It has been a few weeks since a report on the amount of plastic garbage in our oceans was released.
It found that we were tossing about eight million tonnes of it into the seas every year.
Put another way, explained University of Georgia environmental engineer Jenna Jambeck, an author of the study published in the journal Science, it's enough to line up five grocery bags of trash on every foot of coastline in the world.
Staggering when explained in a way we can all visualize and conceive of.
It's hard to get that image out of one's mind.
As time marched on it was impossible not to keep noticing the plastic bags in the ditch or caught on the trees, the six-pack ring holders on the ground, plastic water and juice bottles along the trails, and even plastic dog waste refuse bags left filled on the edge of the pathways around town.
Then there are the rows of plastic wrap, plastic containers, plastic bags and more lining store shelves — plastic, in just over 100 years, has infiltrated every part of our lives.
Most of us drive the Sea to Sky highway regularly. Imagine what it would look like if the entire coastline was lined with plastic bags full of garbage?
There is little doubt that the plastic-garbage issue is one of global note. This is not just about bags, this is about all types of plastic from fishing gear to plastic bottles, to toys and those little coffee pods that have caused a single-serve revolution in hot drinks!
The worst offenders are China and Indonesia according to Jambeck's research. The top 20 countries are responsible for 83 per cent of "mismanaged plastic" in the oceans, sending between 1.32 and 3.53 million tonnes into the seas.
According to the report, the cumulative amount of plastic in the seas will soar tenfold by 2025 if nothing is done to slash waste generation or manage it more effectively.
It is a crisis that even the United Nations recognizes and is calling for action on. Its own investigations found that a conservative estimate of the overall financial damage of plastics to marine ecosystems stands at US$13 billion each year.
I'm sure in 1907 when the invention of Bakelite brought about a revolution in materials by introducing truly synthetic plastic resins into world commerce no one had any idea plastic garbage would be produced on this scale.
Now you can find plastic pollution from Mt. Everest to Marianas Trench, from your local ditch to your local park.
Just last month a new investigation suggested that our coral beds are also ingesting the tiny pieces of plastic afloat in our oceans (news.discovery.com/earth/oceans/plastic-eating-coral-in-australias-barrier-reef-raise-concerns-150224.htm).
In a recent report award winning scientist and environmentalist David Suzuki said: "Scientists don't know where most plastic ends up or what overall effect it's having on marine life and food supplies. They do know that massive islands of plastic and other waste — some as large as Saskatchewan — swirl in five gyres in the north and south Pacific, north and south Atlantic and Indian oceans. But that's only a small amount of the total."
But tackling this issue isn't as easy as banning plastic bags — an issue that grabs headlines and is easy for the media to explain. Plastics are deeply ingrained in First World day-to-day life. From the way we pack school lunches, to harnessing wind and solar power, to life-saving medical devices — plastics have improved the quality of life. You can't put the genie back in the glass bottle.
This doesn't mean that nothing can be done. What is needed now is a strategy to capture plastic waste and dispose of it properly, or recycle it into something else useful — like fuel. Jambeck's study found that while the U.S. was one of the top 20 worst offenders —Americans generate 2.6 kilograms of waste per person per day, to China's 1.10 kilograms — the United States ranked lower on the list because of its more efficient waste management.
According to a report by the U.S. non-profit As You Sow, plastic is the fastest-growing form of packaging, and only about 14 per cent gets recycled.
It's been almost a year since the B.C. government launched the Multi Material BC resident packaging and printed paper recycling program. A rigorous program, it has meant that residents have to thoroughly clean plastics and pay attention to where to deposit them in the waste stream — while the verdict is out on the program as a whole there can be little doubt that getting people recycling plastic properly is a step in the right direction.
What else can be done apart from managing the waste stream properly? Look at your shopping and try not to buy too many plastic wrapped goods, don't buy drinks in plastic bottles, don't use K-cup coffee pods, don't use storage plastic bags or plastic wrap (neither can be recycled) — think back to how mom stored leftovers and bought groceries. Perhaps the idea that "mother knows best" applies to this issue as well.
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