Okay, so I have down for the definition of integrated waste management “a variety of strategies for both waste reduction and waste management.” Is that it?? That just seems very vague to me. I understand the reducing trash part but are there any particular approaches to waste management that characterize integrated waste management?
Okay, so short recap! We’ve been talking about the issue of water pollution this week–in particular three main ocean pollution issues: excess nutrients, plastics, and oil spills.
The other day in class we talked about the growing issue of plastics in the ocean, and the discovery of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is essentially a huge area of the ocean permeated by plastic bits of all sizes that have collected in the North Pacific Gyre.
Why is this patch problematic? Well…
Plastics can be hazardous for three main reasons:
- They don’t biodegrade, they photodegrade–meaning that UV rays break plastics up into smaller and smaller pieces, but these pieces can never be broken down by living organisms. This means that once plastics get into the ocean they pretty much remain there (in increasingly tiny pieces).
- Ingestion–many of the tiny fragments of plastic resemble food for marine life, leading animals such as sea birds and fish to mistakenly ingest them. This problem is made worse by the fact that plastics are becoming more prevalent in some cases than the animals’ typical food sources (the plastic to plankton ratio in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is 6:1 pounds).When wildlife eat large amounts of plastic, their stomach sends the message that they are full and they stop eating–even though what is in their stomach has no nutritional value. Thus animals are starving to death with full stomachs due to eating plastic. This problem is compounded when you remember that plastics don’t biodegrade, so any plastics contained in an organism’s body are released back into the environment when that organism’s body decomposes.
- They concentrate toxins–the plastics bits can absorb toxins and persistant organic pollutants (POPs) at levels up to 1,000,000 times than what they would otherwise be in the ocean. Remembering that these plastics are often eaten by marine life, it is disconcerting that these animals are ingesting harmful toxins, and many scientists worry that these toxins can pass through the food web.
At this point, it is pretty much impossible to clean up these plastics since many of the pieces are too small. Clean-up efforts would also be too expensive–remember that remediation often is more expensive than prevention. Considering this, the most effective way to manage oceanic plastic pollution is to focus on preventing plastics from reaching the ocean. To do this, we must focus on those famous three R’s: reduce, reuse, and recycle. If we can reduce the amount of plastics we use, then less will end up in aquatic environments. Also, always dispose of trash properly since any trash that gets blown or washed into local waterways will eventually end up in the ocean. Another promising solution is the development of plant-based plastics (as opposed to traditional petroleum-based plastics) that would biodegrade in the environment, thus lessening some of the threat of plastic pollution.
If you’re interested…
The NY Times wrote an article on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that appeared in the Charlotte Observer not long ago.
Also, Mr. Willard found a good video by the discoverer of the patch, Charles Moore, that goes into more detail…
Charles Moore: Sailing the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Okay, so I was looking over some class notes I took on types of hazards and I’m not quite sure what a “cultural” hazard would be? I was thinking maybe like if you live in a city, then the air pollution could be a hazard, but then that would be “chemical.” Can anyone give me a good example so I remember what a “cultural” hazard is?