Riding the waves and spouting full force, a pod of slender black and white orca whales are in pursuit of the season’s salmon.
These were my days spent as a whale researcher in Puget Sound back in 2002. Our research topic: killer whale behavior.
During my first months as a researcher I soon came to realize that the animal I had come to adore, a totemic species in the Pacific Northwest, was deeply threatened by a silent, stealthier killer. A killer that disintegrates and seeps under your skin, accumulates on micro levels and is just simply impossible to get rid of: PLASTIC.
To us Westerners living in a consumerist society plastic has become a commodity, a necessity, a way of living, perhaps saving lives in the form of plastic syringes but also bringing luxury in the form of stylized computers. For marine animals and the ocean, however, plastic has turned into a nightmare. Turtles ingest plastic bags mistaking them for jellyfish, dolphins get entangled in fishing nets and birds swallow pellets formed by plastic debris floating in the ocean.
It’s a big world out there
One may ask where all this plastic goes. Surely my plastic bottle must be recycled and transformed into a new one. If not, the world is big enough to handle a few extra billion tons of plastic waste each year.
This could not be further from the truth. Tragically, in the U.S., only 20% of plastic bottles that are thrown away get recycled. The other 80% gets dumped into landfills or reaches the ocean. Most of our waste today is made up of plastic. Plastic, which is made from petroleum, takes centuries to degrade. In fact, “every bit of plastic that has ever been created still exists, except for a small amount that has been incinerated, is releasing toxic chemicals”.
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The Pacific Ocean is now famous for its infamous “Pacific Garbage Patch”, a swirling vortex of plastic debris and trash twice the size of Texas – the biggest landfill in the world.
The Atlantic Ocean is forming a patch of its own, as is the Indian Ocean. What is even more alarming is that plastic disintegrates, breaking down into smaller particles (polymers) yet never fully biodegrading, the process by which material decays and is absorbed back into the environment. What this means, literally, is that our oceans are turning into plastic.
It’s a small World after all
What will happen to the whale called Killer? Orca whales are now regarded as some of the most toxic animals on Earth due to the rapid accumulation of harmful chemicals into their bodies. The pods in the Pacific Northwest have been put on the endangered species list, but to what avail?
In November 2009, Lonneke Engel, Eyal Amir and myself held a party–Pura Vida– in honor of the oceans and how to lessen our impact on our planet by promoting the use of sustainable, eco-friendly, reusable bottles. Although the subject of plastic, its toxic by-products and how this affects our planet is an extremely complex one to which there are no easy solutions, every action counts and every step is a step in the right direction.
At Organice Your Life we believe change starts at the individual level. It is with this in mind that OYL hopes to inspire you and provide you with the tips and knowledge on how to live a sounder and eco-friendlier life, a life that is better for body and planet.
We hope you enjoy this issue and as Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Kick The Plastic Habit – What can You do!
Refuse & Reduce
- Use an eco-friendly, BPA free, reusable bottle. This is better for your health and friendlier for the environment.
- Ditch the plastic bag: carry an eco-friendly canvas tote with you at all times.
Select fresh, local fruits and vegetables as opposed to pre-packed.
- Prepare your lunch at home with fresh ingredients (not packaged in plastic) and carry it with you in a glass container.
- Stop using plastic cutlery. Use real silverware whenever you can. Keep a few real knives and forks at the office or, when ordering-in, specifically ask not to include paper napkins and plastic silverware.
Re-use & Recycle
- By shopping at eco-friendly stores you support the reuse of plastic and the recycling of waste materials. Examples of such stores: Sustainable NYC (www.sustainablenyc.com) and Freitag online (www.freitag.ch)
- If you have leftover plastic bags bring them to a grocery store that recycles them, such as Whole Foods.
- Support organizations such as the NRDC (www.nrdc.org), Ocean Conservancy (www.oceanconservancy.org) and Greenpeace: Defending our Oceans (www.greenpeace.org)
- Read: “Natural Capitalism” by Paul Hawken
- Watch: “Oceans” narrated by Pierce Brosnan.
- Learn more about the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch on their website and at Project Kaisei.
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Above all, encourage your friends and colleagues to do the same!