By Terrah Baker
First, see if you know if the following statements are true or false.
1. T or F — Plastic will degrade in the environment given enough time.
2. T or F — Recycling is the best way to keep waste out of the landfill.
3. T or F — Aluminum and glass can be recycled indefinitely.
Whether you’re sure of your decisions or not, it’s time to learn the answers. And let’s try and start on a light note, although Trashed (2012), the documentary starring Jeremy Irons, doesn’t really allow for much lightness, come first screen shot.
It was screened at the Fayetteville Public Library on Sunday with Fayetteville’s own waste and recycling man Brian Pugh as a guest speaker. It began with eery, dramatic music on top of images of bubbling liquid, gooey, sticky, unrecognizable mush and decaying masses, of course filmed close-up in most cases.
At first I thought this display of theatrics was a little much for the children, and maybe for adults who are just trying to get educated. But as you will see through this column, and viewing the documentary, the real truth is even uglier.
This event wasn’t about NWA or Fayetteville’s waste problem, this was about what the entire world is facing with trash. Irons walked us through the journey of the world’s trash heaps, slowly, methodically and with great attention to their effects on the environment and humans.
It’s hard to see the damage being done to our Earth from space, Irons said, but when you get up close it becomes very clear. Images of trash lining streets, beaches, hanging from trees, all mainly plastic — the synthetic resource that’s reeking havoc in our oceans, soils, air and bodies.
While no one knows how much garbage humans actually produce, estimations say there are 7 billion times more garbage now than any other time in history. And what’s even worse is the products we’ve been producing in the last 50 – 100 years are much different than what they’ve seen before.
They don’t follow the natural buildup, breakdown process that has kept our ecosystem and Earth in check for so long, one scientist explained. So, today’s materials made of synthetic chemicals are produced and go back into the system to take hundreds of years to break down, while releasing toxic chemicals in the meantime (numbers show that 35 percent of plastic goes back to the landfill within one year of production). No big deal, except if you live on a planet where everything’s connected and the human population is growing, right along with the amount of trash produced in developing countries.
If that’s the case — and it is for us Earthlings — we have a problem. Because according to scientists we all have dioxins — a byproduct of the manufacture, burning or breakdown of synthetic materials — in our bodies, water supplies, soil and food chain. Now, they’re taking over our oceans, making predatory sea life (the ones who eat the fish that are eating the toxic soup of plastic that’s pervasive in our oceans) infertile, deformed and could destroy their populations to extinction.
The more disturbing images consisted of villages in Asia where households and their trash lined the streets in piles on the river banks. The trash bags of used and rotting goods clogged the streams and left a constant, yet traveling foam that lined the top of the water. And when trolling in the ocean with a fine net at some of the worst locations, scientists have found more plastic particles than plankton.
This is clearly a problem. What’s the answer? The movie makes it clear. Reduce. Use the technologies we have available to use less plastic and resources. Implement reusable packaging while saving industry and consumers money in the meantime. And of course recycling. Throw in some digesters and composting for the new natural products that will replace synthetic, and you have yourselves a sustainable economy.
Just like public campaigns such as smoking, seat belts in cars and drunk driving, we see the effects of trash, and more people are bringing the issue to light. It’s a matter of time before we will be forced to control our level of outrageous consumption in our “throw away society.” Of course Irons put it best and most concise, “Because we are trashing our planet, and it’s time to stop.”
Hopefully now you know the answers to the questions above, if not, and even if so, see the movie (www.trashedfilm.com). Learn the harsh reality of what our trash is doing to our planet, so you can act in your own life. (Answers: 1. F, 2. F (reducing), 3. T (75 percent of aluminum ever made is still in use today.)