A cluster of storage sheds has sprouted in the parking lot of my local mall. The lot was mostly empty anyway and I’d seen a bunch of empty store fronts inside. Somehow it generated hope in me that we can help clean up our oceans by how we deal with our stuff.
Okay, that’s a leap. People would have to buy less stuff overall and not just go online for it. Plus, a shed in the backyard, rather than offsite, would have to make it easier to use and recycle what we already have. Slowing down the flow of our stuff is a barely growing skill for many of us. I’m not talking about sacrifice here, but of facing the decisions needed to sort and pass on what is no longer of value. This is can be difficult psychological work so we turn to helpful authors and, in the extreme, to a therapist.
Boyan Slat also considered trying to slow down our trash output but being an inventor type, chose instead to the work on cleaning up the garbage that is already floating around in the oceans. He first tackled how to measure the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. He raised money for 30 vessels that systematically gathered samples. Along with lots of data they discovered ghost nets, large balls of twined fish nets and garbage. Then they used airplanes to survey a larger area using phototechnology to assess the depth, contents, and weight of the ghost nets.
They concluded that ghost nets made up about half of the weight of the GPGP. The smaller pieces were separated and counted by interns; the confetti sized plastics are estimated to be only 8 % of the mass of the patch but they are harder to clean up. Work continues to redesign their removal system for the big and small stuff.
Slat is an example of someone who followed his individual vision and went out and got other people to get onboard. You, too, can buddy up with others or you can choose projects to do on your own, all in the spirit of facing decisions about our stuff. You can start small or get dramatic with a weekend project.
A while ago, I realized I often held onto things just because they were one of a pair, being eternally hopeful that the mate would show up. (I’m not just talking socks here). Each time I thought about it seriously, it was pretty easy not to give it house room any longer. I know this can still backfire though. This week, for example, I spent 20 minutes cleaning a sad little mateless pepper grinder so it might appeal to a lucky thrift store shopper. Once it’s gone, any bets that the salt shaker mate will surface?
All of which is to say, yes, keep the big oceans in mind as you consider sorting slowly through your stuff, shifting it to where it needs to go. At the same time, keep a sense of humor. It’s taken a long time for us to accumulate whatever we have and we are still learning about the dangers of our plastic bags and toothbrushes to wildlife. It may take some time to dig our way out and, this time, keeping it out of our oceans.
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