THE PLASTIC APOPCALYPSE

SOME MIGHT CALL THIS CHEATING. LET ME EXPLAIN. I WROTE THIS COLUMN LAST APRIL 20. LAST WEEK I HEARD A COMMERCIAL BY AMY SHUMER. SHUMER, COUSIN OF THE SENATE MAJORITY LEADER, WELL AWARDED COMMEDIENNE AND ACTRESS IS ALSO AN ACTIVIST. WHAT GOT ME TO SIT UP STRAIGHT WAS THIS: “NO MATTER HOW MUCH OR HOW WELL YOU RECYCLE ONLY 5% OF PLASTICS GET RECYCLED.

THAT WAS FOLLOWED BY MY TRIP TO THE GARBAGE CAN FOR RECYCLING. AS I READIED IT FOR GARBAGE DAY I NOTICED ABOU 98% OF WHAT WAS IN THERE WAS PLASTIC. WORSE YET ABOUT 10% WAS STYROFOAM. i REPLACE THE BAD WHICH WAS NO READY FOR FILLING. ON THE FIRST DAY AFTER EMPTYING I HAD ALREADY HALF-FILLED IT WITH PLASTICS–ALL THE BERRIES WERE IN SNAP-SHUT PLASTICS, THE GRAPES THE SAME, PLASTIC LARGE ICED TEA CUPS (AND PLASTIC STRAWS), THE CHICKEN BREASTS, ETC ETC AD NAUSEUM.

THEN I READ A SCIENTISTIST’S OBSERVATION OF A NEWLY HACHETED BABY SEA TURTLE. AS IT SCURRIED TOWARDS THE OCEAN SOMETHING SHINY CAUGHT ITS ATTENTION. A TINY FISH OR CRUSTACIAN? NO, A PIECE OF PLASTIC. THE ODDS ARE THAT BABY WILL EITHER CHOKE TO DEATH OR DIE OF STARVATION FROM HAVING ITS THROAT BLOCKED.

I DECIDED THIS COLUMN NEEDS TO BE READ AGAIN.

It was garbage day. As I wrestled the plastic stretch bags from the kitchen garbage bin containers that always seem like they don’t want to give them up, I noticed the recyclables. It was full to the brim. At least 90% of it was plastics. Here’s a sample: plastics containers for fresh fruit, plastic “glasses” from Starbucks and Dunkin’, fresh fruit containers, plastic spoons and such, plastic wrap, water bottles. Take a look in yours. You’ll see what I mean.

The devil comes in many sizes, shapes and forms

Then being a good uncle I filled a bag–plastic–with allergy pills that our niece had run out of. Above the drawer that holds all our bagging materials including three different size plastics bags–sandwich, frozen foods, and giant economy size–I noticed my wife’s Starbucks cup. It’s metal but with a plastic top. It was time for breakfast so I reached across the counter for my cereal’s encasement, you guessed it, in a vacuum sealed plastic container. I usually read the newspaper when I’m having breakfast. To do that I had to remove the paper from its not one but two plastic bags, which I then stuffed into a plastic supermarket bag that holds all the plastic bags mostly from grocery shopping. I take them back to the market which promises that they recycle them. Then I sat down at my plastic keyboard to work at my computer that is framed in plastic and held upright on a plastic stand. At the ready is my cell phone, also encased in plastic. Getting the point? As I poured through my emails that multiply like roaches, I noticed what follows from “Friends of the Earth” an amazing non-profit whose name says it all.

“With spring break season well underway, it’s not only vacationers who are at risk of ingesting toxic plastics that cover 88% of the ocean’s surface and continue to contaminate our waters.

How could something that looks so good be so bad…?

OVER A MILLION marine animals like sea turtles, dolphins, and birds ARE KILLED each year due to plastic waste. All baby sea turtles are born with plastics ALREADY IN THEIR TINY STOMACHS. And HUNDREDS of the fish species that we rely on for human consumption ingest plastic debris that end up in our food supply. If we don’t take action to curb the plastic crisis, it will have DEVASTATING impacts on our entire ecosystem.”

There was a petition here. You can find it on line at the website of the Friends of the Ocean

They go on. “Corporate plastic producers like those in the fossil fuel industry manufacture more and more plastic every day — and plastic waste NEVER leaves our planet. Instead, toxic plastics break down into smaller microplastics that end up in the water we drink, the food we consume, and the air we breathe. 

Scientists predict that at the current rate of plastic production and pollution, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. We are on the verge of a PLASTIC APOCALYPSE, and we must do more to protect our oceans and our environment.” The “Friends…” ask: Will you take urgent action NOW to help combat corporate plastic pollution that is putting the health and safety of our entire planet at risk?“?

I did and do, I hope you will too.

a litte piece of a huge problem

Oh, there’s more. Remember Plastic Man and Plastic Woman from the comics and the movies? Well they now may be us. Another article, this from Wiki, trumpeted that scientists have begun to find the same plastic “stuff” in humans, just like they are finding it in fish and animals. Now there’s a disheartening and mildly disgusting thought.

Thanks to Pinterest for helping make the point.

Here’s additional waste for thought.

Plastics can take anywhere from 20 to 500 years to decompose, depending on the material and structure. Additionally, how fast a plastic breaks down depends on sunlight exposure. Like our skin, plastics absorb ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, which breaks down the molecules. This process is called photodegradation, and it’s why landfills often expose plastic waste to the sun to accelerate the breakdown process. 

For example, single-use plastic grocery bags take about two decades to break down. In contrast, plastic water bottles made with polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a common type of plastic, are estimated to take approximately 450 years to fully break down. What to do? We should support the ban of single use plastic anythings.

Here are the estimated decomposition timelines for common plastic waste products: 

MaterialEstimated Decomposition
Cigarette butts5 years
Plastic bags20 years
Plastic-lined coffee cups30 years
Plastic straws200 years
Soda can rings400 years
Plastic bottles450 years
Toothbrushes500 years
Disposable diapers500 years
Styrofoam500 years
Fishing line600 years
GlassUnknown

It takes 1,000 years for certain plastic bags to degrade in a landfill. Unfortunately , even then, the bags don’t break down completely but instead photo-degrade, becoming microplastics.

The challenge is tremendous say the good folks at The Ocean Conservancy. “Each year, 11 miion metric tons of plastic enter our ocean on top of the estimated 200 milloion metric tons…” already there.

And it keeps piling up in the strangest of ways, like the Great Pacific garbage patch just floating in the middle of the Pacific ocean.  It is a mind-staggering 610,000 thousand miles in size stretching from California to Hawaii. That makes it twice, read that again, twice the size of Texas.

So hears the deal. This is but one problem in the climate change puzzle. Fertilizers, forest fires, methane from cows, ozone depletion, fossil fuels. The latter has enough sub-categories to fill another article or two.

it isn’t the face of pollution that causes worry about cows…

I quote William Bendix from the oldie but goody TV show, “The Life of Riley.” His line was, “What a revolting development this is.” And it is, at least from my perspective.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Author, blogger, OCD-like thinker, Bill Gralnick tries most every Sunday to bring you his perspective on the issues that bother you–and him. You can find his books, including the latest two–The War Of the Itchy Balls and Other Tales From Brooklyn and George Washing Didn’t Sleep here. Both on Amazon or Kindle, both either paperback or e-book. His blogs are at–atleastfrommyperspectiveblog.wordpress.com

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