SO you bought an EV, take the bus whenever possible, use low-watt lightbulbs, low-flow toilets, and avoided lead paint by painting your kid’s room in henna-tattoo brown. Hell, you even recycled your old Macbook Pro.
You are the model millennium woke adult.
So, if you are such a solid citizen then why do you hate Sea Turtles?
You don’t? You sure about that princess? Because I am going to make you feel terrible about yourself in the next couple thousand words and there isnt a god damned thing you can do about it but read all the way until the end where I offer solutions (baby steps) to bring you back to the Good Guys Team.
Daring your readers to stop reading isn’t very smart.
When I decided to write a piece on one of the worst global problems facing earth I didn’t realize it was going to be so UN-sexy.
Due to the aforementioned “UN-sexiness”, I’m going to try and help you get through this. Let’s break this into three parts:
- The Problem.
2. A simple test to show you and your family how big a problem this is.
3. A few small changes that will help going forward. Most of which will be completely obvious by the time you finished the aforementioned test.
I know I’m sorta ‘tongue and cheek’ thus far, but this is comparable in severity to Global Warming. When Global Warming gets bad you move away from the Ocean and maybe to Canada. But what if Canada is literally covered in a foot deep of Mars bar wrappers and old laundry detergent bottles? What then?
Plastic is not biodegradable. (They have ‘degradable plastic’, but that’s actually worse — I’ll come back to it — stay focused) When something doesn’t degrade it stays in its original form. Of the 8.5 billion tons of plastic humans have produced only 9% has been recycled. Its also estimated 60% has been thrown away or discarded.
A LITTLE CONTEXT TO SHOW HOW MUCH OF THIS SHIT WE CREATED THAT DOESN’T GO AWAY.
If you have 1 ton of gravel (far heavier and denser than plastic) it will cover 20 (or so) cubic square feet. That means it’s a foot deep and 20 feet (square) across.
Divide that by 8 billion (how many tons of plastic we have created) and that gives you 160000000000 cubic feet of gravel.
Or this translates to 5739 square miles of gravel.
Manhatten Island is 22 square miles.
Rhode Island is 1,214 square miles.
Connecticut 4,845 Square miles
New Jersey is 7,419 square miles
Humans have created an eternal substance that could almost cover New Jersey a foot deep if it had a weight density of gravel.
However, plastic does not have the weight density of gravel, does it?
Weight density of gravel,
The density of typical gravel is 105 lb/ft3 (1680 kg/m3). This corresponds to gravel with average-sized pebbles and is the number used in the calculator.
What if we went apples for apples? Let’s see how much of the earth’s surface (the already created) plastic would cover if we adjust for the weight of plastic, vs. gravel.
Weight density of plastic (avg.)
The mass of the piece of plastic = density × volume = 1.18 g/cm3 × 50.0 cm3 = 59 g = 0.059 kg. (0.1301 lb)
So adjusted for weight density,
5739 x 807 = 4631373
Humans have created 4,631,373 square miles of plastic 1 foot deep.
Canada (2nd largest country by landmass) is 3,855,101 square miles.
Russia is the only country on earth that we could not submerge in a foot of plastic and that is with the 9% we recycled portion omitted.
OK, where is this “country of plastic” if it’s real?
From this point forward I’m using government data and parts overlap, I didn’t spend the last 40 years weighing straws I found in the gutter, so I am doing the best I can with verifiable numbers. Normally I weave in my sources, but this’ll become Wikipedia if I do that here. If you feel like digging for yourself, https://slideplayer.com/slide/5919146/ and Pewtrusts.org are very informative.
We already established less than 10% has actually been recycled, but that’s ever. It’s 2022, we have spent money, subsidized, we have to have recycled more than 10% by now right?
Yes, around 50% is picked up for recycling. However, there are many types of plastic, much of which isn’t recyclable and once sorted and dispersed it goes all over the fucking place and you will not believe all the weird and negligent shit we do with it.
As high as 25% is burned. And I’m not talking Sudan or North Korea is burning it to cook llama meat or to stay warm, Sweden (yes, green-ass Sweden) burns a lot of it to help generate electricity. I assume this was a “win-win” about 50 years ago before burning something with less energy density than coal to make electricity was not a really, really bad idea.
