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Plastic Primer Part One


Plastic Primer Part One
By Maura Yates

"Except for the small amount that's been incinerated - and it's a very small amount - every bit of plastic ever made still exists," says Charles Moore, captain of a 50-foot catamaran named Alguita.

Eight hundred miles north of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean is a stretch of water, hundreds of miles long and twice the size of Texas, affectionately referred to as the doldrums - a garbage patch.  The massively expansive area is typically devoid of vessels and the ocean's toughest predators steer clear, as the doldrums sustain very little life. Captain Charles Moore accidentally stumbled upon this "stew of plastic crap" in the Pacific Ocean back in 1997 while on a sailing vacation and since then has made it his life mission to halt the growing gyre.

A gyre is a ring or circle and in this case it refers to the circles of plastic trash that covers 40% of the world's oceans. When there is vertical expansion of high-pressure, it causes a deep vortex of air and water below it, thus creating a gyre. The North Pacific gyre that Captain Moore discovered is one of five such rings in the world. The force of the vortex sucks in all the plastic and rubber trash in the oceans (plastic bags, nets, motor-oil jugs, tires, traffic cones, etc) and traps it there. The trash continues to accumulate and the gyre continues to grow into an oceanic landfill.

It is estimated that the human population produces 125 billion pounds (56 billion kilograms) of plastic resin per year. Consider that we each toss about 185 pounds (85 kilograms) of plastic per year in the form of garbage sacks, disposable water bottles and various one-time-use goods. For this reason, it is crucial that we begin to reduce our consumption of plastic goods and recycle those that we use. Simply put - plastic doesn't disappear. It just accumulates.

Charles Moore talks about the horrifying problems he sees at the garbage patch he discovered. In the oceanic ecosystem, dead seabirds wash ashore and their bodies are filled with plastic tampon applicators, cigarette lighters and other pieces of partially processed plastics. Everything from whales to tuna to bottom-of-the-food-chain plankton is showing signs of being adversely affected by the accumulation of plastic.

It is obvious that the environment and wildlife suffer from mankind's unhealthy over-consumption of plastic. But how does it affect our health? Every time you sip on plastic water bottles or eat with plastic utensils, small amounts of toxins are being ingested.

It is particularly important for pregnant women to avoid plastic. When a fetus is in the developmental stages, exposure to Bisphenyl-A (BPA) has been linked to the obesity epidemic. Dr Rolf Halden, assistant professor of at the John Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Medicine, is most concerned about the serious health effects such toxins have on vulnerable populations such as children. Halden says, "These contaminants can exhibit hormone-like behavior by acting as endocrine disruptors in humans and animals." In turn, this can result in abnormal growth and development in children.

The recycling myth has masked many of the potential problems of plastic. However, it is important to understand and respond to the fact that plastic can have negative effects on human health because of the toxins it leaches into our systems.

Plastic Primer, Part Two"Plastic Primer Part Two" discusses why it is necessary to compliment recycling plastic with reducing consumption and re-using already purchased plastic goods. Read more...


All About Stainless SteelClick here to browse our Stainless Steel and Plastic Guide, for more information on steel, aluminum, and plastic bottles, plus environmental and health issues involving plastic.


Maura Yates lives in Boulder, Colorado and has been working in the sustainability field for the past five years. She has been a selected presenter at the American Association for Sustainability in Higher Education Conference on the importance of sustainable development to protect ecological integrity. She also developed a working relationship with Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture to address development concerns along the Hudson River. Maura co-founded a green home renovations and handy-work company in Boulder and is working with a local conservation non-profit as their community organizer.

          Copyright 2009 Smart Spaces: Inside & Out, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission from Smart Spaces: Inside & Out, LLC. This content is however available at no cost for republishing by contacting the editor at

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