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The Great Garbage Dump in the Sea

“The Great Pacific Garbage Patch” was discovered accidentally by yachtsman Charles Moore and his crew, who decided to take a shortcut back home to California, after competing in a sailing race to Hawaii. Their 1997 shortcut took them into an area of the North Pacific known as the “doldrums”. This region of high atmospheric pressure has been historically avoided by mariners because it is renowned for a lack of wind that becalmed sailing ships. It is a zone where many maritime currents converge, creating a slow vortex. This whirlpool effect sucks floating filth from the landmasses forming the Pacific Rim.

Moore discovered an enormous floating accumulation, that some have calculated to be the size of France, of non-biodegradable material, most of which is plastic. It comprises shopping bags, water bottles, polystyrene containers and much more. Just walk down any beach in Koh Samui after a patch of rough weather to view a similar assortment.

Plastic is a by product of the oil industry,where heavier cuts of crude are used to make “nodules’ that are melted down to make plastic products. It does not break down easily, but will decompose to make smaller flakes due to heat and light. These tiny chips are quickly unidentifiable. Scientists tell us that it will take up to 450 years for these particles to bio-degrade. The plastic in the Pacific has accumulated to a depth of 10 meters and has a cumulative weight in excess of 300 million tons. It sits in the ocean polluting the water and killing marine life at a truly alarming rate. Experts claim that a similar pile sits in the South Pacific off Easter Island and an alike mound wallows in the Atlantic.

Ireland was one of the first countries to register awareness of this growing catastrophe. Plastic bags were first introduced by the Supermarkets in the 1960s. Today 260 million tons of plastic products appear annually and bags make up a significant proportion of this total. As a result Ireland introduced legislation requiring the supermarkets to charge 13 Euro cents per bag. This swiftly deterred customers from acquiring the bags: the canny Irish swiftly brought their own reusable cloth carriers to the stores. This made a significant difference to the number of bags blowing in the wind! Other European countries have followed this example and this has seen a drop in the amount of plastic produced worldwide.

The production of bottled drinking water was a trend that began in the late 1980s and now sees more than 200 billion litres of bottled water sold annually. Most of this appears in plastic. This leaches into the water creating pcbs which reduce the pH of the water from a healthy 7 to much more acidic levels, sometimes lower than pH 6. This must have an affect on the health of the population! All of this, however, begs the question what can we do as concerned individuals to help reduce this horrendous problem?

Recent pictures of receding floods in Thailand show mounds of rubbish, most of it plastic, beginning to appear where water once stood. Klongs have been clogged by this material, which has blocked important drainage channels, thus worsening the extent of the floods.

The first thing to do is to stop taking the plastic bags offered by supermarkets and convenience stores. Andy Batts is an expert in recycling. He collects everything he can. He says there is “a recycling depot on the Ring Road, opposite the Bophut Fresh Market. You will find it on the left hand side of the road behind white gates.”
“There is a similar establishment in Nathon. These facilities accept what is considered to be re-cyclable waste and pay for it. Two kilos of plastic bottles sell for 9 THB. There are many Thais who earn their living by collecting these materials which they sell to the dumps.”

The biggest manufacturer of plastic product in the world is China. The Chinese are very happy to buy this waste back from other countries. This helps them reduce the consumption of raw materials and thus keeps their costs down.

We can all help this valuable cycle either by taking stuff to the dumps, or more importantly by aiding those who use this system to make a living. Place your re-cyclable materials like aluminum cans, plastic bottles and even newspapers in bags separate from organic waste. Leave these beside the rubbish bins so the collectors can find them easily. If you meet the collectors who often come round using motorcycle and sidecars, invite them to come and pick up from your home. If done properly this can help everybody and make a few small steps to protect the environment. Oh, be sure to buy bio-degradable black bags from the Supermarket!
This article first appeared in the Samui Gazette