Before you can solve something, you need a problem. Well, Houston, we have a problem.
In the central North Pacific Ocean, roughly between 135°W to 155°W and 35°N to 42°N, swirls the North Pacific Gyre, a circular system of ocean currents driven by winds and the Earth’s rotation. Over the past 30 years—and possibly longer—these currents have been pulling in the debris, trash, and chemical sludge we have been dumping and/or accidentally spilling into the oceans. Experts have named this gargantuan swirl of pollution the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP).
There are four other large ocean gyres: South Pacific, North and South Atlantic, and the Indian Ocean gyres. They are all now polluted.
It is in the North Pacific Gyre, in its massive vortex of trash, that a monster of gigantic proportions has been spawned. His name is Bogo Mogo. His appetite for plastic is insatiable, and he grows by the day. Mimicking the dynamics of the ocean gyre where he lives, he’s set off a feedback-loop that threatens the entire marine ecosystem (read the full story here).
Unfortunately, human desire for seafood, entertainment, and the convenience of products shipped around the world at the tap of a tablet screen, is feeding Bogo Mogo, directly and indirectly:
- The GPGP is estimated to hold 80,000 tons of plastic
- 46% of the volume of the GPGP is composed of ghost nets, lines, and other discarded fishing gear
- In the past 40 years, we have lost 49% of marine life worldwide due to overfishing, bottom trawling, global warming, oil spills, and plastic pollution
- In the past 3 years, we have lost 20% of the world’s corals
- The emissions from just 15 of the world’s container mega-ships equal those of ALL the cars on the planet
One more data point that puts all of the above into painfully sharp perspective:
- 70% of our planet’s oxygen (yep, the stuff every living thing needs to, umm, breathe) is produced by phytoplankton. Little marine plants that live only in… the ocean.
All five marine gyres are now contaminated. This means if we don’t act fast, four more Bogo Mogos will spawn, and that means only one thing: the entire planet is doomed.
THE ELEMENT OF CHANGE
The secret to defeating Bogo Mogo lies embedded in a simple little element. It’s a new addition to the periodic table, although it’s a bit of an outsider. You see, it’s not a chemical element. But it does cause a chain reaction when released.
The absolute best thing you can do is REDUCE your use of and dependency on plastics. Challenging, but not impossible. Think back to previous generations across millennia and how they managed, before plastics were invented.
You really don’t need all that plastic.
If you have to use plastic, reuse it if you can. Just be aware certain types of plastic can release minute particles when heated. You can reuse #2, #4 and #5 plastics. Do not reuse #1, #3 and #6. Reuse #7 only if marked “compostable.”
Oh and you might want to use a real ceramic plate in the microwave.
Never, ever throw plastic in the trash. We are all busy. We all don’t have the time to go research. We all [fill in your particular reason why you end up taking the easy way out]. This stuff just piles up and we need to get rid of it. But your garbage bin is not the answer.
Call your local recycling center and ask them what types of plastics they accept. Recycle only plastics labeled #1 and #2, and depending on where you live, #4 and #5.
And remember to wash out your containers, as oils and food residues inhibit the recycling process.
The more plastics you have at home or at work, the more they become a part of your life. It’s a slow, insidious process. Much like abuses of power, it grinds you down over time, normalizing, normalizing, until you simply accept it.
Start replacing plastics with other materials. Get your milk in glass or carton.
Buy wood, fabric, or paper toys for your kids.
Who says you have to accept every kind of plastic on offer?
Say NO THANKS to single-use straws, cutlery, and take-out containers.
Above all avoid polystyrene. Ask for paper alternatives or bring your own!
Now that you know how to work with the element of change, you can help it evolve. What other words that start with “Re” can you think of, and how would you make them work to address the plastics problem?
*Sources for data presented in “Problem” above: