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For the month of September, the EcOh Educational Series focused on our relationship with plastic and where plastic primarily ends up; our waterways and oceans.

After participating in neighborhood clean ups, we came to the glaring realization that there is an overwhelming amount of plastic that is littered throughout the city. We wanted to research to see what happens to that plastic after it ends up on the street.

The items that are used in all aspects of our lives are disposed of either through recycling, landfill or littering/illegal dumping. Many of these plastic items will most likely end up in our ocean, through wind and rainwater. It is said that “every minute, one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our oceans” [2].

There is a common misconception that plastic items have a timeline for how long it takes for them to decompose. However, science has proven that it doesn’t actually decompose but it deteriorates becoming smaller pieces of itself. This is done through the exposure to the sun, waves, marine life and temperature changes [4]. The deterioration of plastic leads to microplastic, which are small pieces of plastic “less than 5mm in length” [1]. Some of these plastics don’t have to deteriorate to become microplastics, some are manufactured as microplastics such as glitter.

Some surprising everyday items that contain plastic are chewing gum, stickers on our produce, the glue used to seal our tea bags and the fibers in our clothing. One of the more concerning facts we discovered was that all the plastic-dust in the air is created by tires as we drive. Another concerning fact is that paint contains plastic, from the artistic paint to the paint used for road markings. That plastic ends up in our waterways as we clean the brushes or rainwater washes away the paint on the roads.

The five gyres (large systems of circulating ocean currents) grab the ocean-dwelling plastic creating garbage patches in the middle of the oceans. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the most well-known garbage patch, which is located between Hawaii and California. The plastic within this patch is not only made of microplastics, in fact 92% of the total mass is made of debris larger than 5mm [3] and that’s only what we can see. Scientists are still trying to gather data on all the plastic that has ended up on the ocean floor.

As a firm we decided to create a photo timeline, showing all the plastic we interact with in a single day. This activity reaffirmed how integrated plastic is in our daily lives. After collecting all the photos from everyone, we assembled all the pictures into one collage to demonstrate how much we rely on plastic to get through our day.

References:
  1. https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/hazards/marinedebris...
  2. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/10/every-minut...
  3. https://theoceancleanup.com/great-pacific-garbage-...
  4. https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2011/01/26/our-ocean...

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