22 Sep

From here forward…


I’m confused by the abundant life and abundant plastic pollution here.  It’s easy to slip into a fantasy that a sort of balance has been achieved on Midway Atoll.  Birds nesting amidst plastic cigarette lighters, bottle caps, toys, umpteen bits and pieces of plastic; turtles pulling up on the beach to rest among plastic buoys and ghost nets and fuel containers; seals frolicking under the pier with discarded shampoo bottles – all of it getting along, or so it seems from a cartoon view.  But then you begin to encounter the decaying bodies of albatross, almost all of them containing some amount of plastic, and some completely choked with it that there’s no mystery how this bird died.

How can I possibly continue to contribute to the stream of plastic into our waterways and oceans after seeing the albatross stuffed with plastic?   Matches, people.  Glass, metal.  Re-use!  Forget recycling, it’s not happening, and when it’s plastic it’s called down-cycling, anyway.  What happens when we are up to our eyeballs in fleece and carpet and plastic decking?

I will go home a changed person after this trip.  I’ve been an uber-recycler for most of my adult life.  But now I can see that recycling is not the answer.  We just need to stop making so much plastic.  From here forward, my own consumption of it, especially disposables, will be under a high-power microscope.  I’ll be considering every way in which I use plastic in my life, examining my wasteful habits more deeply, and asking myself what’s really important – a quick, disposable convenience or something with enduring value?  It’s a good lesson for me on how to use stuff, and also how to enrich my life.

Consider joining the discussion about plastics on our Facebook group by clicking on the Discussion tab.

~Victoria Sloan Jordan

6 thoughts on “From here forward…

  1. Hi Victoria!

    Your statement, “From here forward, my own consumption of it [plastic,] especially disposables, will be under a high-power microscope,” really struck a chord with me.

    As a marine science educator (check out my Laysan Albatross interaction with marine debris Readers Theater at http://www.oikonos.org/projects/oceanstewardship_projects.htm#campus), I’ve been working with a group within the Un. of Hawai`i oceanography department on their marine debris kit — http://cmore.soest.hawaii.edu/education/teachers/science_kits/marine_debris_kit.htm — which is overwhelmingly about *plastic* debris.

    In one lesson in the kit, students use actual marine debris to try and figure out where it came from…to appreciate that there’s really only one ocean on our planet, and trash from one place can make a significant impact thousands of miles away.

    Soooooooo, if it’s at all possible when you travel back through Honolulu, could you bring me some reasonably-sized marine debris with writing/graphics indicating from where it might possibly have originated?…or perhaps you could mail it to me before you leave Midway? (If mailing is the preference, please email me, and I’ll happily give you my snail mail address.)

    I made this request of Manuel, but I think he thought I was teaching that marine debris comes only from elsewhere, not us. Nothing could be farther from the truth! –and the group I work with has connections to people in Korea interested in marine debris. Wouldn’t it be productively educational for students here and there to communicate and realize that the plastic from each place winds up in the other’s place?! One solution to the plastic marine debris problem lies in educating the next generation!

    And it occurs to me as a suggestion to you wonderful Midway Journey-ers…wouldn’t a piece of marine debris with personal meaning be an excellent souvenir and desktop-reminder for the lessons we all learned when we had the privilege of visiting Midway?!

    I look forward to the final entries and videos from “Journey to Midway” over your remaining days on the atoll…and any & all subsequent creations. Also: have a safe and hassle-free return home! Aloha & thanks to you all!

  2. hi barb, i’ll see what I can do. I have collected quite a bit of plastic and will go through it to see if any of it has labels. i know most of it does not, though you could certainly identify what industry it’s associated with. can you send me an email and give me your phone no.? i’ll try to arrange a drop-off at our honolulu hotel.

  3. Following your journey, I too have put my plastic consumption under a microscope. Before, I would tell my daughter: “We should get milk in the plastic containers, rather than cartons, because the plastic goes in the recycle bin and the containers do not.” She disagreed, but I as the breadwinner won out.

    Now I am questioning that decision. What to do when our world is surrounded by plastic of all kinds?

    I guess I was wrong and admitted as much to her last night. She just gave me a wry, indulgent teenager smile. I admire her fresh perspective, her activist bent (which she inherited from me and her father) and her gentle ways. I want a better world for her, and for my new grandson, born to my eldest daughter justfour days ago. The choices we make now have everlasting impacts. Sometimes it’s just too much to contemplate.

    I do think it’s time to bring back glass milk bottles.

  4. Living without plastic is practically impossible. To solve this problem we need everybody to come together: citizens, Governments, businesses… and not only in one country, but around the world.

    As Victoria says, recycling is not a solution. Furthermore, it may backfire.

    Here’s a link to 7 misconceptions about plastic recycling http://www.ecologycenter.org/ptf/misconceptions.html

    What we can do now is to say goodbye to SUP’s (Single Use Disposables). Bring your own bag to the store, mug and cutlery to cafes, use a stainless steel water bottle, buy in bulk and choose products with no or minimal plastic packaging.

  5. Manuel – “Living without plastic is practically impossible.” I was born in 1942, and there was virtually no plastic. My school lunchpail was metal; the sandwiches were wrapped in waxed paper; the bike I rode to school was all metal; the milkman delivered milk in glass bottles; water came from a drinking fountain or the tap; Coke came in bottles that were returned to the store to be sterilized and reused by Coca Cola; cars were all metal; groceries came in paper bags; food was in “tin” cans, waxed paper bags in boxes or glass jars; clothes and carpet were all natural material; etc. I could go on, but you get my point – living without plastic was possible and a reality in the 40’s and 50’s.

    Civilization will eventually have to live without plastic when the world runs out of oil. So we should start now to develop alternatives for plastic consumables and preserve what we can of the remaining oil for plastic durable goods that may not be possible to produce in another media. There is a lot to learn from our past without plastic.

  6. Excellent comment, Craig. Thanks for offering this perspective. You are absolutely right, it is only recently that we’ve become addicted to plastic. The sooner we wean ourselves off it the better. Our past without plastic will certainly provide guidance in many instances, especially as far a domestic life is concerned, but for many other uses we’ll have to come up with brand new solutions. As I mentioned, eliminating SUP’s (Single Use Disposables) is something we can do NOW.

    So… here’s the Single-Use Plastic Emergency Response (S.U.P.E.R.) Hero Pledge
    to use the “4 Rs” of Sustainable Consumption in the following order of preference:
    • REFUSE:  Stop using single-use and disposable plastics like bags and bottles, straws, cups, plates, silverware and razors.  Instead, bring your own shopping and produce bags to the market. Carry a reusable bottle with you for drinking on the go. Skip the straw. (Plastic straws are for suckers!) Bring your own containers for take-out or ask for non-plastic disposable packaging.
    •  REDUCE waste: Choose products with the least packaging, look for products and packaging made from renewable resources, and avoid plastic packaging. Choose products that have the least amount of disposable parts, like razors with replaceable blades and toothbrushes with replaceable brushes.    
    •  REUSE containers: Reuse preferably nontoxic containers and goods to make less waste.  Bad habits are disposable, containers are reusable. 
    • RECYCLE: Recycle what you can’t refuse, reduce or reuse. Recycling is a last option because it uses energy, and there may not be a market for the refabricated materials.

    Become a S.U.P.E.R. Hero!

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