Garbology

In honor of today being about wildlife conservation for Green Week, I was really interested by the Nerds vs. Nurdles chapter. From the book and the information at the Green Week tabling, I learned that garbage in the oceans is not how we picture it. Yes, the garbage can be in the form of large or whole pieces of trash, but it can typically be found in small bits or micro plastics. Micro-plastics are small plastic particles that are less than 5 mm in size.

In the book, they used the specific example of the Pacific Garbage Patch. It did not have large debris, but was spread throughout 1,200 miles of the ocean was small plastic bits. There was even small plastic bits visible through jellyfishes transparent body! It is crazy that the United Nations estimates that there is a minimum 7 million tons of trash that ends up in the ocean each year. Why is that? Is it an out of sight out of mind thing? I know in Ohio, we don’t see the ocean too much…so I don’t have as an emotional connection to the ocean as someone who visits or lives near an ocean. It also could be because we don’t experience the direct effects of this amount of garbage in the ocean. We do not care enough that the ocean is being polluted and deteriorated and that effects us negatively in indirect ways. In the book, the bio-magnification was mentioned, which is the cycle of small marine organisms ingesting harmful plastics then they’re eaten by a bigger fish. So the concentration of plastic builds as the larger fish eat the smaller fish. Then those big fish are caught and eaten by humans in some form. This situation parallels factory farming, in which consumers do not know where their food is coming from and do not want to know.

The other chapter I found interesting was “The Trash Trackers”. I found it crazy that retailers and manufacturers have no accountability or management of where their waste goes after creating their products. The people who directly handle waste management truly do not all the dirty details of where their garbage goes. I thought the experiment the MIT scientists performed was awesome and revealed a lot of inefficiencies in our waste system. They put trackers on various pieces of trash like paper, cell phones, hazardous waste, cardboard, old sneaker, plastic, glass, metal etc. Some of the distances certain pieces of trash traveled was astonishing. For example, the old sneaker was transferred 337 miles from Seattle to a landfill in Arlington. A coffee cup took over a week to make it’s way through the city to reach its final location. I admit that I never knew how my trash was taken care of and awareness is definitely key, just like the problems with the food system. Especially for recycling, we think it’s so much better for the environment to recycle. However if it travels an abundance of miles just to get to a recycling center, then tons of fuel and energy were used just to transport it. So it is negatively impacting other areas. Would people feel guilty if they saw how much trash they produced and then saw where it ended up? I think awareness and education on reducing waste is essential.

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