My first airplane trip was in 1968 when I headed to Puerto Rico on a Girl Scout event. I don’t remember anything much about the flight except I was reading The President’s Plane is Missing and we went through a thunderstorm.
My next trip was in 1972 when I crossed the Atlantic. The flight was fine. I was young and the long trip did not bother me.
I took another flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1981 and I noticed something that I had not seen on the flight 11 years before. In 2010, I noticed it again…and more of it. What was it? White stuff.
Seriously, white stuff? On the water. And no, I was told we were too high to see white caps on waves.
It was trash.
Our throw away society also is a throw on the ground society. Trash washes into storm sewers and sometimes directly into rivers, which flow, obviously, into the oceans. Light weight trash at landfills, like the plastic bags you get when shopping at the supermarket, also gets blown by the wind and where landfills are located near rivers, guess what happens?
So, we’ve been hearing for years now that we have floating islands of plastic trash in the Pacific Ocean. Check out this video which was compiled by CNN on Midway, an atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles away from population centers along the Pacific Rim.
And, in case you live in the middle of the US or along the eastern seaboard, you are not guiltless. The same problem shows up in the Atlantic, as I noticed from my jet window.
And yet, most of the plastic in the ocean is NOT large intact pieces. Over 90% are pieces of plastic smaller than your thumbnail. Plastics floating on seawater deteriorate because of the chemicals in the water as well as the sun. As horrible as the floating islands of large trash are, these tiny particles are even more of the problem.
We here on the west coast are well aware of the radiation concerns about fish we consume. The meltdown at the Fukishima nuclear reaction with the subsequent leakage into the ocean makes us wary, but this is already on top of the ambient nuclear signature caused by a multitude of bomb tests on various atolls in the 1950s and 1960s. Now, in addition to those radiation concerns, we need to be aware that fish ingesting small pieces of plastic are most likely entering our diet also.
We have all seen these photos before. Please understand that this is reality. We are not being good stewards of our planet.
So, what can you do? From this day forward, never never never toss your garbage on the ground. Carry it with you from the beach, from the trail, from the backyard.
Dispose of your trash properly. Recyclables need to be put in the appropriate containers so they can be reused. Things that can be put into compost need to be. The smallest amount of our garbage should be what goes to the landfill or incinerator.
When I visited India a few years ago, I saw first hand what happens in a society where trash removal is not a public priority. Now, the government of India is trying to overcome decades of throw-away consumerism.
We are fortunate that waste disposal is provided in just about every area of the United States. Those people who opt not to pay for trash removal may be part of the issue, but there are many of us who just get sloppy or careless or indiscriminate.
Help model behavior that shows you are a good steward of our planet. Reduce plastic as much as possible in your life. Switch from plastic bags to reusable ones you carry into the store when you shop.