It takes a lot to shock me, and even more to make me feel so sick that I lose my appetite. Unfortunately, that’s just how I felt on my walk back to Penn Station after a recent presentation in NYC from 5 Gyres Institute, where CCE educated attendees about our BYOB Campaign.
I’ve always been an advocate of using sustainable, reusable products in place anything plastic. I know why plastic products are bad – they are a synthetic product that is simply unsustainable and painfully persistent. But it wasn’t until last week when I saw a presentation by the great people of 5 Gyres Institute that I began to truly understand the magnitude of this urgent crisis. 5 Gyres documented through photos and videos their voyages around the world, where they sampled the oceans for plastic. What they found was appalling, and quite frankly nauseating. I’m not sure which part of the presentation was more disturbing:
- The results that showed plastic particles turned up in EVERY sample they tested. Most were tiny photo-degraded plastic particles just big enough to be swallowed up by fish and other marine life. Other pieces of debris were the size of a house.
- The pictures of massive plastic pollution on the beaches on Easter Island – an island that symbolizes societal collapse as a result of unsustainability.
- The accounts of about dolphins and whales following the boat for extended periods of time, and one whale swimming with its mouth open, just as the trawl on the side of the boat did that collected plastic pieces during the same time.
- The pictures of remote islands that are hardly uninhabited, yet still show more plastic than shells along shorelines.
- The pictures of live fish that get stuck in bottles; or live fish that are caught, fileted to be eaten, and found to have pieces of plastic pieces in their stomachs.
Having not been on the boat myself, I can only imagine how mind blowing it can be to not see any land or human life for days, but to constantly be surrounded by tangible evidence that humans inhabit this planet. To realize that there is no place on earth that is untouched by plastic pollution.
It is easy to shrug responsibility for this problem and place the blame on someone else, especially inland residents who have never even seen the ocean. People do recognize that humans affect the environment, but often fail to recognize their own impact; thinking that pollution must be coming from someone else – someone more irresponsible, more careless. No, the plastic is coming from you. Among all of the found toothbrushes, combs, and bottle caps are nurdles; tiny balls of raw product used to manufacture all plastic products. Nurdles are found in the oceans and on beaches around the world – coming from pre-production of plastic. If you are a consumer of plastic, you support the production of plastic products, and therefore share responsiblity for their existence.
The easiest solution is obvious -just stop using plastic, if only it were that easy. Plastic only started being mass produced less than five decades ago, and we now live in a society addicted to plastic. Our economy and habits thrive on convenience and low cost, and plastic caters to both. Everything from my keyboard to my earring backs are made of plastic products. We need to shift our habits and stop supporting the production of materials that have a permanent legacy.
The way I see it, plastic production only started half a century ago, and we are currently at a plastic peak. Knowing what we do now, we can easily travel down that graph back to zero in another half-century if not sooner. Then, we can spend the next century cleaning up this hundred year folly. To do this, we need to act quick, change consumer behavior and habits and work on all levels to encourage conservation and sustainability.