Friday, August 15, 2008

Biodegradable Trash: fact or fiction?

There are many issues that need to be addressed when it comes to conservation. Not sure where to start? Well, try starting with the basics: trash. As a diver, I've had the opportunity to dive in some marvelous locales, but even in the most remote of them, I can come across man's needless neglect of trash. Ocean currents can carry trash thousands of miles away - and even so-called biodegradable trash can leave its imprint over vast distances.

Here are some lifespan figures for several biodegradable items, according to the Bureau of Land Management:
  • Paper: 2-4 Weeks
  • Banana Peel: 3-5 Weeks
  • Wool Cap: 1 Year
  • Cigarette Butt: 2-5 Years
  • Disposable Diaper: 10-20 Years
  • Hard Plastic Container: 20-30 Years
  • Rubber Boot Sole: 50-80 Years
  • Tin Can: 80-100 Years
  • Aluminum Can: 200-400 Years
  • Plastic 6-pack Holder: 450 Years
  • Glass Bottles: Lots and Lots of Years.
But there's a catch to this: biodegradability depends on how the item is stored. In a compost heap, the trash is exposed to microorganisms, bacteria and heat which aid in the process of breaking the material down. But in many landfills, the trash is not exposed to these elements (read Slate article) and can last much, much longer.

It gets even worse at sea, whether floating on the surface or submerged. It has been estimated that there are as much as 45,000 pieces of plastic for every square mile of ocean. There are places at sea where ocean currents cause floating trash to condense into huge, floating mats.

So, step one: put trash where it belongs, in the trash can or proper recycling bin. Don't throw it into the streets (where it ends up in the storm drains which lead straight to the sea) or leave it on the beach.

Already knew this? Good. Now tell your friends. That trash is coming from somewhere.

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