Editorial: Keep our waters clean
Once upon a time, a soft drink bottle nestled comfortably on the grocery shelf with its littermates, yoked at the neck with plastic rings, clean and shining with pride at the delicious contents inside.
Some of its colleagues had good treatment. Their contents were consumed, and the bottles found their way through recycling back to a manufacturer for reincarnation.
But for a significant and sorry large portion of these bottles, they found themselves forever buried under tons of reeking garbage, or even worse, tossed out a car window into a ditch.
Such a lonely bottle is pictured here. It has made its way down a ditch, aided by spring rains, and into a local waterway. Today, it nestles at the marsh’s edge. Tomorrow, it may be carried by tides into the rivers and bays of Tidewater Virginia, and then downstream into the Atlantic Ocean.
Sadly, it may be doomed to float on its own forever. A propeller may gash it, and it could sink, trapping small crabs and fish that grow too large to escape. Or it may follow the currents into the Pacific Ocean, there to join fields of plastic whose scopes have astounded scientific minds and travelers.
Now, if anyone reading this considers it to be much ado about nothing, read the following facts about marine debris sent at our request by Katherine Weiler of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:
Marine debris is a problem in oceans, coasts, and watersheds throughout the world. It negatively impacts marine ecosystems, wildlife, human health and safety, and the economy.
Most marine debris comes from a variety of human activities on land or at sea. The National Marine Debris Monitoring Program, a five-year study funded by EPA to collect marine debris from beaches around the country, determined that 80 percent of marine debris comes from land-based sources (e.g., landfills, stormwater discharge, litter). The study also found plastic straws, plastic bottles, plastic bags, metal beverage cans and balloons to be the most abundant types of marine debris littering our coasts.
Over the past 25 years, the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, partially funded by EPA, has removed over 160 million items of trash (equaling 144.6 million pounds) worldwide during their annual cleanup events, with nearly 90 percent of it being attributed to shoreline and recreational activities (i.e., plastic bags, beverage cans, food wrappers/containers, caps/lids), smoking-related activities (cigarettes, cigarette filters, cigarette lighters), and medical/personal hygiene items (condoms, diapers, syringes, tampons)—all land-based sources of marine debris. This figure includes 9.6 million plastic beverage bottles, as well as an astounding 52.9 million cigarettes and cigarette filters which would fill 100 Olympic-size swimming pools! (Source: 2011 ICC Report)
The "garbage patch," as referred to in the media, is an area of marine debris concentration in the North Pacific Ocean. The name "garbage patch" is a bit of a misnomer. As far as we know, there is no island of trash forming in the middle of the ocean nor is there a blanket of trash that can be seen with satellite or aerial photographs.
The Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch is one area of debris accumulation, located in an area midway between Hawaii and California within the North Pacific Subtropical High. The Western Pacific Garbage Patch is a small "recirculation gyre" south of the Kuroshio current, off the coast of Japan that may concentrate floating marine debris.
The "patches" are not the only open ocean areas where marine debris is concentrated. Another important area is the North Pacific is the Subtropical Convergence Zone (STCZ). This area, located north of the Hawaiian archipelago, has a high abundance of marine life, is a known area of marine debris concentration, and is one of the mechanisms for accumulation of debris in the Hawaiian Islands.
At this time, there is really no accurate estimate on the size or mass of the "garbage patch" or any other concentrations of marine debris in the open ocean because the "patches" do not have distinct boundaries and it is very difficult to obtain accurate size and weight measurements.
Our lost lonesome bottle pictured above could thus one day be part of a floating garbage heap, or some other destination where it serves no purpose and could do harm.
Reduce. Reuse. And Recycle. That’s the best destination for a used plastic bottle and all of the other containers that hold the foods and beverages that Americans love to consume. Let them have another chance at serving the public.