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Editorial:

Plastic harms marine life

April 10, 2010

What is your plastic footprint?

That question was posed by Charles Moore, a noted environmentalist who spoke recently at Orange Coast College about the tons of plastic trash floating and harming life in the Pacific Ocean. Moore, an avid boater, has been crusading against the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

It’s scary stuff.

Plastic in the water is harming marine life that mistakenly feeds on debris, or uses it as shelter, disrupting the food chain. Dead albatrosses, fish and mammals are being found with plastic caps, bags, wrappers and other byproducts of consumerism inside their carcasses. In some parts of the world, much of what passes for beach “sand” is actually composed of plastic bits.

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Why is this happening? Because consumers buy too much, litter or fail to recycle. Moore likened what is swirling in the Pacific to a “toilet that doesn’t flush.” The metaphor is as appropriate as it is alarming. And what is perhaps more frightening for those of us who live close to the Pacific, is that the international community is doing little about this ocean-sized challenge.

Even though world leaders have the luxury of playing dumb, each of us can have a small impact on the problem. We can minimize our use of plastic and avoid products that cannot be recycled, by checking the numbers on bottles and containers to see if they match what our cities and area recycling centers will accept. We can “pre-cycle” by selecting packaged foods that, instead of plastic, come in cardboard containers.

We can ditch the plastic water bottles for reusable beverage containers. We can seek out wooden toys for kids. We can take canvas bags to the grocery store. We can stop lining our pails with plastic garbage bags. We can avoid plastic utensils.

Look, we know it’s hard. Plastic makes our lives easier, too, and we are guilty of using too much of it, but the situation in the Pacific illustrates that marine life is dying for our convenience.

Thanks to Moore’s speech, we realize that our plastic footprint is too wide. How big is yours?


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