In 2005 when I sailed to Hawaii from Los Angeles, there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t see some large piece of floating trash out there.
It’s estimated that there are 200 million tons of trash floating around in the ocean right now.
8 million tons of plastic are added each year. That’s the same as one garbage truck dumping its contents on the beach, every minute of every day!
The US only recycles 8% of the plastic we use. Of the remaining plastic we don’t use 75% goes into landfills and 25% of it ends up in the ocean.
After several years’ plastic breaks down into “microbeads” which are ingested by fish and eventually us.
If you’ve been following the Olympics in Rio you may have heard the story about the trash and pollution in Guanabara Bay where the Sailing competition is taking place. Conditions are so bad there that German sailor Eddie Byers was hospitalized from an infection he contracted while practicing on the Olympic venue. This problem isn’t new to Olympic sailors, they experienced similar polluted conditions when they competed in the 2008 Beijing and the 1988 Seoul Games.
But these polluted water conditions are not limited to nations not known for their environmental policies. Just last month the beaches in Long Beach were closed for a week due to a sewage spill into the Los Angeles River originating from a few blocks east of us on 6th street.
But sewers can be fixed and the water runoff can go through treatment facilities before heading to the oceans. We can see the results from our shorelines but what most of us don’t see is the large collection of plastic trash currently circulating in the world’s oceans.
There are 5 areas in the world where, due to the ocean currents, trash collects in large clusters, these areas are known as GYRE’s. The largest is the North Pacific gyre 500 miles North East of Hawaii, otherwise known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This area is not on the major shipping lanes and few sailors travel in this area, and it’s a good thing because the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is as large as the State of Texas, and growing.
In Long Beach, Captain Charles Moore, has been taking researchers out to the North Pacific Gyre since 1999 on his 50-foot research vessel Algalita. Upon returning from their last trip in 2014 he reported that conditions have worsened by 20% from the way they were in 2009. Plastic takes 400 years to dissolve naturally in the environment. If the trend of plastic in the ocean continues, he estimates, that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish!
But what can be done to stop this man-made disaster? How did we get to this point?
50 years ago a young actor named Dustin Hoffman was told by Mr. Robinson in The Graduate that the future is in plastic. Little did he know that the future for the next 400 years will be in getting rid of that plastic.
There are only 4 things we can do with the plastic we use:
- Use less. Use paper cups, use glass or Nalgene bottles, use paper grocery bags or bring your own.
- Recycle. 90% of all plastic is not recycled. When you put your used plastic into a recycling container, that plastic gets hauled off and made into new plastic products.
- Toss it. You can toss your used plastic into the regular garbage can where it will be hauled to a landfill. The problem with this is that that plastic will be broken down into micro particulates and leach into the water table, still staying around for 400 years.
- Litter. Some people carelessly toss their trash directly into the environment, into our oceans or onto our streets and hiking trails. One bad habit, according to my wife, that I’ve gotten into is picking up other peoples’ trash when I come across it (as long as it isn’t too grouse).
In closing, remember. The next time you look out into the ocean, it may look huge and beautiful but without our involvement it won’t stay that way for our kids and grand kids to enjoy like we have.