Plastic garbage clogs our rivers and oceans.
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Plastic is literally jamming up nature's code. The very durability that makes plastic so useful to humans is exactly what makes it incredibly harmful to all the natural life cycles in every ecosystem worldwide. When it comes to an accumulation of plastic in our oceans, David de Rothschild—expedition leader of the Plastiki, a boat made of 12,500 recycled plastic bottles—says the problem has gotten out of control.
For me, the stark reality of our planet's plastic situation really kicked in back in 2006 when I read the United Nations Environment Program publication, "Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Deep Waters and High Seas." The report pointed out that on or below every square mile of our ocean, there were 46,000 pieces of floating marine debris. The problem was particularly acute in certain areas.

The most notorious of these areas, called the Eastern Garbage Patch, is a swirling gyre in the North Pacific twice the size of Texas. There, for every pound of plankton researchers found 6 pounds of plastic litter. Along with four other enormous gyres, these swirling heaps of trash now potentially cover up to 40 percent of our planet's surface. From ocean trenches in the Atlantic to floating particles across the farthest reaches of the Pacific, synthetic polymers are on a rampage: As much as 90 to 95 percent of the total amount of marine debris is plastic—the remaining 5 to 10 percent is slowly degrading materials such as timber and glass, as well as hazardous and hard-to-clean-up medical, industrial and raw-chemical sewage-related waste. The full effects of these man-made materials are still being fully assessed by the scientific community; however, it's safe to say that almost every fish, marine mammal, sea bird and even human is or will be affected in one way or another.

Take the case of the majestic and now endangered albatross. The Laysan albatrosses that nest on Kure Atoll and Oahu Hawaii get it the worst. They mistake floating plastic items such as fishing line, light sticks and lighters for squid, fish and krill. Scientific American printed a quote from Lindsay Young of the University of Hawaii that sums it up well: "There were so many small plastic toys in the birds from Kure Atoll...that we could have assembled a complete nativity scene with them." It's estimated that of the 500,000 albatross chicks born every year on Midway, almost half of them die from consuming plastic fed to them by their parents. One was found to have 306 pieces of plastic inside of its belly.

But even more ominous is the second major issue regarding the spreading plastic plague: toxicity transference.

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 and make a Plastiki pledge at .

What changes have you made to reduce, reuse, recycle—and refuse and rethink? Share your story in the comments area.

Keep Reading:
Take an exclusive photo tour of the Plastiki—and meet the crew
Learn more about the Plastiki's mission
Simran Sethi calls for a new definition of what it means to be an environmentalist


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