Attack of Ubiquiplastic

After I wrote my last blog, I became aware of how much plastic we use in our daily lives –  painfully, maddeningly so. Plastic is EVERYWHERE. Did you notice too, just how much of the food, clothing and furniture we buy are wrapped in that lightweight crap? And have you considered, how, after the unwrapping, we wrap the wrapping in a big plastic bag to dispose of it? Then it’s off to the landfill, out of sight and out of mind for the majority of North Americans.The coup de grace in the Attack of Ubiquiplastic was delivered the other day along with a set of patio furniture. EVERY single piece of the set came wrapped in clear, lightweight plastic. There were a lot of pieces requiring assembly and the result was a LOT of plastic. As we unpacked six arms, then three seats, lots o’ legs and ten cushions, each neatly wrapped up in plastic, I kept picturing the large swaths of clear plastic flying through the air, landing in the ocean and ultimately suffocating a sea turtle or other hapless creature.
What did we do before all this plastic came into existence?
According to the USEPA, the amount of plastic in municipal solid waste in America has increased from less than 1% of the total in 1960 to about 12% in 2006. In 2007 (most recent data found), US production of plastic reached 116 billion tons, up from a measly 26 million tons in 2003. And less than 12% of all these plastics are recycled annually.
YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.We’ve become too accustomed to things being clean and neat. We expect all our fruits and vegetables to be wrapped in plastic bags so we can get them home without soiling our hands or the inside of our reusable grocery bags. As consumers and voters we can change our habits and we can demand that the companies whose products we buy change along with us. Express yourself by choosing companies that minimize their use of non-recyclable plastics, actively recycle plastics and make significant contributions to environmental causes that encourage pollution awareness. There is no need to wrap a patio set in layers and layers of plastic so that it can be delivered to the consumer. There are alternatives to plastic and where absolutely necessary, biodegradable plastics are increasingly available.But despite all the technological know-how and facts readily at our disposal to help us reduce our contribution to the stream of garbage in the environment, people, it seems will continue to say “Fuck the Planet” for their own selfish reasons. Case in point:  Public reaction to the new Sun Chips biodegradable bags. The people at Sun Chips didn’t like that their bags contributed to the waste stream.

So they reduced the amount of material in each bag by 10%, eliminating five billion square inches of packaging from their production stream. Then, this year, they introduced the first fully compostable chip bag. Watch it disappear in this time lapse video! In response, some consumers are complaining the new material is too noisy. Some were so annoyed that they stopped buying Sun Chips. WTF?! It’s hard to believe that these are the actions of a rational, planet-loving person. Please…don’t be THAT person. And if you are THAT person, GET OVER IT. This is change we can live with.

Screwing the Planet with Plastic

Whether you take her out for dinner and a movie beforehand or not, there is no excuse for your continued screwing of the planet. This is to you, the people who continue to use disposable plastic bags like there is no tomorrow (kind of a self-fulfilling prophesy, isn’t it?). You know who you are…you keep meaning to get a reusable bag or two, but keep putting it off. Or you think, by golly, it’s got to break down eventually, so what’s the big deal? Well, you lazy SOB,  I’m not going to ask you again, just STOP IT!! In case the ALL CAPS didn’t tell you already, I’m pissed off, so angry my chest is tight and my fists would be clenched if I wasn’t typing this. I’ll tell you why.  I recently visited the Maui Central Landfill to drop off some building materials left behind by the previous owner of our new property here. It was a windy day, as it often is in central Maui and as we approached the landfill entrance we were greeted by a spectacle that sickened me and made me question where I was. Hundreds, no THOUSANDS of plastic bags and pieces of light-weight plastic were flying through the air, out of the landfill and into the fields and trees nearby. I expect this kind of thing in Mexico, but on MAUI? It was like a snowstorm, but much more sinister. A shitstorm really. Several bags drifted high in the air like kites, tumbling around and up and over and, I imagine, ultimately make their way into the ocean. If not with the wind, then the next heavy rainfall will certainly help them make it to the sea. It made me my stomach tighten and my throat constrict.

