Plastic Nightmare on Henderson Island

Teresa Madaleno

If you haven’t already seen National Geographic’s video on plastic waste on Henderson Island, you need to take a look. Henderson Island, formerly known as Elizabeth Island, is an uninhabited island in the South Pacific Ocean. It has always been known as a place unaffected by human contact, but as you can see from the video that is changing.

Jennifer Laver is a researcher from the University of Tasmania. She has been studying the coral atoll in the area for at least three years. A coral atoll is a ring-shaped coral reef, island or series of islets. They often protect a central island. Laver recently told news reporters that the island is now home to over 38 million pieces of waste, a lot of it plastics. Scientists believe that this is the highest density of waste generated from human activity anywhere in the world.

It has become so bad here that crabs can be found living in contaminated cosmetic containers, and sea turtles are frequently found tangled up in fishing lines. There are a wide variety of birds in the area, including seabirds that mistake small pieces of plastic for food.

An aquatic and beach analysis suggests that a lot of the garbage has come from China, Japan, and Chile. However, Laver and other aquatic experts published their findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and the report stated that they found trash from Germany and Canada as well.

Many people are appalled after seeing the video, but what the experts like Laver say is that we all have a responsibility to help preserve land and waterways. Not only is the garbage situation on Henderson Island unsightly and dangerous to wildlife, it wastes tons of plastics that can in fact be turned into something useful.

Here are just a few examples of what can be done with those plastics:

• Milk jugs and plastic containers – they can be made into new bottles and containers, plastic lumber, picnic tables, lawn furniture, playground equipment and recycling bins.

• Plastic bags and wraps – they can become plastic lumber for park benches, backyard decks and fences, as well as playgrounds.

• Plastic water bottles – when they are recycled they can be made into t-shirts, sweaters, jackets, sleeping bags, and carpeting.

• Bottle caps – they may be made from different plastic than bottles, but those caps can be turned into batteries for cars, garden rakes, storage containers, reusable shopping bags, ropes, brooms, and more bottle caps.

• Foam packaging – plastic foam packaging can be turned into other plastic products, such as picture frames, insulation, building products for the home and more foam packaging.

These are just a few plastic recycling options. Turning nothing into something can be a profitable venture and keep land and water pristine. Growing demand for plastics from several industries including energy, food and beverage, healthcare, as well as construction is expected to lead to huge growth in the recycled plastics market globally, proving that doing the right thing can actually pay off.