Repurposing Plastic Trash

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CSUMB ’14 – Environmental Studies

We did it! Congratulations to the class of 2014! Now this post isn’t about all of our achievements, but instead the “green” achievements of California State University Monterey Bay. I am beyond proud of my school and their constant attempt to be a more environmentally friendly campus. Yesterday at graduation, all of the graduates sported gowns made of recycled plastic bottles – also known as “Repreve” (material made from recyclable materials). It takes approximately 29 plastic bottles to make these graduation gowns, according to Herff Jones – the gown’s producers. In 2012 alone, United States’ production of Repreve had reclaimed over 410 million recycled plastic bottles! That’s a lot of plastic waste!

Repurposing our plastic trash is a great way to reduce the amount of plastic pollution that enters our oceans each year. Plastic bags, bottles, and packaging can all be reused as long as your willing to get in touch with your creative side. While doing a quick search on the internet for repurposing ideas, I found several neat items made from plastic trash. These items include: furniture, pieces of art, purses, shoes, articles of clothing, woven baskets, even a homemade sprinkler! Even if you lack this creative style, you can simply reuse your plastic bags or bottles in their simplest form. For example, some of my friends like to keep all of their plastic shopping bags and use them as trash bin liners. Also, by thoroughly washing your plastic items, you could reuse them several times before properly disposing of them; such as plastic Ziploc bags. So before you go tossing all of your used items in the trash, stop to think about how you could possibly reuse the product. Many people forget the 3rd “R” in Surfrider’s slogan: Refuse, Reduce, REUSE, recycle! If we all take the time to reduce the amount of trash that enters our oceans and landfills and find ways to reuse these items, we could further protect the environment from harm.

The Importance of Plastics

When discussing the dangers of marine plastic pollution it is hard to remember how important of a role plastics play in our everyday lives. Throughout my college career I have focused a majority of my research on marine plastic pollution. However, it wasn’t until this past semester that I really took the time to look at how often we depend on plastic products. Plastic is all around us. We depend on it for our health and well-being, mode of transportation, ability to communicate, and entertainment purposes. Syringes, stethoscopes, PVC pipes, car parts, cell phones, TVs, and sports equipment are amongst the vast amount of plastic products that we come in contact with regularly. Not only do plastics provide us with vital objects, they also benefit our nation economically. The plastics industry provides around 900,000 American with jobs and contributes around $373 billion annually to our economy.

Large-scale production of plastic materials began after the end of World War II, in the 1940’s. Back then our nation was short on metal materials, bringing plastics into high demand at an affordable price. This affordable price was hard to beat, allowing production companies to cut down on more traditional materials such as wood, metal, paper, glass, etc. What has always amazed me about plastic is how durable yet flexible of a product it creates. This is where plastic becomes deadly; this durability ensures that it won’t be broken down in our environment. If plastic were biodegradable, I feel we would have a more positive outlook on its widespread use in our nation. In my lifetime, I hope to see the evolution of plastic instead of seeing the extinction of plastic.

However, until plastic is biodegradable and less toxic to our environment I will be seeking alternatives. There are many different types of alternatives to plastics in our world. These alternatives may be more costly and time consuming to find, but it is definitely worth it!

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch & Captain Charles Moore

The Great Pacific Garbage is located within the North Pacific Gyre. This gyre is formed by differential currents in the ocean, causing a whirlpool like system. It is within this gyre that plastic pollution (specifically microplastic pieces) collect. There is a common misconception about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, many believe that it is an actual island of floating trash. Captain Charles Moore and the Algalita Marine Research Foundation have spent time studying this area (pictured above) and have revealed that this area is actually made up of a soupy consistency of small plastic pieces. In order to study this area, Capt. Moore uses a device called a manta trawl. This trawl skims the surface of the water as his boat travels through, collecting any organisms or plastic materials that float along the surface. Within this area, they determined that there is six times more plastic pieces than plankton. With this fact comes an alarming truth, in order to remove these pieces you would have to remove the plankton dispersed amongst them, which could be extremely damaging to the surrounding ecosystem. This is one of the main reasons why an effective cleanup method has yet to be determined.

