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Plastic in the developing world, no good choice.


This spring I was on a kayaking trip through the Exumas in the Bahamas, and one particularly cool night, our group decided to have a fire on the beach. We agreed we would not be burning any treated wood as this would logically release the chemicals used in the preservation of the wood into the atmosphere. Seemed to make sense, so we collected only driftwood and dried palm leafs and we shortly had a brilliant fire.

While we enjoyed the fire one member of our group proceeded to collect the various plastic bottles and bags we had accumulating in our kayaks. When asked what he was up to he explained that he planned to burn the plastic. Puzzled, we first looked at each other and then asked him how he thought this would be a good idea, His rational was two-fold. One, the beaches were already littered with various forms of plastic and adding to it was out of the question. Two, if we carried our plastic back to the local town, they would discard of it via their slow burn, smoldering incinerator. This, according to one of his "chemist friends" would release the various toxins like the well publicized Bisphenol A, aka. BPA. If however, we used our high temperature fire, the rational was that fewer toxins would be released and most conveniently burned away.

We sat silent for a few minutes and pondered his and his "experts" logic. We agreed the local community had no recycling program and did indeed incinerate their garbage. While walking the streets you could often smell the thick plastic aroma of the incinerator when the wind was still. We also agreed that we could not leave our refuse on the beach to ultimately end up floating in the ocean and be consumed by a whale, shark or dolphin (see photo of one such poor victim who was done in by a plastic bag) or potentially add to the already growing plastic debris fields that dot our oceans. There is currently one the size of Texas in the north Pacific. Ironically, these debris fields of plastic are only broken down by sunlight which ends up as small pellet size pieces of plastic that is then consumed or absorbed by small fish, shrimp, oysters, etc. and guess what, eventually us if you eat that seafood or eat what ate that seafood.

So our dilemma lingered as we sat fireside on the beautiful white talc like sand. Carry our plastic out and have it burned in the local, smoldering incinerator, leave it on the beach, buried or not, and have it add to the already growing problem of plastic in the ocean or burn our plastic here and now and pollute the air, but maybe to a lesser degree.

What would you do?
Categories: environment