Plastic ocean: what we can do

DOWNEY - Last week we detailed the experience of Gauldin Elementary students, who a couple of years ago saw samples of plastic-laced ocean water taken from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation and its founder, Captain Charles Moore, author of the book, "Plastic Ocean." Moore describes the water as "plastic soup," because most of the plastic is in tiny fragments, barely larger than the plankton whose space it has invaded. This plastic ocean pollution is an object lesson in how much we've dirtied our world, but it's easy to sit back and do nothing, whether from a feeling of helplessness or disinterest.

So here are some thoughts on how we personally can treat our world with a little more kindness. It's most commonly expressed in the 3 R's of good environmental behavior: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, though some advocates are now adding the word "Refuse" at the beginning of the list. In short, the idea is to use less stuff and throw away what you must with great care.

Here are a number of examples: if you're a Starbucks coffee drinker, or you frequent other major coffee chains, get a reusable mug and never use a throwaway cup again. Starbucks will give you a 10-cent discount, and you'll save hundreds of cups.

Get yourself a supply of reusable shopping bags, and use them for all your shopping needs. Or do without a bag when buying easily carried items. Nowadays, almost all retail stores are open to the customer using his or her own bags. You can, if you want to be especially diligent, reuse plastic produce bags, washing them out after use, of course.

While you're at the grocery store, avoid packaged foods as much as possible. This is a good idea, not only for the environment, but also for your diet, because many of these foods contain additives that aren't as good for you as nature's food. Also, if you have a choice, pick an item that's better packaged for recyclability, such as cardboard, paper, glass, or aluminum, rather than plastic or indeterminate metal content.

Another way to reduce consumption is to eat takeout food less often. Fast food packaging has improved in the last several years since McDonald's famously did away with its Styrofoam burger containers, replacing them with cardboard. But, believe it or not, only the plastic fast food cups are recyclable, since the ones that look like paper are actually plastic coated. It goes without saying that this will be good for your diet too.

Furthermore, regarding durable goods, the best approach is to simply buy less stuff. This may seem like an anti-consumerist statement, but it's a matter of simple truth when it comes to sustaining our environment. Again, the packaging of durable goods has improved significantly over the past few years, with cardboard insulation largely supplanting Styrofoam. But Amazon in particular is remiss in not packaging its products carefully for mailing. This leads to the legitimate business-friendly conclusion that shopping locally is also better for the environment (not to speak of local tax revenues).

As to transportation, look to other modes than your car. Consider public transportation, walk, or ride a bike! If you're heading to the grocery store or elsewhere in the local community for some solitary item, walk or bike it home, in your backpack, or in one of those reusable bags mentioned above.

Back at home, conserve water. One simple way to do this is to keep a bucket in the shower to hold cold water while the shower's getting hot. You'll get somewhere between one and two gallons of water with every shower--otherwise wasted--which can be lovingly poured on your favorite roses or other foliage. An option to this approach, but much more expensive, is to install instant water heaters in your home. Same thing for water in your yard. If you own your home, be sure there's no overspray or other waste in your landscape watering system.

Saving electricity at home is much easier than it used to be, with CFL bulbs now the norm, and much smarter energy-savings electronics and appliances. But it's still a good idea to heed your grandma's advice, and turn out the lights when you leave the room. The expensive option here, though well worth it in this writer's view, is to lease or purchase whole-house solar. Costs continue to decrease and tax rebates still exist in this burgeoning marketplace.

Also at home, composting is a marvelous way to let nature recycle.

Our penultimate suggestion is to recycle everything you can, using your best judgment as to its recyclability. Ultimately, commercial recycling is market driven, but if we give recyclers the opportunity, those cans and glass containers, as well as many kinds of plastic, can be remade into something new and useful, instead of just being trucked to a landfill.

Lastly, NEVER LEAVE ANY OF YOUR TRASH ANYWHERE! Because, returning to our opening theme, there's a good possibility it will find its way to the ocean. We can't clean up ocean pollution, but we can at least help stop it from getting worse.

This is by no means an inclusive list, but perhaps it will provide a few ideas you hadn't yet considered, and a helpful review of the 3 R's.

********** Published: March 28, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 50