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Our Future in Plastics

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You remember this famous exchange from The Graduate?

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you - just one word.
Ben: Yes sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Ben: Yes I am.
Mr. McGuire: 'Plastics.'
Ben: Exactly how do you mean?
Mr. McGuire: There's a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?
Ben: Yes I will.

Yes, there was certainly a future in plastics -- but it wasn’t great. Especially for the environment. In case you’ve never heard about the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, it’s a massive island of plastic floating in the middle of the once pristine Pacific Ocean, somewhere between California and Hawaii.

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It’s called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch - a heap of debris floating in the Pacific that's twice the size of Texas, according to marine biologists. The enormous stew of trash - which consists of 80 percent plastics and weighs some 3.5 million tons, say oceanographers - floats where few people ever travel, in a no-man's land between San Francisco and Hawaii.

At this point, cleaning it up isn't an option," [Chris] Parry said [a public education program manager with the California Coastal Commission in San Francisco]. "It's just going to get bigger as our reliance on plastics continues. ... The long-term solution is to stop producing as much plastic products at home and change our consumption habits.

Most of the plastics in the Pacific whirlpool come from land-based garbage. It's our casually tossed Arrowhead water bottle. Maybe our Vons, Ralphs or even Whole Foods (yes!) plastic bag sucked into the street sewers.

There's a CBS video about the dump here.

So next time you go shopping for organic romaine lettuce or heirloom tomatoes at the farmer's market, bring a canvas bag. Reuse the plastic take out containers. These are little things, yes, but it'll help more than it'll hurt.

And maybe it's up to all of us to start thinking about our future in plastics.

Photo from Algalita Marine Research Foundation