So you out there, ya you, the one still using plastic bags instead of reusable bags, just STOP. There is no good reason for your continued blatant fucking of the environment. (yeah, I’m that mad)By order of all that is right and good in the world, by order of the marine environment, the turtles, whales, dolphins, fish, seals, countless sea birds, and all other life in the ocean, we hereby do order all the world’s human beings to stop using disposable plastic bags. Stop making excuses and think about the consequences of your actions. If you don’t have several reusable bags already, then BUY SOME! Quit making excuses and think about what this single, stupid act is doing to the planet. Think about all the ocean animals choking to death on your plastic bags!!

Some statistics in case you’re still not convinced plastic bags are evil:

500 billion: Number of plastic bags consumed worldwide every year (1 million per minute)

92 billion: Number of plastic bags distributed yearly in the US

500: Years it takes a plastic bag to decay in a landfill (much longer in the ocean)

4.175 million: “Average” person’s plastic-bag legacy, in years

Still not convinced? Here are some more facts:

Unlike organic debris, which biodegrades, plastic that enters the ocean disintegrates into ever smaller pieces without changing its chemical structure. This process continues down to the molecular level. As the plastic flotsam degrades into smaller and smaller pieces, it concentrates in the upper water column. The plastic ultimately becomes small enough to be ingested by aquatic organisms living near the ocean’s surface (fish fry, algae, zooplankton, barnacles floating on larger pieces of plastic). This is how plastic waste and the chemicals associated with it gets into the food chain (yours, mine and the ocean’s).

Some plastics decompose within a year of entering the water, leaching potentially toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A, PCBs and derivatives of polystyrene into the water. These chemicals then bioaccumulate and biomagnify up the food chain.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an area of exceptionally high concentrations of floating plastics, chemical sludge, and other debris that have been trapped by ocean currents. Plastics outweigh plankton biomass in this area 45:1 (note: only 10 years ago this ratio was 6:1). This floating mass of industrial and domestic waste is estimated to be somewhere between the size of Texas and the continent of North America.  Yes, it’s MASSIVE. Located in the open ocean, in an area so isolated researchers have only recently begun to study it, the Patch is having untold impacts on marine organisms. Below is a YouTube video that summarizes how the Patch formed and the research recently conducted by Scripps Institute.  


Doesn’t this disgust you? ENRAGE you? How have we allowed this to happen? If that doesn’t get you to act, then let’s try some direct evidence of the impacts of plastics on marine animals.In this photo, an endangered sea turtle is seen trying to eat a plastic bag that it mistook for a jelly fish or seaweed. 

Thousands of marine animals and birds, many in danger of extinction, die each year when they suffocate trying to ingest plastic bags. Thousands more die from intestinal blockages from eating plastic.
In this heartrending photograph taken by Terry McCormac off the California coast, a sea otter mother is frantically trying to get a plastic bag off the head of her suffocating pup. 


Look at this closely…Are you sick yet?
This video contains graphic images of the impact of plastics on the ocean environment produced by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.  

Okay, after all that we need some good news. 
Thankfully, plastic bags are going to be banned on Maui and Kauai starting January 11, 2011. (In my opinion, the delay in instituting the ban is unforgivable.) San Francisco, Denmark, Taiwan, Ireland, Hong Kong, the town of Modbury, England, and India have all either banned the use of plastic bags or imposed taxes on their use that have resulted in significant declines in use (up to 95% in Ireland). Bangladesh slapped an outright ban on all polythene bags in 2002 after they were found to have been the main culprit during the 1988 and 1998 floods that submerged two-thirds of the country. Discarded bags choked the country’s drainage systems. California is trying to pass a bill to ban the use of disposable plastic bags throughout the state. Mexico City is trying to institute a ban on plastic bags. The plastics industry has responded by initiating a audacious PR campaign to convince the public that “plastics are an important part of the Mexican economy.”
The National Tree of Mexico – Palo Bolsa Plastica  

There is also hope that even the laziest, most selfish and planet-hating among you will have no choice in the near future. In light of the United Nations Environment Programme’s latest report on marine litter, UNEP’s Executive Director Achim Steiner is advocating for a global ban on single-use plastics. “Single use plastic bags which choke marine life, should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere. There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere.” Amen to that.

