Humans are good at quite a few things.
We are good at problem solving, which is why we find ourselves as the unrivaled rulers here on the planet. We have mastered the most basic tasks, like creating fire, and the most complex tasks, like splitting the atom.
But we have also mastered problem creating. And that means we can create problems that weren’t there before at an astonishing rate.
Food is a great example of that. You can buy an avocado any time of the year. You can have produce and fruit and fresh meat whenever you feel like it. Consider what was available at the grocery store when you were a kid compared to now. It is a startling difference.
But with that comes new problems – namely plastic. Fruit comes in plastic containers. Sliced vegetables come in plastic containers.
The worst problem? Water. When I was a kid, if you wanted a drink of water you grabbed a glass, went to the sink and got a drink. Or you simply turned on the hose if you were outside playing.
Now it is bottled water. Natural spring, purified, filtered and ready for your consumption. When you are done, if you simply toss that water bottle away instead of recycling it, the bottle will sit in a landfill for 450 years or more.
Yes, 450 years.
What about in the ocean? If you toss that same water bottle into the ocean while out on a fishing trip or a pleasure cruise, that same bottle will probably take the same 450 years to decompose, although the exact time is still unclear.
I bring this up because of a recent study about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I’m sure you have heard of it. The Patch is a huge floating island of garbage in the Pacific Ocean, mostly made up of plastic.
A recently study found that the patch is much larger than initially thought. Scientists now believe it covers more than 617,000 square miles. That is larger than Alaska, the largest U.S. state.
The study suggests that the patch, which is roughly halfway between California and Hawaii, is made up of 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic.
It is not all water bottles, of course. And it isn’t just from things people throw in the ocean. It is also things that fall off ships transporting goods, and a lot of fishing line.
But plastic, which we all use daily, is choking the oceans. And if we don’t do something it will certainly get worse.
According to the study, more than 320 million tons of plastic is consumed globally each year.
That is a lot of plastic, but it should not be a shock. Look around yourself right now and note how many items you can see that are made of plastic. Spoiler alert – it’s a lot.
Now, as I said, we are problem solvers. This is a problem that can be fixed and a problem that must be fixed. But we also need to pull back on our reliance of plastic. We need more biodegradable containers and household items. Plastic is convenient, sure. But it is choking our oceans.
In the meantime, as Earth Day approaches, please remember to recycle. It is a small thing, but it is incredibly important. If we all do our small part, we can surely make a big difference.