Five Problems of the Northern Pacific Garbage Patch

In March 2011, a tsunami in Japan released debris into the Pacific Ocean.  This debris reminds us that our longstanding Pacific Ocean trash problems loom over us. A large number of objects that entangle and don’t degrade end up in the Northern Pacific Garbage Patch.

Such things as nylon toothbrushes, especially nylon fishing nets, PET bottle caps, and other plastic stuff that degrade to become “plastic soup,” plague our wildlife and oceans. Seize the opportunity to address the problem head on.

Here are some tips regarding anything made of plastic, in this order:

List of Tips

Do not make the plastic object to begin with.  Find another lifestyle to do without the item. Many items that we use today did not exist before.

If that is unfeasible, make things in a way that is biodegradable. Find a natural or more degradable alternative, such as make things from jute or metal.

If that is unfeasible, make it mandatory to reuse or recycle the item.

If that is unfeasible, enforce laws for littering.

If that is unfeasible, maintain continuous cleanup–the last resort.  Clean up as the last resort shows that all the above things were not considered or the above options did not work.

Clean up shows we did not adjust our lifestyles to accommodate natural realities.  It shows we make things in ways that are unsustainable.  It shows we have no laws or enforceable laws for recycling, reuse, littering and cleanup that we don’t think about things after we use them and just “throw them away.”

Sometimes, we cannot get away from plastic and despite recycling and waste management efforts, remnants of plastic just end up in the ocean, choking everything in its path.

Most of us in a modern society want to maintain our modern lifestyle so making things in a way that is more biodegradable, we minimize the other efforts lower on the list of tips.

Make Things Biodegradable

Revisit reverting back to metal bottle caps and not using PET bottle caps. Remember old coca cola bottles with the metals caps? Remember milk cartons without the PET bottle caps? So we have a little harder time opening milk cartons without PET caps. So what? Do things have to be that convenient that we allow birds to choke on PET bottle caps, among other things?  At least metal degrades. Many plastics last forever, if not recycled. Maybe there are other reasons we use PET caps. Regardless, plastics are and will be a trash problem.   And these problems likely did not exist 50 years go. There has got to be better way.

Revisit using nets from natural made material nets. So natural stuff degrades. That’s a good thing. Do we really want something to be so durable that it lasts longer than our own lifetime?  Do we really need things that last for a really long time? Does it benefit us?

I don’t know what to do about nylon/plastic toothbrushes. What did people use before nylon toothbrushes were invented? What about making combs, brushes, etc. from bamboo instead of plastics. Since 5000 different objects can be made out of bamboo, society would benefit from making more things from bamboo. A sustainable, beautiful and strong material, bamboo, which is a grass, can replace wood as a material in household items.

Plastic bottles degrade to become plastic soup – a gooey concoction of plastic bits and pieces that choke the ocean and wildlife. Like plastic bags, plastic bottles should be phased out. And since we are talking about plastic drinking paraphernalia, what happened to paper straws and paper Dixie cups? So paper stuff degrade. What’s wrong with that? You don’t need a plastic straw to last forever when what you drink only lasts for an hour at most.

Beware of anything made of plastic and search for a substitute material.

A Great Opportunity!

Having large amounts of life choking trash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is not acceptable. It’s a great time to address the long-standing trash problem while we are addressing the tsunami debris at the same time.

We owe the beautiful Pacific Ocean the care and respect due to it.  Clean up the mess and not continually mess it up. Whether through clean up, remaking how things are made, banning things altogether, phasing it out, imposing strict littering and cleanup laws, etc. We can figure it out. We are smart.  Opportunity awaits us!

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About Emy Louie

Emy is author of "Fast Trains: America's High Speed Future." Since 2009, Emy has served as the Director of Public Outreach for the US High Speed Rail Association. An Architect (graduate of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa with a degree in Architecture) who once hosted her own radio show, Emy has taught numerous continuing education classes to architects and engineers.
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