Humans produce about 1.3 billion tons of trash a year, more of it in the United States (254 million tons a year) than anywhere else. Like the global temperature, the human output of waste is expected to continue to rise — to 4 billion tons of trash by the next century.
I sure am relieved I won't be around to see this. The world is already trashy enough for me.
In any case it's no wonder that trash has turned up in the most unlikely places. Such as bottom of the deepest part of the Earth's oceans, where a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration exploration last year encountered this incredibly well preserved can of Spam. (They also discovered a Budweiser can not far away, because what else would you drink with a Spamwich?)
As unappetizing as it may be, potted meat is much less concerning than what researchers from the United Kingdom discovered recently in the Mariana trench, 10,000 meters below the sea: super high levels of toxic industrial pollutants. Specifically, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or flame retardants, the researchers reported in a journal article that was released Monday.
The scientists think the pollutants traveled to this remote deep-sea location by hitching a ride on plastic trash or dead animals. This is not the first evidence that our huge output of waste is having a negative effect on the world's oceans, but the bad news is starting to add up. I'm thinking of the floating garbage gyres and the discovery of plastic particles in the bodies of sea creatures.
Climate change may be the existential environmental crisis of the moment, and appropriately so. But if our wasteful ways continue, it won't be long until our disposable culture — and the tons of trash and pollution it generates — rivals greenhouse gas emissions for habitat-destroying potential. And it's going to take a lot more than a ban on grocery plastic bags in one U.S. state to even make a noticeable dent.