It's a simple idea. One day without plastic. Just a day. Think you can do it? We do.

Here's what's at stake: your health and the future of the ocean.

So, live like you love the ocean. Make June 8th, World Ocean Day or September 19th, International Coastal Cleanup Day YOUR Day Without Plastic.

Or pick your day, tell us how it goes.

And get a sticker for your reusable water bottle now!

Plastic Videos


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Iowa City to consider sacking plastic bags

December 23, 2008

Chris Rhatigan
Iowa City Press-Citizen

Add Iowa City to the list of municipalities considering banning plastic grocery bags.

San Francisco banned plastic bags in 2007, and cities such as Seattle, Boston, Portland, Ore., Madison, Wis., and Phoenix have explored similar measures.

Now the Iowa City Council will discuss a bag ban after council member Connie Champion introduced the idea at a meeting earlier this month.

Champion stressed that she's not necessarily an advocate of a ban, but she thinks the idea should be considered.

"I don't know where I'm going to stand on it, but I think that it's worth discussing," she said.

Mayor Regenia Bailey said banning plastic bags is "not such an unusual idea. I think that the trend is catching on to a certain degree."

She said the non-biodegradable bags often become litter.

"(The bags) create an environmental hazard in our parks and in our waterways," she said.

read more HERE

Monday, December 22, 2008

Your Plastic Footprint

This may be a bad time to ask, being the holiday season and all, but what's your plastic footprint?

You know what I mean--the amount of disposable plastic stuff your lifestyle generates over the course of a day, a week, a year.

Plastic stuff that you may use for a few seconds or minutes. Then discard into the bin, sending it off into the world where it lasts essentially forever.

A small fraction gets recycled into low grade plastic things, but then lasts forever in that form.

Full disclosure: my plastic footprint is adult-sized. I bring my own bag, avoid drinks in plastic bottles, shun Styrofoam and generally work hard to shrink my plastic consumption.

But it's still amazes me what goes into the recycling bin. And the unrecyclable stuff bugs me even more.

Read more HERE

Your Plastic Footprint

This may be a bad time to ask, being the holiday season and all, but what's your plastic footprint?

You know what I mean--the amount of disposable plastic stuff your lifestyle generates over the course of a day, a week, a year.

Plastic stuff that you may use for a few seconds or minutes. Then discard into the bin, sending it off into the world where it lasts essentially forever.

A small fraction gets recycled into low grade plastic things, but then lasts forever in that form.

Full disclosure: my plastic footprint is adult-sized. I bring my own bag, avoid drinks in plastic bottles, shun Styrofoam and generally work hard to shrink my plastic consumption.

But it's still amazes me what goes into the recycling bin. And the unrecyclable stuff bugs me even more.

Read more HERE

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Toast to the Ocean! and Ocean Revolution invite you to raise a glass to the Ocean at midnight on New Years 2009.

We have much to celebrate and work towards this year.

The ocean gives us life and health, our air and climate, beauty and inspiration.

It covers most of our planet and contains the majority of life on earth.

Among our other toasts, vows, resolutions and celebrations, we’ll pledge to live like we love the ocean in the coming year.

Let us know where you'll be when you toast the ocean on new year's eve, and invite your friends to join us by raising a toast to the ocean, wherever you are!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Good polystyrene news from Surfrider!

Good morning, from Surfrider. We are pleased to announce that on Weds. December 17th, the Scotts Valley City Council unanimously voted to establish a polystyrene food take-out container ban in the city.

This makes the fourth jurisdiction in Santa Cruz County which has enacted a similar ordinance!

For the record, you should also know that your organization was represented in public comment during this process as a member of the "WIPE OUT PLASTIC TAKEOUT!" Coalition that we cooperatively-established during 2007 to advocate for such bans around the Monterey Bay area.

Thanks to all of you for your cooperation and support! We believe the WOPT coalition has been an effective tool to move this process along.

Santa Cruz Chapter, Surfrider Foundation
Surfrider Foundation, Santa Cruz Chapter
The Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s oceans, waves and beaches. Founded in 1984 by a handful of visionary surfers in Malibu , California , the Surfrider Foundation now maintains over 50,000 members and 80 chapters worldwide.

