The Beach Trash You Can See Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg


I constantly have a rotating set of water bottles at my desk, because I often buy new bottles of water, even though we have a perfectly good water cooler here where I can refill my bottle. As I replace an older bottle with a newer bottle, I can’t bring myself to toss the old one — we only have paper recycling here, so I know it will end up in the trash.

Anyway, this article about the shocking amount of plastic floating around in the Pacific, and a heart-wrenching photo of a “sea turtle with a plastic band strangling its shell into an hourglass shape” has made me feel incredibly guilty about my water bottle habit.

The good news is that NYC recycles plastic. The bad news is that a lot of it isn’t recyclable, and often washes out to sea after storms. And many New Yorkers are terrible litterbugs — virtually every time I am on the street, I see people tossing gum wrappers, cigarettes and fast food bags with no shame at all. Is there anything more tacky than littering?

This is, of course, a problem everywhere. Growing up in Texas (the photo above is of a “low trash day” in Port Aransas, Texas), the beaches were often covered in plastic and tarballs that had washed ashore from oil rigs, oil tankers and even from the Mississippi. It’s yet another weird perspective I grew up with – I thought every beach had tar on it.

Tony Amos, a Texas marine science professsor, and one of my favorite personal acquaintances, has done years of research on the trash, and determined that was just the tip of the iceberg, noting in a St. Petersburg Times article that “the debris that lands on the bottom is just the garbage that won’t float. The chemical buckets, hard hats, wooden planks and plastic sheets that are blown overboard by the wind or tossed off illegally have long been a major problem on the Texas coast.”

It’s likely the same thing over in the Pacific, too — the floating trash is just the beginning.

One thought on “The Beach Trash You Can See Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

  1. Concetta says:

    Hi Joy…I think you should tell the story about a friend who saw a litter bug on the N train and proceeded to throw the litter right back in the face of the disposer…hmmmm. Littering on the train should be a federal offense.

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