Please check out these impressive video links
More on the impact of plastics on the ocean environment from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.


To the Faithful

I do believe it is time again for a break from the Canada to Mexico line of writing, never mind that we haven’t even arrived yet in that place of beans, rice and tequila.

Other things have my attention for now and I would like to share these with you, my dear and faithful reader (I use the singular here intentionally, as I suspect that the few consistent readers I had, have likely left me for someone more faithful in their blogging).

If you find that my writing has taken on a slight haughty air, it is without doubt the result of my reading about the adventures of Don Quixote. Yes, that self-same knight errant that influenced so much of modern literature is the current focus of my attentions, despite the translation hailing from a time (1885) when the British tended to use many words that are no longer in popular usage, particularly in North America. The translator, a John Ormsby, has been taken to task for being too faithful (there is that word again) to Cervantes’ literary style, resulting in a somewhat confusing and dated work that is clearly influencing this reader’s writing. (Confused yet?)

So please forgive me today’s inauthentic style as well as my lack of faithful correspondence via this blog. No doubt I’ll ask your forgiveness again, much like is done regularly throughout important relationships, but let’s just take it two failings at a time, shall we? And yes, you are important to me gentle reader.

My lack of faithfulness has resulted from three things: 1) I recently flew from Mexico to Maui, where my dearest and I recently acquired a new home and where, therefore, many boxes required unpacking; 2) Before and after arriving here at the end of July, I focused on reading rather than writing. I finished two of Kerouac’s works, On the Road – the original scroll and Big Sur, the first several chapters of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and am now reading both Steven King’s On Writing and Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote.

To write we must also read. However, the reading is currently overwhelming the writing. The move has a lot to do with this, but I must also state reason number 3, for why there has been little writing: 3) I am basically a very undisciplined and lazy person who currently prefers to cook delicious meals, drink wine and watch television, than get up early and force myself to compose something. As you can imagine this not only hampers the writing, but has expanded my waistline considerably. This just won’t do.

I could also argue that my lack of productivity results from my lacking a place to write that has a door that can be closed against any interruptions or distractions, a condition which Mr. King says is essential if we ever hope to become a productive and successful writer (let’s not get into measures of success just yet, it’s the former that we are most concerned with at this point).

Currently,  (yes I mean at this very moment) I am writing at a plastic fold-out table acquired from CostCo, that chain of warehouse discount stores where things are sold in quantities so great as to cause refrigerator crises of gigantic proportions. Who among you has a fridge with room enough to store three 1 gallon containers of milk, five heads of romaine lettuce, four pounds of Parmesan cheese, three dozen eggs, two whole chickens and a partridge in a pear tree?  The CostCo table rests at the confluence of the living and kitchen areas of our new home and has a view (if I turn my head 90 degrees) of a spectacular, lushly-vegetated canyon that leads to a picturesque ocean bay. 

The reason I have to turn my head 90 degrees  to see the view is because the table is rectangular and this is the only way it fits in the available space, but also because, again according to King, a view is counterproductive to writing productivity. He suggests we are better off writing in a closet (as I do when in Mexico) where distractions are kept to a minimum. For example, even though I am right this minute facing 90 degrees from the spect-damn-tacular view, the multitudinous windows in our new abode make it possible for me to look up and note that it is raining again. You might think rain good for productivity, but in this case you would be wrong…because the sun is also shining. It is raining and sunny out and this is a common, but always interesting fact of living on the island of Maui. It makes me want to run outside and look for the inevitable rainbow. Now that’s a serious distraction. Hold on, I’ll be right back…
Alrighty then, the rainbow has been appreciated and photos taken, back to the task at hand.

So the point is this, I’ve moved and I’m trying to get back into the groove of writing every day despite the multitudinous distractions that living in a new place, particularly a gorgeous place like Maui, represents. Yes, this entire blog is one great big excuse.

The Gutenberg Project is an online repository of classic literature available to you the reader for FREE! Check it out.