back to e-flux.com

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is late capitalism’s safe deposit box


#1

In the journal Blind Field, Maya Weeks weaves together personal reflection and geopolitical analysis to tell a story about her journey to the northern reaches of Norway, where debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch regularly washes ashore. She suggests that the staggering amount of trash produced by capitalist civilization impacts different social groups differently, with pregnant women especially vulnerable to birth defects caused by platic-contaminated food. Check out an excerpt from the piece below:

Our species doesn’t have a whole lot of time left. Planned obsolescence has taught us that things only have value for a limited amount of time and then are used up.

There’s a gyre full of trash composed of approximately 80% plastic in every ocean. This plastic, as well as rubber items, pharmaceuticals, nuclear waste, pesticides, and so on and so forth are not by any means confined to areas that could be cleaned up; rather, they circulate through the entire global water cycle. Mussels are filtering microplastics from marine environments and, according to the 2016 UNEP and GRID-Arendal report Marine Litter: Vital Graphics, marine debris has been found in 100% of sea turtles.

But planned obsolescence was invented to end the Great Depression by creating jobs in factories and surplus for the United States government—a government that to this day treats entire populations, especially Black and indigenous people, especially women and femmes, as disposable. Plastics have only been in widespread use for about sixty-five years. The American myths of self-sufficiency, individualism, and exceptionalism have only gotten us this far (I’m looking at you, San Francisco).

Resurrecting old relationships might be an attempt at stability in a world increasingly characterized by so-called mobility (read: migration, racism, xenophobia, greenwashing, adjunctification, precarity), and it might be worth it. When consumption levels are stimulated and perpetuated by the government, caring for and keeping what we already have is an act of resistance. We need each other more than ever.