This information is another great reminder why it is important to address the issue of marine plastic pollution at the source by reducing our plastic use on land. If we reduce our plastic consumption we can prevent an increase in plastic pollution within the North Pacific Gyre.

Since founding the Algalita Marine Research Institute, Captain Charles Moore has made it is life goal to spread awareness about plastic debris and pollution in our ocean. I am ready to make a difference as well, are you?

For more information about Captain Moore’s studies visit: http://www.algalita.org/index.php

Plastic Ingestion

Plastic ingestion occurs commonly in marine environments that are polluted with plastic products. Within these environments, many marine organisms mistake these plastic pieces for their common food source (such as plankton or jellyfish). When these organisms ingest plastic pieces they begin to build up and cause blockages in their digestive systems, often leading to death. These plastic pieces not only build up in their digestive systems, but they also leech harmful chemicals into their fats. Because we depend on fish as a vital part of our diets, this is an alarming fact that we can’t avoid. When we consume fish that have ingested plastic, we are exposing ourselves to the chemicals that store within their fats. As we continue to allow plastic pollution into our oceans, we are continuing to add to the probability of exposing ourselves to harmful chemicals. However, many feel that removing plastic products from their daily routines would be very difficult. If we begin to realize that we are not only having a large impact on the environment, but on our health as well maybe we can see the importance of cutting down on these unnecessary products. I plan to incorporate these facts into my curriculum when presenting to classes in my area, for my capstone project. For this project, I will also be promoting Surfrider’s Rise Above Plastics Program. This program’s mission is to reduce the impacts of plastics in the marine environments by raising the awareness about the dangers of plastic pollution and by advocating for a reduction of single-use plastics and recycling of plastics all together. There is a common misconception that recycling our plastic products is all that we have to do to protect our environment, however it is important that we take the time to think about where our plastic products go when we recycle them. Not all trash makes its way to the recycling center. Often plastic products blow away from trash bins or transportation trucks, eventually ending up in our watersheds. If we vow to cut down on plastic products all together, we are dealing with the issue of plastic pollution at the source.

I vow to cut down on my dependence on single use plastic products, do you?

International Coastal Cleanup Day – September 21, 2013

IMG_7458Last month I was able to participate in International Coastal Cleanup Day with Surfrider Foundation – Monterey Chapter. It is so inspiring to see the community get together to better our environment. Although this is always a fun activity to be involved in, it is still heartbreaking to see how much trash accumulates on our beaches. It makes me wonder, when will this stop? I can’t seem to grasp how we, as humans, can be so careless about our natural environments. However, this event always pushes me to work harder to protect the environment; through school, through my personal life, and my career. Through working with Surfrider I have learned about the dangers of allowing plastics into our oceans. Beach cleanups help to try and eliminate this problem at the last possible stop, the beach. Once the trash is within reach of the tides it gets washed away into the ocean. In the ocean, plastics photodegrade (break into smaller pieces) and are mistaken for food, often with fatal results. This alarming reality is why I choose to dedicate my time to living as plastic-free of a life as I can, and you should too! The marine organisms that come in contact with these small pieces can not determine whether it is plastic or food. It is our job to make sure that our trash does not enter the oceans in the first place so we can ensure that their ecosystems are free of pollution. Although we can try to as much as we can in our communities, it is important that we recognize this is a global issue. Many countries do not have advanced waste disposal processes like the United States. In the U.S. we are very lucky to have such advances, therefore with this knowledge we can educate other countries about the importance of properly disposing of our trash. I plan on working towards this goal. Starting here in the United States, I will work to educate our youth (as my Capstone project) about the importance of Rising Above Plastics. I can’t wait to get started!