MK 354 Spring 2010

March 29, 2010

Plastic Beaches

“Don’t mess with the Texas.” That was the slogan for a marketing campaign in Texas that was started in 1986. Since then, the phrase has appeared countless bumper stickers, souvenirs, and the crest of the USS Texas submarine. It is one of the few marketing efforts that can be truly considered timeless. But what was the campaign about? Littering. And, mind you, it is one of the most successful anti-littering campaigns to date. So 24 years later, and Texas is a cleaner state, which is great. The only problem is that it doesn’t translate well across the state border, and most of the world is getting consistently more dirty and polluted. I’m not talking about the obvious places (like China, for instance, or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch), but places like England are being hit hard by humanity’s discharge.  A recent BBC article discusses the extent that litter, especially plastic litter is effecting the environment, the ecosystem, and us.

The Marine Conservation Society just got the results back from its 15th annual beach clean up in 2009. Overall, there was less litter than in 2008, but let’s not rejoice yet. There was 77 percent more litter than in the first clean up in 1994, and 63 percent of it was plastic, more than ever before. An MCS spokeswoman explained why this is important: “Plastic does not biodegrade but breaks down into small pieces that will last for hundreds if not thousands of years. In parts of our oceans there are now six times more plastic particles in the water than plankton.” In addition to that, toxic chemicals attach to the plastic, marine animals eat the plastic, and the chemicals move up the food chain to us.

This article is only the most recent in a long list of warnings that our lifestyles are damaging the environment. Articles have been written, movies have been made, TV shows aired, and speeches delivered, but perhaps the most blunt warnings are those we witness first hand. I was at the Charles River Esplanade the other night with a few friends. It was a beautiful, clear and slightly chilly night, and we were the only ones there. Some of us brought drinks and snacks for everyone. The esplanade is a public park, so there a number of trash cans around. Yet for some reason that I have yet to understand, one of my friends decided to throw his empty Gatorade at some passing Canadian Geese. Then a wrapper blew into the river. And when we walked back I saw another empty drink and a bag of pretzels, both that came from us. And nothing I could say motivated anyone to even pick them up on the way back, so I did it myself. My point is that in a group of seven people, it is lucky for just one of them to be at all environmentally conscious. I assume this number is higher in a place like Texas, but people still mess with Massachusetts and England and nearly everywhere else. Thank god for groups like the MCS in England, but no matter how much trash they pick up, the best thing we can do is not litter in the first place.

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