Sunday, August 9, 2009

The impact of plastics....

Plastic bags are killing us and other living things on this planet.
The plastic bag is an icon of convenience culture and by some estimates the single most ubiquitous consumer item on the face of the Earth, numbering in the trillions. They are made from petroleum or natural gas with all attendant environmental impacts of harvesting fossil fuels. One recent study found that the inks and colorants used on some bags contain lead, a toxin. Every year, Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags after they have been used to transport a prescription home from the drug store or a quart of milk from the grocery store. Its the equivalent of to dumping nearly 12 million barrels of oil.
Only 1% of plastic bags are recycled worldwide - about 2% in the US - and the rest, when discarded, can persist for centuries. They can spend an eternity in landfills, but that is not
always the case. They are so aerodynamic that even when they are disposed of in a trash can, they still blow away and become litter. It as litter that they have their most harmful effect, and this is not about their everyday eyesore effect.
Once aloft, stray bags cartwheel down the street, alight in trees, billow from fences like flags,
clog storm drains, wash in rivers, bays, and even end up in the ocean as they are washed out to sea. Floating bags look all to much like tasty jellyfish to hungry marine critters. Bits of plastic bags have been found in the nests of albatrosses in the remote Midway Islands. According to the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation, more than a million birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die every year from eating or getting entangled in plastic. The conservation group estimates that 50 percent of all marine litter is some form of plastic. There are 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in every square mile of the ocean according to the United Nations Environment Programne. In the Northern Pacific Gyre, a great vortex of ocean currents, there's now a swirling mass of plastic trash about a thousand miles off the coast of California, which spans an area twice the size of Texas, including fragments of plastic bags. Its an endless stream of incessant plastic particles everywhere you look. Fifty or sixty years ago there was no plastic out there. The problem with plastic bags is not just where they end up, but they never seem to end. Plastic doesn't biodegrade. That means unless they have been incinerated -- a noxious proposition -- every plastic bag that you have ever used in your entire life still exists in some form, even fragmented bits, and will long after you die.

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