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Did you know that the Pacific Ocean has a floating trash pile that currently stretches over 1.6 million square kilometers? For context, that is more than twice the size of Texas and is almost the size of the entire country of Mexico. Also referred to as the North Pacific Garbage Patch, the amount of debris continues to accumulate each year due to the amount of non-biodegradable items that end up discarded into our rivers and oceans. Aside from the root cause that many corporations, as well as individuals, are not recycling properly, this is due to the fact that instead of breaking down naturally, many plastics only break into smaller pieces.
As if this is not already a massive amount of trash, oceanographers and ecologists recently discovered that about 70% of marine debris actually sinks to the seafloor. So in reality, the North Pacific Garbage Patch could be multiple times larger than current estimates.
However, the North Pacific Ocean is not the only place where tragedies like this are happening. There are four other large ocean garbage patches which are found in the South Pacific, North and South Atlantic, and Indian Oceans. While the North Pacific patch is the largest, most explored, and most evaluated, the other four patches are significant, and contribute to global pollution on a major scale.
One of the most serious concerns with these growing garbage patches is that the debris poses substantial health risks to marine animals and seabirds. Another growing concern is that fish are often contaminated by the leaching of the plastics’ chemicals into the ocean, and these chemicals are then passed on to people through the consumption of seafood.
Wow, thanks New Dad. Are you done making me feel sick?!
Do not misunderstand me, I am not standing on a soapbox. Only recently was I formally presented with this information, and it utterly shocked me. It was one of those moments that took the wind right out of my sail. After getting past the feelings of “how have we let this happen,” I was able to start examining my own life habits.
What part have I played in contributing to this issue, and what do I do on a regular basis in order to contribute towards a solution? These are two questions that I now think about regularly. Although I may not be one of the boaters, offshore oil rigs, or cargo ships dumping loose debris directly into the ocean, do I make diligent efforts to simply recycle appropriately, or am I someone who carelessly tosses a water bottle or soda can into the trash bin because I am too lazy or thoughtless to hold onto it until I see a recycling bin. It is a simple enough question, but am I really that inconsiderate, unmindful, and selfish.
After beating myself up for a day or two, I realized that even though I cannot fund a global initiative to help clean up Earth’s oceans, I certainly can think twice about how I am discarding the plastic products that we use in our own lives. For example, I can easily look up the policies for our locality and make sure that I am properly disposing all of our waste materials!
Did you know that approximately 91% of all plastic ever made has not been recycled? Did you know that over one million seabirds die each year from plastic in our oceans? And kind of related, did you know that according to a study performed by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 93 percent of people have BPA in their bodies? BPA is a harmful chemical present in plastic products that has been associated with cardiovascular problems, including coronary artery heart disease, hypertension, and peripheral artery disease, not to mention that it can also cause infertility in both men and women. Not only am I not fond of the idea that I willingly use products known to have such “limited” side affects on the human body, but as an avid bird watcher, number two really puts a pit in my stomach (or is that actually the harmful chemicals that I have been ingesting slowly destroying my intestines?).
In case you are wondering, although the existence of large ocean garbage patches was predicted by oceanographers and climatologists, the North Pacific Garbage Patch was first discovered by a racing boat captain while sailing from Hawaii to California. He and his crew described the event as being surrounded by millions of pieces of plastic. I would not characterize that as a trip in paradise!
According to a recent study, the UN estimates that if current trends continue, by the year 2050 our oceans could contain more plastic than fish. So basically, when my son is 30 years old, he may be more likely to see a floating piece of plastic instead of beautiful sea life? People may read this and say “there is nothing that any of us can do about such a large problem,” but in my opinion, that kind of attitude only reinforces the problem, and leads to no one choosing to be accountable for their own actions. Actions which if are not contributing to a solution, are in fact aggravating the problem.
Let’s not forget or gloss over the statement that “fish are often contaminated by the leaching of the plastics’ chemicals into the ocean, and these chemicals are then passed on to people through the consumption of seafood.” Personally, I love seafood, and considering that at 60 years old I hope to only be halfway through my life, I want to do my part to help ensure that there is plenty of beautiful clean water for those delicious Alaskan Salmon to swim around in! I do not want my life to be unexpectedly cut short as a result of consuming fish that have been poisoned by plastic water bottles and grocery bags that people were too lazy to dispose of properly.
Seriously, is it really that hard to bring reusable bags to Aldi’s instead of using the one time use plastic bags? No, although it may take some adjustment of habits, it really is not too difficult for anyone to do, and it is likely an easy implementation that every grocery chain could facilitate. Is it really that challenging to stop buying packages of water bottles and instead invest in a reusable water bottle? No, it is not. Perhaps in doing so, you may even be able to reduce the amount of harmful chemicals circulating through you, which are slowly degrading your body.
For those who know me well, this is not the sort of topic that I usually bring up in conversation. However, as a result of being presented with these uncomfortable truths, and as a father wanting to do my part to ensure that my son gets the chance to live in at least as nice of a world as I am, this is certainly a matter for which I am willing to take personal action. Imagine the change that people could create if we only embraced the idea of leaving the world a better place than the one we are living in! Let such change, no matter how small it may seem, begin in each of our lives.