Mainland High School
Lord of the Trash Rings: ISTF 09-2004
Introduction
Throughout our common heritage, rings have come to be symbolic of many things. The ring has been linked to many ideas: completeness, openness, perpetual movement and calmness both at the same time and a never ending cycle are amongst the popular interpretations of the symbolism of rings. The ephemeral nature of circular motion can also be found in nature. As we learn more and more about the world around us, we see more and more cycles that are repeated over and over again. The wave pattern of a single drop on still waters, the way sound travels, the eye of a hurricane, the movements of the heavens and the currents in the ocean are all examples of this phenomenon and perhaps a reason why mathematicians find both complexity and simplicity in the ring like shapes in the universe.

So pervasive is the ring-like shape that it can be found anywhere in our manmade world as well. Take a look around you for a moment. The clock, the steering wheel, even the scrolling wheel on the mouse you are currently using are all examples of the functionality of this shape. Take a look around again. How many of those shapes are made of plastic?

Plastic has been nothing short of amazing with its versatility. It can be shaped and molded and it is cheap and easy to manufacture. Plastic containers can be filled with any number of products and their inexpensive nature makes them perfect for a society on the go where disposable items represent convenience. Just empty it and throw it away. No muss, no fuss, and nothing to clean up later was the pitch on many disposable plastic products.

.... and we believed it.

After we took our plastic refuse to the curb, someone came along and it magically disappeared. Out of sight out of mind. Like all trash, it has to go somewhere. Unfortunately, a substantial amount of that plastic made its way from our homes and businesses to the rivers and streams of the world and eventually to the oceans. A casual look at the Pacific Ocean reveals a blue aquatic environment. A closer look reveals that just at and below the surface is the byproduct of our disposable society. Plastic and lots of it. Much of this plastic is caught up in what is known as the North Pacific Gyre. This circular current moves in a clockwise fashion from Alaska down the California coast and across the Pacific to Japan and north towards Russia and eventually back to Alaska to repeat the cycle over and over in perpetuity. This current has become a moving ring of plastic refuse.

If we know the plastic is there and we know how it got there wouldn’t it be in our best interest to not only find a better way to dispose of our plastic to stop the problem from growing but more importantly, clean up the mess we already made? The damage to the environment will have a negative impact on the ecosystem of the oceans but also our food supply. Whoever develops a way to clean up this mess would most certainly be called the Lord of the Trash Rings.


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