Saturday, June 16, 2007

Plastic Coated Planet

Mike Shawcross, relates a funny story. When the mayor of a particularly dirty town he was working with was asked why people didn't get rid of their trash, he replied, in all seriousness: "Our problem is that we don't have a river."

We see that attitude all around us in the endless mountains of trash.Every street is littered with plastic. Every field is full of bottles and wrappers. The rivers are lined with garbage. The parks are filthy. If a place is clean it is only because tourists visit it and the local government pays somebody to clean up the garbage every day.

Thirty years ago most of the garbage that we created would eventually degrade. That is no longer true. Except for the tiny amount of plastic that has been burned, every scrap of plastic we have ever made still exists. It is choking the earth.

There is an island of plastic in the middle of the Pacific Ocean that is twice the size of Texas.

Some of the rivers in Asia have so much garbage in them that boats have trouble moving through them.

What amazes me the most about the garbage situation is that people literally do not see the garbage around them. In Central America people throw garbage out of the windows of their houses and allow it to pile up in their yards. We have seen schools that were so littered you could barely see the ground. If you ask people about the trash, most of them look at you like you've grown an extra arm.

Managing trash is a pain when you don't have regular garbage disposal. But it isn't that hard. A few of the Agros villages we've seen gather and burn their trash every month (though the other four weeks they just throw it on the ground). We even heard of one town that built a big pit for all their plastic-they burn and compost the rest.

It is sad to see people defacing their own environments. But it's even sadder when we have to share a planet with them. A river in Guatemala becomes a stream of plastic and sewage as soon as it hits its first village. When it hits the ocean, it becomes a problem for all of us.


Egan Ehlers said...

I used to live in Central America and there is indeed a garbage problem there. But in the U.S. and Europe, the benefits from better ideas about garbage disposal are ruined by the fact that packaging is so wasteful. Open anything -- from cereal to computer software -- and you find inside is mostly air. Many American-owned companies are generating third world waste. Their political influence is one reason packaging laws are not changed, not just in Central America, but in the U.S. and Europe. Anyway, cool blog. I'll be sure to check it out again.

Anonymous said...

Of course when they burn their plastics, that releases large amounts of toxins into the air so that is not one bit better than throwing the plastic on the ground.

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