Abundance…at a price.
High season is finally over. Cancun and the Riviera Maya go through this period every year and without fail (thankfully for all of us making a living here), tourists from all over the world, but mostly mexican nationals, come to visit our incredible beaches and vast vacation offer. It’s a time of abundance and work. Unfortunately, it also comes at a price.
A few days ago, I finally returned to the beach which my wife and I love very much. It is located 10 minutes from our home. It was our day off so we decided to go early with our dogs and later on for breakfast at a small local restaurant we like very much.
Having lived in the area for nearly 20 years now, we knew that with our walk, would come the notorious appearance of trash washed up on shore. This has just been so for the amount of time living here.
This season, however, was starkly different.
The amount of plastic objects washed up on shore was more than we had ever found before. Now, I realize that, due to our current jobs, we don’t get out to the beach as much as we should to make a more current reading on just how much more trash and refuse there was this time, in comparison to other visits we had made in the past.
But we did make inquiries to the local life guarding staff and the beach clean up crew. They confirmed that the amount of trash washed up during this 2017 season was alarmingly high. They even showed us what they had recollected that morning.
A midst the plastic bottles and bags and other refuse in general, 2 rubber ducks and one ice hockey glove…whaat? The duckies we could understand as to how they probably got here…but the ice hockey glove?? So I decided to investigate a bit further as to how an ice hockey glove ended on our favorite beach.
And what I found out was pretty frightening.
Hard facts to consider…
More than 300 million tons of plastic are produced around the world each year. 10% of that is only being recycled. Billions of plastic bottles, and trillions (that’s with a “t”) of plastic bags make up literal mountains found in our planet’s largest landfills.
Many of these bottles and bags (10 to 20 million tons, according to a report from the Worldwatch Institute, an independent research institute devoted to the analysis of global environmental concerns) find their way into our world’s oceans.
More alarming facts:
50 billion plastic water bottles are produced in the US alone every year. If you were to stack these bottles end to end, they would stretch the distance from the earth to the moon more than 26 times or wrap around the earth more than 250 times. And nothing seems to be slowing down this plastic binge.
The Big Gyre…in fact there are five.
So how does 3.5 million tons of garbage (80% being plastic) end up floating lazily around our wold’s oceans and where does it all end up eventually? Have a look at this amazing GIF taken from the scientific website plasticadrift.org.
Consider one of the locations of this natural occurrence: the Pacific Ocean.
Shipping lanes traverse these vast waters and everything, from food to plastic bottles, wrappings, bags, and all kinds of refuse, fall into these waters.
Now imagine a large cargo ship loosing its containers to a storm (not a frequent incident, thank goodness, but it does happen). All those items, including rubber duckies and ice-skate gloves, are lost in the storm and eventually end up in the vast pacific gyre.
They may remain there for years (the pacific gyre completes a rotation every 6.5 years!) until they reach the outer bands of the gyre, where they are snatched by other oceanic currents and eventually end up washed up on many of our world’s beaches.
Such was the case with the refuse we were shown, having washed up somewhere from the deep Atlantic on to our local beach, 10 minutes away from our home.
Ravenous hunger for plastics result in other serious consequences.
It would seem that our endless hunger for plastics would only be harmful for our ocean’s health. If only that were true.
Unfortunately, life, from microscopic scale, up to the largest species in the world, are being affected directly from our indiscriminate consumption of plastics.
At the microscopic level, the use of cosmetics and cleaning products have also had an adverse effect. They are made up of micro-plastics (tiny beads of plastic which are added to improve their abrasiveness). These micro-plastics end up being flushed down drains.
They are so small that modern sewage systems are unable to remove them from drain tubing. Instead, they flow out and end up in shallow waters, mostly on the surface, where they collect contaminants which affect the planktonic food chain.
According to another report from Worldwatch Institute (2015):
“Approximately 10 to 20 million tons (9.1 to 18.1 million metric tons [mt]) of plastic ends up in the oceans each year. A recent study conservatively estimated that 5.25 trillion plastic particles weighing a total of 268,940 tons (243,978 mt) are currently floating in the world’s oceans. This plastic debris results in an estimated $13 billion a year in losses from damage to marine ecosystems, including financial losses to fisheries and tourism, as well as time spent cleaning beaches.”
Other ways plastics threaten our ocean’s wildlife, such as seabirds, sea lions, whales, fish and dolphins, is through entanglement in plastic matter such as netting, ropes and packaging materials.
Also, the micro particles and microbes adhere to floating debris which can enter local ecosystems, damaging wild life in non-native regions.
So what can we do?…really.
Restrain our unnecessary use of plastic bags and increase our efforts at recycling…really.
Easier said than done. I myself have tried to commit to a serious recycling effort, but have fallen short. After this article, however, I found that there is not turning back.
The numbers are staggering and its not getting any better.
We must commit, in heart and soul, to reduce our plastic footprint and do all we can to acquire a recycling culture, not as a fad or trend, but as a lifestyle.
Do you have a recycling program where you live? More importantly, are you actively finding ways to be informed and aware of how to help our oceans’ evironments? Please leave your comments here. I will be happy to follow up on them and thank you for reading my post!