By: Imbrium Systems
Few activities can be as calming as taking a quiet stroll along an isolated beach on a gorgeous day. The beauty of the water, rhythm of the waves, flight of shorebirds, soft cushion of moist sand underfoot, scent of salty air…so many spectacles of nature that soothe the soul and inspire gratitude for our physical senses. The scene and experience can feel so harmonizing.
When such a walk is unspoiled by intrusions of modern civilization, it may transport us into a quiet and appreciative state of mind. However, it seems increasingly the case that an unwelcome visual blight washes up onto the sand to mar the experience of pristine nature. The unmistakable signs of human neglect as planetary stewards jar us from an otherwise heavenly scene, as our eyes detect trash littered in the water and on the beach.
Trash takes many forms: bits of fishing line and netting, cans and bottles, coffee cup lids, cigarette butts, plastic bags or fragments…so many different types of debris that affront our sight and despoil the environment. It can produce emotions ranging from mild annoyance to intense, angry indignation. Whether the product of the careless ignorance or the intentional and selfish actions of individuals and businesses who are unwilling to properly manage and dispose of their waste, our planet’s waters are being increasingly tainted by the polluting habits of humanity.
It would be challenge enough if the issue were just a visual problem. However, trash in the water takes a real and tragic biological toll on aquatic life and other species. Plastics may break into smaller pieces through the action of sun and wave, but resistance to biological and chemical degradation makes plastic extraordinarily long-lived and persistent in the environment. Marine mammals can get snagged and entangled in drifting nets and fishing lines. Fish ingest small pieces of indigestible plastic that may leach harmful chemicals that eventually bio-accumulate in the food chain. Plastic debris swallowed by seabirds is mistaken for jellyfish or squid or small fish, potentially resulting in asphyxiation or gastrointestinal blockages. The problem will compound as long as we use our rivers, lakes and oceans as dumping grounds, and as untreated stormwater runoff continues to transport large quantities of litter from roadsides and parking lots into our waterways.
Though global in scale, the trash problem is not insurmountable. There are encouraging signs of issue awareness and development of potential solutions. Many environmental organizations, community service groups, and motivated individuals have taken the initiative to lead various water and beach stewardship campaigns. Citizen volunteers are coordinating efforts to conduct creek, river, and beach clean-ups. Cruise lines are being pressured to “go green” and stop dumping trash from their cruise vessels. Many beach communities and oceanside municipalities have implemented various treatment measures, ranging from installing trash booms that net litter from the outfalls, streams, and rivers that empty into harbors and bays, to regulations requiring curbside treatment of stormwater runoff. Several stormwater treatment technologies are engineered for oil and trash capture as a valuable feature, in addition to sediment capture.
Certainly, there is long way to go. Educating 7 billion humans about the importance of keeping our rivers, lakes, and oceans clean is no easy task. But there are signs of an awakening, and the passionate efforts of concerned individuals and organizations worldwide are having an impact. On a planet that seems to be getting smaller, and with so much of the Earth’s water resources under pressure and in decline, “taking out the trash” needs to become a commitment of every individual, every business, and every community.
Read more in this series:
Part 1: Doo-Doo No-No
Part 2: Loving Your Car and the River Too!