Scientists and researchers have discovered that as plastic breaks down and decomposes it may be releasing toxic substances that are not commonly found in the natural environment. Most scientists thought the primary danger of plastic in the ecosystem involves the choking or strangling of wildlife. As the owner of Outdoor Odysseys Kayak Tours and a concerned environmentalist who lives and works summers in the San Juan Islands, I know from firsthand experience that the islands are not immune to the problems of plastic and other forms of garbage littering our beaches and impacting the wildlife.
New research suggests that as plastic decomposes when exposed to water, salt, sun and other environmental conditions it releases toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A or polystyrene oligomers. Styrofoam has been found to release substantial quantities of a compound called styrene monomer which is known to cause cancer.
The use of plastic is ubiquitous in our culture and is transported down our rivers and streams which enter into the Atlantic, Pacific or Caribbean. Sea going vessels have reported vast areas of ocean garbage estimated to be twice the size of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Pacific. These floating “dead zones” should serve as a wake-up call for all of us.
What can we as individuals do to help solve this growing problem that has such deadly implications for marine life? On our day and overnight kayaking tours in the San Juan Islands our guides (and guests) make every effort to pick up trash and leave our beaches cleaner than when we arrived.
Here are a few other things to embrace…
- When you shop bring your own bags so you avoid taking home plastic bags from the store.
- Avoid buying bottled water.
- Purchase goods with an eye towards their ‘useable life.’ If the product will need to be replaced in a year or two perhaps it is worth paying for something that will last longer.
- Pick up litter when you are outside walking your dog or going to the store.
- Get Outdoors! Disengaging from technology and getting outside to embrace the wind, sunsets and bird sounds does wonders for the psyche!