J500 Media and the Environment

Flotsam Freakout by Kelly
April 20, 2010, 8:55 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 13, Society + Media | Tags: , , , ,

Last week I read a news report about a giant garbage patch floating in the Atlantic Ocean.  Drifting between Bermuda and Portugal, there are miles and miles of plastic junk and waste.

I closed out of the browser quickly, like I had some dark secret that I couldn’t let anyone see.  Like one of those polished, well-respected professionals who, in reality, has a home full of take-out containers and wildlife.

I was mortified.  I felt personally responsible for the undulating swath of debris pictured next to the article.

flickr.com, by Horia Varlan

Irrational and unbalanced response? Maybe. But I sat there staring at a beautiful Portuguese coastline littered with Tupperware and Gatorade bottles and I felt like I had put them there.

Now, I realize that I didn’t really pack up my sandwich baggies and shampoo bottles, go to Portugal, and fling them into the sea for fish food. But I felt like I might as well have because the story made me realize that what I was doing here had significant, far-reaching consequences.

There is another garbage patch in the North Pacific Ocean.  Though the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association says it cannot accurately measure the size of the patch, sources have estimated it is roughly the size of Texas.

That much trash is dangerous, especially considering that most of it is plastic. According to a National Geographic article, approximately 10% of the plastic produced each year ends up in the sea.

That plastic pollutes the water, kills animals, and ultimately ends up in the food we eat. We can keep this from happening.

As the article notes, there is not really a realistic way to clean up the ocean. The plastic we have thrown away is going to sit unrecoverable in our oceans, forests, and landfills for a long time (think hundreds of years). But a realistic solution is to just use less of it.

Small changes like choosing paper milk cartons over plastic gallon jugs,  or using aluminum cans instead of plastic pop bottles can reduce the amount of plastic we consume by a lot.  And if you use something that’s plastic, recycle it.

I know using less plastic isn’t going to make our oceans fresh and free of flotsam and jetsam, but it will make a difference.  Someday, we’ll solve the problem of our polluted lands and oceans. In the meanwhile, we can at least take steps in the right direction.

It’s time to start cleaning up our act because, let’s face it, the secret’s out.


3 Comments so far
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I am wondering why you think so few people know about these garbages patches when they are so massive? I did some research on the Pacific Garbage Patch (the one between California and Hawaii… because there are actually two) and found that it wasn’t even discovered until 1997 by a yacht racer. How do you think something so large could go undiscovered for so long? -Kristina B.

Comment by kristinabev

I wondered the same thing. I have two theories: 1) the ocean is huge. I believe you could miss something, even something as large as Texas. 2) I remember reading that quite a bit of the plastic floating in this patch is very very small, so you aren’t able to see it until you’re practically on top of it.

Kind of a scary thought though, right? If we’re missing trash patches the size of Texas, how many trash patches the size of Rhode Island are out there?


Comment by Kelly

I remember Sean writing about this a few weeks ago. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the shear size of the patch he wrote about since then, and now you’re showing us that there are more, and bringing up a good point about smaller ones. If our rate of plastic consumption DOESN’T decrease soon, what sort of affect do you think it might have? That stuff doesn’t break down completely for some time, so I kind of shudder to think myself how bad it may get.
~Ben C.

Comment by Ben

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