Posts Tagged ‘ocean’

The Age of Plastic

Plastic, when you really look into it, is terrifying stuff. It is not biodegradable, it is only sort of recyclable, and it’s probably going to be what defines our layer of the geologic timetable.

I just finished reading The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. Fascinating, and somewhat terrifying, read. There are so many things that will rebound without the pressures that humans place on them, but there are other things that we have done that are irreversible. Between nuclear waste and plastic, though, I think plastic is the one that scares me more. I grew up not too far from a nuclear plant. Dad used to say that it was the right place to be. If it went up, we weren’t going to have to worry about the fallout. With nuclear energy, it’s not easy, but you can make sure that you aren’t using energy from it. Plastic really can’t be escaped in the modern world.

It is only a guess, of course, but they are guessing that it will take around 100,000 years for bacteria to learn how to eat plastic. However, that only works if the bacteria can get to it. If it’s far out in the ocean, or submerged in the ocean, or buried in a landfill, it’s a little tough to get to. Compare that to Chernobyl which could be semi-habitable again as early as 2135. Of course, properly disposed of nuclear waste lasts a little longer- weaponized plutonium would take around 250,000 years to no longer produce dangerous radiation.

We’ve all seen those ads of seagulls or turtles being choked by the rings from a six-pack. It’s sad, and true, that a whole lot of plastic- possibly most of it- ends up in the ocean and a lot of it kills the pretty animals. What they don’t use in ads, and is scarier if you think about it, is what happens to that six-pack holder when it starts to wear down into smaller pieces. Eventually wind and waves and sun will degrade the plastic until it’s turned into tiny pieces that krill mistake for plankton. What ocean creatures rely on krill? Almost everything, directly or indirectly. Krill ingesting the plastic gets it started at nearly the bottom of the food chain. Small fish will eat the krill, concentrating the dose. Medium fish will eat the small fish, concentrating it further. It goes on and on until tuna and sword fish are just packed with the stuff. It doesn’t make a sexy PSA, but it’s got to chalk up at least as many deaths as whole six-pack rings.

I also recently watched Addicted to Plastic, which brought up some more interesting points. We’ve all heard of BPA by now. Did you know that we’re also all contaminated with it? Getting rid of your BPA drinking bottles is good, but only to stop adding on to your current chemical load. Another interesting point was that nurdles, those little plastic things that become anything, have a nasty tendency to absorb pollution from their environment. They aren’t small enough for krill to eat, but lots of smaller fish do dine on them. The pollution they absorb is then passed on to the fish to be passed up the food chain. I bet tuna is sounding delicious right now . . .