Paul Austin

Paul Austin is the director of Conservation Minnesota, a statewide non-profit. In that role, he gets to hear and share Minnesotan’s stories about our lakes, lands and way of life. Paul’s past lives include election as a small town mayor, serving at the US Agency for International Development, and managing a small marketing firm. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife, two small children and one very large dog.

Plastic Floating in Lake Superior

Posted by: Paul Austin Updated: December 6, 2012 - 2:06 PM

 

By now many who care about the environment have heard tale of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is a giant mass of pollution floating in an area between Hawaii and California. Ocean wind and currents circle in the area and create a calm vortex that draws in and then traps floating debris. In the case of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area the size of Texas has started to accumulate floating waste from across the pacific.
 
And while scientists sound the alarm over this pollution catastrophe, a smaller, and potentially more concentrated version of the garbage patch has recently been discovered a lot closer to home.
 
Sherri Mason, a chemistry professor at SUNY-Fredonia has recently began testing the Great Lakes for similar pollution levels, and what she has found is alarming.  Of the 21 samples she took from Lakes Erie, Huron and Superior, two of them contained 600,000 plastic pieces per kilometer.  That works out to nearly twice the concentration found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
 
While the size of the plastic pieces found in the Great Lakes were smaller than those found in the Pacific, they provide no less potential harm to the aquatic food chain.
 
And it is findings like this that reaffirm my belief that Minnesota needs a better system for recycling our waste before it ends up polluting our waters.  We currently recycle only 35 percent of our plastic bottles. The state set a goal of reaching 80 percent recycling by the end of this year. Quite simply there is no way we will even get halfway there. The beverage industry has been given every opportunity to take the lead on increasing recycling of their products, and their weak efforts have hardly moved the needle an inch.
 
For the past few years, the legislature has kicked around the idea of implementing a bottle and can recycling refund that would encourage recycling.  In Iowa and Michigan where these deposits exist, recycling rates are above 80 percent.  In Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas where no deposit exists, the recycling rates remain stalled at around one-third of potential.
 
It is beyond time for us to take responsibility for our waste, and if the legislature needs any advice on where to start, I would encourage them to revisit the idea of a recycling refund.
 

 

 

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