth wouldn’t have a photo of it. I’m arguing that if the trash is as dense as blogs, environmental groups, and the media makes it out to be, there should be some photo of it. If Greenpeace is arguing and believes that there really is a “garbage patch” then in my opinion, they should have a photo of it that they have commissioned. (“Greenpeace estimated that approximately 10% of the plastics manufactured every year ultimately end up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” available at: http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-the-great-pacific-garbage-patch.htm)

2) Greenpeace talks about it but does nothing about it. Greenpeace is a crazily biased and in my opinion, not a "good" environmental organization. But, even if that isn't the case, if the trash is collected in a large area, that would make clean-up costs much less than cleaning up little bits of garbage across a huge area. Why doesn't Greenpeace get photos out and raise money to collect this trash and bury it on the land? If it is such a problem, why doesn't it do something? You asked me, in email, why Greenpeace NOT doing something is significant. I’m arguing that if in fact, there is a patch of garbage, this would be something that Greenpeace would presumably care about. Greenpeace argues that there is a patch and yet does nothing. By doing nothing, it undermines its own argument that there is a patch and that it is a problem.

I'm open to changing my opinion. In fact, I want to believe this patch is out there. I want to believe it because if it does exist it would be a fabulous and clear example of how we are degrading our environment. Seeing this would be big news and would likely initiate action. Almost any environmental cleanup or enactment and enforcement of laws regulating dumping and pollution control, is good. I want this Patch to be there because I think it would initiate action.

I don't want the Patch to exist because it would be devastating and sad. But we need something like that to get the attention of US citizens.

I do agree with you that trash, especially plastic, in the ocean is a huge problem. People tend to think the ocean is an endless source of storage and can recover or handle all pollutions (including chemicals used to wash the outside of boats and designed to kill anything it comes into contact with.) Plastics get into the food chain and cause deformities and other problems. Additionally, plastics kill animals without entering the food chain. (Not all plastic in the ocean is a problem. Have you heard of artificial reefs? Some are made with plastics, though my favorite “brand” is not. See http://www.reefball.org/index.html, and see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Reef_Ball_Foundation) To me, plastics and other chemicals, like triclosan, getting in the food chain is a monstrous problem that our society pays too little attention to. (I could go off on how the US does not even have the capability of having a national environmental goal or policy due to the fact that there are an overwhelming number of environmental agencies which each have their own policies which are often in conflict with other governmental environmental agencies. Compare this to the EU which has one Directorate-General for the Environment, with one person, the Commission General, who has the power to set a Community-wide environmental goal. But that’s not part of your post so I won’t say anything more about it!  )

Those are my thoughts….

Karlina, do you have any comments?

Karina said...

1) Jon looked for it on Google Earth but they don't do resolution that good over the ocean. Even if it were good, it would probably still not be good enough to see the trash.

Paulina said, and wikipedia also said, that the density of plastic is like 5 kg per km2. That's certainly not enough to walk on, as some of the news makes it sound. There is also no basis right now for the "twice the size of Texas" statement. I think the biggest problem is that this plastic has a way into the ocean food chain, and there's a heck of a lot of plastic out there.

2) I'm not sure what Greenpeace NOT acting on this has to do with its existence or not, but I do generally agree with you about Greenpeace. Actively cleaning up this plastic with nets could potentially cause more harm than good because the nets used to collect the trash would also collect fish and marine mammals. I think widespread publicity of this problem has the potential to: 1) increase awareness of the importance of beach cleanups, 2) reduce use of plastic bags in coastal areas, 3) put pressure on ocean-based polluters to not dump their trash, 4) increase awareness of ocean food chains, biomagnification, and the global nature of pollution problems.

Paulina said...

Karina -
that is the first thing I did as well, check Google Earth, and it does not appear that they post images of the ocean. As you pointed out, the patch is not so much a solid mass, but rather a really large area of significantly polluted water. The only reason that I encountered that explains why no clean up plans are underway is that the the process of dragging the area would disrupt marine life even further. On the other hand, I've heard mention that there are very few large fish in the area, so I am sure if we really put our mind to it, this could be cleaned up.
Maybe the problem is that it is in international waters? Is it actually, or is the Pacific American?