Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Davy Jones' garbage

Look beneath your lid some morning,
See those things you didn't quite consume
The world's a can for
Your fresh garbage . . .

Spirit - Fresh Garbage[1] [2]

I loved that song when I first heard it in 1968, on the compilation LP “The Rock Machine Turns You On”[3] – Jay Ferguson’s distant, lost-sounding, disillusioned tenor voice, perfect for the teenager in turmoil.

It’s still relevant, and the biggest rubbish bin of all is the sea. A lot of this is plastic, not only on shores, where it represents 60% – 80% of all litter (Derraik, 2002[4]) but in vast swirling oceanic garbage patches[5] - and on the sea bed: in 1995 92% of debris on the floor of the Bay of Biscay was plastic[6]. A more recent article by Greenpeace says 70% of plastic litter sinks, and there is an estimated 600,000 tons of it at the bottom of the North Sea.[7]

The debris is unsightly, and can strangle or fill the stomachs of marine wildlife. It’s also toxic, so developing biodegradable versions doesn’t solve the problem – indeed, it could make it worse, since dissolved plastic is much harder to find and nearly impossible to remove.

James Higham posts a picture[8] of a cleanup device still under development. It’s a giant static filter that the inventor, Boyan Slat, hopes will trap surface garbage but allow plankton to pass safely through; work continues.[9] But even if it works perfectly, that still leaves the other, sunken 70% to deal with. Yet again, techno-fixes have limitations.

I can remember when we had shopping baskets and produce wasn’t shrink-wrapped. Will those days ever come again?

[1] http://www.metrolyrics.com/fresh-garbage-lyrics-spirit.html
[2] http://youtu.be/k7MQ5rxUZsc
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rock_Machine_Turns_You_On
[4] http://www.caseinlet.org/uploads/Moore--Derraik_1_.pdf
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Marine_garbage_patches. There are in fact more than three of them, as the articles go on to explain.
[6] Derraik, Table 1 (see note 4).
[7] http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/oceans/pollution/trash-vortex/
[8] http://nourishingobscurity.com/2013/09/09/plastic-gobbler-of-the-seven-seas/comment-page-1/#comment-221633
[9] http://www.boyanslat.com/plastic5/

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