10 Oct 2009
Americans, and the world at large, create astonishing amounts of garbage each year. Over twenty-one million plastic bags, and thirty six billion aluminum cans fill our landfills every year (5). Only a small portion of what we use actually gets recycled. This trash is not only dangerous to us, in terms of water and air pollution, but it is also dangerous to many forms of sea life who mistake the trash for food. It is vital to the planet’s health that we not only find ways to reduce the amount of trash we create, but that we find ways to recycle what we use.
First, the problem that is plaguing our oceans.
On September 15th, 2007, 378,000 volunteers across 76 countries cleaned up over six million pounds of garbage from their respective countries’ coastlines. (Sherwood) New Jersey, a small state with only 127 (“Hangout nj”) miles of coastline, cleaned up over 580,000 plastic bags and 1.2 million bottles and cans, and it is estimated that the trash that lines our beaches every year is only a small fraction of the garbage that resides in the oceans.
Aside from being a total eyesore and deterrent for tourism (Ballance, Ryan and Turpie) trash along the beaches is dangerous to sea birds who may pick up bottle caps thinking they’re food, causing problems. Plastic bags in the ocean can decay into toxic, tiny plastic pieces, or be confused by some forms of sea life for food. Sea turtles, for example. will confuse plastic bags for jellyfish and die from either choking or having their digestive tracts clogged.
The most dangerous item, however, is derelict fishing gear (4), which accounts for 72% of all entanglements of sea life. Discarded fishing gear can entangle dolphins and cause them to drown or become overburdened with having to tow the extra weight around.
Fortunately, the Ocean Conservancy is an organization dedicated to conserving the world’s oceans. They host an annual, worldwide beach cleanup where volunteers clean up beaches and local waterways of garbage and other debris. In addition, the results of the cleanup are published in an effort to further educate the world on how we are polluting the ocean, and how we may stop, or slow the process. The publications of these results show what types of trash are polluting the world’s oceans, and has affected policies all the way from the local level to the global.
The Ocean Conservancy group’s beach cleanup is very organized, with them overseeing the cleanup on a broad level while zone captains oversee the cleanup within the scope of cities or countries, and site captains oversee the cleanup of an individual site. While the annual cleanup day is the third Saturday of September, it is possible to hold a clean up on any day in September or October to account for scheduling conflicts, weather conditions or religious ceremonies.
The more people that volunteer for the worldwide beach cleanup every year, the less the burden will be of cleaning up our world’s waterways and recording the findings.
Simply cleaning up the world’s beaches will not save the world, however. it is important that we reduce and reuse what we use. Both can be done on a local level, and while not everything can be recycled easily, such as plastic bags, some things can, such as aluminum cans. It takes 95% less energy to recycle an aluminum can than it does to make a new one (“College of Arts and Sciences & Conservatory of Music – Oberlin College”)
Since it is not economically feasible to recycle plastic bags it is better that reusable bags be used instead. While reusable bags cost money up front, they are durable and strong, and can pay for themselves in the long-run if a company offers a credit on each bag used.
Not using plastic bags will go a long way, since plastic is made from petroleum, and the production processes used requires non-reusable materials, but why stop there?
Production of electricity accounts for 40% of America’s carbon emissions (“College of Arts and Sciences & Conservatory of Music – Oberlin College”) Heating and cooling of water consume signigicant amounts of energy. High-efficiency toilets use less than 1.3 gallons of water per flush, while older toilets may use as much as 3.5 to 7 gallons, and older washing machines may use as much as 41 gallons per load, whereas newer machines may use as little as 28 gallons. Replacing appliances that use more water with ones that use less can lead to significant savings in energy and cost. Less energy consumption will reduce emissions from power plants and help the planet.
Because, to save the world, this is what needs to be done. It will not simply be enough to use the resources more efficiently, they must also be replenishable so that they do not run out.
Sherwood, Rena. “Six Million Pounds of Trash On Beaches.”
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Ocean Conservancy Group, Web. 9 Oct 2009. <http://www.oceanconservancy.org/site/PageServer?
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Mar 2009. Oberlin College, Web. 9 Oct 2009. <http://www.oberlin.edu/recycle/facts.html>.