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Last updateWed, 19 Nov 2014 8pm

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The bottle I threw away today could outlast us all

 The Northern Neck is home to some of the most pristine waterways in Virginia. There are few bodies of water that are as unobstructed and natural in character. Of course, on some summer days, it gets a bit noisy, but come sun down, it’s just the occasional bass splashing as he tries to get something to the eat, the sound of frogs, and of course, the symphony of the peepers. However, even in what seems an unspoiled area there are signs that mankind and his trash are never far away.

One of the biggest problems is plastic. Personally, I have nothing against plastic. It’s magical. It’s a petrochemical polymer that can be made into any shape or form. You name it: coffee cups, car parts, shopping bags, medical equipment, soccer balls and even parts of the international space station. Talk about a versatile material. However, the only problem is, once we’re done with it, we often don’t dispose of it correctly and the environmental consequences are bigger than most of us realize.
You can see it on almost any local waterway. There are plastic bottles here and there, straws and packages. It may seem that the only hazard is unsightly trash. But there is more to it than that. Pieces of plastic, particularly those with openings and holes, are potentially deadly traps for local wildlife. Fish, birds and small mammals are routinely caught and killed in this floating plastic debris. And it’s a terrible way to go.
There is one other property to consider when it comes to plastic. It’s extremely slow to decay. Over time, thanks to friction, it will fray into smaller particles, but molecularly it stays together for centuries. That plastic diet Coke bottle I put in the trash this evening will be around long after I’m gone. It will also surprise you where it could end up.
With such a long life, and the ability to float, plastic travels the world where it becomes a major environmental threat. Plastic materials from the United States and other countries, once it makes its way into the oceans, follow the currents and have over the past half century coalesced into whirlpool-like seas of plastic materials. They are in all the world’s oceans. Mariners have already given them names. Two in the Pacific, are called the Eastern Hawaiian Garbage Patch and the Western Hawaiian Garbage Patch. These “patches” are sometimes several hundred miles across and as much as a hundred feet deep. Over time, the plastic comes apart and tiny pieces are eaten by fish and other marine life. And here is the scary part. They’re eaten by fish and other marine life and quickly enter the food chain. They also leach potentially carcinogenic chemicals. And yes, once the first fish has gobbled up that piece of plastic it’s not long before it’s a part of your dinner table.
But let’s go back to our own back yard.
I’m sorry, but I have no idea how to clean up these ocean based garbage messes. Neither, I am afraid, does anyone else, but we can do a better job of tracking our plastics and our throwaways. The good news is that in some areas in our region as much as 50 percent of what goes into the landfills (and this includes plastic) is being recycled. But a lot of plastic trash still finds its way into our waterways, and it’s a hazard that’s only getting worse. But, by doing seemingly small things, like making sure we recycle and using reusable bags when we shop, we can, hopefully make a dent in the problem.
You may reach David Kerr
at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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