Rethinking Disposables: An Oceanic Wake Up Call

 

by Dawn Quirk

Returning from Hawaii to California, Ocean Researcher Charles Moore came across a terrifying sight: everyday for one week he saw trash as far as the eye could see from the deck of his research vessel. He conjectures that this polluted area exists from just off the coast of China to within a few hundred miles of California’s edge, which would make it at least 5 million square miles, about one-and-a-half times the size of the United States! Most of the debris was plastic, and Moore and his associates believe that it was washed down rivers into the Pacific Ocean, carried by currents past Central America, by the Phillipines, and on to Japan, picking up more waste all along the way and finally getting stuck in the no man’s land between North America and Asia. Judith Selby Lang, an artist who has been collecting pounds of trash that have washed up on San Francisco beaches, astutely notes “We call things disposable, disposable lighters, disposable this, disposable that. But when we toss it away, it’s not really gone, and it’s not really gone for a long, long time. Everything ends up somewhere.” If the area is as big as Moore speculates, total clean-up seems nearly impossible. The U.S. government began a few research studies, and in the meantime had encouraged voluntary beach cleanup, but the funding has been moderate thus far. The solution to the heart of the problem begins, above all, with the first of the three R’s: reduce, then reuse, and, very importantly, recycle. Nothing is truly disposable.