Oceans are the largest food source on the planet and are the worst place imaginable to dump plastic, chemicals and other waste forms. It’s a vicious circle as sea life eats and absorbs those waste materials, we eat the sea life and – voila – we are slowly killing ourselves.
THESE days, when something goes wrong anywhere in the world, the easy way out – it seems – is to blame China. From rare earth mineral supplies to currency manipulation, plastic goods to pollution, everyone gets in on the act and begins China bashing. Over the years, China has slowly emerged as a success- fully developing country, but is being punished for its success by some of the more developed countries who seem to be more than a little jealous. True, China produces more plastic goods than any other country, but is anyone being forced to buy those products? The Ital- ians have just banned plastic bags. Presumably, that means the Italian underworld will need to stuff their readies into suitcases – but ironi- cally – won’t those suitcases be made of plastic? The dumping of plastic trash can be even deadlier than the ever present risk of oil spills at sea.
In 2008, according to the American Plastics Counsel, the plastics industry in America employed 1.3 million people in more than 18,500 official plastics facilities, and they also identified plastics as the third largest manufacturing industry in the United States. Only three years ago, 250 billion pounds of tiny resin pellets made from plastic were shipped around the world to international plastics facilities. Is there any reason to believe that China is the only mass producer of plastics?
Surely it is about time China bashing coun- tries start to put their own houses in order and begin to work with China to regulate the pro- duction and disposal of plastics.
The Great American Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean is home to a floating garbage dump that is an area about the size of Africa. It is created by Pacific currents carrying refuse from North America, Japan and other islands to a point in the ocean where it forms a revolving mass of flotsam that is estimated to contain a staggering 3.5 million tons of rubbish – 80 percent of which is plastic. Charles Moore is the founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation that is dedicated to restoring the marine environment and he is credited with discovering The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Moore spends his life studying the ocean and has famously described his findings as “plastic soup”. In some cases, according to Moore, there is more plastic in the ocean than there is plankton, the natural food organism of the high seas. Moore estimates that this area holds as many as one million plastic pieces for each square mile of ocean. Plastic is non-biodegradable and this adds to the problem of what to do with the plastic items nobody wants. There is no natural process that breaks plastic down, and the genius of humankind has once again done an about turn and shot each of us in the foot with every new plastic product or invention created, used and then dumped.
When the time comes to throw that old plastic bucket, toothbrush, golf ball, glue stick, six-pack rings, plastic bags, umbrella handles or comb into the trash, it is usually a case of out of sight, out of mind, and into the sea it goes, albeit unknowingly to most individuals. If the closest landfill is too far away, or too expensive, a burial at sea seems to be the obvious alternative to waste disposal companies and their trash.
A process called photodegration breaks plastic into smaller fragmented pieces over time, but plastic never completely disappears. Those fragmented pieces are called ‘nurdles’ or ‘mermaid tears’ and as any intelligent mermaid will tell you, those ‘tears’ will penetrate every orifice known to humans – and fish. The fish (and birds) eat the ‘nurdles’ and other alien elements that plastic creates, which is a frightening thought when you realize that dumping plastic into the ocean seriously threatens the food cycle – and endangers human life.
China alone cannot shoulder all the blame for the world’s aches and pains, plastic or oth- erwise. After all, half of Hollywood’s super- stars have plastic body parts, computers have plastic components, mobile telephones, car parts and condoms (yuk!) are all made of plas- tic and minute fragments of any or all of those products could be hidden in your next meal!
Reflect on this point to ponder when you dig into a seafood platter or when you next order a home delivery of shark fin soup and prawn noodles from your local Chinese restaurant which will be delivered in plastic containers – although not necessarily made in China!