Used under license from Shutterstock.com

Used under license from Shutterstock.com

I’m depressed. I just watched another documentary on The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The world is infused with plastic and marinated in toxins. Our oceans, still largely clean, clear and pristine-looking, are actually a vast plastic soup steeped in poisonous chemicals, which are consumed by sea life and then in turn by humans. Serves them right, I think, and mentally kick a PET bottle into the senseless ocean of futility I currently think of as “life”.

Or does it?

I for one never wanted tons of plastic bags and I’m sure many others didn’t either, but they were (and still are) pretty much forced on us. I hate packaging. Hate it. And what’s so frustrating is that as far back as I can remember there have been warnings and information from scientists about pollution due to plastics and chemical waste. It’s come in the form of publicity, posters, commercials seminars, news reports, movies – you name it. I remember magazines, school plays and television programs in the 1970s – that’s over thirty years ago, for God sake! – that dealt with these very issues in serious, apocalyptic terms. And what happened? More packaging, more plastic, more disposables, more chemical waste, solvents and detergents, less environmental responsibility and an almost unfathomable degree of disregard for fellow human beings, animals, plants and the future of our planet.

But a lot of money was made. And I guess that, unfortunately, is what it sometimes comes down to: capitalism. Or at least the brand of capitalism that seems to have won – and won by a landslide: a landslide of trash. Not that the communists, on the other extreme, had a great environmental track record either. The former Soviet Union, Eastern bloc countries and other centrally controlled socialist states didn’t hesitate doing things such as contaminating their water, decimating sturgeon populations and generally making a mess of their ecosystems through wantonly irresponsible industrialization. Not to mention the catastrophes of Chernobyl and the lesser-known Mayak disaster. However, let’s make no mistake, the Garbage Patch and the plastic in the oceans are results of Western-style materialism, consumerism and the convenience and short-term economic advantages of throwaways.

Used under license from Shutterstock.com

Used under license from Shutterstock.com

Some good old-fashioned central control and stiff regulation could prevent and stop businesses from precisely this kind of reckless behavior and its resulting tragedies. But those several countries that still have centrally controlled communist governments aren’t really doing anything to stop it either, are they? China and Vietnam aren’t. In fact, they’re among the nations who manufacture most of the plastic stuff we throw away.

Watching the below documentary was an interesting, yet thoroughly disheartening experience. The VBS reporters, as usual, can’t say two sentences without dropping several “f-bombs” and other assorted words my mother can’t stand. Yet they are nevertheless shining another distinctive light on this important and urgent environmental crisis and they are doing so in the personal – if perhaps self-indulgent – style of Generation Y… or Z… or whatever, dude. Just like, f-n watch it.

TOXIC: Garbage Island

The VBS crew accompanies Captain Charles Moore into the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre in search of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Is there any hope?

 

I think we need a genius to solve this problem. Luckily, nature and nurture periodically provide geniuses (or genii) to dig the rest of us out of the holes we’ve dug with our own greed, complacency and stupidity. This kid may be one of them. His name is Daniel Burd and he’s found a strain of bacteria that likes to eat polyethylene plastic shopping bags. Hopefully it won’t eat my super cool plastic swimsuit collection. Actually, the applications of his work are as of yet unknown, but still: Well done, young man.

Of course some geniuses’ work, no matter how well intentioned, gets used for making bad things, like nuclear bombs for instance. So hopefully any plastic eating microbes wouldn’t cause unforeseen problems, like those mosquito eating fish they introduced into Australia, which promptly killed a bunch of other fish and frogs to extinction. Oh well, you never know till you try.

Additional resources:
Daniel Burd’s project page
Greenpeace article on the Trash Vortex
Article on Oprah and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch from The Huffington Post
Algalita documentary “Plastic Debris, Rivers to Sea”