Recently, I saw a person get out of their truck and throw 3 aluminum cans and 4 plastic bottles in the trash can in front of a gas station. While happy to see that they did not liter, I still got out of my car, rummaged through the trash and added this waste to my trash bag in my car. Why? As I was watched, I started thinking about my clean water awareness project. I have been researching recycling, plastic water bottles, the “true cost” of bottled water and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Facts that I found very interesting:
Plastic Patch the Size of Texas
According to the United Nations Environment Program, more than 20 billion pounds of plastic ends up in the ocean every year. It has been estimated that 80% of the garbage comes from land-based sources and 20% from ships at sea. Pollutants range in size from abandoned fishing nets to micro-pellets used in abrasive cleaners.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also described as the Eastern Garbage Patch or the Pacific Trash Vortex, is a gyre of marine litter in the central North Pacific Ocean and estimated to be twice the size of Texas. The patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of suspended plastic and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre.
Toxins that Change Your Physiology Added to the Ocean and Food Supply
Some plastics decompose in the ocean within a year of entering the water, leaching potentially toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A and derivatives of polystyrene. Bisphenol A (BPA), a compound in hard, clear polycarbonate plastics, is under official scrutiny—and things are looking less than rosy for the controversial chemical. The U.S. government’s National Toxicology Program recently agreed with a scientific panel that expressed concern about physiological changes that occur in people when they ingest BPA that has leached from plastics into their food.
At a Molecular Level? Yep!
Unlike debris which biodegrades, the photodegraded plastic disintegrates into ever smaller pieces while remaining a polymer. This process continues down to the molecular level.
As the plastic flotsam photodegrades into smaller and smaller pieces, it concentrates in the upper water column. As it disintegrates, the plastic ultimately becomes small enough to be ingested by aquatic organisms which reside near the ocean’s surface. Plastic waste thus enters the food chain through its intense concentration in the neuston.
And, Producing Bottled Water Leaves a Huge Carbon Footprint
In addition to the 17 million barrels of oil used in production, bottled water consumes gallons and gallons of water. Three gallons of water is required to produce one gallon of what you will happily pay a dollar for, largely because of the length and complexity of the various “purification” processes and the evaporation loss that takes place while the water is in the plant.
Besides the extravagant amount of oil used to make the bottles and large volumes of water used in the bottling process, there is also an environmental impact from production. For every ton of PET plastic produced for the bottles approximately 3 tons of carbon is created–adding 2.5 Million tons of carbon dioxide emissions to the 17 million barrels of oil.
Action to Take Now
- Ditch the Plastic: stop buying bottled water and purchase a stainless steel, re-usable water can: www.ecocanteen.org
- Make your own cleaning products: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/make-your-own-non-toxic-cleaning-kit.html
- Recycle everything you can- http://www.sanantonio.gov/swmd/solidwaste/recycling.asp?res=1280&ver=true
- Inform yourself: http://www.stopcorporateabuse.org/think-outside-bottle/
- Buy Minimally Packaged Goods