By Sarah Jost
When I think of the ocean, I think of big blue waves and all of the lovely marine life, like fish, urchins, mermaids…your standard sea stuff. But the Pacific Ocean is harbouring something decidedly unseamly (see what I did there?): a giant collection of human-made garbage estimated to be about twice the size of Texas and approximately 90 feet deep. That’s 26,8601 square miles of people’s trash floating in the ocean.
I suppose a giant mass of rubbish in the Pacific Ocean shouldn’t be too surprising when you consider that people use between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic bags every year, 380 billion in the U.S. alone. Incidentally, those 380 billion plastic bags used annually in America take 12 million barrels of war-inciting oil to produce and cost retailers $4 billion dollars to purchase, driving up consumer prices.
Despite such staggering statistics, California recently rejected a ban on single use, non-biodegradable plastic bags, even though such bans have already been successfully enacted in China, Portland, Paris, San Francisco, Bangladesh, Rwanda, coastal North Carolina, and many cities in India. Similarly, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Spain, Norway, and Mexico City have outlawed providing customers free plastic bags. Instead, people can purchase either reusable bags or biodegradable plastic bags.
More countries still, such as Ireland, Italy, and Belgium, have enacted a plastic tax, or a PlasTax (named, of course by the Joycean Irish). A study by the Irish Department of the Environment found that plastic bag usage had dropped 93.5% since the tax went into effect, meaning a shift from 328 to 21 bags per person each year.
So, what happened, California? And why are people still using plastic bags in the first place? Does the government really need to force its citizens to do something that seems, at least to me, morally logical? Maybe people don’t know that a recent study of the necropsy reports of more than 400 already critically endangered leatherback turtles found that about 1/3 of them had plastic in their digestive system. Or maybe they don’t care.
As a kid, if I saw someone littering, I would angrily tell them, ‘When the planet is a giant landfill I hope you’re buried underneath it!’ Clearly my flair for the dramatic took root early. Unfortunately, it seems like I might not have been that far off, especially if people continue to consume without a conscience.