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.
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.