My kids roll their eyes when, in conversation, I ask someone if he or she has read Alan Weisman’s book “The World Without Us.” It’s a fascinating and well-researched book whose chapters each tackle – from a different angle – the question of what would happen to the earth if humankind disappeared tomorrow. And, I suppose, my enthusiasm for the book has at times led me to speak about it frequently enough to elicit the eye-roll from my offspring!
In “Chapter 9: Polymers Are Forever,” Weisman describes the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a 20 million square kilometer area that is home to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a swirling mass of floating refuse mainly comprising plastics. Where does all this plastic come from? Weisman writes, “80 percent of mid-ocean flotsam had originally been discarded on land. It had blown off garbage trucks or out of landfills, spilled from railroad shipping containers and washed down storm drains, sailed down rivers or wafted on the wind, and found its way to this widening gyre.”
Plastic does not biodegrade. National Geographic discusses the dangers to marine life of high concentrations of plastic in the gyre:
“Marine debris can be very harmful to marine life in the gyre. For instance, loggerhead sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellies, their favorite food. Albatrosses mistake plastic resin pellets for fish eggs and feed them to chicks, which die of starvation or ruptured organs… Marine debris can also disturb marine food webs in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. As microplastics and other trash collect on or near the surface of the ocean, they block sunlight from reaching plankton and algae below. Algae and plankton are the most common autotrophs, or producers, in the marine food web. Autotrophs are organisms that can produce their own nutrients from oxygen, carbon, and sunlight.”
So what does all this have to do with this month’s Practical Sustainability column? If you’re been following our monthly column, we try to make simple low-cost recommendations for how you can reduce your environmental impact. It’s springtime, and I’ve seen lots of people walking their dogs in the lovely weather. Our Practical Sustainability recommendation this month is that you consider replacing your plastic pet waste bag with a biodegradable bag that will have a reduced impact on the environment.
Instead of purchasing plastic waste bags or reusing grocery store bags as poop bags, consider taking your grocery store bags to a recycling drop off point (as of March 1, 2015 stores over 10,000 square feet in New York State must accept plastic bags for recycling) and then purchase biodegradable pet waste bags to take with you when you walk your dog. Aquatic animals in the Pacific will thank you!
Now that's what I call Practical Sustainability!