Yesterday we focused on earth’s life-affirming gifts: trees. They’re beautiful to look at, sure, but they also provide oxygen while absorbing CO2 from the air – a truly remarkable feature for humans that enjoy breathing. There were also a few articles at the end of the post with information about other natural remedies for global warming – such as volcanoes and hurricanes, which can sometimes be benefits to our environment (when there are no people or buildings in their path, of course). Today however we’ll focus on a slightly different problem: pollution.
Pollution can be harmful in a number of ways – from sea-life ingesting plastic, or oil spilling into the oceans and killing marine animals, to landfills spreading across areas so vast they knock out plant life, or even from toxic waste that is not properly disposed of and destroys water reservoirs. There are lots of difficult problems to solve when it comes to pollution, not lost on anyone is the cost.
For example, it’s easier, and much cheaper, to dump dye chemicals from the manufacturing plants directly into the river behind the building (see the book Tom’s River, by Dan Fagin), and until the clean water act of 1972, that’s exactly what companies did. Recognizing the harmful effects this had on communities’ drinking water, this type of behavior was banned – but as you well know, we still have clothing in colors other than white, so, where do these chemicals go? The following article provides a really helpful outline of the problem, and their unique solution to deal with toxic dye water once it’s been used to dye yarn: https://brownsheep.com/how-we-recycle-our-dye-water/ – but the short story is, they recycle it! Water recycling is a new technology, but was an innovation born out of necessity. For a helpful guide on what this means and how it’s done, check out the EPA guide to the “Basic Information about Water Reuse,” here: https://www.epa.gov/waterreuse/basic-information-about-water-reuse#:~:text=Water%20reuse%20(also%20commonly%20known,industrial%20processes%2C%20and%20environmental%20restoration.
Going back to the original problem at hand: plastic pollution – why is this so harmful? We touched on this subject briefly in the last couple of blogs, however its important to understand the idea of decomposition and what it means. Decomposing is the process of breaking-down or decaying, or thanks to dictionary.com, “to separate into constituent parts or elements or into simpler compounds” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/decompose). The reason you can throw a banana peel or an apple core into your yard waste bin is that it has a relatively small decomposition time frame – generally about 2-5 weeks. Plastic and glass however, take roughly 500 years or more! Which means that the ‘disposable’ water bottle you use one time and then throw into the garbage can, never to think about again, will last for roughly five times your own lifespan in the landfill. You could save the water bottle, and your great, great-grandchildren could use it too! Pretty gross huh? This is why proponents of recycling are so adamant, though recycling can also be costly. Lucky for us, Japanese enzymes discovered in the last few years, there may be a solution for plastic waste soon: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/sep/28/new-super-enzyme-eats-plastic-bottles-six-times-faster.
If we do absolutely nothing to prevent waste or pollution, the problem will continue and likely grow, unchecked. I remember back to a scene in Mad Men, set in the U.S. in the 1960s, when the main character’s family goes on a picnic, and at the end of the scene, they leave all of their trash behind (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhcKuMjvcCk) – and while this scene is bothersome to me now, just half a century ago it was common. It makes me wonder, what will we know in 50 years about recycling, and how will we get there?