Column: Life on Earth

By Elle Storoe and Mia Currie

Environmental Awareness: being aware of the events occurring in the environment. Environmental awareness can help us save the planet. This column on The Talon is designed to help readers become aware of what is going on in the environment and how we can help the Earth.

This week’s topic: Plastic Waste

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (also known as the “Trash Vortex”) is the largest of five offshore garbage accumulation zones in the world. It is a collection of marine debris predominantly made of plastic that drastically damages the oceans. It is constantly increasing in size as most of the waste in not biodegradable. This heap of garbage is estimated to be roughly 1.6 million square kilometers, which is double the size of Texas. It is additionally estimated that the seafloor beneath the patch may also be a trash heap due to the fact that 70 percent of marine debris sinks. Roughly 80 percent of the garbage accumulated stems from land-based activities in North America and Asia. It takes years for the ocean current to push the trash toward the Trash Vortex and during that time, plastic is releasing harmful chemicals into the water. Photo degradation is the main cause of this as harsh exposure to sunlight weakens the structure of plastic.

The marine debris is harming the environment in various ways. The debris is digested by many marine animals and starts a domino effect which disrupts an entire food chain. For example, sea turtles think that plastic bags are jellyfish and suffocate from ingesting them. Albatrosses confuse plastic resin pellets for fish eggs and feed them to their newborn babies, consequently harming them. 

It is important to see how the accumulation of garbage affects our surrounding environment as it is our job to make sure the planet survives. Only we can take a stand and fix the mistakes made in the past that have harmed our environment so badly.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Courtesy of National Geographic

Going along with environmental awareness, we want to reduce our waste. Study shows that more than 300 million tons of plastic are thrown away each year, more than 8 million tons of plastic is going into our oceans, and half of it is single-use plastics. Now that we are aware of how our actions affect the planet with plastic, here is how we can reduce our plastic waste. There are many sustainable swaps we can make to help with even the smallest thing making a significant difference.  

Some examples of sustainable swaps include:

  • Switching out plastic items for bamboo or wood. For example, instead of buying a new plastic toothbrush, we can get a new bamboo one. Instead of using plasticware such as plastic forks and spoons (which are a single-use plastic) we can use metal ones that can be reused repeatedly. 
  • Rather than using plastic water bottles, metal water bottles can be reused and drank from every day. 
  • Using reusable shopping and grocery bags that won’t be discarded once the groceries have been put away. 

There are so many swaps for us to make and just being aware of those swaps can help save our planet. There are so many alternatives to plastic we can use, and every alternative we use is one less piece of plastic that goes into our oceans and onto our planet.