Floating in the Abyss of Plastic

Mandy Barker is a marine photographer who has won countless awards with her art that involves the use of ocean plastic. Barker’s goal with her art is to help raise awareness for the increased pollution of our oceans with plastics. She graduated from De Montfort University in England, and has been working with plastics for decades.

The following image is from Barker’s collection titled “SOUP.” Based on how scientists refer to the accumulation of microplastics in the ocean as a “soup.” Analyzing this artwork brings in a sense of sadness, because the realization of what we have done to our oceans truly sets in. It is clear that Barker is trying to show off the true effects of what we have done to our oceans. We should be feeling sad and shocked by the pure quantity of garbage we have thrown in it, and we should want to take action. 

Lastly in the below image the artwork is titled “Europe,” for it contains over 622 debris  balls collected from the waters around Europe. The instant connection I felt when viewing these artworks is that these balls almost represent planets. Specifically this artwork is shaped in a flowing matter that reminds one of the intricate designs of galaxies throughout the universe. I believe that the ultimate message that needs to be taken from here is that just like these balls we only have one chance at our true purpose, and if we fail then we will just become another ball in the infinite abyss.

Planet Spork

The Spork. I can’t think of a more important item throughout my childhood life than this simple eating utensil. I can still vividly remember walking into the cafeteria in a single-file line, grabbing my fork and whatever slop they were feeding us elementary schoolers that day. The lunch we were having would always change, but the one aspect that stayed constant: the spork. 

I can hardly remember using my sporks for longer than 30 minutes, for I used it to eat then I would throw it out. Sporks are single use items, although they are rare in most places other than schools they still contribute to the issue of plastic pollution. These sporks can be made of a variety of materials: steel, wood, glass, but of course the major one is plastic. To begin the lifecycle of a spork countless small little plastic pellets are fed into a thin opening where they are crushed and melted together. The ensuing polymer is then stretched, folded, and cut into sheets.

Now begins the process of thermoforming, where the plastic sheets turn into true sporks. The plastic sheet is placed onto a mold, where the mold is full of holes in order to create a vacuum to suck the plastic sheet onto the mold. The sheet is heated and will begin to take the shape of a spork. There you go, a spork has been born. After the spork has been utilized depending on the company that manufactured it and the user it might end up in a landfill or in the recycling. If it ends up in the landfill like all other plastics it will be sitting there for decades upon decades never decaying; stuck in a tomb of trash, or if it’s lucky it will get to see the world via drifting amongst the ocean’s currents. If it gets sent to a recycling facility it will be sorted, cleaned, and eventually melted down to where it can be utilized in another product that requires plastic. 

However the manufacturing process comes at costs as well. Depending on the type of energy that the manufacturing plant uses it is going to be pumping pollutants into the atmosphere, although the pollutants won’t be as toxic as most manufacturing plants. However the main environmental impact of the plant is in the product itself: plastic. These sporks are most of the time not properly disposed of by the users, so they often end up in landfills or in the ocean. An easy solution to this environmental problem is making the sporks biodegradable. If these sporks were biodegradable then we would not need to worry as much, for we could be sure the energy within the sporks would be transferred back to the environment once they decayed away. 

Although biodegradable seems like a quick and easy solution it requires the approval of the company that is producing the sporks. The main issue here is the cost of biodegradation, for implementing this aspect into their product is going to be very expensive compared to the plastic that costs cents. To truly understand the cost difference, look at plastic bags, for which a simple plastic bag costs two cents while on the other hand a biodegradable plastic bag would cost fifteen cents. Many people advocate for these companies to implement these features, but it would come at a cost as in order to make money back for the cost of biodegradable plastic they would probably lay off workers. The people working at these plants in the eye of the company are cheap labor, and many people are going to depend on this job as a source of income, so implementing biodegradable plastic could come at the cost of thousands of jobs. 

The solution seems clear, but the consequences might affect others. In order to achieve these goals we need to work together with one another and our governments to get these companies to implement these ideas without affecting the workers that depend on the plant for income. 

Saltwater Sensitive Brewery

Today major polluters of plastics today are from major corporations such as Coca Cola, Shell, and Nestle. Each year over 300 million tons of plastic are produced and more than half of that is used by corporations to produce single use plastics that often get thrown into the environment rather than recycled. However some corporations have taken the initiative and began to find more sustainable and eco friendly alternatives. We have all heard of compostable products such as bags, bottles, etc. Although you have probably not heard of edible beer can rings.

Meet Saltwater Brewery; they are a Florida based Brewery that was founded in 2013 with the goal to give back to charities that are working to preserve our oceans, alongside providing a refreshing drink to Floridians. These rings are made out of the byproducts produced during the brewery process, and are hundred percent edible by marine creatures (such as Sea Turtles). In 2016 their company hit the headlines when they became the first brewery to implement Eco Six Pack Rings. In 5 days they were able to obtain 3.5 billion global impressions without investing any money into the media. These rings became available to purchase with their beers in all of their tasting rooms alongside many stores throughout Florida.

Analyzing Saltwater Brewery’s website they claim that their goal is to produce a tasteful beer while giving back to the community and protecting Florida’s natural wonders. They give some of their profits to many environmentally based organizations such as CCA Florida, Surfrider Foundation, The Ocean Foundation, and MOTE Marine Laboratory & Aquarium and Billfish Foundation. Alongside this they claim to produce their edible beer can rings with the byproducts produced from the production of their beer. Overall all of these claims seem to be honest and true, and there seems to be no deception or greenwashing whatsoever on the side of Saltwater Brewery.

