Monday, March 15, 2010

Focusing on the realities of the universe.

Post 444 - Since we live close to La Jolla's beautiful Coast Walk, parking in front of our house is a constant parade of visitors. These visitors continually leave their garbage on our sidewalk before they drive away so we have the dubious pleasure of picking it up and disposing of it. Orange peel, beer cans, hamburger wrappers, cigarette packets, Starbuck containers, water bottles, etc., etc.

I read somewhere that in a lifetime, the average American adult throws away 600 times his or her weight in trash. If you add it up, this means most people will leave a legacy of 90,000 pounds of garbage! I suspect the pressures of daily life make us largely unaware of the direct impact we have on our environment. We read about global warming and such, but we don't think much about our contribution to the litter that's all around us.

Knowing the decomposition rates for trash can help sharpen that awareness. I'd like to see the following examples posted prominently in public places, especially at beaches and parks where large numbers of people congregate:

Orange or banana peel - 2-5 weeks

Newspaper - 6 weeks

Apple core - 2 months

Plywood – 1 to 3 years

Wool sock – 1 to 5 years

Milk carton – 5 years

Cigarette butt – 10 to 12 years

Plastic bag – 10 to 20 years

Leather - 50 years

Plastic bottle – 50 to 80 years

Disposable diaper – 75 years

Tin can – 100 years

Beer can – 200 to 500 years

Monofilament fishing line - 600 years

Glass bottle - 1 million years

Stryofoam – never

Most of these numbers apply when the items are exposed to sunlight and air. Put them in a landfill and chances are they won't break down for many generations in the absence of light and oxygen. For example, newspapers dumped in landfills have been known to be still readable many years later.

Because of our new "hobby" of picking up and disposing of other people's trash, we've become much more aware of the sources of environmental pollution and what we can personally do to lessen it. We're working to change our way of life to one that doesn’t have as much of a negative impact on the earth. When we went to the desert last week, I was reminded of what Rachel Carson wrote many year ago; "The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe, the less taste we shall have for destruction."

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