In the open, ocean plastic photo-degrades, which means it absorbs the sun's photons and begins to break into simpler and simpler compounds without ever actually disappearing. The tiny pellets that result are called "mermaid tears" or "nurdles." Because of plastic's open molecular structure, mermaid tears sponge up fat-soluble compounds like PCBs, DDT and a host of herbicides and pesticides present in the ocean in diluted quantities. Plastics also have a nasty affinity for oil; just think of the permanent ring left behind in a food container after storing spaghetti sauce.
The transference occurs as small amounts of these chemicals work their way up the food chain—from the filter feeders all the way up through to the fish sticks on a kitchen table. All over the world, children and adults are unwittingly exposing themselves to low levels of toxicity. Plastic is an odorless and tasteless parasite.
But what's crazy—and maybe even more depressing—about this situation we find ourselves in: It doesn't have to be this way!
We must shift our perception of plastic from waste to a valuable resource. By refusing single-use throwaway plastics, we can slow—and in some places even reverse—the alarming environmental damage occurring around the planet. Meeting this challenge doesn't even need to be a chore. It can be an adventure—an honest-to-goodness, swashbuckling adventure, just like the Plastiki. The kind that gets you out of your car, office or bed, and out into nature. There, you'll understand exactly, even viscerally, what it is that you're trying to save.
Working together is the only way we can move forward and create the necessary solutions for our oceans and our planet, so we can stop apologizing to the million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals unnecessarily killed, and to the children of today and tomorrow who are already asking, "Why isn't anyone reacting?"
Learning about environmental problems is a great start, but it's time to take the next step. Let's articulate and act upon the solutions we have available. The time has come to find your own personal Plastiki! Make a pledge to action...not only to reduce, reuse and recycle—but also to refuse and, most importantly, rethink our use of plastic. Help our oceans today, and drive the solutions for our planet tomorrow!
British explorer David de Rothschild is the expedition leader of the Plastiki—a transoceanic sailboat made of 12,500 recycled plastic bottles. Learn more at ThePlastiki.org and make a Plastiki pledge at MyPlastiki.com .
What changes have you made to reduce, reuse, recycle—and refuse and rethink? Share your story in the comments area.
Take an exclusive photo tour of the Plastiki—and meet the crew
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