Folks, this is about my "consumption" of plastic over the next year. I'm looking at what I have, what I buy, and why I seem to need this hundred and fifty year old man-made concoction more than my mother's fried chicken.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Weeks 24-27: Message in a plastic bottle

Has anyone seen my shoe? It was just here a second ago...
It must be on a beach somewhere in Eleuthera: the lost shoe capital of the world.

This has been the fastest month of my life. I didn't realize that repeatedly saying "I need to do my blog post tomorrow" would actually turn out to be 30 days from the last post.

Anyway, last weekend I took a day off and went to Lighthouse Beach at the southern tip and did some spontaneous beach combing. And do you know what I found? Combs...on the beach. Very surreal. I spotted at least two of them. Here is everything else I found...
  • baby doll carcass
  • baby doll head (found a few hundred yards away)
  • 10+ 5-gallon buckets (2 from Chevron)
  • Barbie knee pad
  • 3 hard hats (red, white & blue)
  • unknown tube container things (5' long/8" diameter)
  • polypro rope & netting of every thickness, length, & color
  • thermoses
  • coolers
  • laundry baskets
  • high heel shoe
  • HDPE pipe
  • Haitian butter tubs
  • cherub
  • irrigation tubing
  • chair back
  • half of a lawn chair
  • milk crates
  • cable insulation
  • bread crates
  • buoys
  • unknown piece of plastic- "Made in Maine"
  • flip flops
  • snorkel fins
  • running shoes
  • welding mask
  • soda bottles
  • olive oil jugs
  • a Hatian prison tray
  • fishing line
  • computer board sandwiched between polystyrene (3 of them)

The whole beach combing experience is what I would call comically apocalyptic...or maybe apocalyptically comical. It looked almost intentional. Like someone strategically and delicately scattered all of these objects evenly on the beach. I remember looking for shells and shark teeth when I was younger and now I am a scavenger of plastic. Finding a plastic object on the beach 15 years ago was kind of a unique find. Now, plastic is part of our landscape. And by "our", I mean everyone in the whole wide world. My guess is that many if not most children have never seen an unpolluted beach.

The beach is my refuge--my place of release, solitude, and transformation. It is also the proverbial rug of the world under which we sweep everything. The places that I hold most sacred are just not what they used to be. So, how do I come from this despair?

I have no idea. So, I just started mining the beach.

I brought back 3 bread crates, a giant drum (a future worm bin for composting), the welding mask, 2 of the buckets, and the barbie knee pad. The most useful of which is...that's right, the barbie knee pad. It's great for all my sweet dance moves.

My new version of Message in a (plastic) bottle:

Just a castaway, a bucket lost at sea, oh
Another lonely day, with plastic around me, oh
More polypro than any man could bear
Rescue me before I fall into despair, oh

A year has passed since I lost my crate
But I should have known this right from the start
Only rope can keep it together
Plastic can help your life but
it can break apart

Walked out this morning, don't believe what I saw
Hundred billion flip flops washed up on the shore
Seems I'm not alone in losing my freight
Hundred billion unmatched shoes, looking for a mate...

I'll send an SOS to the world
I'll send an SOS to the world...

What's on your beach?


mikeg said...

sunnye... having lived on lake erie for most of my life beach combing was always an adventure... dad laid a patio out of bricks that washed up on the beach although it did take years of collecting... bricks from the lake, moss from the woods, sand from Ford's Cleveland foundry... black sand... i don't even want to know what was (is) in that sand... lots of golf balls too

plastic earthling said...

hey sunnye! just found your blog- interesting stuff! i look forward to reading more. i'm doing a no plastic year too. currently on the big island of hawaii and working with the hawaii wildlife fund doing beach clean-ups near south point. we are picking up large piles of derelict fishing gear, and trying to identify where they came from. all the currents bring TONS of garbage to the south point beaches; it is SO interesting to go beachcombing here... last time i found a miniature bowling pin, a tiny robot, and a doll's leg. i started collecting combs, toothbrushes, and glow sticks for an art project. i never thought of the term "beachcombing" in that context... how appropriate!

Sunnye said...

mikeg--that is so amazing. Golf balls I haven't found, but when I was in the Marshall Islands, I found a golf shoe and a giant suitcase that 2 little boys were trying to make into a boat.

I definitely haven't found any bricks yet. Where do you think the bricks from the lake originated from?

Sunnye said...

plastic earthling--so glad that I have a partner in crime on another island in the world! When did you begin? I'll make sure I follow your adventure. Hey maybe that doll leg goes to my creepy doll body & head!

jessica said...

I have a lot to say on this issue from personal experience. I could say much more, but I'm trying to be brief. Here goes.

112. The number of balloons I picked up from a beach in Texas in 3 days. Ribbons attached.

87. Number of hard hats found on the one day during a "Hard Hat Bonanza" competition. One was pink! Several more were found each successive day.

I watched the currents bring in thousands of objects daily. Some were natural, almost all were...plastic.

Collectively our staff hauled out a pickup truck brimming with trash every TWO DAYS! And that was just what we could pick up...most plastic had been in the sun long enough to shatter into small pieces once it was touched, making it nearly impossible to remove from the beach.

About one ton of trash per linear mile lies here. 65% is directly from the shrimp industry (nets, baskets, bleach bottles), 13% from the offshore oil industry (hard hats and drums- Sunnye, please sterilize the drum you may have had toxic materials inside!), and 22% is in that lovely "other" category.

This is where the world's most endangered sea turtle nests. This is along the main route of almost all North American migratory birds. This is where children play and where fish eat. You might eat these fish...

Working there frightened me.

While there, I ran into information about a group in Kenya. They employ people to collect tons of flip flops and turn them into cool art objects. An interesting idea!

Capt. Charles Moore makes a compelling argument with photos, stats, and videos in this 7 minute lecture. I recommend that you all check it out, even if you have Bahamian bandwidth!

Sunnye said...

Wow Jess--this is awesome info. Yeah--I've definitely encountered a lot of brittle plastics on the beach. So enlightening about the sources--shrimp & oil. How do you know this? It really makes me wonder if eventually beaches will be a thing of the past as far as "places to visit" are concerned..

jessica said...

The Park Service actually conducted a 5 year study that revealed these statistics. Try googling Padre Island and plastic or trash and a slew of articles will pop up. Fun (or not so fun) figures like:

"About 90 percent of the trash washing in from the waters off Padre Island is plastic."

And: "Scientists recorded the number of items marked with the distinctive diamond-shaped bites of sea turtles. Ninety-five percent of these were shrimping industry items."

And: "You wouldn't have enough trailers to pull all the plastic off this beach." appear in large quantity.

Here are a few links:

Bekah said...

Did the doll carcass and the doll head go together? Inquiring minds want to know.

Sunnye said...

YES! I feel confident that the doll head, which was found after the doll carcass was a positive match. And MAN, if it ain't something creepy. I was never a fan of plastic dolls...