It started off gently, the warm soft material pressed into the mold of its destiny, forever transfixed as a perfect opposite of its counterpart. The machine tenderly lifts a bottle and sends it shooting across the conveyor, filling it with the liquid essence of the earth, platitudes of hydration accumulating around its round form. It could almost be beautiful. Someday, pieces of it will end up in the oceans, the food chain, and eventually, us.
The intense heat of melting petroleum product found solace in the cooling caress of a machine fastening it onto its temporary resting place, and then it was placed upon a shelf. We consume these synthetic creations, in a cathartic expression of capitalism that ignores the risks of mismanagement. We feast on resources that are unlimited, born into factories and sold on shelves across every country, falling into every ocean. We never stop to respond to what we have created, or why we feel so compelled to continue to manufacture while our planet endures a state of devastation.
The bottle is shipped an infinite amount of miles across the landscape, frivolously wasting exponential amounts of resources along the way. Once it finds its way into our zealous hands, we affectionately swaddle it for a moment or two, and in the grander scheme of things, it has an entire lifetime ahead of it. It takes a mere 400 years for our companion to reach its untimely end, and yet we continue our mass accumulation at a much faster rate (Nace). There is a myth about recycling, and a more stark reality about plastic waste than we are clearly paying attention to.
Perhaps we have forgotten about it, drifting across the surface of vast saline waters from one continent to the next. It drifts and loses its loose cap, a mutual parting that might have been best left unsaid as the cap sinks to the bottom of the sea. Patiently waiting for an opportunity, marine life passes it by as it is eventually buried under the sand. By 2050, there will be more of these plastics by weight, than the entirety of fish that inhabit the sea (Nace). Indeed a fish did take notice, and it was confused not because of the shape of the lid, but the smell of it.
As it turns out, some foraging fish may be tricked into a passionate feeding frenzy by the intoxicating smell of decomposing plastic (Savoca et al.). Unfortunately, that also means that some of those plastics will end up inside of us, as they move back up the food chain to the original creators. We marvel as we consume our waste, our waste consumes us, in a cyclic, oroboros spiral. Yet we don’t limit our usage or even attempt to curtail the inevitable plastic gyres that have formed on our blue planet.
This particular plastic water bottle lid is enveloped in the fish’s mouth, swallowed and is infinitely indigestible. The fish suffers a fate akin to death, a slow starvation due to a blocked digestive track. At some point, the fish glides to the surface with a delicately intact swim bladder, and a voracious sea bird pecks at it, then eagerly flies away with the treasure in tow. Inescapably, the small cap finds its way into the bird, perhaps a Northern Fulmar, where 95% of its species consume plastic due to environmental conditions (Law). We love our plasticine life, but it is indeed causing an environmental death of inconceivable proportions.
The seabird goes on with its daily life, but stops feeling hungry. Deep within its gut, our humble plastic attempts to decompose, but is still a few hundred years off. At some point the bird ceases existence, gingerly laying its head down as the wind whips through its plumes, caressing it one last time. It takes its last breath, inhales the sea air and eventually the plastic re-emerges, victorious, eagerly awaiting a day when it can join the fish, the bird, or maybe, its creator.
How long do we need to follow our tragic hero into the depths of beings, at the bottom of the ocean, into the corners of the globe? Incessantly we march on, with a façade of normalcy as we bury ourselves alive. For a moment of gratification, we will suffer an eternity of synthetic existence, careening around the little blue planet we call home. We must find a way to willingly be inconvenienced in order to curtail the inevitable collapse of a place we love so much. We have to make a choice, whether we love our plastics, or whether we love our home, and whether we care about the beings that have no say in the matter. Perhaps it is easier said than done. Perhaps if we paid a little attention, we might find ways to fall out of love with the monstrosity we created. Perhaps someday, we will wake up from our plasticine dreams.
Justine is an activist and full-time English and the Environment student at UCSB. She transferred from San Diego Community College District after earning three Associates in English, Biology, and Humanities. After leaving her home at a young age, she was able to get off the streets and start a small business as a young adult. She gives speeches on behalf of Doors of Change, a non-profit that aims to end the cycle of youth homelessness. After becoming financially stable, she started college a little late. She is currently focusing on her writing, both scientific and autobiographical. She plans on applying for grad school and pursuing a teaching credential.
This article was featured in Matter Thoughts Issue 1 – Horizons