The Great Plastic Inevitable

(c) Alex Hofford – Greenpeace

Anyone who was around in the 60’s (sadly, I am too young), or knows their music and pop art, might be familiar with the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, an Andy Warhol show featuring music from the Velvet Underground alongside screenings of the artist’s work.

Andy Warhol was also famous for his Campbells Soup image.

So, what’s the link between Andy Warhol and the pollution of the world’s oceans? The answer is plastic. And soup.

Today is World Oceans Day, an appropriate time to raise awareness of a problem that is not going to go away, no matter how much we ignore it. As a result of our love affair with disposable plastic, the oceans are becoming plasticised. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is one of five ocean gyres (a circular pattern of currents) in which human waste that makes its way to the sea is accumulating. Despite speculation, it is impossible to measure the extent of the problem. Some people offer suggestions that it is the size of Texas, while others argue it is the size of the whole US.

Mention of a giant garbage patch in the ocean conjures images of one big mass of cumulated rubbish. The reality, though, is worse.

Plastic, unlike natural materials, does not biodegrade; it degrades in sunlight into pellet-sized particles known as POP’s (persistent organic pollutants). Measurements taken from the Pacific Garbage Patch by Charles Moore of Algalita Ocean Research, indicated there was six times more plastic than plankton in the sea. And this has serious impacts on marine life. Fish ingest these plastic particles mistaking them for food. Bigger fish then eat these fish, many of which end up on our dinner plates, so completing the toxic food chain.

Albatross Chick on Midway Island (c) Chris Jordan

The plastic is also causing havoc to land-based animals, most notably the Albatross, who unwittingly feed their chicks on plastic debris found floating on the waves. On Midway Island, decomposing Albatross give up the shocking truth, their stomach’s full with plastic lighters and bottle tops.

So what can we do about it? For a start, we need to re-evaluate the way we use plastic, and, where possible, reduce consumption and recycle.

As Moore bleakly puts it, “What we cannot do is clean up the plastic in the oceans. It’s the biggest misunderstanding people have on this issue. People find it difficult to grasp the true size of the oceans and the fact that most of this plastic is in tiny pieces and it’s everywhere. All we can do is stop putting more of it in, and that means redesigning our relationship with plastic.’

That’s certainly something to think over the next time you’re drinking from a plastic bottle of water.

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21 thoughts on “The Great Plastic Inevitable

  1. Wow, this is horrendous. I wish more people would recycle, it’s not difficult at all. We’re so used to things being convenient that unless we see a recycling bin within fifteen yards, we’re going to simply toss the plastic in the trash bin. I’m ashamed at how lazy our society has become. Thanks for this post.

  2. Thanks for commenting.

    It’s quite shocking really. And it’s not as if we have much choice as consumers: everything seems to come in plastic these days. But you’re right, we all need to make more of an effort with recycling and try to limit our plastic use, even if it’s only taking reusable bags to carry our shopping home.

  3. This is more urgent than I knew. I think many people have this misunderstanding. I really don’t understand why plastic is produced so carelessly when it is harming our environment so much. In many countries, recycling isn’t even an option!

    Thanks for sharing this reminder; I also wish many others would see your post.

    Love & peace,
    ~Tinkerbell

    • Hi Tinkerbell

      I don’t think enough is understood about the harm we are doing to the oceans. I knew about the problems of over-fishing, and the acidification of the seas due to increased temperatures, but plastic pollution could be the biggest negative factor of our activities.

      And you’re right about the production element. It seems you can’t buy anything that isn’t over packaged with unnecessary plastic.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  4. Wow – I had an idea of the problems and had heard of the garbage floating in the water, but had no idea to that extent! It is sad that we are slowly destroying the environment so comprehensively! How long will it take for people to understand what they are doing? Recycling isn’t the only answer – although it is a major part of it! People need to stop dumping their garbage anywhere and everywhere too! Some of it may be a cultural thing – but it never ceases to amaze me, even in National Parks in places with amazing recycling programs, how much garbage is floating in the water and littering the paths. I wish people could just carry in, carry out – won’t solve the problem, but will set the example for our future!

    • Hi Anita! Thanks for the comment.
      Yes, it’s frustrating that the vast majority of people have their heads in the sand when it comes to the way we are damaging the environment. Like you, I envisaged a jumbled up mess of garbage floating in the water, but once I knew the real scale of the problem it came as quite a shock.
      It must be frustrating on your travels to see wild and natural places sullied by careless people.

  5. Hi Anita! Thanks for the comment.

    Yes, it’s frustrating that the vast majority of people have their heads in the sand when it comes to the way we are damaging the environment. Like you, I envisaged a jumbled up mess of garbage floating in the water, but once I knew the real scale of the problem it came as quite a shock.

    It must be frustrating on your travels to see wild and natural places sullied by careless people.

  6. This is awful! This issue really bothers me. People should not be reckless with garbage! We need to stop producing more plastic and use recycled NOW! We are freaking killing ourselves on the long term not to mention the beautiful marine fauna.

    Great post

  7. Thanks for the comment, Charlotte. I was shocked at how bad the problem really is – it’s one that never seems to get much attention from mainstream media either. All we can do is try and spread the word in whatever way we can!

  8. So eye opening! Just when I think there can’t be any other posts, articles, info or perspective on how god-awful plastics are another one pops up…yours was very good…and made me think, again, I don’t ever want to buy another bottle of water again.

  9. Don’t get me wrong, plastic has its uses – its just water bottles and shopping bags don’t fall into that category, nor does the majority of packaging that is wrapped around our groceries (actually, the list is pretty endless)!

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting… If this post helps to make even a handful of people think about the way we are choking our planet with plastic then it was worth the time to write it!

  10. Pingback: Invasion of the blob-type floaty thing | A Wilderness Within

  11. Pingback: Albatross | A Wilderness Within

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