Let’s get PUP’ing

My litter pickings from a recent amble through Hampton Park. A separate bag holds the recyclables.

My litter pickings from a recent amble through Hampton Park. A separate bag holds the recyclables.

Litter, and in particular, plastic litter pisses me off. It pisses me off because it isn’t just aesthetically displeasing, it is downright dangerous when ingested by animals, some of which end up on our dinner plate.

Now, I know I often sound like my hair bun is wound slightly too tight, but weren’t we all taught to put litter in its place? And recyclables in theirs? You know, give a hoot, don’t pollute and all that?

This latest rubbish rant was prompted by two separate conversations I had on Earth Day about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located in the central North Pacific Ocean. At about 1.3 million square kilometres, the Patch is larger than Ontario (add four Nova Scotias and you’ve got an idea of the size of this thing), and can be up to three metres deep.

The Pacific one is not the only garbage patch out there, but it is by far the largest, and is a wholly human creation. When not properly disposed of, trash from the land ends up in waterways, then to the seas where ocean currents push it into enormous gyres, spirals of, predominantly, plastic crap. And plastics can take many hundreds of years to fully decompose.

As all that plastic sits atop the ocean, bobbing in the waves, fish and birds pick at it, mistaking it for a tasty morsel. The innards of dead birds and fish and marine mammals washed ashore are often riddled with the stuff. (It’s pretty depressing to see plastic bottle caps and shell casings spilling from the carcass of a seagull.) If that weren’t bad enough, as plastic decomposes, small particles of it break off, sinking to the depths of the oceans where it’s eaten by shellfish and other bottom feeders. Then those animals get eaten and the plastic passes from one gut to the next.

Ridding the oceans of all plastics is likely impossible, but we can stop the problem from getting any worse.

We can do that by PUP’ing: Picking Up Plastic. I challenge you to pick up a couple of pieces of plastic litter every day, just a couple for now. It could be a coffee lid blown onto your lawn from an open car window, or a plastic bag caught in a tree. When you’re comfortable with a couple, scale up because once you start, you’ll see just how much plastic there is, even in a relatively clean city like Ottawa. You can go nuts and organize a PUP party, or do it on your own. Document your finds and tweet them to #PUP or #pickupplastic, or if you’re shy, perhaps you’d prefer to be a stealth PUP.

We all had a hand in creating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and we all have a responsibility to do something about it. No matter what your age, gender, religion, political or social affiliation everyone can do it. Let’s get PUP’ing!

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