Regarding the media coverage of the brewery they all seem to be having a rather positive outlook upon the brewery. These articles help provide some extra information on the product that was not provided on the company’s website. The edible rings are primarily made out of wheat and barley which forms an equally as strong ring compared to the plastic rings, however they do mention that these rings are rather expensive to produce, so the cost of their beers have gone up due to this fact with the company hoping that “customers will be willing to pay a bit extra for the environment.” The company is doing good, but it does seem like some of that good will be reduced due to the fact they won’t be selling as much due to their high cost.

Overall in the end Saltwater Brewery seems to be a genuinely honest company when it comes to their concerns of the environment. Ever since their founding they have been donating to charities to help preserve Florida’s oceans. All throughout their website they have themes of conservation, green, and ocean imagery. All in all the company is honest and genuine when it comes to the topics of conservation and plastics.

A Plastic-Free Lifestyle

As an American it is rather difficult at times to live a sustainable lifestyle. In order to live a more plastic-free lifestyle, things off the top of my head that I am willing to change are personal care containers such as soap and toothpaste. If I was also able to find compostable versions of cups or utensils then I would not feel as guilty when tossing them in the trash, knowing at least even if they end up in a landfill that they will just break down into the soil. 

After reading Beth Terry’s book: Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too, I made a chart of plastic based items that I found and mostly used that could be replaced by sustainable/non-plastic options. However before going over what I could replace there are some items that cannot be replaced, such as plastic shells for objects such as keyboards and laptops. Plastic in these items is just too necessary, for it provides a strong option for protection alongside it is cheap so it keeps the prices of our electronics down. Regarding the items I found that I could replace is chewable toothpaste, boxed water, compostable cups, and powdered detergent. 

Now given my current circumstances with what is available to me, and how much money I have available to me I am not able to purchase any of the items I have listed, however I have used many of them before and I can provide the exact same insight as if I was currently using them. In this case I have decided to focus on the chewable toothpaste and boxed water, as they are two of the items that I have personally used before. 

Boxed Water is a weird concept surprisingly, but yet it makes a lot of sense at the same time. When we were in elementary school we were often fed milk in cartons which is not that different from having water in a box. When I used this item in the past the taste of the water was not off, for it just tasted like any other spring water I would get such as Evian or Fiji. However it was satisfying to know that I can just toss this box in my recycling like any other item, but I knew there was absolutely no chance that the plastic contained some wild card item that would not allow it to be recycled. Overall I enjoyed the item, and occasionally find myself buying it alongside the other waters I get, for if you want a sustainable water get Boxed Water. 

Boxed Water Is Better - Charitees

Bite is a brand that produces toothpaste bites that use absolutely zero plastic within them. I found these items very unique because not only does it not use any plastic it also is zero waste, for you are ensured that you will use 100% of the toothpaste that you have, rather than leaving some within the tube. When I used these items I found them very interesting and odd to be chewing on an item that cleans my teeth. I almost felt like a dog chewing on a dental bone! However I quickly got used to the aspect of chewing on my toothpaste, but after it was gone I did not continue to use the item. I liked the toothpaste bites, but they were rather pricey with a one month supply costing $12, and for me I could just go to the store and buy a tube of toothpaste that will last a month or two for $4. 

Naturally Whitening Mint - Bite Toothpaste Bits

In the end I did end up using some of the items I found in more plastic-free options. My advice for others contemplating such a switch is to give it a try. Do some research to find an alternative that suits you best, and if you end up not liking it don’t feel guilty as it’s not for everyone. However the one important thing to remember is don’t overspend; don’t make yourself bankrupt trying to become plastic-free. 


Rise of Plastic

Throughout the day September 6th, 2021 I kept count of every plastic item that I touched during my normal routine. Throughout the day I came in contact with 42 items that were made of some form of synthetic plastic, although I probably touched more that I did not realize was plastic I honestly thought I would have touched a lot more than 42 items. Many times throughout the day I had to stand and contemplate whether or not an item I was holding had any form of plastic on it. 

After the initial day of collecting everything made of plastic I encountered, I began to keep every plastic item I had that was disposable. I found myself throwing anything from a straw wrapper, to a nice plastic bottle into a bag that would slowly accumulate over the course of 24 hours. Throughout that course of time I ended up using a total of 24 disposable plastic items, and initially I thought that was not a lot, but once I laid them all out to get a picture that is when it struck me. We go through plastic like it is nothing, and the fact that 24 items took up nearly half of my carpet is outstanding, we just think of it as nothing more than a passing breeze. 

Taking both days into consideration it would seem like I use a lot of plastic based items. Now I don’t believe this one day is a good representation of my lifestyle as a human being, as both days I recorded my data on I was particularly busy, so I was naturally going through a bit more resources than I normally would. Reflecting back onto these two days though, it really strikes me how much plastic that is in our lives that we don’t even realize, and as well how little of it can be disposed of sustainably.

Comparing both days of collecting, if we assume that I would have gathered around the same amount of disposable plastics on that day, then during that first initial day I would have encountered approximately 18 non-disposable plastic items. Some of these non-disposables can still be recycled, but they require more specialized facilities to process them, and sadly I do not have easy access to said facilities in order to put them back to good use. 

At the end of the day however it is important to remember what Beth Terry once said, “Guilt is not encouraged”, and from this quote we don’t need to feel bad for using plastic items in our lives. Most of us are fortunate enough to live in a country where plastic luxuries are common, and we just have naturally begun to blend these items into our normal lives; to where we think nothing of them. You can make a change in your life to try to use less plastic, but don’t feel guilty over using some, with the world that we are living in currently it is rather hard to avoid the use of plastic. Just remember to try and take a few extra steps and maybe buy that biodegradable cups, or learn to wash your own utensils in order to not need plastic utensils; any change matters no matter how small.