Living in a World of Plastic

Plastic trash washed up from ocean

Bad News: (I always like to get the bad out of the way first.)

Nearly 9 million tons of plastic are entering global waters every year. This is primarily due to a global waste management problem, with developing countries having  the greatest issues. In China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, waste management hasn’t kept pace with the population explosion.

It’s little consolation that among the 20 top dumpers of plastic waste into oceans, the United States is # 20, possibly because of its large coastal population. However, the US is the top producer of plastic waste. At one time, our plastic waste was accepted in China and other countries. Now we must deal with it ourselves.

No surprise that Marine life is dying because of plastic pollution. Our oceans produce 70% of the oxygen in the air. We can live without eating fish, but we can’t live without breathing.

Further, plastic is made from fossil fuels so the production of plastics also contributes to air pollution. Plastics have carbon-intense life cycles. The majority of plastic resins come from petroleum, which requires extraction and distillation. Then the resins are formed into products and transported to market. All of these processes emit greenhouse gases, either directly or via the required energy in the chain. The carbon footprint continues after disposal. Dumping, incinerating, and recycling all release carbon dioxide.. 2015 emissions from plastics amounted to 1.8 billion metric tons of CO2.

Good News: (Yes, there is “some.”) Awareness of plastic contamination is increasing, and members of the UN are in preliminary  stages of  addressing the plastic waste problem.. Proposed caps on plastic production would stop the predicted  exponential increase. They also seek rules to make plastic easier and less toxic to repurpose. Some companies are using thinner plastic in packaging. Scientists continue working on compostable plastic bags, researching enzymes who might liked to dine on plastic, using plastic in paving roadways, and more ways to repurpose plastic waste,

Everyday at home tips: While it is impossible to avoid buying groceries and other products that are not wrapped in plastic, here are a few tips.

  • Take your own shopping bags to grocers and other stores. Even consider smaller ones for loose produce. TJs provide compostable bags for its produce.
  • Don’t buy plastic bags that seal for storage. Instead, save such bags from nuts and other dry products for reuse. Save bread bags as well and use twisties to store dry leftovers, etc. Also reuse hard plastic containers for wet leftovers and organizing small items. I love the very large clear plastic spinach containers for napkins, napkin rings, and any small collection.
  • While much plastic is “recyclable,” at most 10% is actually recycled. Plastic bottles are, but the caps may not be. If not, sorters may throw the bottle out with the cap. If in doubt about any item, throw in the trash or check with your local recyler. Two young men are recycling bottle caps into skate boards.
  • Make certain what you recycle is clean, lest you contaminate a sizable amount of recycled paper,  cardboard, etc. One reason China stopped accepting our waste was because it was dirty.
  • Make your voice heard among your friends, neighbors, relatives, store owners, and political leaders.
  • Out for a hike? Take a bag and glove to pick up trash along the trail. I use the plastic glove from my hair dye kit.
  • In general, consume less. We are running out of space for landfills. New ski slopes?

Bad News sources: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/02/12/humans-are-putting-8-million-metric-tons-of-plastic-in-the-oceans-annually/ ; https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190415144004.htm

Good News source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/2022/02/08/plastic-pollution-un-treaty/

PS to Tips: A friend recommended https://www.tru.earth for laundry. Small thin squares torn up into the tub dissolve and clean. Down with heavy plastic bottles!

Plastics Profusion Confusion

There is no doubt that plastics are prolific in our oceans and being eaten by sea life, which can kill them. This includes plankton, which produces 70% of the world’s oxygen. If the oceans die, humans will have to remove fish from our diet and add oxygen to their utility bills. (Oxygen can be derived from water. I suppose the hydrogen that is created could be used for clean fuel.) Do we want to go there?

A plethora of ocean organizations is working on cleaner oceans, which is good and bad news. Mostly great, but it makes it difficult to know which are best to support, and one wonders whether fewer larger organizations would be more effective. Some do work together on particular issues. The Ocean Conservancy formed the Trash Free Seas Alliance®, which brings together leaders from industry, conservation, and academia to brainstorm on trash reduction in the oceans.

Recent research by the same Ocean Conservancy produced a report  that includes statistics on the source of ocean plastic as well as the amount. I am curious about how they can distinguish between waste that has been collected and dumped in the ocean and waste that wanders in from rivers and streams as well as between the countries of origin when our country has shipped waste to Asia. Certainly the point that waste needs to be collected and that costs money— not necessarily available in all countries—means funds must be found.

