Wednesday July 17, 2024

Beyond plastic

By Robert Koehler
September 05, 2020

Plastics is everywhere … not just in grocery store aisles and department stores and every other commercial outlet you can think of, not to mention your own cupboards and closets and trashcans, but on the grass and on the sidewalks, in the landfills, in the lakes and rivers, in the oceans. And it doesn’t go away. Ever.

You know, it doesn’t biodegrade. And “the vast majority of all plastic made up to now, will likely not be recycled,” Zoë Schlanger writes at Quartz. “And it will exist virtually forever, crumbling into microplastics that show up most everywhere scientists look for them.”

That would include, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch: “a gyre of plastic debris in the north-central Pacific Ocean” about double the size of Texas. And even that’s just a small part of it: “At current rates plastic is expected to outweigh all the fish in the sea by 2050.

Plastics pollution has a direct and deadly effect on wildlife. Thousands of seabirds and sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals are killed each year after ingesting plastic or getting entangled in it. . . .

“Dead seabirds are often found with stomachs full of plastic… Dead whales have been found with bellies full of plastic.”

And, oh yeah: “In the first decade of this century, we made more plastic than all the plastic in history up to the year 2000. And every year, billions of pounds of more plastic end up in the world’s oceans. Studies estimate there are now 15-51 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans – from the equator to the poles, from Arctic ice sheets to the sea floor. Not one square mile of surface ocean anywhere on earth is free of plastic pollution.”

All of which sets the context for another piece of news. Big Oil, you might say, has become the new Benjamin Braddock. I refer, of course, to that iconic moment in the 1967 movie The Graduate, in which Dustin Hoffman’s character, a recent college graduate, gets a shocking poke of career advice from an older guy: “Plastics!”

The sarcastic humor of this iconic anti-establishment movie at the dawn of the late ’60s has, you might say, biodegraded somewhat more than the actual subject of the sarcasm. Plastic is too all-pervasive now to be as funny as it used to be. It’s simply part of life – not just our lives but the lives of every being on the planet. All of which sets the context for a recent bit of news, which has pulled my attention beyond the simmering social issues of the day, including the violence and racism that seem so impervious to change. Suddenly I find myself in a state of gasping incredulity that our long-term future seems to matter far less than short-term profit for some.

Excerpted from: ‘Is There Life Beyond Plastic?’