By Jon Aldrich
I am not a hard-core environmentalist by any means, but I love nature and the outdoors and I often dream about what it would be like to go back in time a couple thousand years to see how pristine things were before man left his mark and just view how unspoiled this planet once was. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the progress we have made as humans and the luxuries that our technology (which includes plastic) has brought to our lives, so I know there is a trade-off of some sorts. But it is a bit depressing to see our beautiful planet fouled by pollution of which plastic is a huge part. Still, it is a thought I often have, knowing that it is an impossible dream that I will have to cross off my financial and retirement plan.
I am also fascinated, and a bit saddened when I see articles such as this one on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is a floating patch of garbage, mostly plastic, twice the size of Texas that exists between Hawaii and California. Due to rotating ocean currents called gyres, the plastic gets caught up in these areas and just continues to collect. However, small and large pieces of plastic are found throughout the world’s oceans and are ingested by small sea creatures, which are in turn swallowed by larger creatures up the food chain, so the plastic gets into all types of animals. Eventually larger seafood is consumed by humans, so we are all probably walking around with more plastic in us than we realize.
This also brings me back to our family trips to Jamaica, Dominican Republic & Mexico and wandering off the beaches of the resort, which are kept pristine. Once you get away from the resorts and into the unmanicured beaches in the tropics it really hits home as to how much garbage (almost all plastic) that washes up on the shore. You can imagine that this is only a small fraction of everything that is floating around out there. Not to mention all the plastic that is sitting on land in landfills, lakes, fields, etc.
Since plastic may take hundreds to thousands of years to biodegrade, it looks like we are stuck with it for a long time, and as plastic shows no signs of decreased production, the problem is only going to get worse. It makes you wonder if those movies such as Interstellar, or Elysium may become reality in the not too distant future. These films depict the human race having to find another planet or place to live because the earth is so fouled and polluted from what we have done to the planet.
Now, I know plastic is still very valuable, especially for things that are not single use (chairs, parts on cars, tools, you can go on and on), but I really worry about our planet's obsession with single use plastic. But it is virtually impossible to get away from. I just started thinking about the products our family uses on a daily basis that utilize single use plastic and it really adds up:
Baggies to put lunch sandwich and snacks in
V-8 juice bottle or other juices
Containers that fruit comes in
Plastic bags from the grocery store (try to use paper or reusable bags when possible)
Plastic 6 pack rings (always buy 12 or 24 packs in cardboard)
Think of all the containers that goods you buy at Home Depot and Amazon come in.
I could probably go on and on, but I think you see my point. We wash the plastic and throw it in the recycle bin, but how much really gets recycled? Heck, my recycle bin fills up much quicker than the regular garbage bin. It is too bad that more products are not produced in cardboard or glass like they were years ago. Why can’t coffee still be in the cardboard containers anymore, or milk in returnable glass jugs anymore? We all know the answer to this and it is all about cost savings. It is much cheaper to use plastic.
I don’t have the answers, and our family is just as guilty as anyone else by continuing to utilize single use plastic, but I wish I could do more. I also start thinking, that we can put men on the moon, we have more technology in our pockets with our smartphones than we could have dreamed of a few years ago, but we can’t come up with a way to produce a more affordable environmentally friendly plastic?
I will now get off my soapbox, but I felt like writing about an issue that I think about all the time, and the legacy we are leaving for our children, grandchildren and future generations.
I also came across a couple of organizations that are trying to do something about plastic in the oceans, so I figured I would include them here if you want to learn more or possibly help support their cause:
Next to a cure for cancer and a golf ball with a tracking device built in so it does not get lost, an environmentally friendly alternative to single use plastic would be one of the greatest inventions in history.