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Recycling 101

By LaVerne C. Paulson

Fri, Mar 8th, 2013
Posted in All Columnists

By LaVerne C. Paulson, Recycling Education Coordinator

How many times have you stood on the bank of the Root River amazed at the clarity of the water and the occasional flash of a fish as it feeds on larvae and other tasty morsels in the water? Each year thousands of visitors come to Bluff Country to admire the beauty of the rugged bluffs and the pristine streams and experience this beauty first hand. Now and then, one may encounter a small whirlpool in the stream, spinning lazily on the edge of the current. There are usually a few leaves, a hapless bug, or a small stick or two caught up in the eddy. Such is the beauty of nature.

We can also see other items in the eddy. Perhaps a plastic bottle, an aluminum can, or maybe a styrofoam bait container. These do not belong in the water and certainly do not add to the beauty of the stream. There is garbage, perhaps not a whole lot, but there is some garbage in the Root River. It doesn’t stay around long. Sooner or later, it will escape the eddy and make its way down stream to be caught in another whirlpool, escape again, and eventually reach the Mississippi River. Some of it will even find its way to the Gulf of Mexico and won’t bother us anymore.

A lot of the following information was supplied by Wikipedia and National Geographic. There are many large cities on or near the western coast of North America. Way too much plastic finds its way to the streets of these cities, and during a heavy rainstorm, enters the storm sewers and then travels out to sea. Living here in the Midwest, the Pacific Ocean may not seem to be a concern to many of us, but I thought you may find this a bit interesting, if not a little disturbing. The Pacific Ocean is like a large Root River... a very large Root River. It is always moving, and it has extremely large whirlpools known as gyres that trap and hold tons and tons of floating chemical sludge, plastic debris, and other waste that finds its way to the ocean. The Giant Pacific Garbage Patch, located approximately a thousand miles off the California coast has been estimated to be at least the size of Texas and seems to be growing each year. That is certainly one large floating island of trash just spinning around out there somewhere. It is a swirling mass made up mostly of plastics that threaten the delicate ocean ecosystem.

Plastic buried in a landfill breaks down slowly in the absence of light. Out in the ocean, sunlight striking the water breaks plastic down into small pieces quite quickly. These particles either float on the surface or are suspended out of sight. Numerous sea animals see the bits of plastic as food and eat them, clogging their digestive systems, usually resulting in death. If these small animals are eaten by larger animals, the plastic is ingested by them and causes even more complications. Albatross have been known to inadvertently feed their young bottle caps and other pieces of plastic that cause certain death to the bird. Other sea dwelling birds, mammals, and fish can be trapped, cut, drowned, or become entangled in plastic bags, garbage bags, or other debris.

The plastic bottle, aluminum can, and styrofoam container floating in the Root River, will not be joining the Giant Pacific Garbage Patch, but there is a chance that one of them will find its way to a relatively large body of water, and cause problems there or somewhere along the way. Or...perhaps an ecological angler or caring canoeist will rescue the three travelers and deliver them to where they really belong, helping make the meandering river a place of natural beauty once again.

Are you in need of a couple extra reasons to like plastic grocery bags a little less? Between five hundred billion and a trillion plastic grocery bags are used world wide each year. The first ones were produced in the 1960s, but didn’t become common in grocery stores until 1982. 1,000,000,000,000 bags a year gives you a couple billion more reasons to join the “Bag Brigade” of Fillmore County and just say “no thanks” to paper and plastic.

Additional information concerning plastic, its products, and some problems can be found at or

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