Being conscientious citizens about our trash

Photo by Tyler Meuter

People go about their everyday lives without too much concern about trash. Paper, plastic bottles, take-out containers and various wrappers are thrown out without their temporary owners giving a second thought.

A small percentage makes it to a recycling factory, but what really happens to all the other trash? Does it really vanish when we roll out the garbage can to the curb every Thursday night?

However much we like to believe that our garbage just disappears, if we adhere to our weekly routines of disposing plastic bags filled with the physical-and-plastic records of our week, trash is simply displaced — this is no magic act.

After reading several chapters of “Garbology,” the alarming statistics and detailed accounts of sightings and research was insightful and even shocking, especially the fact that a “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” a massive, swirling conglomeration of garbage of various sizes, exists. This churning vortex of trash has the potential to seriously damage countless ecosystems and environments, including the environments of humans.

The substance that is and will be the source of such damage is plastic, particularly in its smallest, physical form. These particles form as a result of the rough churning of the ocean water in the Pacific and can cause a myriad of problems.

Scientists have discovered that the plastic particles can starve a creature, even if it has a full stomach. Since they are not easily digestible materials, it blocks the digestive tract and slowly kills the organism. This discovery poses great danger in that these particles resemble free-floating plankton that many small predators eat. These plankton doppelgangers, mistakenly consumed by unsuspecting sea creatures, reveal a great threat to the ecosystem involving humans.

Plastic, being an indestructible substance to the digestive tracts of many sea creatures, remains in the tract until another organism consumes it. The new predator then “inherits” the indigestible pieces. As bigger creatures consume smaller creatures, the amount of plastic built up in the tract increases and increases.

If plastic particles continue to exist in the food chain, it won’t be long until the fish we eat and the water we drink will be contaminated by these minute and indigestible particles. What’s worse is that plastic particles can also absorb toxins or pollutants dumped in the water from illegal or accidental disposal.

The main problem causing the buildup is our collective unawareness of where, by what methods, and at what costs trash is disposed after sent to the dump. It’s easy to brush away the thought of the Pacific Ocean becoming into a mush soup of trash because it simply does not directly affect us in our daily lives.

Recently, Obama has signed legislation that bans microbeads, small plastic beads designed for exfoliation, from cosmetic and healthcare products. Recent discoveries have revealed that these plastic beads appear in lakes and rivers as a result of the particles being too small to be filtered out of waterways. The threats to water quality and fish become a reality, which as a result, incites change to stop further damage.

The problem with trash has been an issue for a while, but with the growing population, it has become even more important to develop better ways of disposal and limit the amount that ends up in the ocean. Public awareness is key to instilling change, as seen in Humes’ “Garbology” and people who have advocated for the ban on microbeads.

Unless we want our future to be these slow-killing plastic particles, we must be collectively aware of the situation and contribute as part of the solution, so that what is damaged can be fixed and recovered before it’s too late.