Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Garbage in . . . garbage out?

(Image from The Independent)

I usually stick to my strengths in the subject matter that I discuss here at Gypsy Scholar, but some news is so astonishing that it simply refuses to be ignored.

Islamism may be a problem that we face, possibly even an existential threat as we move into a near future of readily attainable WMDs, but other problems are equally daunting, such as the growing food crisis in poorer parts of the world as prices currently rise so steeply, but what has really caught my attention these past couple of days is a news report that Sonagi linked to at The Marmot's Hole over the weekend by posing this question:
An Ecological Riddle: What's twice the size of the continental United States and contains 100 million tons of plastic?
That link led to an article by Kathy Marks in The Independent titled "The world's rubbish dump: a garbage tip that stretches from Hawaii to Japan." A "tip" in this British context means "dump," as in "garbage dump." Anyway, Marks writes:
A "plastic soup" of waste floating in the Pacific Ocean is growing at an alarming rate and now covers an area twice the size of the continental United States, scientists have said.

The vast expanse of debris -- in effect the world's largest rubbish dump -- is held in place by swirling underwater currents. This drifting "soup" stretches from about 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast, across the northern Pacific, past Hawaii and almost as far as Japan.
Reflect on that for a moment. Whatever one might think about environmentalism as an ideology -- its tendency to depict apocalyptic scenarios in fearsome, lurid colors -- a 'soup' of plastic twice the size of the United States cannot be a thing to take lightly (assuming that this hasn't been exaggerated, a possibility to keep in mind).

Such debris must be dreadful for animals dependent upon the sea:
According to the UN Environment Programme, plastic debris causes the deaths of more than a million seabirds every year, as well as more than 100,000 marine mammals. Syringes, cigarette lighters and toothbrushes have been found inside the stomachs of dead seabirds, which mistake them for food.
The article does not explicitly state that these birds and mammals regularly encounter the continental-sized mass of floating plastic, but a garbage dump the size of a continent must be difficult to avoid. Even we land-based creatures may face effects from plastic floating in the seas:
Dr Eriksen said the slowly rotating mass of rubbish-laden water poses a risk to human health, too. Hundreds of millions of tiny plastic pellets, or nurdles -- the raw materials for the plastic industry -- are lost or spilled every year, working their way into the sea. These pollutants act as chemical sponges attracting man-made chemicals such as hydrocarbons and the pesticide DDT. They then enter the food chain. "What goes into the ocean goes into these animals and onto your dinner plate. It's that simple," said Dr Eriksen.
That doesn't sound good, and it's a reminder that we do face enormous ecological problems that have to be dealt with. Perhaps some entrepreneurial soul will figure out a use for all that plastic and develop a means of 'mining' it from the seas.

But I won't hold my breath.



At 6:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I once rode as a member of a crew aboard a USS CVA. An aircraft carrier in other words. Mind this was a in another century. However plastic at least in landfills seems to be the most promising resource for future archaeologists. I suspect it may last as long as any future debates as to the "origin myths" for future archaeologists.

Every "four bells" the most deserving among the several divisions comprising the 6000 or so individuals collected the detritus and made their individual ways to a sponson where their collected detritus was heaved into the ocean. Encased of course in heavy guage plastic bags.

It was considered "great sport" because somehow any large sharks that seemed to shadow the carriers knew that the most deserving individuals hurling mostly plastic stuff were likely the likeliest individuals that might forget to time their release of of the aforementioned bags properly, yet were also most deserving to witness large marine carnivores.

While I cannot say that this was a practice carried out on all US Naval vessels-I suspect it was SOP. I do know that this was SOP for at least five decades previous, for CV's and CVA's.

I have heard that the practice is still carried on to some degree and whether Prez Reagan's goal of a 600+ fleet remains "the order of the day" makes your daily posting appropriate.

Whether my comment helps or matters not a whit-I hope it sheds light on my changing perspective toward habit-and threats.

In a very particular way it is far more dangerous than the detritus we leave in orbit.

"Will that be plastic or paper Ma'am, mercury or titanium?"


At 7:29 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, I'm sure that the military ships contributed . . . but twice the size of the US? That's a lot of collateral damage, even for the American military.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

WWII ushered in a newfound compound apart from bakelite. The remaining part of the century witnessed "advances."

Of course the US Navy is not the worst or only contributor to the problem. However it may be the steadiest. First look at the geographical area, take into account the "strategic area of interest", of course factor in cruise ships and fishermen using "bobbers", figure in that six-packs of beer are held together by plastic ringlets. Of course, very often oil tanker crewmen lose their disposable cigarette lighters in areas where the ocean floor is conveniently far from the ocean surface.

Actually I guess, in all fairness, whowever invented, used, then "carelessly" disposed of any plastic is to blame. I of course am the exception.

But in the end, does it matter?


At 10:49 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

No, it doesn't matter, for it's there, waiting for something to be done.

Still, I'd wager that even 50 years of dumping by the US Navy couldn't begin to account for a continent-sized bowl of plastic soup.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, I'm the first to admit when further research leads to other conclusions.

Some high traffic ports in the US as well as Asian nations load a bunch of garbage on barges, skows, et cetera, navigate outside territorial waters and pardon the pun, "take a dump."

NOAA current data as well as stories of "message in a bottle stuff" winds up in unexpected places is kinda confusing. Current data shows that a large bunch of junk gets caught up in "oceanic vortices". Benjamin Franklin produced a map as early as 1764 showing that (Atlantic) currents did produce "flotsam piles."

And of course there's the Mary Celeste, Flying Dutchman, and Flight 19. I realize now that everything I got so worked up about is either Pepsi or Coca Cola attempting to "Deep Six" either or.

Sorry Jeffery, I realize now there's only seaweed and whales in the Pacific. Oh, I hope there might be a few newly discovered petroleum deposits too, so long as they're pretty near Diego Garcia. And they drink Budweiser in bottles.


At 3:40 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sun-Ae and I were just speculating during our coffee break about the likelihood of barges dumping garbage out at sea. There'll be a hell of a price to pay for all of this...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate to have to admit that I sometimes watch "Oprah" but yesterday in my "couch potato mode" I heard the comment that in the US alone-6 billion plastic bottles are thrown away each week.

It was not mentioned as to whether what portion of that makes its' way into the waters your delineated illustrations illustrate. But it might be noted that the GAO has determined that of the 6 to 12 billion dollars spent in Iraq per week by the US-about 20% cannot be accounted for.

D'ya think perhaps the two of us might do a little feasiblity study as to whether we might determine if there is a possiblity that we could obtain a grant to research at what depth we could set our nets to determine whether we might help both the world and perhaps ourselves?

Of course we'd have to study salvage laws 'cause I seem to remember Mel Fisher got into a bit of a bind. And of course we'd need some expert on IRS stuff since I live in the US. But I'm thinking we could do what Big Oil does and establish any "J & J Corporation" offshore then get the US government to subsidize any efforts.

And, we could call it a "Green Business."


At 4:00 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sounds good, JK, but would we get filthy rich through our big clean green machine?

Jeffery Hodges

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