To this day Sweden defends their burning plastic to generate electricity, but with the 10’s of millions of dollars they have spent creating the infrastructure what can they do?
As Americans, we don’t have any contact with our garbage. I live in LA, an area with 20 million people and have no clue where the city dump is. That’s basically how the USA is with our plastic garbage.
According to reports between 55% and as high as 79% ends up in landfills……But not really.
Wait, it doesn’t end up in a landfill?
Reports say it ends up in landfills and a lot of it does but an estimated 13 million tons of plastic that “allegedly” ends up in landfills actually ends up the oceans every year.
I haven’t figured out why we do this, but we give (or sell or something) millions of tons of plastic to China and Indo-China each year. Where they burn it, leave it in massive, massive piles, and or just toss it in the ocean.
It sounds like BS, but there is a massive plastic patch between California and Hawaii that is approximately the size of Texas. Why there? Currents and that’s just where it swirls to a stop.
There are massive efforts underway to try and clean it up, but to be honest, what the hell do we do with it once we gather it up? Put it in Elon’s Mars rocket and send it there? Or take it with us, depending on your point of view.
Nothing lasts forever, right?
No, not forever, not until the sun burns out or whatever, but…well… I’ll put it this way; If you lived to 112 years old it would take 4 lifetimes for you to see a plastic breakdown.
That’s every fricking bottle of water, ziplock bag and condom. Actually, some condoms can take up to a 1,000 years to decompose, but I digress.
And if that isn’t depressing enough, realizing this stuff doesn’t go away, some genius created “Degradable” plastic.
Not “Biodegradable” plastic, but “degradable”. So it just falls apart into an infinite number of microscopic, or near-microscopic particles.
Yes, near-microscopic particles you will eat, breathe and injest that will not go away. I don’t want this to be so long that people stop reading, but “Microplastics” are unspeakably horrifying. This is such a problem they have found micro-plastics everywhere on the planet. And I mean EVERYWHERE.
They have found microplastics in almost every fish caught, as well as in a place as remote as Antarctica. Hell, they have found microplastics on the top of Mount Everest.
OK, that’s a lot of information and even with the “cover Canada a foot deep” thing these are just crazy numbers that you have a hard time wrapping your mind around. However, you are reading this on a device made largely of plastic.
PERSONAL PLASTIC TEST
You want to see how much plastic you use? I have created a little test.
Clean out a closet, or cupboard somewhere in your house. You’ll need more space than you think.
For 3 months don’t throw away any plastic.
Obviously don’t keep something like the wrapping you had raw meat in, but otherwise separate every plastic thing you would normally throw away. As you go, separate it into two parts.
Candy wrappers, packaging, caps off toothpaste, broken lighting cables (fuck you Apple for creating the extra waste you do) anything totally useless that is in part or totally made of plastic. A trash bag (paper) is a good way to keep all that together.
Every other normally tossed plastic container, trey, old chopsticks, the cap off a little glass bottle you keep your patchouli oil from the Renaissance Fair in, wash these things out and or run them through the dishwasher (not very eco, but stay with plastic for right now) and organize them next to the bags of plastic in the aforementioned closet.
You may already separate it for recycling, but I’m saying, keep it. There is a difference.
Now I’m doing this for a year, but I’d say 3 months will provide the necessary impact. Although you want to do this correctly to get the most out of it, if you space on an item here or there, it’s fine. I mean, between this and climate change your great, great, great grandkids will be lucky if they have a habitat fit for humans, let alone not living in a small tribe in a cave in Antarctica, so a few to-go containers aren’t going to make this much worse. You are at least reading this so you aren’t Satan, if you do this for three months you are a “plus-human”.
You’ll notice two things almost immediately. One, you don’t have nearly as much garbage. Mine was cut by half. Second, you’ll be amazed how fast your plastic containers, wrapping, Amazon packaging dishwasher liquid bottles, bleach bottles etc, etc, etc pile up.
A way to escape your new depression.
