After studying the environment at university for four years, I have written over 60 blog posts on environmental issues, formulated a personal memoir on my life as an environmentalist, and maintained a semi-annual environmental news page. Nevertheless, I still haven’t done everything in my power to end environmental issues.
Sometimes what’s going on with our current environment makes me feel helpless. Yet I can’t say what exactly made me turn sour. Maybe it was keeping track of my plastic use over a two week period for my Great Lakes Ecology course, or participating in the 447 Environmental Sustainability Challenge on Twitter. My motivation could have also spurred from watching this environmental film about climate change deniers, or learning that the majority of recyclables aren’t actually recycled from National Geographic.
Lately, I’ve seen videos on Facebook announce that plastic is getting into the ocean because wind is blowing it there. You can imagine the puzzled look on my face when I read this. If plastic could travel from the Midwest all the way to the coastline, I’d be seeing milk jugs breeze by me on the I-90, or hear about plastic flying in the polar jet stream. Sure, people living on the coast might dump their recycles at the beach when they’re feeling particularly angry at the Earth, but would that really account for the massive sized Pacific Garbage Patch that I wrote about last month? Who is to blame for all of this?
“A 2012 San Francisco Bay Area study found that street sweeping, storm water catchment and pumping stations in 71 municipalities missed about 61% of trash. The researchers used more conservative estimates in their models, ranging between 15% and 40%” – Los Angeles Times
Desperate for the truth, I searched for articles on waste disposal companies bypassing government regulations on dumping. What I found was that they aren’t bypassing anything. Waste disposal companies in the United States are legally allowed to dump a specific amount of waste in the ocean if they have this permit.
Of course, regulations on ocean dumping aren’t all bad. Without permits, industries would not be obligated to report their amount of waste going into the ocean, and there would be no monetary discouragement for doing so. As stated on the EPA website:
- “The Ocean Dumping Ban Act of 1988 amended the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) and now prohibits the ocean dumping of municipal sewage sludge and industrial wastes, such as wastes from plastics and pharmaceutical manufacturing plants and from petrochemical refineries.”
- “The 1998 amendment also banned the ocean disposal of ‘medical waste.'”
- “Other ocean dumping practices, such as wood burning at sea and the disposal of construction and demolition debris, have stopped as a matter of environmentally sound practice.”
Regulations have improved since the 1980’s for the United States, but plastic pollution in our oceans remains a worldwide problem. The longer you look, the more people start to point fingers. Here are some media stances on the issue:
“As if Hong Kong’s own waste wasn’t serious enough, its beaches have faced an increasing deluge of rubbish by sea. Environmentalists are unsure of the source, but it seems to come periodically with changing weather patterns.” – BBC on Hong Kong’s Waste Problem
“Eight of the top 10 contributors were in Asia, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia and Bangladesh, according to the study” – LA Times and “Plastic waste inputs” by Science
I think the bottom line here is that you can’t rely on other people to solve the world’s problems. I can’t sit idly by and hope that someday someone might pass a regulation banning plastic, or wish that consumerist culture wasn’t so influential in my life. Whether you’re “less-waste” or vegetarian or just trying to change your lifestyle, let me know! And prepare for my input regarding the difficulties of attempting a zero-waste lifestyle as a college student.
Love, The Earth Goddess