Ocean Conservancy believes that a number of steps should be utilized to solve the problem.

* Provide financing so that all plastic waste is collected, possibly a fee on manufacturers of plastic goods.

*Ban single use plastic such as plastic grocery bags, plastic straws and stirrers, plastic cups and lids, plastic cutlery, foam food containers, and more.

*Increase demand for recycled plastic, which can also reduce the cost of collection.

I’d like to add containing litter. It astounds me to go hiking in a peaceful nature park and find plastic bottles and cups lying by the pathway or a stream, even when trashcans are available along the way. If one loves nature, why sully it? I can’t imagine anyone throws waste on their living room floor.

Enough preaching. I need to take heart from organizations like the Ocean Conservancy.

Are Malthus’s Dire Predictions About Human Civilization Coming True?

 

Will this become the human condition?

I don’t know if the 18th century Malthus is still mentioned in schools as someone who theorized that an increased food supply encouraged population growth and predicted the forces behind population increase were larger than those behind increases in food production. Of course, the conclusion is that humans are unsustainable on Earth.

Humans, indeed, are the ultimate consumers of Earth’s resources. We not only consume food—overfishing our oceans—we consume clean water, clean air, and energy.

Consider the Ogallala aquifer in the Midwest. If spread across the U.S. the aquifer would cover all 50 states with 1.5 feet of water

  • If drained, it would take more than 6,000 years to refill naturally
  • More than 90 percent of the water pumped is used to irrigate crops
  • $20 billion a year in food and fiber depend on the aquifer

Yet, one Kansas study estimates the aquifer will run dry in 50 years.

Fossil fuel supplies are limited, and their production consumes clean air and  water.

In short we are consuming Earth’s resources, and population growth contributes to the depletion.

It is not only about survival, it is about life as we know it. Imagine life without furnaces, air conditioning, convenient transportation,  and all of our de-vices for communication and entertainment.

My point is not to spread doom and gloom, but to increase our supply of awareness. I believe that proper long-term planning and science can not only help us survive, but maintain and even improve our health and lifestyle. It is science that has created fruits and vegetables with longer shelf lives and more essential nutrients, is experimenting with creating meat in laboratories, and more.

Further, it is science, which can save our future as it has in the past, but today the challenge is greater because we consume more and more different kinds of resources.  I am delighted to see compostable plastic-like bags, advances in medical science, discovery of caterpillars who will eat plastic bags that make their way into our oceans , efforts to get carbon out of the air, electric cars, renewable energy such as solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, hydro-electricity, and two-year olds if suitably harnessed.Often the first of new inventions is not the best, but gets better.

One of my concerns is an anti-scientific attitude in this country, and I don’t know its basis. Is it because scientists are warning us and we don’t like the message so we want to strangle the messenger? Is it because we only care about the here and now? Or because we only care about our own welfare?

Believe it or not:  a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) administrator testified before Congress re the need for continued adequate funding. When she mentioned the importance of weather forecasting, like a child thinking eggs don’t come from chickens but from grocery stores, one unnamed congress creature said, “Oh, if I want to know what the weather will be, I turn on TV.”

We can’t afford as a society to be ignorant of what faces us. Individual human beings need more than ever to be educated  not only to be employed  but  contribute to the preservation of our common wealth and how to make it work for us for the common good.

End of sermon.

 

 

 

Save the plankton!

Save the whales? Sure. Save the turtles? Ditto. But if we don’t save the plankton, all ocean species will be  history. Both zooplankton (tiny animals) and phytoplankton (tiny plants) are at the base of the food chain. Not only ocean species, but life on earth including humans depend on phytolankton. We may be able to remove fish from our diet but we can’t breathe without oxygen. One half of our oxygen is produced by the oceans’ phytoplankton.

So why does phytoplankton require saving? It is threatened by the warming of the climate; decline has been correlated with warmer temperatures. The ocean absorbs much of our excess heat, which is good news and bad news.

It is conjectured that the reason that warmer temperatures are harmful to phytoplankton is that like all plants, they require nutrients. Nutrients are much more plentiful at great depths because as animals and plants die they sink. Places where a process called upwelling occurs, the mixing of ocean layers brings nutrients to the top layer where phytoplankton reside. However, since the heat is absorbed in the top layer making the layer lighter, the difference in density between the top layer and lower layes is too great to allow mixing and the phytoplankgon starve.

 

Fortunately, the decline is slow, but must be addressed before it’s too late. I’m ordering a custom-made T-shirt. In fact I ran out and had it made at my local maill as you can see.