Friday, July 18, 2008

The Plastic Catastrophe

Who would have thought that going to the marketplace would somewhat awaken the environmentalist in me?

I 've been watching the fish vendor go about her usual chores, making small talk with a young housewife inspecting the fresh herrings, to close a sale without making her eagerness appear too obvious. As soon as a sale is made, she would pick up fish from a heap, put them on the weighing scale, then hurriedly start removing gills, scales and intestines before putting all the cleaned-up fish inside a plastic bag, after that she would tie the handles into a knot then put the whole thing into yet another plastic bag, before handing it over to the customer who would upon payment place the item in yet another bigger plastic bag along with the other items that she bought, each also already contained in separate plastic bags.

By my estimate, one trip to the market by an average customer would have him or her bringing home at least eight to ten plastic bags of various shapes and sizes. And since not all people have the awareness to recycle, the discarded plastic bags would most certainly turn up among the rubbish within minutes after use and by sheer volume creating a monstrosity the inventors of plastic bags could not have imagined for if they did, they would have let us stick to paper bags instead.

The plastic bags were the major contributor to floods during the rainy seasons, the thinning of the ozone lawyer from the indiscriminate burning of plastic and rubber because of polyeurethane released in the air, as well as the poisoning of our rivers and seas. Now, if only those fish vendors knew what they were doing.

Being non-biodegradable, the plastic bags will have a long time to wreak havoc on the environment. We are bound to be outlived by our own dangerous creation. Those plastic bags will be here to stay long after you and I are gone. And because these are light materials, it is amazing how far and wide they can spread to inflict damage. Plastic buried underneath the earth would create gaps in what should be the solid foundations of the ground soil, the effect of which is manifested by the unstable condition of the surface of the earth that it cannot efficiently retrain water but becomes more vulnerable to erosion instead, unable to provide a firm stronghold for the roots of plants and trees.

When carried away by flowing water, plastic bags can produce more serious destruction, the most apparent are the frequent floods, because of tons of plastic bags clogging the drainage. Plastic bags that found their way to the open sea prove even deadlier as they sometimes end up in the bellies of marine animals like dolphins and tortoises. They are mistaken for jellyfish which are part of the natural diet of tortoises and dolphins, but since the digestive tracts of these animals are no match to the plastic bags, the undigested plastic accumulate in the animal's bodies until eventually they die.

In one bizaare incident from the local zoo, one of their long-time residents, a male African giraffe died of asphyxiation and severe malnutrition because of the three kilos of plastic bags lodged on the giraffe's elongated throat. It was found out that plastic bags blown by the wind become entangled atop the branches of trees inside the giraffe's cage which the animal accidentally ate along with its grass, mash and honey diet.

What does this tell us? Well, that not everything that makes our lives easier will prove beneficial to us in the long run especially if we refuse to always look forward to what comes next after we satisfy our present need.

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