Okay, what do a camel, a sea turtle and Kim West (née Kardashian) all have in common? Micro-beads. All of the above use “modern plastic science” — wittingly or unwittingly — in their daily lives. In two of three cases, it’s deadly and shockingly so. In the third case, we just wish Kim were as digestible as, and less shocking than, a micro-bead.
Next joke: How do you fit all the problems of the ocean into a 45-minute Earth Day panel? Punchline: You don’t!
And that, frankly, sucks. Obviously, it’s not a joke, but just as the ocean is so incredibly massive and awe-inspiring that it’s hard to conceive of in its entirety, it’s equally impossible to even start to talk about the ocean in just 45 minutes. Thus, the overwhelming task of the Ocean Pollution panel at Earth Day Texas — moderated by Planet Experts’ CEO and founder, David Gardner — was to educate, inform and incentivize folks to do their part to take action against micro-beads, plastic bags, crazy straws and every other shiny byproduct of “better living through chemistry.”
The panel was effectively passionate, artistic and informative enough to make anyone want to adamantly declare “paper!” when asked the now age-old, paper-or-plastic supermarket question. The panel featured a mix of articulate, motivated scientists and consciously outside-the-box artists who spoke about their shock and outrage over the plastic gyres in all our oceans as well as what we can actually do to try to fix things.
Dr. Pamela Plotkin, Director of Texas Sea Grant, has been studying sea turtles for years. Her work has come to unfortunate notoriety fairly recently thanks to Peanut, a sea turtle who looks to be the face of an 80s Slimfast campaign. Peanut got a plastic six-pack holder stuck around her waist as a youth and, as she grew, it literally constricted her into, well, the shape of a peanut.
If this was only a billionth of the image of the problem, it would still elicit the same horrifying gasps. Unfortunately, it’s about five-trillionth of the problem. Make that five trillion minus about eight thousand for the “raw materials” it took to make this unfriendly looking (and rightfully so) giant penguin comprised of toss-away plastic bits from ten-seconds-of-usage items.
Lia Colabello, Director of Partnerships and Community Engagement at 5 Gyres was almost in tears talking about her organization’s attempt to quell the tide of micro-beads flowing into our waterways from Kardashian-approved beauty products and other crap that literally contains un-compostable, un-biodegradable, essentially indestructible, minuscule beads of plastic.
Colabello shared the story of a young boy who visited her Earth Day booth with his grandmother and after seeing enough images of the sheer amount of plastic found in the sea and sea life, proceeded to ask “Mimi, why is there so much plastic in the animals?”
Micro-beads Are Why There’s So Much Plastic in the Animals
Micro-beads. They’re effectively the quarks of modern society. They are literally tiny beads made of plastic in laboratories and added to numerous products across the spectrum. What do micro-beads do in our products? The idea is sound: They exfoliate our skin, keep our teeth clean, scour our dishes and generally keep us from looking like extras in a Mad Max movie. But after their ten seconds of useful life, they wash down our drains and into our waters, never to be returned to whence they came. Instead, they float out to sea to be gobbled by all manner of sea life (and hence by us).
Thankfully, there are hard-nosed scientists and vigilant organizations that study, catalog and work to fight the companies that produce micro-beads and their hillbilly cousins, plastic bags, shrink wrap, red Solo cups, and those vein-bulging safety seals on your Muscle Milk. There are also incredible artists working the emotional angle to spur change.
Saturday’s panel also included German actor and activist Markus Reymann, whose exploratory art program, The Current, takes art-minded folks into the field to help create awareness and action, and visual artist Jeremy McKane, who travels the globe to produce arresting images of our degradation. They both spoke directly to the left side of our brains and helped balance the mind-numbing facts and figures (like 5.25 trillion plastic particles in the ocean) with passion, vision and perspective that good artists bring to a problem, idea or action.
How Do Camels Fit Into All This?
Plastic bags and micro-beads don’t just live in the oceans, silly. They spread to all corners of the Earth, as Jeremy pointed out by relating the tale of his jaw-dropping visit to an incredibly remote island where they found the beach literally covered with plastic remnants.
And yes, “all corners” includes the vast swaths of desert in which camels reside. And eat. To tie together the vastness of the plastic problem as artistically as possible, I’ll leave you with a maddeningly powerful image — the 30-pound ball of undigestible plastic discovered inside the stomach of a prematurely deceased camel — and let you mount your horse (or camel) into the charge to stop using or condoning non-biodegradable plastics.
Earth Day Texas 2016 Series
- Texting for Climate Action With Dr. Katharine Hayhoe
- How Do You Make Climate Change Relevant to Kids?
- Touring Tiny Houses, Meeting Solar Speedsters
- Even Earth Day Is Bigger in Texas
- El Paso Students Built This Solar Car in 39 Days
- Lessons in Sustainability, or Why I’m Terrified of Hawks
- Dr. Jenni Vanos Explains How Climate Change Affects Our Health