As part of our attempt to get off the corporate food grid, yesterday we walked to the small-but-growing commercial center close to us, home of Pane d’Amore, the Historic Lynwood Theater, Treehouse Cafe, Lottie’s Place Styling Salon, Village Music, Sawan Thai, Salmon Canyon Cafe, and Walt’s Market. We are within walking distance of great baked goods, groceries, food, films, music, and Lottie’s haircuts that come with a Dum Dum lollipop. All that and, thanks to the Tudor-style architecture and sweet carved wooden business signs, the main drag has the feel of a Richard Scarry illustration, minus the clothed bipedal animals. We love our little south end town center.
But this is a post about our walk, not our destination. Despite the verdant roadside, comfortable lack of blaring sun and our charming destination, it wasn’t exactly a relaxing walk. The pedestrian shoulder measures mere inches in places, not nearly enough to feel anything but vulnerable as the cars and very large trucks zip by on the busy main road. Adding to my worries was the fact that my kids are now as obsessed with plastic trash as I am, and insisted on stopping to identify, discuss, and collect each piece we found. I had to veto a few that were too large to carry in our basket, or too filthy to touch with bare hands, although that didn’t feel right at all. The girls were not happy that we were leaving any trash behind us; they’d like us to get one of those urban metal carts to bring along for future trips.
It’s hard, I know, to fully grasp the truth that about 80% of the plastic trash in our oceans comes from those of us on land. Not just from people playing on beaches, either, but primarily from those of us higher up the world’s watersheds, going about our daily lives. When we first started cataloging and identifying marine plastics over a year ago, we puzzled over what was breaking hard plastics down so effectively into sharp shards and bits. Over and over, we found items that all seemed to have been subjected to the same force, regardless of where or when we found them. Caps from water bottles always seemed to be smashed the same way, ball point pens split into needle-like lengths, straws shredded from top to bottom into uneven fringe. Then we started seeing plastics on the ground wherever we went, not just during our beach trips, and we figured it out. These plastic shapes we find on the beaches and floating in the water, we think they’re created primarily by cars running over whole plastic items in parking lots and along roads. When we search for plastics higher up in our local watersheds, we find the same items, freshly crushed into these familiar shapes and ready for their journey to the sea.
We found plenty of examples today, some of our usual beach plastic suspects not yet at the beach, and decided we’d share the photos we took as we walked along. We hope this helps you make the connection between the plastic items you use on a daily basis and the plastics entering the ocean every day. That’s exactly what this experience of seeing and collecting plastic trash has done for us. These pieces really are from us, all of us. We’re human, we lose things, even the most careful amongst us. Not many of us throw trash on the ground purposely, but it ends up there anyway, in a variety of ways. And once it hits the ground, it’s fair game for the most effective mobile trash compactor around, the car (bus, truck, van, motorcycle, scooter). Once it’s been crushed, the smaller pieces are even more mobile in the rain and wind, and even more likely to fit through a storm drain into the closest body of water.
We recycled what we could from our haul today and saved a few choice items for our collection: Miss M has her own road reflector (broken into three pieces that fit together, found hundreds of yards apart), and Miss A has a metal key broken in two (a departure from plastic trash, and proof that we do look for trash in general; it’s just that there’s more plastic than anything else to start with). The things we couldn’t recycle or reuse, we threw out, hoping they make it to the landfill this time and stay put for a while, long enough for some brilliant minds to figure out what to do with them for good.