Human Consumption and our Planet’s Future

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Pixabay: Peter H

Human consumption is not just about food. It’s about clean water, clean air, energy sources, minerals, rock, sand, lithium, rubber, wood, all the ingredients that provide us with our homes, furniture, cars, clothing, tech devices, electricity, heating and cooling our homes, means of running our cars, sports equipment, entertainment, and other creature comforts. The increase in population and need for homes mean more natural land is being paved over for homes and agriculture.


To take one example, we are buying more clothing and discarding it sooner. The clothing industry accounts for 20% of our water pollution and remains only behind the fossil fuel industry in that regard. Every year the world consumes over 80 billion clothing items. In 2013 over 15 million tons of textile waste was produced according to the EPA. When clothing ends up in landfills. chemicals, such as dye, leach into the ground. When unsold clothes are burned, CO2 escapes—as much as 1.2 billion tons per a World Resources Institute report.


Amazon trees are being felled to make way for agriculture, reducing oxygen produced by them, and an environment for wild life. We buy knick-knacks, souvenirs, toys galore, decor for every holiday, political swag, gadgets for special uses or plain silliness—remember that awful fish on a board to hang on your wall that wagged its tail and talked or sang. When the last parent passes on, their belongings don’t. They are hauled to the dump by the truckloads.(Advice to the elderly is to clean out the attic so your loved ones are spared such trips.)


Plastic has been my bugaboo as it takes eons to degrade and is killing ocean life including the plankton that produce more oxygen than the Amazon forest. Containers for goods are next to unavoidable. We once used glass, but glass requires sand, of which there is not an infinite amount, and too much removal from some sites have had a negative impact. Cardboard originates from trees. Face it, we’re consuming at a faster rate than Mama Nature can provide.

I’m as guilty as the next person, seeking the perfect lemon squeezer, the foam pillow designed to prop my ipad in bed, plastic storage boxes to park stuff in my attic. Now, I’m determined to turn over a new leaf. I’m saving plastic containers and bags for reuse rather than buying those convenient seal plastic bags. I reuse unsoiled tinfoil. My hubby thinks I’m nuts but gets in trouble when he balls it up, thinking it’s fun. I’m encouraged by efforts to manufacture a biodegradable plastic or plastic-like material to use in containers, millennials who are eschewing abundant wardrobes. Like most of us I’ve spent most of my life accumulating. Now it’s time to stop and begin shedding. Unfortunately, most of the young don’t want our family heirlooms of china, crystal, and silver.

As a footnote, I highly recommend David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet on Netflix. In fact, it should be required in our schools and for adlults to be allowed to vote. I plan to devote my next blog to its message. The documentary not only is a stark commentary on human’s impact on the planet, it includes ways we can avoid disaster.

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.

A passive solution to the Pacific Garbage Patch problem?

north_pacific_subtropical_convergence_zone-es

 

Earth’s oceans have a problem. It is well known there is a huge area of plastic swarming in the Pacific Ocean. We thought the ocean was so large we could use it as a dump or not worry about stuff ending up there.

 

Ordinary garbage may degrade, but plastic breaks up into small particles ingested by fish. This  results in elimination of species and toxic chemicals entering the human diet.

The fact that the polluted area is a garbage patch is due to rotating ocean currents, which swirl and collect the garbage. About two years ago, a young Dutchman, Boyan Slat came up with the idea of using the ocean currents to concentrate the garbage by appropriate placement of floating barriers to allow the currents to bring the plastic garbage to one spot instead of sending ships dragging nets across an area over the size of Texas.

Slat’s non-profit organization, Ocean Cleanup, is being crowd sourced and first wants to identify the size and pinpoint the location of the problem in order to place floating barriers. He has discovered that the patch is growing at an alarming rate. A 60 kilometer prototype barrier has recently been put in place 12 miles off the Dutch coast in order to test its ability to withstand storms.

The estimated cost for the cleanup, which is expected to take 10 years, is around 3% of the cost of conventional cleanup methods. This excludes the expected resale value of the extracted plastic, which will reduce costs even further.

Some scientists believe that entire oceans are a smog of small plastic particles posing a seemingly intractable problem to cleanup, but let’s cross our fingers that we’ve found an affordable cleanup for a huge patch of the stuff.

The articles I read said nothing about the obvious need to stop plastic from getting into the ocean in the first place.  I wonder how many of our grocery bags end up there. I know how I’m voting on keeping the California ban against use of plastic bags.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_garbage_patch

http://www.techtimes.com/articles/181143/20161007/the-great-pacific-garbage-patch-is-bigger-denser-than-earlier-thought.htm

http://www.zmescience.com/ecology/longest-floating-structure-might-clean-the-oceans/

http://www.ecowatch.com/boyan-slats-ocean-cleanup-project-launches-historic-first-prototype-at-1891181918.html