Looking around Rider, it’s hard to miss the recycling bins located all around campus. From Cranberry’s, to the academic buildings, it’s clear that our university cares. But what would happen if one day, all those bins disappeared? Where would the trash and recycled materials go?
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific trash vortex, is a massive collection of marine debris. Found in the North Pacific Ocean, it stretches across many miles. There are two patches within the trash vortex: the Western Garbage Patch, near Japan, and the Eastern Garbage Patch, between Hawaii and California. They are connected by the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone, which acts like a highway, transporting debris from one end to the other.
While a plethora of different articles of trash end up in these garbage patches, plastic accounts for the majority. Because of plastic’s cheapness and durability, it is widely used in consumer products. However, plastic does not have the ability to biodegrade. This means that it cannot completely break down; it will just become smaller and smaller until it eventually turns into microscopic bits. National Geographic says that scientists have gathered upwards of 750,000 bits of microplastic in just one square kilometer of the Pacific Garbage Patch. The whole area of the patch is upwards of 7.7 million square miles. That’s a lot of microplastic.
But how does this concern the everyday person? Well, as these microplastics and other trash particles gather on the surface of the water, they end up prohibiting sunlight from reaching the plankton and algae that live below. Plankton and algae make up a very large portion of the food web, and they need sunlight in order to survive. If their energy source is threatened, the entirety of the food web could change. Animals that feed on plankton and algae will no longer have a food source, and then the creatures that feed on those animals will not either, and so the cycle continues.
In addition, a great deal of marine life that we eat swim through these garbage patches, ingesting the microplastic particles from the water. The bits live in these animals forever, as they cannot break them down. That means whoever ends up having that creature for dinner will also be consuming microplastic. Half of the seafood distributed in the U.S. comes from the Pacific, from fish who eat plastic.
But this isn’t unavoidable. We can always just recycle, or utilize reusable everyday materials. Refillable water bottles are a great alternative to having countless plastic ones lying around, and Rider has tons of refill stations all around campus. If getting a refillable bottle is not an option, recycling disposable bottles will still lessen the amount of plastic that goes into the ocean. The same goes for plastic shopping bags, which can be substituted for canvas bags. The Eco Reps and the Green Team are also taking a trip to the ocean on Oct. 24 for an event called the “Beach Sweep,” where we will not only be cleaning debris from our shores, but preventing that waste from getting into the water. If any Rider student wants to join in this beach adventure, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The importance of recycling and lessening the use of plastics is absolutely vital for the health of the planet. It may seem like we’re too far away from the ocean here at Rider, but that isn’t true. If we do not recycle, an insurmountable number of plastic items will end up in the oceans, endangering the health of marine life and also impacting our own lives.
Lawrenceville Eco Rep
Printed in the 10/21/15 issue.