Earth Day is a celebration of progress in green practices, but it is also a day of awareness for environmental issues. Waste management has been a concern for quite a long time, but never before has it been so vital for a shift in perspective and methodology.

It is no mystery that there is a huge issue with waste management, even in Portland, Maine one can find areas of gratuitous litter. But according to the documentary “Trashed” this problem is not just a local problem but a global problem. This coming Earth Day will offer an opportunity to view the documentary on Tuesday, April 22 from 7 to 9 p.m.

Human pollution comes in many forms, from the extreme of the Great Pacific garbage patch, to plastic bags rolling in the wind. A constant reminder of this environmental issue collects on the tallest mountain, smallest estuary and throughout the many forests of the world. Fewer and fewer locations remain untouched by the epidemic. But USM Sustainability resource recovery supervisor Steve Sweeney considers this problem to be on the track to resolution.

“We’re moving toward a zero waste society,” said Sweeney. “It all starts with buying responsibly, recycling and choosing items that have minimal packaging.”

The material that makes up much of this harmful packaging is plastic. Most plastics contain organic or inorganic polymers, which are based on long chains of single carbon atoms with oxygen and other molecules. Because of this chemical composition, plastic does not biodegrade.

“Human beings are the only animals on this earth that create pure waste,” said Sweeney.

According to Krystal Haislop, when plastic finally breaks down it releases additives, like dye, reinforcing agents and an especially harmful molecule known as dioxin to the soil. She said dioxin actually bioaccumulates in your fat tissue. It’s the reason why a lot of whales in the ocean cannot reproduce. They’re all made of fat. The amount of these harmful additives to plastic can range from 0 to 50 percent with an average of 20 percent.

“It’s scary because it’s kind of like the ‘canary in the coal mine’ type of deal,”said Haislop.

“That could be us. We could be the canary being unable to reproduce.”

Corinna Bellwood, a graduate nursing major, explained that the natural world requires certain chemical reactions to properly function, one of which is decomposition. Earth Day commemorates the progress made in reducing environmental impact, but it can also be a day of revelation. The problem with pollution is something the up and coming generation will have to deal with.

“I wish there was a better system for recycling. It’s really general and I think if we improved it we could recycle more.” said Bellwood.


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