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Plastic Ocean: How a Sea Captain's Chance Discovery Launched a Determined Quest to Save the Oce ans Paperback – September 4, 2012
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A prominent seafaring environmentalist and researcher shares his shocking discovery of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and inspires a fundamental rethinking of the Plastic Age.
In the summer of 1997, Charles Moore set sail from Honolulu returning home after competing in a trans-Pacific race. To get to California, he and his crew took a shortcut through the seldom-traversed North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a vast “oceanic desert” where winds are slack and sailing ships languish. There, Moore realized his catamaran was surrounded by a “plastic soup.”Â He had stumbled upon the largest garbage dump on the planetâa spiral nebula where plastic outweighed zooplankton, the ocean’s food base, by a factor of six to one.
In Plastic Ocean, Moore recounts his ominous findings and unveils the secret life and hidden proper ties of plastics. From milk jugs to polymer molecules small enoughÂ to penetrate human skin or be unknowingly inhaled, plastic is now suspectedÂ of contributing to a host of ailments, includingÂ infertility, autism, thyroidÂ dysfunction, and some cancers. An urgent call to action, Moore’s sobering revelations will be embraced by activists, concernedÂ parents, and anyone concerned about the deadly impact and implications of this man-made blight.
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"The US Navy may be the worst ocean polluter the world has ever known..." By its own account the Navy has secretly dumped 64 million pounds of nerve and mustard agents into the sea. Add to this 400,000 chemical filled bombs, land mines, rockets and 500 tons of radio-active waste.
If a toaster, computer or television screen fail their designated purposes they are discarded; 180 million computers are thrown out every year. They contain myriad toxic metals, Landfills and ocean floors are the most out-of-sight and out-of-mind receptacles.
In later chapters author Captain Moore muses about solid waste of 250 million tons generated by municipalities, 83 million tons of packaging are added yearly to landfills, in 1982 an estimated 639,000 plastic containers were dumped daily from merchant ships, McDonald;s serves 47 million customers daily in 36,000 restaurants (229 countries), Unilever hosts 55 billion packages annually (150 million items daily), 7-eleven is the world's largest franchiser with more than 36,000 facilities in eighteen countries.
On page 204 Captain Moore lists an estimated one million seabirds lost yearly to longline entanglements, to which he adds 100,000 turtles and marine mammals as derelict fishing gear depletes fish stocks and sabotages the food chain.
Captain Moore has masterfully transported us thru more that 350 pages of disturbing ocean portals where one observer posits that "the human race may well be doomed by plastics."
The author might be better served by embracing a wider swath in his narratives of toxic sources that reside endlessly in our rivers, oceans, soils and skies. It may be important to note that attacking ecological, and other issues, singularly at the point of discovery has driven us to where we are over the decades. It is the relentless expansion of humanity that expresses all social, political, ecological, economic and financial challenges. Eliminating plastics from our oceans by fiat is wishful thinking. Just one example of plastic's growth without end can be seen in India's newfound economic prosperity, a country where plastic waste estimates are 4.5 million tons per year. India's sacred cows are dying from street foraging where plastic bags are integrated into grazed trash heaps.
On page 239 the author ponders "whether the world and its inhabitants are being poisoned by plastics."
So, if you want to get into the excitement of the book skip to Chapter Six.
By the way, Apple's Steve Jobs is not idolized in this book because he--and others--were pushing iPods (a new one each year) "containing a myriad of toxic metals as well as waning resources like copper and oil [and, of course, there's plastic]--innovation and [non]disposability join hands for one reason: profit" (p. 96).
This is, of course, a non-fiction book. So, I will relate it to you via quotes that will, hopefully, shake you up as much as they did me:
Page 135: "More food processing means more food packaging, mostly plastic."
Page 139: "In this topsy-turvy world, what cheers investors bring environmentalists to tears."
Page 149: "Plastics are winning and are predicted to overtake paper as the reigning packaging material by 2014."
Page 150-1: "We need to stop cultivating innovation for its own sake and start thinking MORALLY [emphasis mine] and ecologically about the innovations we embrace. Is it worth trashing the planet? Each purchase should be a moral decision."
Page 152: In the north central Pacific waters is a place referred to as "Plastic Stew." But plastic is ubiquitous in many places in the ocean.
Page 157: "Albatross chicks by the tens of thousands perish each year, stuffed by their well-meaning parents with plastic non-food"--that comes from both land and water vessels.
Page 160: "Tens of thousands of northern fur seals [are] being killed by abandoned [plastic] nets."
Page 168: "Companies [ships] are not legally required to report [plastic container] spills [because] they are considered non-toxic. The ship owner escapes liability for any cleanup."
Page 172: "Whale feeding mostly happens near the sea surface where plastic fragments mingle with and mimic legitimate organisms."
Page 200: "...Plastic debris is second only to commercial fishing as a killer of marine life..."
Page 204: "...An estimated million seabirds are killed each year by entanglement in longlines [net lines] and 100,000 turtles and marine mammals."
Page 277: "Most of the 300 billion pounds of plastics produced each year start out s pellets. If a tenth of a percent escape to the oceans, that's a 150,000 ton annual deposit."
Page 259: "The United States lags behind Europe in technology [that converts some plastics to less harmful chemical compositions]."
Page 300: "There's just not enough profit in recovering, sorting, cleaning, processing and remanufacturing infinitely variable plastics. This is why we need extended PRODUCER RESPONSIBILITY [emphasis mine] so industry won't make things that it can't economically recover."
Page 305: "Long-term value means not only durability, but recyclability. This takes the onus off consumption as the problem and puts it on industrial design, which must devise recyclable compounds for each product--to achieve zero waste."
Finally, the book deals with the new field of "green chemistry" and the idea of recycling entrepreneurs.
I gave this book a 4 because the writing undulates between exciting and boring. The subject itself, though, micro-plastics in the ocean, deserves serious attention.