Every year, over 10 million tons of plastic ends up in the world's oceans that get caught up in a trash vortex created by ocean currents, systematically killing off fish and wildlife.
In the North Pacific, there is a sort of “trash vortex”, sometimes referred to as the great garbage patch, due to the diverging of ocean currents that have an estimated 13lbs of plastic per 2.2lbs of plankton. It swirls around “like a clock” in the ocean, along with other garbage, dead fish, and birds. Much of that plastic will not break down for generations after the people who threw them away.
Green Peace estimates that of the 100 million tons of plastic produced each year, at least 10 million tons end up in the ocean. According to the National Geographic, nearly every bird on Earth is eating plastic. 90% of all dead birds have been found to have plastic in their stomachs. The more plastic production increases, the more it ends up in the ocean. In the 1960’s, plastic was found in only around 5% of all birds found. By the 1980’s, that number had increased to 80% of all birds. That means in just 20 years, our oceans were filled with plastic products.
“Some of the larger items [in the trash vortex] are consumed by seabirds and other animals, which mistake them for prey. Many seabirds and their chicks have been found dead, their stomachs filled with bottle tops, lighters and balloons.” – National Geographic
IT TAKES A LONG TIME FOR TRASH TO BREAK DOWN
According to the NOAA, it takes a plastic bottle 450 years before it breaks down compared to 200 years for an aluminum can. Similarly, it takes about 10-20 years before a plastic bag breaks down compared to, say, paper, which estimates to decompose within 6 months as long as it has light, oxygen, and water.
The Garbage Project is an interesting project that has started looking through old landfills to see if things that are considered biodegradable can still be found. What they’ve discovered is that food such as hot dogs, corn on the cob and grapes were still there 25 years later, fully recognizable. There were even newspapers that were still fully legible!
This is because, in order to biodegrade, materials need water, light, and oxygen in order to breed microorganisms that help break down materials. The temperature is also important, as microorganism reproduce faster in warmer conditions. Therefore food waste and paper will not biodegrade in a landfill.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP
Don’t: Throw away everything to general landfill trash. A lot of good recyclable and biodegradable items won’t break down when it’s packed into a landfill. Some of it even begins to create toxic soil.
Do: Separate your food and paper waste into compost bins (some cities collect compost, if not, start a garden!) You can compost tea bags and coffee grinds, (use compostable coffee filters like I have here!) as well as all food waste like egg shells, fruit peels or vegetable heads, like when you cut the tops off your carrots or tomatoes. If you garden, you can also reuse newspaper by laying them down in garden beds to keep out weeds.
Don’t: Use so many plastic items! Bring a refillable water bottle around with you, bring your own bags to the grocery store, and stop wrapping your fruit and vegetables into little bags. Do you see a set of bananas or oranges wrapped in plastic, even though it already has a hard protective skin? Don’t buy it! Your local grocery store provides goods that it thinks the public will buy – if you won’t buy the plastic wrapped ones, they’ll absolutely stop supplying them.
Do: Recycle everything possible. Aluminum, steel or tin cans, aluminum foil, magazines, paper, cardboard, cartons, phone books, unbroken emerald, clear or amber glass bottles, CLEAN plastic (don’t recycle until you’ve washed it out or it will contaminate thousands of pounds of plastic!), batteries, and electronics like TVs, computers and phones (though you’ll need to call your city to find out where those go).
Do: Go out and learn about your cities recycling policies. See how seriously your government waste companies take recycling and help spread the word. Together we can all contribute to a sustainable planet.
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