This article in the Boston Globe, A Dow Jones for the Ocean, describes efforts by the New England Aquarium to index various indicators of ocean health. 40 Measures will be reported on a scale of 1 to 100. This could help people wrap their heads around some of the facts that currently seem out of reach. It helped me to learn that the garbage vortex (a floating mass of mostly plastic garbage gathered into a patch by ocean currents) is currently about the size of Texas. We don't see it so we don't understand it. I'm hoping that Google Earth satellite imaging will bring more of the bad news home.
Will information change behavior? Maybe not on its own but without it, we're going to have a much tougher time persuading people to change their behaviors.
I found this organization Algalita that is going on a garbage voyage to research plastic ocean pollution. We can follow their progress here.
This YouTube video of Charles Moore is entertaining and frightening as well as educational on the issue of trash.
We use two million plastic bottles every five minutes. We recycle a negligible amount. The plastic, unlike glass or metal, does not melt and get recovered efficiently. In fact, the plastic particles which end up in the sea, actually absorb and concentrate toxins. Which, in turn, get eaten by sea life, sea birds. Caps do not get recycled as the bottles do. This plastic breakdown, absorption of toxin is why no fishmonger can sell a certified organic wild caught fish. Think about that.
What's the sensible sustainability takeaway?
- Avoid plastic, where ever you can. Glass can be recycled. Where ever possible use a cloth or paper bag. When you have a choice choose a glass over a plastic bottle.
- The Plastic industry will tout the benefits of reduced transport cost due to the lighter weight material. As far as it goes, that is correct, plastic weighs less than glass and therefore costs less to transport. But the plastics' toxicity which increases as it degrades, poisoning even the fish very low on the food chain persuades me that it is best to avoid plastic where possible. Reuse and recycle if you must use it. And, reduce the amount of items that are transported from afar. I would be more persuaded if the plastics industry did more to encourage recycling (still only a drop in the bucket), recycled the caps (which it doesn't) and contributed to the ocean cleanup.
While I may quibble with some of the advice, in general, I'm happy if we can get people thinking in ways that feel empowering. What are things I can do? This may help.
Other good news from the New England Aquarium: Ocean-friendly Eating. Lydia Bergen offers choices that are better for the oceans and for us. Of course, after watching the Charles Moore video, and seeing what the the ocean looks like "out there" you may not feel like eating any ocean fish for awhile. Another argument for wild Alaskan seafood and for safely aquacultured fish like Barramundi. See here for chef-created recipes like orange-fennel barramundi. Yum.