Alright, I’m going to go over a topic I’ve covered before, but this issue was big last spring, when I first brought it up, and it’s gotten bigger. Much, much bigger.
Mr. Objector and I took our first vacation in a couple of years last month, visiting a small town in the Yucatan. It’s a place we love, on the edge of the jungle, just a few miles from a massive world-heritage nature park. The hotel we stay in is really just a bunch of huts on the beach, with no electricity and limited running water. No phones, no TVs, no climate control. Sure, we had to fly to Mexico (sorry!) but once there, we were able limit ourselves to two public bus rides and two five-minute taxi rides. I’m actually convinced that our vacation lives were far lower-impact than our day-to-day city existence.
As we strolled the sands and biked down the narrow road to and from the biosphere preserve, I noticed two things. One was the amazing natural beauty of the place, and the other, sadly, was plastic.
There was plastic everywhere — on the edges of the roads, in the jungle and on the beach. It floated in the water, gathered at the high-tide mark and spilled from the small trash containers in town. On every excursion I’d pick up those terrifying six-pack holder rings, trying to keep them from finding their way around the necks of animals and birds. I gathered flip-flops, toothbrushes and water bottles as I beachcombed, dropping them into garbage cans when I could.
I blamed the tourists, and the locals who take care of the tourists, until I found a margarine tub half buried in the sand. A cracked, weathered HAITIAN margarine tub. Haiti is about 600 miles east of the Yucatan coast, and this particular tub appeared to have traveled at least that far. Looking more closely at, and thinking harder about, all this plastic, I realized that much of it had actually drifted to these shores from other places: Cancun, the United States, anywhere and everywhere. A trip to the nature preserve’s visitors’ center explained that, after development, plastic (PLASTIC!), is the greatest threat to the area and its wildlife.
I of course remembered the article I’d already written on plastic, and its accumulation in the environment (and in our bodies, and the bodies of animals and birds, especially sea creatures). In that article I talked about the giant State-of-Texas-sized mat of plastic debris floating in the Pacific Ocean. Well, The Independent just reported that that plastic “soup” is growing “at an alarming rate” and is currently TWICE THE SIZE OF THE CONTINENTAL U.S. Excuse the all caps, but I am screaming this in my head as I write it. Known as the “great Pacific garbage patch” it is estimated to weigh some 100 million tons, and “moves around like a big animal without a leash,” according to Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer who has studied the patch.
Another expert estimates that the patch will double in size in the next ten years. And the UN Environment Program “estimated in 2006 that every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic.” Another article in The Independent, titled “Plastic Is Killing Our Oceans,” opens by telling its readers that “one cigarette lighter, a toothbrush, a toy robot and a tampon applicator” were found in the stomach of a dead albatross chick. These wholly unnecessary scraps of consumer culture are drifting across the planet and killing it. And us.
That article concludes with this: “The only way to deal with the growing threat plastic poses to wildlife and the environment is to curb our consumption and to no longer treat plastic as an innocuous disposable commodity. Indeed, there is now a case for it to be treated as a potentially toxic waste product with the stiffest sanctions for its desultory disposal.”
As I said, I may be repeating myself on this issue, but it’s a big friggin deal to me, and it should be to you. So, next issue, I’ll be presenting a mini “New Yorker’s Guide To Giving Up Plastic.” Please, check it out and give it try, before it’s too late.