SWEEP: Garbage patches

Jan. 20, 2013 @ 08:39 AM

RECYCOLOGICAL. Recycling is logical. Recycling is the best thing an individual can do to make a difference in the environment. It’s already easy to do and it’s getting easier because “your tax dollars at work” are improving the systems for recycling every day.

Most of the reasons for recycling have to do with two issues: Resources and Pollution. Obviously, resources are saved when new things are made out of used things. The pollution aspect may be less obvious. You can see trash on the side of the road, and if you work in the trash business you will still see tons of recyclables still going into landfills. Landfills are a kind of intentional pollution. We put stuff in the ground because we haven’t figured out anything better to do with it. That’s bad enough, but the vast majority of stuff that is not recycled ends up in places that few people see.

The world’s largest garbage dump is in the ocean. The tsunami in Japan is bringing lots of junk our way but ocean trash has been a big problem for many years before that disaster. The biggest ocean garbage dump is ONE HUNDRED MILLION TONS of plastic in the north-central Pacific Ocean, twice the size of Texas. Some of it floats, most of it sinks. There is one in every major ocean on the planet, a total of five. Too much plastic is not recycled. It’s thrown “away.” It works its way to the oceans and gets caught in whirlpool-like ocean currents called “gyres.” The result is Garbage Patches, first identified in 1997. They’re growing every day and growing faster than predicted.

THERE IS NO SUCH PLACE AS AWAY. The oceans are big, and the planet is bigger, but they are not infinite. We continue to prove that human activity can have devastating environmental consequences on a global scale.

Plastic does not biodegrade. It PHOTO degrades, which leaves the chemicals they are made of in the environment. There are three phases to this process:

PHASE ONE: It looks very much like it did when we bought it -- the common products of our civilization. Small things are eaten by fish, which die. Larger things sink to the bottom, float around for years or are washed up on beaches.

PHASE TWO: Plastic has been pummeled so long that it turns into particles the size of beans or rice. While still in the water these are eaten by fish even more than in PHASE ONE. When it washes ashore it replaces the sand because it is lighter. There are entire beaches on otherwise pristine islands where there is no sand – it’s all plastic, most notably: the southern beaches of “The Big Island” of Hawaii.

PHASE THREE is after it has photo-degraded. Now it’s a bunch of invisible chemicals like PVC, ABS, Styrene, PCB, Urethane, etc. These are dissolved in the water, mix with chemical pollution like sewage, unregulated factory dumpings, and farm effluent, and affect everything they come in contact with, from poisoning any animal that “breathes” it, to killing coral, and destroying habitat. It’s even bad for boats, especially fiberglass and painted ones.

Every step of the process is bad, but the end result is that the ocean and its food chain are poisoned. Much of the aquatic animals could die and we couldn’t eat any that remained without poisoning ourselves. That’s already happening. I used to eat swordfish. No more. Large tuna is "not recommended" for many people ... if that's the case how can it be good for any of us?

Where does all this stuff come from? Some is thrown into the ocean intentionally. Cruise ships often throw their trash overboard. Factories are built on ships just so they can do the same thing, because there are either no regulations or they are impossible to enforce. Tourists’ trash washes off of popular beaches. And some of it starts right here in Rutherford County. Trash that is thrown on the side of the road and not picked up is carried into creeks, then rivers, and floats its way all the way to the ocean. Yes, it may take a long time but as long as the water flows, so does the trash.

SWEEP (Solid Waste Energy and Environmental Panel) is here to help. We are a group of volunteers within the Solid Waste Department who help the County with recycling issues. We created the Convenience Centers and the Swap Shops. We started systemic recycling in the county schools. And we are here to help you become more aware of the necessity of recycling as an essential part of responsible living in the modern world.

SWEEP meets at noon on the second Friday of every month at GDS (141 Fairgrounds Rd, Spindale.) The public and new members are always welcome!

There is lots of information on Garbage Patches on the internet. Just search “garbage patch.” You will be amazed! You can find SWEEP at www.sweeprecycles.com

Garbage Patches are impossible to clean up. The only solution is to manage the materials on land. You’ve heard it before: Reduce, Reuse, Repair, and Recycle! It’s RECYCOLIGICAL.


David Cameron, SWEEP member for 26 years.