Stirring it up (Part 2)

Posted by Ken Campbell December 28, 2009 0 Comment 928 views

Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia and overall environmental savant, said it this way in his book Let My People Go Surfing: “One of the hardest things for a business to do is to investigate the environmental effects of its most successful product and, if it’s bad, to change it or pull it off the shelves. Imagine that you’re the owner of a company that makes land mines. You’re employing people, and you’re one of the best employers around, giving people jobs and benefits, but you’ve never thought about what land mines actually do. And then one day you go to Bosnia or Cambodia or Mozambique, and you see all these maimed innocent people, and you say, ‘Wow! This is what land mines do?’ You can either get out of the land mine business (or tobacco or fast food) or continue, knowing what your products really do.”

Thinking polymers and bioconsistency again, vis-a-vis plastic kayaks. I don’t know the extent to which the construction of wood and composite boats contributes to pollution; I’m sure there are environmental consequences of using polyester resins and gelcoat, for example. But even if this is so, even if the short-term effects on the ecosystem are adverse in either case, it seems to me that plastic kayaks are still more of a long-term liability for the planet.

There is an island of plastic out in the Pacific, larger than Texas, made entirely of floating plastic debris. Fishing floats, chunks of buckets and squeeze-bottles, disposable packaging and anonymous flotsam, twisting in the slowly moving ocean currents, carried steadily around the circle. It wouldn’t surprise me if there weren’t a few roto-molded polyethylene kayaks in there as well.

I have to think that the ongoing, long-lived negative implications of plastic kayak construction outweigh any benefits incurred in terms of pricing and durability. A composite boat, well cared for and maintained, should last a lifetime, which, let’s face it, is all the durability anyone needs. At some point, however, the fibers will become brittle, the resin will fade and crack, and that same composite kayak will begin to separate into its various elements. It may take a long time, but it will, one day, be gone.

The plastic continent in the North Pacific Gyre, on the other hand, will always be there. From here on out.

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