Complicated Plastic

We love it.
We hate it.
We need it.
We eschew it.
It was first invented to help us.
To help mankind to hold things, preserve things, carry things.
In fact British scientist Alexander Parkes won a bronze metal back in 1862 at the International Exhibition in London, when he developed Parkesine, the first man-made plastic.
But now, more than a century and a half later, it has become one of the most controversial inventions on the planet.
We are now finding it in the oceans, reportedly in more quantities than there is marine life.
Along once pristine and uninhabited island beaches.
Midway Island Atoll for one, in the middle of nowhere.
Situated in the North Pacific Ocean halfway between North America and Asia.
The Atoll is home to the Battle of Midway National Memorial, a tribute to one of the most decisive battles of World War II.
It is also home to the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, the world’s largest albatross colony, and other wonders including sea turtles, dolphins, seals and fish.
However, even though it is such a remote location, some 20 tons of plastic washes up on the islands each year.
Destroying the sensitive ecosystem, killing these beautiful iconic birds and polluting the otherwise pristing paradise.
Midway has become the unwitting recipient of a large amount of what has become known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
A collection of trash which includes about 80,000 metric tons of plastic.
A horrific thought and image, especially to the sea creatures which use that region as a migration corridor.
A whale was recently discovered with 88 pounds of plastic in its stomach.
We have created a monster.
Sure, we are trying to curb our insatiable desire for plastic.
Some areas of the world have banned plastic bags, straws and water bottles.
Which is commendable.
But it still amazes me how much there is.
We bring home groceries packaged in plastic, and then store leftovers in plastic containers in the fridge.
We need that plastic to help us prevent waste.
Ironic, to be sure.
We can recycle plastic in our blue boxes which pick it up at our curbside, which is also commendable.
We have created some biodegradable plastics.
So when we put our organic compost into a biodegradable plastic bag, it is supposed to break down more quickly and become one with the earth.
But what is the answer?
I don’t know that there is one.
Our love affair with plastic is endless.
We still need it.
We can’t replace everything with glass or stone.
We are taking baby steps, however.
We can perhaps also start by not dumping our garbage into the oceans in the first place.
Large landfill sites may not be the answer either – but it is, in my view, a lot better than dumping garbage into the ocean.
And let’s hurry on with the discovery of more biodegradable plastics that break down into safe particles that can be re-aborbed by the earth.
We can send a man to the moon and beyond.
Let’s clean up our own back yard and rid it of harmful plastics now and once and for all.
Home fires first.


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