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Garbage Island: The Dangerous Trash Crisis

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

Publication Date: December 2, 2020

Black and white cartoon showing a shark made out of garbage and oil lurking at a beach with many people swimming.

Every day, we all go about our lives and produce waste along the way — often without even realizing it. Simple actions like opening up a pack of batteries creates waste when they are fully used or opening a candy bar and putting the wrapper in the trash.

The act of throwing away unneeded packaging and items is completely normal and in many cases and cannot be avoided. What is not normal is that there’s a patch of garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean that is roughly twice the size of Texas or three times the size of France.

This is not only an issue of carelessly discarding trash, but a result of the convenience we take for granted in having someone always clean up our messes to maintain cleanliness around our homes, neighborhoods and even farther, leaving millions of people blissfully unaware of the impact they are having on the environment.

Each year, approximately two billion tons of municipal solid waste is produced globally, which is equivalent to approximately 500 pounds of trash per person. At least 33 percent of that enormous amount is not managed in an environmentally safe manner.

The issue with overcrowding landfills is that not one person can be held accountable since it’s a compilation of thousands of people’s waste. As a result, the blame rests on each and every person on Earth that has contributed to adding waste to the global waste stream, and their collective inaction to changing their habits.

This magnanimous amount of trash contributes to the degradation of surrounding environments and significantly impacts the creation and growth of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but how is it that our trash inland and along the Atlantic get added to the Garbage Patch in the Pacific?

“Trade winds and westerly winds cause the water to start circulating in a clockwise direction in the north Pacific, resulting in the North Pacific subtropical gyre. As the currents circulate, some of that water is transported to the center of the gyre, bringing anything floating at the surface to the center,” stated oceanography professor Gabriela Smalley. “There are several different mechanisms that cause trash to get in those currents. Some of it is wind driven from landfills. Additionally, some trash is a result of legal dumping in open oceans. There are rules and regulations that allow for almost all types of trash, except for plastic, to be legally dumped when you’re a certain distance from shore.”

Rider has programs to help reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills. In 2014, a bio-digester was installed at Daly Dining Hall, allowing for 90% of food waste to be converted to grey water and travel down the municipal drain rather than head to the landfill.

Additionally, the Office of Sustainability is partnered with Terracycle and their Writing Brigade, which takes writing utensils that usually aren’t easily recycled and sends them to Terracycle to be transformed into entirely new products. The Office of Sustainability also hosts a plethora of events educating people about waste reduction, as well as giving out some sustainable products to help with that, including metal straws, reusable bags, reusable cups and much more.

Student actions play a large part in reducing waste as well. “You can easily reduce waste by using reusable containers or baggies to store your food, as well as using reusable bottles for your beverages. Of course, it’s always a good idea to get rid of plastic bags and opt for cloth ones instead”, said junior dance performance major Tiffani Britton.

A future without trash isn’t realistic in our lifetime, but a future with less trash certainly is. To do so results in the education and cooperation of everyone, uniting for one cause: to save the lands and oceans we live on and around on a daily basis. Earth is our home, so it’s time we all work together and treat it like such.

Dean Riddle

Rider Eco-Rep

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