Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Plastic Wasteland

Last week, an endangered 45-foot sei whale made the local news. Unfortunately, it was not good news. Several days after the New York Times had published an article titled, "Choking the Oceans with Plastic," this sei whale was discovered to have a 3"x5" broken plastic DVD case lodged in its stomach (find that article here). 

(photo credit: Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center)

The female sei whale was thin and there was no food found in her stomach. To think that a 45-foot behemoth beauty such as this could be brought down by such a small bit of plastic! It is no stretch of the imagination to think of the detriment to other species in an ocean plagued by plastic covering 40% of its surface, or 25% of the entire earth.

(photo credit: strangesounds.org)

As of yet, there is no viable solution to clearing these giant plastic garbage gyres covering our oceans. The best solution still remains prevention. People must understand that their garbage and trash must go somewhere, and too often, that somewhere is into the water, through their storm drain (either blowing there or washing there by water), by blowing or washing directly to roadside waterways, or from beaches. (I remain amazed by the number of solo cups and cigarette butts I routinely find scattered on my morning beach walks!) 

(photo credit: motherjones.com)

Unfortunately, some of the trash we find strewn about may be entirely unintentional, escaping from tipped trash cans, overflowing trash trucks, and unsealed garbage bags. Therefore, the most important form of prevention is avoiding all this waste in the first place. "Refuse" is rapidly gaining acceptance as the "4th R"-- "Refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle." Do not accept excess disposable materials in the first place by using reusable bags (for produce and bulk food as well as bagging your groceries), bottles, and containers. (Most restaurants will even use your container for leftovers, if you bring one, avoiding styrofoam and plastic waste!). Get creative, and you'd be amazed how much extra trash you can prevent from ever entering the system. 

(photo credit: sustainableisgood.com)

When having items shipped, or purchasing new items from the store, provide feedback to the shipper or manufacturer regarding their packaging. Following public outcry regarding excessive shipping waste (example above), Amazon.com now requests packaging feedback.

Of course, for the trash that does escape or end up in our waterways, Lynnhaven River Now conducts monthly river cleanups (2nd Saturday of most months) at various locations in the watershed. Find more information about getting involved in an upcoming cleanup on our website-- lrnow.org or hold your own cleanup!

Please share your ideas for reducing waste in the comments!

Posted by Trista Imrich

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