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The Environment and the “Plastic Sea” in Almería

Jeff Campbell

Posted on May 27, 2018 07:34

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Bordering the town of Almería on Spain’s southern coast is an area known as “Mar de plástico.” It is a literal sea of plastic covered greenhouses for growing produce. Is this region an agricultural success story or an environmental disaster in the making?

Image credit: NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team

The area around Almería, once one of the poorer regions of Spain, with its dusty and arid landscapes, was used as desolate backdrops in the film industry for movies such as Lawrence of Arabia. Now, this region accounts for almost half of all exports of fruits and vegetables from Spain. Nearly three million metric tons of produce are being grown there annually.

How do they grow so much produce, one might ask? The transformation is the product of plasticulture (using plastics for agricultural purposes). Plastics are used in many applications, including irrigation systems, plant coverings and even mulch. The most noticeable application is for greenhouses. So large of an area is covered by plastic (over 300 square kilometers), that the “Mar de plástico” is visible from space. It's logical that plastic, which is relatively cheap, was the catalyst to create such a fertile region. Many consider the agricultural success an economic miracle, but is there a dark side to this so-called miracle?

As one can imagine, the wisdom of using so much plastic in the production of fruits and vegetables is highly questioned. As greenhouses continue to expand, dry riverbeds are used, parts of hills and mountains are dug out to build more greenhouses and environmentalists are concerned what will happen when large storms come to wash them away.

Also, little regard is shown by many for the disposal of used plastics. In many areas, the discarded plastic is being piled up, knee high. An unknown quantity of discarded plastic is also being washed into, or disposed of, directly into the Alboran Sea which could create an environmental disaster for the waters in this region of Spain.

The use of pesticides is concerning for multiple reasons. They are heavily used in these enclosed greenhouses and health issues, including increased cancer risks, are mounting for the workers. Dangerous empty pesticide containers are routinely discarded with the used plastics, contaminating ground and water alike.

There are questions regarding the amount of pesticide residue that remains on these fruits and vegetables sold in supermarkets. Many European supermarkets claim that rigorous standards are maintained in the use of pesticides, yet they remain secretive about identifying which produce comes from Almería.

The use of migrant workers in the greenhouses is targeted by human rights groups who assert that these workers toil away in “chemical stew” for poor wages, and live in inhuman slum conditions, routinely harassed by police if they complain.

So, “Mar de plástico” continues to be both agriculturally productive and controversial. Oddly, some assert that the use of so much plastic covering has actually led to a cooling effect in temperatures. They contend studies show that while temperatures were rising in the rest of Spain, the plastics used in the greenhouses were cooling the temperatures in the sea of plastic region.

I can’t wait for someone to suggest we cover the earth in plastic to stop global warming.

Jeff Campbell

Posted on May 27, 2018 07:34

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Source: FOX News

The world's first farmers and their slash-and-burn agriculture may have set off global warming.

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