Trashed Planet: Our Global Pollution Hangover

Diffusing the stress that typically accompanies the work week is oftentimes as simple as escaping from the concrete jungle and heading deep into the country where nature remains untouched by mankind. Breathe in…and out. Ahhh, such a perfect zen moment. Except…what the? Where were these photographs taken? Surely these images must be the work of some fancy Photoshop program…no doubt conjured up by some eco-fanatical treehugger trying to prove a point about the dire condition that our planet is in. Alright…we get it. Time to swap out these fake pix for the real eye candyyou know, blue skies, billowy cotton candy clouds, lush green rolling hills as far as the eye can see. What? They’re legitimate? The real deal?? Apparently man has a lot of ‘splainin to do.

(Images via: Bized, Geenstijl, Alicia Patterson)

If these global scenes of comprehensively revolting pollution make you feel uneasy and even a little sick to your stomach, then good…that’s the whole point of this article. Photographed from countless locations around the world, they document the dire consequences that have resulted from man’s perpetual efforts to take from the natural environment without exercising thought and consideration first. We’re all taught at a very young age that the liquid essential to all life forms is supposed to be clear, and yet these photos beg to differ. Being able to detect a literal color change in typically colorless elements like air and water is…well, just wrong. From the release of manufacturing chemicals to mining efforts and oil exploration (both of which unearth toxic compounds), there always seems to be unfortunate visual evidence of where man has tread.

(Images via: Geenstijl, Treehugger)

The presence of hyper-populations of algae doesn’t seem so bad in comparison to the previous images, and yet it’s typically a sign that excessive concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus compounds are present. Aside from being unsightly, excessive amounts of algae can trigger oxygen depletion and biotoxins, both of which kill marine life. Overall, it’s a sign that the ecology of a body of water is out of balance, as was the case when an algae bloom blanketed the Yellow Sea right along the coast of Quingdao’s beach in the summer of 2008, requiring well over 10,000 people to clean up the mess with rakes and sheer stamina.

(Images via: Ducor Waste, Life, Geenstijl, Juice Online)

Of course, nothing seems as bad pollution-wise as the presence of copious amounts of human-produced garbage in our waterways.  Of all the species that exist on planet Earth, Homosapiens are the ONLY life form that generates waste, choosing to leave a trail of it in our wake. According to a study conducted just 2 years ago, the Philippines has grand tally of 50 rivers that are contaminated and literally clogged with domestic waste (as is depicted in the largest photo above). Other sources point toward Jakarta’s Citarum river as being among the worst examples of garbage-polluted water ever since it became a casualty of industrialization in the 1980s and the chosen dumping ground for textile chemicals, human waste, plastic bottles and pretty much anything else that residents want to dispose of. Surprisingly, residents who live there lack the convenience of a formal waste management system — even in the year 2010 — but can’t they come up with a better solution rather than continuing to add to the eyesore that was formerly known as a “river”?

(Images via: Geenstijl)

Material items of consumer culture that are continually cast aside into bodies of water may make us shake our heads back and forth while uttering a quiet ‘Tsk-tsk, how could they?’ to ourselves, but what about medical waste, urine, farm pesticides, toxic chromium, untreated sewage and half-burned human and animal remains? In the case of India’s sacred Ganges River, all of those things and more continue to be added to what the World Wildlife Federation refers to as one of the world’s most threatened bodies of water. It is believed that millions of people ritualistically bathe in the 1,500 mile Ganges on a daily basis and also use it to clean their animals and clothing, citing its holy and sin-purging properties. Unfortunately, in many cases the water contains well over 3000 times the acceptable amount of fecal coliform colonies which can (and do) lead to waterborne stomach ailments.

(Images via: Mlive, CSA, Geenstijl)

Clearly, humans aren’t the only species being detrimentally affected by the pollution that we generate. When vast quantities of chemical compounds are deposited into rivers and oceans, oxygen sources are depleted, in turn triggering thermal shock, algae blooms, red tides and “dead zones” that can decimate marine eco-systems. In the past decade alone, there have been endless instances of dead fish surfacing in polluted bodies of water as far and wide as China’s  Guanqiao Lake in Wuhan,  Northern Ireland, Florida, Alabama and Texas.

(Images via:  Geenstijl, DNA India, Atlas Shrugs, SF Citizen)

Seeing animals root through our garbage in search of actual food is almost worse than any of the previous images. They are hardwired to explore and graze amid their natural surroundings, and yet when our waste infiltrates their stomping grounds — even as far out as the middle of the Pacific Ocean — they are bound to slip up and consume something that their bodies aren’t designed to digest. This is playing out in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, wreaking havoc on vast populations of Albatross, and apparently also in Bangladesh among cattle that roam city streets littered with an astonishing volume of industrial and human-generated waste.

(Images via: Dornob)

Nowhere is waste a more integral part of life than in Cairo, Egypt’s  Manshiyat Naser district, appropriately dubbed “Garbage City.” These Bas Princen-captured images speak volumes about the chronically sorry condition of this slum region which is reserved for the sorting and potential recycling of Cairo’s 10,000 pounds of daily waste by the zabbaleen. While these people are certainly aiding Mother Nature with their diligent efforts as well as providing income to their families, they suffer serious on-the-job hazards such as lacerations, potential exposure to spontaneously erupting fires and health issues such as hepatitis and emphysema.

(Images via: Geenstijl, Futurity, Litter Heroes, Fanciful Gift Baskets, Matter Network, Stainless Water Bottles)

Plastic continues to be demonized in the press for its terrible impact on the environment and uncanny ability to persist far longer than we’d like to admit (or actually know). The biggest problem with this man-made creation — aside from the fact that it is derived from fossil fuel and contains Bisphenol A — is that in spite of it being recyclable, there are various types that are difficult or impossible for municipalities to process. Despite the best intentions of consumers who earnestly want to do right by the planet by recycling as much of the plastic that passes through their hands, the material cannot be commingled with different numbered plastics because they all have different melting points.  Sigh…this is likely the reason why a mere 6.8% of America’s total plastic is actually successfully recycled. Somehow, the rest ends up littering our oceans, beaches and city streets.

(Images via: Useless Mark, Edward Burtynsky, Bovilddb, Steprobin)

Although “object graveyards” are as much a part of our landscape as baseball fields and concrete jungles, the public rarely gets to see what vast accumulations of unwanted items actually look like when they’re tangled up in one big fat landscape-altering mass. The above images, taken by noted photographer Edward Burtynsky at a California tire reclamation zone, are both impressive and depressing because upon scrutinizing them, you realize that there are likely thousands of additional rubber dead zones just like this one scattered across our country…and who knows how many others abroad. With the passage of time, is it possible that Mother Nature will finally reclaim the land that our unwanted tires are unceremoniously hogging…or are the chemicals that they continue to leach out into the soil permanently dashing all of her hopes?

(Images via: Geenstijl, Barely Imagined Beings, Porcelinux, E-waste Guide)

But wait, it doesn’t stop there. We’ve also got airplane graveyards, dead taxi depots, refrigerator-villes, e-waste mountains, plastic bag tangled trees and garden variety landfills to contend with. We’ve encroached on so many corners of our world with our unwanted waste that it’s a small wonder how there’s any room left for Mother Nature to spread her metaphorical wings. I wonder how we’re going to get ourselves (and her) out of this one.