When I first learned of the story of the Great Garbage Patch, thoughts of Charlie Brown raced in my brain. As I began my own investigation into this murky topic, I found little humor to connect the two.
What sounded to me more like science fiction than science fact, I began my own investigation into the world of plastics. For 3 glorious years, 1979-1982 before children, I had the wonderful opportunity to live in Hawaii. The sights of such beauty will never leave me, and one of my top sights were the amazing coral fish swimming in the most blue /green waters you will find anywhere. Years ago while I was reading Rolling Stone's magazine, and an article that caught my eye was titled An Ocean of Plastic. The article begins "The world's waste has formed a vast floating garbage dump that's twice the size of Texas – and it's working its way up the food chain. I was born in Houston Texas, so here's something to wrap your head around. When the article states that this floating garbage dump is "twice the size of Texas", this literally means you can begin from Houston and drive all-day and all night and still be in Texas. It takes about 1 1/2 half days to make it from Houston to New Mexico. So, imagine if you will, something 2x's that! The article continues "Welcome to the future", says Capt. Charles Moore, the commander of the 25ton research vessel call Alquita. He's standing in Kewalo Basin Harbor on the south shore of Oahu, holding up a jug filled with murky yellow liquid. Tiny bits of debris swirl in the jug, a cloudy mass of trash. Most of it is plastic. "This is what our oceans are like now...this sample was taken 1,000 miles southwest of LA. So it's not just one place - this is the whole ocean."
You can do your own research on the Great Garbage Patch. I do not recommend it however, it you have jut eaten a heavy meal. You will find that 40% of albatross chicks on Midway Atoll die from being fed bits of plastic waste that float ashore. Birds cannot distinguish between real food and plastic; but more disturbing to me was what this plastic is made from. These plastics contain concentrations of toxic chemicals, including DDT and PCB's. The birds and sea turtles are making this plastic their main diet staple and they are choking to death.
Here's a quick breakdown of plastic resin types:
#1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE)
Product examples: Disposable soft drink and water bottles, cough-syrup bottles
#2 high-density polyethylene (HDPE)/
Product examples: Milk jugs, toys, liquid detergent bottles, shampoo bottles
#3 polyvinyl chloride (V or PVC)
Product examples: Meat wrap, cooking oil bottles, plumbing pipes
#4 low density polyethylene (LDPE)
Product examples: Cling wrap, grocery bags, and sandwich bags
#5 polypropylene (PP)
Product examples: Syrup bottles, yogurt cups/tubs, and diapers
#6 polystyrene (PS)
Product examples: Disposable coffee cups, clamshell take-out containers
#7 other (misc.; usually polycarbonate, or PC, but also polylactide, or PLA, plastics made from renewable resources)
Product examples: Baby bottles, some reusable water bottles, stain-resistant food-storage containers, and medical storage containers
Now that you know what each of the numbers represents, here are the kinds you should look for at the store:
#1 PET, #2HDPE, #4LDPE and #5PP
These three types of plastic are the healthiest. They transmit no known chemicals into your food and they're generally recyclable; #2 is very commonly accepted by municipal recycling programs, but you may have a more difficult time finding someone to recycle your #4 and #5 containers, but more and more recycling centers are accepting these now.
#1 bottles and containers are fine for single use and are widely accepted by municipal recyclers. You won't find many reusable containers made from #1, but they do exist. It's also best to avoid reusing #1 plastic bottles; water and soda bottles in particular are hard to clean, and because plastic is porous, these bottles absorb flavors and bacteria that you can't get rid of.
PLA (polylactide) plastics are made from renewable resources such as corn, potatoes and sugar cane and anything else with high starch content. The starch is converted into polylactide acid (PLA). Although you can't recycle these plant-based plastics, you can compost them in a municipal composter or in your backyard compost heap. Most decompose in about twelve days unlike conventional plastic, which can take up to 100 years.
Plastics to Avoid
#3 polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is often used frequently in cling wraps for meat. However, PVC contains softeners called phthalates that interfere with hormonal development, and its manufacture and incineration release dioxin, a potent carcinogen and hormone disruptor. Vinyl chloride, the primary building block of PVC, is a known human carcinogen that also poses a threat to workers during manufacture.
Extruded polystyrene (#6 PS; commonly known as Styrofoam) is used in take-out containers and cups, and non-extruded PS is used in clear disposable takeout containers, disposable plastic cutlery and cups. Both forms of PS can leach styrene into food; styrene is considered a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. It may also disrupt hormones or affect reproduction.
#7 Polycarbonate (PC) is found in baby bottles, 5-gallon water bottles, water-cooler bottles and the epoxy linings of tin food cans. PC is composed of a hormone-disrupting chemical called bisphenol A, which has been linked to a wide variety of problems such as cancer and obesity.
Knowing just a sampling about the Great Garbage Patch is enough to understand the seriousness of this situation. Knowing that birds and wildlife are endangered is important, but this affects me directly. I love ordering fish, and some my favorite eating fish comes for the Hawaiian area. These fish have been ingesting PCB laden particles, and as I eat the fish, I also will be ingesting small amounts of the chemical. Over time, this can have serious consequences on my health.
So what can you do?
1.Contribute to organizations like Project Kaisei http://www.oceanvoyagesinstitute.org/project-kaisei/
that support growing awareness of this issue.
2.When possible buy materials not made of plastic if another material such as cardboard will do.
3.Learn about your communities plastic recycling. The most important thing you can do is to recycle your plastics and learn which plastic symbols are not recycled and stop buying those.
4.Tell you children, your friends and your co-workers that if they want to have a future with blue/green waters anywhere on the globe, then the fight is on.
A favorite website!!!!
Green website Highlight
www.greenopia.com – highlighting more than 50 categories on green activities from coast to coast. Look toward the bottom of the site for your city.