If you care at all about any of this enough to do the test, you’re going to feel really bad and somewhat helpless after.
During the experiment, you’ll begin to see things differently. You’ll look at cream cheese and opt for the one in cardboard over the one in plastic. You’ll near run to anything that is glass over plastic, if for no other reason than to keep your Plastic Mtn you created in the closet under control.
Ease back on the self-loathe, as I have an idea to make a difference starting now.
NOT A SOLUTION, BUT A START
At the end of the three months, (honestly, start once you realize how much plastic you toss out, it’ll take less than a week) you can take the bag of totally useless plastic (not the containers, lids, other things you have piled up) and recycle it.
Unfortunately, recycling isn’t the savior we thought it would be. There are great recycling places that really do what should be done but I’m not a 100% convinced I’ve found one yet. Much of your “recycling” go to southeast Asia and a lot of it ends up in the ocean’s “trash patch”. At least if it’s in a landfill most of it will eventually break down. You know, about the time the Nuclear War Putin seems to want is dissipating enough for us to move back to within a mile of the surface of the earth, but it will eventually.
There is also plastic-eating bacteria/enzymes being mutated to address this problem. I put a good link explaining that below as I could do 1,000 words on that in my sleep and this is already too long.
I would highly suggest looking into the recycling mechanism in your area, a lot of innovative companies are doing good things as well, like turning recycled plastic into a useable lumber substitute. However, at this time I can’t endorse any specific company. Link’s at the bottom.
In a landfill, you’ll never see a turtle die because a 6 pack holder got caught around his neck.
THE “PICK ME UP” PART
So that other pile of stuff you normally would have tossed is actually kinda useful. I initially created a rule, “Nothing goes into the trash without a 2nd use”, but I’ve gotten pretty good at finding uses for most containers and even purchase certain products based on usefulness after 1st use.
I started all this because I eat a lot of yogurt and the plastic tubs filling the trash was killing me. I now have a lot of plastic tubs and I use them constantly. I don’t use Tupperware, I use yogurt tubs, I don’t use mixing bowls — tubs, need to keep all your nails in one place?-tubs, loose change — tubs, painting with a small brush something you don’t need a big roller set up for?-tubs, cocktail shaker — tubs. It’s not environmentally ideal, because I am delaying the inevitable, but the overall exercise really has gotten me to buy less random stuff, pay attention to how something is packaged and I have reduced my trash/landfill footprint considerably.
If you do this it’ll get you to change your habits a little. I’ve reduced consumption by about 20%.
I usually use things until they die. Also, you need to use your brain a little. Don’t use motor oil containers to carry water on a hike. I hope you don’t use a lot of bleach as bleach containers are tricky to find a second use for.
Also, not all plastic is microwavable and others should never store food.
It’s actually a pretty basic 1–7 resin scale and can be found on almost all plastics. There is a chart below and a link with all the answers you may need.
Plastic Food Packaging Symbols: Resin Identification Codes
Plastic packaging containers have a number (1 to 7) on the bottom or side that gives the identification code of the…
Realistically this baby step is not going to get the job done and I know that. However, after the first three months, this is a pretty passive life adjustment. If everyone reduced their plastic intake by 15% (it’s really easy if you do the test) that has a significant knock-on effect.
If as consumers we reduce our plastic purchasing by 15% that is going to reduce sales for companies that are heavy users of plastic by 15% (probably more, in theory), and changing packaging is way cheaper than losing 15% of sales.
This means they are buying 15% less plastic from the companies that manufacture their packaging, and thus 15% less from the Petroleum company that sells them the raw plastic.
You knew plastic is a by-product of refining oil right?
I swore I wasn’t going to tie this back into Satan….er Charles Koch, but I am failing. The evilest man alive today has pushed the use of plastics as hard as anyone. Because Koch Inc makes a shit load of it when refining oil. So by reducing your plastic consumption you are pissing off Koch Industries. That is a win/win.
Plastic-eating bacteria explained
Why haven't plastic-eating bacteria fixed the plastic problem yet?
Scientists from the University of Texas announced they've created a plastic-eating enzyme that could keep billions of…
Plastic as building materials