Sunday, June 24, 2018

What Were They Thinking?

Glass Beach is the well-known southern beach of MacKerricher State Park in Fort Bragg California. Glass Beach gets its name from the smooth colorful glass pieces that you can find in the pebbly beach. Sounds pretty cool, huh?
Glass and Pebbles
From 1906 to 1967, everything from cars to batteries to bottles, cans, and appliances were unceremoniously pushed over the cliffs into the ocean — a common practice of seaside cities for centuries. Locals referred to it as "The Dumps." Fires were often lit to reduce the size of the trash pile. What were they thinking? When the original dump site filled in 1943, they created another dump down the beach, followed by a third, which remained an active dump site until 1967 when it was closed by the State Water Resources Control Board.  Over several decades the metal was removed and the biodegradable stuff simply degraded and washed into the sea.  Not all items were removed and in this case, were embedded in the rock on the beach.

Spark Plug and Insulator

What was left was mostly pottery and glass from bottles and autos.  The constant waves of the Pacific broke and ground down this trash into small colored pebbles.  Today the most popular thing to do in Fort Bragg is to go to Glass Beach and collect colored glass.  Officially the glass is not to be removed, but when we were there we saw dozens of people collecting it.  Some have made it a cottage industry with glass jewelry shops in town.

In the first half of the 20th century, people dumped their garbage into the ocean.  Why not?  After all, the ocean is huge and will wash all that unwanted stuff away.  The same thought process meant factories dumped toxic waste into waterways and lakes.   We have made great progress in cleaning up our fresh water in developed nations around the world.

We are now filling the oceans with waste plastic that lasts from 450 years to forever. Over 18 billion pounds of plastic ends up in the oceans every year.  Over 1 million plastic bottles are sold around the world every day.  Much of the plastic is used for packaging and single-use purposes.  Water bottles, straws, plastic trays for your salad at a fast food restaurant are used once and discarded. 

Recycling helps.  June and I try to recycle all our household plastic, glass, cardboard, and aluminum.  Globally, the US lags behind Europe in recycling in general and we are doing a terrible job recycling plastics.

What else can we do?   One simple thing is to limit the use of single-use plastics, such as water bottles, straws, and food packaged in plastic.  Instead, we can take our own insulated tumbler, use paper straws or no straws, and not buy food packaged in plastic.

Fifty years from now our children and grandchildren will look at the oceans and ask "What were they thinking?" Let's start thinking about reducing the plastics in our landfills and oceans.

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