Yesterday I visited Kamilo Beach for a day of picking up trash with Hawai’i Wildlife Fund. I had no idea what I was getting into. After a long, bumpy, but pleasant ride over silty roads and a’a lava we arrived at a beautiful beach interspersed with tan sands, lava rock, tide pools, and crawling heliotrope bushes.
Hawai’i Wildlife Fund organizers handed out burlap sacks and re-purposed feed bags and we dispersed across the few miles of shoreline. I walked aimlessly for a good 5 minutes, consumed by the overwhelming amount of plastic and my sadness. Then, I heard “focus on the big pieces” from a distance. “Ah yes the big pieces! The big pieces breakdown into little pieces, which are much harder to retrieve” I said to myself and began the hot, stinky, sticky process of picking up plastic. I found lighters, a toothbrush, fabric softener bottles, legos, a windshield scraper, umbrella handles, booeys, industrial fishing nets, oyster spacers, buckets, plastic bags, and uncountable, unidentifiable plastic objects.
I had read about Kamilo Beach back in 2012 when I was preparing for my first visit to Hawaii Island; though I only knew its name as Trash Beach. A beach being famous for its’ trash rather than its importance to ancient Native Hawaiians who went their to retrieve large evergreen logs that the special currents floated in or for its importance as endangered Monk Seal habitat. I knew that this beach was polluted with plastic 6 inches and deeper into the sand. It turns out, thanks to ocean currents, its remote location, and the pacific garbage patch nearly every type of plastic trash from nearly any country bordering the pacific washes up there. It’s not just a Local problem it’s a Global problem. Kamilo, is the beach where a new kind of rock is made, the plastiglomerate, which is plastic fused with rock, shell, and any other debris you can think of. A study published by the Geological Society of America, says that this plastiglomerate could be THE anthropogenic marker in the future of the rock record.
I am not saying we are all awful people, at least not today. I am saying that we opened our arms to this product that by most accounts made our lives easier and lighter, but at the same time did little to understand what side effects might come with the ease of convenience. We see it now, for plastic is everywhere: in our bodies, homes, pets, waterways, streets, our wild lands. The year 1939 saw a great demand for the production of plastic thanks to the scarcity that surrounded World War II: 75 years of plastic production and use has brought us to this pivotal point. The point where we continue to depend solely on volunteers to clean up an impossible amount of plastic only to be sure that more plastic used by more people will end up there. Or we could begin to set aside our apathy, our faulting of “they and them” for these issues, and each of us can begin taking steps towards a lot less plastic.
Lug your mug, avoid excessive packaging and buy bulk, use (and wash) re-usable bags, think glass or metal, recycle, support bag bans, write companies asking for alternative packaging, stay informed and lets lobby for less plastic, buy art like that made by Kathleen Crabill of Nurdle in the Rough Jewelry. A lovely person I met at Kamilo Beach, who attends these events, not only to help clean up the plastic, but also to retrieve materials for her beautiful jewelry. Kat is just as sorrowed as I am about our plastic pollution problem and part of her role in helping is to create conversation starter pieces, beautiful reminders of our work to be better consumers. Plus, 10% of her profits go to support marine conservation organizations! Our culture is a spectacular one, we are innovative, fast moving, connected. There are no good reasons for this to continue.
I would like the archaeologist of our future to look back on the rock record and say that, “this culture, this Plastic Age that we so clearly see in the rock record was short-lived on a geologic time scale, maybe only 100 years. This culture for reasons unknown to us drastically reduced their use of this ‘plastic material’ in their society and in the end seemed to utilize it in art and jewelry. Today we still have to cope with some of the negative effects of this Plastic Age, but we owe sincere gratitude to those who may have lead the movement to curb plastic use.”
Malama A’ina a me Kai,
How to Help
Plastic Debris in the Ocean
All about plastic
Ecology Center Adverse Health Effects of Plastics
Pub Med Plastics and Health Risks