via Flickr / Kevin Krejci
Today in Paris, a new nation was born. In the modern way, the news reaches America via Facebook, with these historic words:
it is with great emotion that we announce
that today our Nation has been regognized (sic) at the UNESCO in Paris,
what since yesterday, was called a “territory” is now a Federal State
THE GARBAGE PATCH STATE.
The ocean-blue flag was flying in France for one nation, suspended in the seawater, made of tiny bits of plastic.
In an effort to raise awareness of the five big patches of plastic waste forming in the centers of the ocean’s gyres--to say nothing of the particulate plastic choking the Great Lakes--UNESCO is declaring them to be a new nation at the “High Seas, Our Future! Conference,” happening this week in the French capital.
Floating bits of discarded plastic—bottle caps, fishing nets, bags and sundry tinier pieces—cluster together in the north and south Atlantic, the north and south Pacific and the Indian oceans. The plastic “islands” form in the dead zones in the center of the major oceanic gyres, which circulate the ocean. The currents warm Europe and bring things like hurricanes and conquistadors to the Caribbean.
The most famous garbage patch, which we dove into a few years back, (see the below) is in the North Pacific and is sometimes known as the Pacific Trash Vortex. It has been estimated that plastics account for up to 80 percent of ocean pollution and the gathering debris carries with it a cloud of chemical pollutants. The pollution varies in concentration, which is why some people say it’s bigger than Texas, why some people say it’s bigger than two Texases, and why at least one person decided it should be a country: The Otto Von Bismarck of the Garbage Patch State is the Madrid-based Italian artist/architect, Maria Cristina Finucci.
“I found out about the tragic islands made of plastic, but they were treated lightly by the scientific community,” Finucci told the Italian paper La Stampa. “As an artist, borrowing the techniques of advertising communication, I have created a state to raise awareness."
Garbage Patch State flag. Wave it proudly? (via GPS Facebook)
The results are faux-post cards with stereotypical vacation images—the little boy with bucket and shovel, a woman lounging on a towel—with the gathering refuse in lieu of white sands and pristine seas. As a method, it seems a little Ad Buster-y, and execution is a little confusing, since all the pictures (and in fact nationhood) seem to imply that the clouds of floating plastic are closer to being actual islands than they really are.
In fact, much of the great garbage patch is floating below the surface, in some times and places not very densely, and most dangerously, invisibly.
One of the pernicious qualities of plastic pollution in the ocean is that while the plastic photodegrades, breaks into ever-smaller pieces, it’s unlikely to ever really breakdown. As the bits skew toward the microscopic, cleaning them up seems less and less viable, and we are left to wonder what happens when the plastic is mistaken for food and works its way back up the food chain.
NOAA is disinclined to even say that there are “five” of these garbage patches (there seems to be two in the North Pacific alone). Due to their nebulous nature, the government organization doesn’t speculate on just how large the garbage patches are, instead noting that really none of that plastic belongs in the water.
The Garbage Patch State, patriotically, estimates that it spans over 15 million square kilometers, with a population of nearly 37 tons of garbage.
While they lack actual inhabitants or viable landmasses, the plastic islands now have a flag, recognition from the UN and a Constitution—to guarantee the fundamental rights of the floating bits of plastic, and also establish a parliamentary system. Whether or not getting recognition as a nation solves any problems remains to be seen.
Follow Ben at @a_ben_richmond.