trash littering a beautiful sandy beach
Photo by Dustan Woodhouse on Unsplash

What is “Trash”?

Trash is a human construct. In nature, there is no such thing as waste or trash, everything is cycled and reused. Trees in a forest may die, but they are not truly dead — they become home for insects, squirrels, and birds. As they decay, they fertilize the soil, providing vital nutrients for more trees to grow. Yet, human trash is a global phenomenon.

Please picture this: off to the North Atlantic Gyre — one of the unique places in the ocean where several currents meet and circulate — a group of major league business executives geared up to go snorkeling. Sadly, they weren’t going to see a rare seahorse. Instead, they were going to plunge into an abundance of plastic. Notably, if you shake a piece of sargassum — a type of seaweed — you can create a real-life snow globe. Imagine being surrounded by tiny pieces of microplastics as your maneuver through the water…

The purpose of this field trip was not to relax and have fun. The purpose was to bring executives from companies like The Dow Chemical Company, Nestlé Waters, and Coca-Cola — face to face with a problem their companies have helped to create — plastic pollution.

The North Atlantic Gyre, as well as the other ocean gyres, have become an alphabet soup of plastic — bottle caps, fishing nets, jugs, and micro-plastic pieces from plastic bags and other single-use containers — all swirling around bountifully in the ocean…

“Seeing all that plastic speaks for itself. How do we close the loop?” said David Tulauskas, who is the Chief Sustainability Officer at Nestlé Waters North America — which produces 1.7 million metrics tons of plastic packaging each year for its portfolio of bottled-water brands. All of these plastics have ended up in the North Atlantic Gyre because they were thrown away.

But as we are beginning to see, this trash problem feels like an endless cycle. We as a society “need things we don’t really need, and then we need to throw away things we no longer need.” How does that make sense?

Our throwaway culture comes at a cost, though, and our oceans are literally putting up with this mess!

Edward Humes explains this best in Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash, explaining: “Americans make more trash than anyone else on the planet, throwing away about 7.1 pounds per person per day, 365 days a year. Across a lifetime that rate means, on average, we are each on track to generate 102 tons of trash. Each of our bodies may occupy only one cemetery plot when we’re done with this world, but a single person’s 102-ton trash legacy will require the equivalent of 1,100 graves. Much of that refuse will outlast any grave marker, pharaoh’s pyramid, or modern skyscraper: one of the few relics of our civilization guaranteed to be recognizable twenty thousand years from now is the potato chip bag.”

So, long after we have taken our last breath and the memory of our existence is nonexistent, our trash will still be around. That’s such a mind-blowing concept to grasp!

If this does not spur us to change our day-to-day habits to be more respectful of our planet, we are going to witness our beautiful world transform into something unrecognizable.

So, from one planet member to another, this isn’t to shame anyone. It’s to open our eyes to how we are damaging the earth and to, hopefully, make necessary changes before it’s too late.

This post contains several excerpts from my book, Trash to Treasure: Exploring a New Wave of Entrepreneurship with Waste.

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Kelsey Rumburg

As an adventurous farm girl, I am a creator on a mission to build a better economy. I question our idea of trash and look for new ways to use our resources!