In the middle of the last century, a new term “Planned Obsolescence” entered the business vernacular. Planned obsolescence is a production strategy where goods are specifically designed to have a short life span. Countless disposable products entered the mainstream consumer marketplace. And, even non-disposable items were re-designed to break or be replaced more regularly. In the intervening decades our society has become a “throw-away society”. Now, even the furthest corners of our globe are piled with trash. Below are three unexpected places where debris is piling up, and information about what people are doing to combat the problem:
Just a few years ago, it was estimated that Mount Everest was littered with about 25 tons of trash. Previous climbers left behind bottles, cans, and oxygen tanks. Sometimes this was by necessity. If someone runs into trouble on the mountain one of the easiest ways to ease the journey is to lighten one’s pack of any contents that are not necessary for survival. But, more often than not, climbers left behind refuse out of habit. The problem had become so severe that adventurers were finding the most commonly traveled paths to the summit absolutely littered with debris. It caused a sense of dismay that even at some of the highest elevations on Earth one could not glory in pristine nature. In order to combat the rising tide of garbage, Nepal has enacted a policy meant to alleviate the waste management problem. The country has instated a “leave no trace” policy that requires climbers to return with all of the materials they left with. In addition, climbers are now required to bring an additional two kilograms (17.6 pounds) of refuse with them on their return journey.
In the middle of the Pacific Ocean is an island. It is surrounded on all sides by water, as you would expect. But, it is not a patch of land. It is a patch of trash that stretches across an area nearly the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean. Oceanic currents form a whirl-pool like circulation in this region of the ocean. Trash, much of it man-made plastics that do not decompose despite exposure to sunlight and saltwater, gets stuck in this gyre. Floating plastics are hazardous for birds, which often mistake the bits of debris for food. Digesting large quantities of plastic has become an increasingly common cause of death for endangered shorebirds in the region. The Environmental Cleanup Coalition is working to remove some of the trash that is collecting in the Pacific Ocean. The organization is developing and testing various engineered prototypes that will allow vessels to pick up trash with as little harm to aquatic life as possible.
Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
The trash that escapes the Pacific gyre mentioned above eventually travels to land, washing up along shorelines across the globe. One such place is Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. Along some of the beaches in the region volunteers and park rangers collected up to one ton of debris per mile of beach. A large percentage of the waste is plastics and fishing gear from boats. Waste originating across North America and Asia ends up in this remote region because of the flow of ocean currents. Kenai Peninsula is not unique. Similar situations arise across the coastlines that border the Pacific Ocean. Many argue that investing in cleanup is not necessary, because “no one is there to see it” in remote regions. But, it’s important to take into account the effect this waste has on local fisheries, wildlife, and adventure tourist industries.
Check out Pharrell’s sustainable clothing line Raw for the Oceans which uses ocean trash to make recycled clothing.
Feature Image: Ocean cleanup awareness. Image via Surfrider Foundation.