“There’s a great future in plastics, my boy”. -The Graduate
I must confess, modern life is pretty convenient and rather enjoyable. No more grooming and feeding horses just to get from point A to B. No more shopping every day in order to have fresh food. And a lot less cooking and housework than our parents and grandparents did. That equates to more free time, hopefully to pursue engaging, stimulating, knowledge expanding, physically and socially positive activities. Being more creative. Making things better. Developing new ideas into businesses. Making a difference.
And for many of us that is how we spend our free time. But along with that free time and the conveniences we enjoy comes a price, and that price was driven home to me when I took a fishing holiday to the little Caribbean country of Belize. Belize lies on the coast between Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula to the north and the countries of Guatemala and Honduras to the south. It’s ancient Mayan country and filled with wonderful temples indicating a rich civilization that once flourished in the jungles and along the shore.
And the Barrier Reef that runs offshore provides a rich and fertile environment for an abundance of ocean life. And for a fly angler like myself Belize provides an opportunity to fish in a pristine environment of clear water and fresh winds.
Well, almost pristine! But there is a blight on this beautiful country, and I suspect it’s not just limited to Belize. And that blight is a sickening amount of plastic that litters the beaches and the ocean-facing sides of the hundreds of small mangrove islands offshore. The flotsam and jetsam of our convenient and disposable society. I’m not talking about a few plastic water bottles and a plastic bag or two. On island after island the shore was literally covered. There were as many plastic objects as rocks on the shore! It made me sick, sad, and to be honest ashamed.
And where does all this plastic come from? Talking to the locals it became clear that while our modern “throw-away” life style in the developed countries has become a growing part of their lifestyle, the majority of the plastic trash comes from passing ships that dump their garbage in the ocean as they move goods north to south. Why else would it just be concentrated on the windward sides of the islands? It moves with the wind and the currents and pile up on the mangrove islands and the shore of the mainland. And these are uninhabited islands. Locals don’t picnic there and leave trash. We dispose of our trash in their waters.
I am ashamed for two reasons. First for those of my species who so wantonly disregard the environment and dump tons of trash into the ocean, and secondly for myself for the convenient and wasteful way I use plastic in my every day life. Here are some frightening statistics:
- The world’s annual consumption of plastic materials has increased from around 5 million tonnes in the 1950s to nearly 100 million tonnes today (200 Billion pounds!)
- About 1 million plastic bags are used every minute.
- A single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade.
- More than 3.5 million tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps were discarded in 2008
- Plastic bags are the second-most common type of ocean refuse, after cigarette butts (2008)
- Plastic bags remain toxic even after they break down.
- Every square mile of ocean has about 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it.
- Americans threw more than 22 billion water bottles in the trash in 2006 (that was 5 years ago – yikes, what is it now?)
- In the US studies show up to 10 tons of garbage per mile of coastline, a record that can probably be matched in many other parts of the world. Plastic forms the biggest single item found.
As a fisherman I really don’t like seeing all that trash spoil the beauty of my fishing experience, not to mention the ecological damage. And I doubt if the Belizians like it either. Since that trip I have definitely become more aware of my (and our) reckless use of plastic. We recently bought some nice glass water bottles which we fill up with filtered tap water now instead of buying water in plastic bottles. We find other uses for our plastic. I even cut plastic bottles in half to use the bottom for storing pencils, pens, nails, fly-tying materials. And we try to use as few plastic bags as possible.
We anglers, and everyone else who enjoy the outdoors and have so much convenience in our lives must also be equally accountable. One thing I love about fly anglers is that they seem to come home with more trash than they start with, picking up crap along the river bank or lake shore and taking it home to (hopefully) be disposed of properly. We also need to rethink a way to make ships more accountable for their trash.
The greater the freedom the greater the responsibility.
There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew. ~Marshall McLuhan
Tight Lines . . .
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