It’s useful to revisit Ernest Callenbach’s Laws of Ecology at times like these, in case anyone missed them:
- All things are interconnected.
- Everything goes somewhere.
- There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
- Nature bats last.
Last month a sperm whale washed up dead in The Netherlands with a stomach full of plastic debris. Let’s be clear now that there is no naturally-occurring plastic anywhere. Every piece of plastic ever made is still in existence today. Everything in this whale’s stomach was allowed to exit the waste or recycling stream. There is no one else to blame.
In March of this year, a 10 meter long sperm whale washed up on Spain’s South Coast. This whale had swallowed 59 different plastic items totaling over 37 pounds. Most of this plastic consisted of transparent sheeting used to build greenhouses in Almeria and Grenada for the purpose of tomatoes for the European market. The rest was plastic bags, nine meters of rope, two stretches of hosepipe, two small flower pots, and a plastic spray canister. Cause of death was intestinal blockage.
In August 2000, a Bryde’s whale was stranded near Cairns, Australia. The stomach was found to be tightly packed with six square meters of plastic rubbish, including supermarket bags, food packages, and fragments of trash bags. In April 2010, a gray whale that died after stranding itself on a west Seattle beach was found to have more than 20 plastic bags, small towels, surgical gloves, plastic pieces, duct tape, a pair of sweat pants, and a golf ball, not to mention other garbage contained in its stomach. Plastic is not digestible, and once it finds its way into the intestines, accumulates and clogs the intestines. For some whales, the plastic does not kill the animal directly, but cause malnutrition and disease, which leads to unnecessary suffering until death.
Some facts about plastic in handy infographic form here. Understand that the impact the consumption decisions you make has on the environment is entirely up to you. The easiest ways to cut your use of plastics include using reusable shopping bags, choosing products with less packaging (or simply less plastic packaging), and buying household and kitchen items in the bulk section of your grocer. As plastic is ubiquitous to the point of inevitability in 2013, the best way to keep the plastics you do consume out of the environment is to recycle every piece of plastic you can according to its recycling number and place the rest securely in the solid waste stream. Commercial plastic waste comprises much of what’s found in the digestive tracts of dead whales, sea turtles, sea birds, and other creatures. Alas for lack of oversight and stricter controls, commercial contributions to such phenomena as the ‘Great Pacific garbage patch‘ are likely to continue unabated. All you can do is do your simple, little part.