For more information on the Surfrider Foundation, go to www.surfrider. org.
(831) 476-POOP phone and water quality hotline
(831) 476-8283 fax

2222 East Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

December 18th is "Day Without a Plastic Bag”

December 18th is a day without a one-time use plastic bag!

Can you get through one day without using a plastic bag for groceries or shopping? Challenge yourself and remember to bring your cloth re-usable bags shopping that day. 

This could make a huge impact if we all band together to not use a plastic bag. 

Need some re-usable bags?

Visit BYO Gear.

Bring Your Own Gear!

Get some ocean-friendly gear to help eliminate single-use containers (bags, cups, bottle, utensils). It's the best way to reduce your plastic footprint! One kit for the car, one for the for yer mom...


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ocean Revolution Gear for Ocean Lovers

Ocean Revolution Gear for Ocean Lovers

Following this link to a message from my brother Joshua, who has created beautiful and unique Ocean Revolution belt buckles and pendants to help you support our work and look good.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Chemical in plastic linked to changes in genitals

Exposure to chemical may affect genitals of baby boys

By Liz Szabo, USA TODAY

Baby boys are more likely to have changes in their genitals — such as undescended testicles and smaller penises — if their mothers were exposed to high levels of a controversial chemical during pregnancy, a new study shows.
Virtually everyone has been exposed to the chemicals, called phthalates, which are used in countless plastic products and are found in everything from drinking water to breast milk to household dust, according to the study, published in the current issue of Environmental Research.

Until recently, most studies have been conducted in animals. Those tests suggest that phthalates interfere with the male sex hormone testosterone, causing a "phthalate syndrome" in male fetuses that changes the way their genitals develop, says study author Shanna Swan, a professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Swan says her study of 106 mothers and sons suggests this syndrome may be occurring in humans, too.

In her study, doctors measured phthalate levels in the mothers' urine during pregnancy, then examined the babies at 12 months.

Boys whose mothers had the highest phthalate levels were more likely than others to show three anatomic differences: smaller penises, a shorter distance between the anus and base of the penis, and undescended or incompletely descended testicles, Swan says.

Swan also notes that most boys had normal sex organs. Twelve had incompletely descended testicles, while 29 babies fell into a category with "shorter" anogenital distances.

In most cases, these aren't serious problems, Swan says. Babies with undescended testicles often need no treatment, because the organs descend on their own by age 1. Others can be helped with hormone treatments or surgery. And even the smaller penises appeared to be within the normal range.

But Swan says she's concerned that these changes indicate a deeper problem — that phthalates may have made the boys "less masculine" in key ways. In animals, males with these genital changes also had lower sperm counts, she says.

Swan says she is also concerned about girls. It's possible that any effects from pre-birth phthalate exposure may not surface until the girls hit puberty or try to have children, she says.

In her paper, she notes that other researchers have linked phthalates to reduced sperm quality and DNA damage, as well as hormone changes, reduced lung function and premature puberty.

More and more Americans are becoming concerned about phthalates.

In August, Congress banned several types of the chemicals in children's toys and products. Dozens of hospitals around the country are phasing phthalates out of their neonatal intensive care units to protect vulnerable newborns, who may spend weeks or months connected to plastic tubing.

Read more HERE

Friday, October 3, 2008

Micro and macro plastic in the ocean is WRONG

Are 'microplastics' marine pollutants?

Experts start to ask if tiny particles might be clogging ocean food chain

By Jessica Marshall
Discovery Channel

We've all heard about sea turtles, dolphins or seabirds dying from entanglement in six-pack rings, plastic bags or other detritus - or from bellies full of mistakenly swallowed plastic. But some marine researchers are concerned about the effect that much smaller bits of plastic may be having on the seas.

So-called "microplastics" may concentrate pollutants, be ingestible by the ocean's tiny denizens - from zooplankton to filter feeders like clams and mussels - and move up the food chain.

A group of scientists gathered this month to identify what's known about this problem and where more research is needed.

"We know that stuff breaks down, and as it breaks down, it forms smaller and smaller pieces of plastic," said workshop organizer Joel Baker of the University of Washington, Tacoma. "But there's another story, and that is that there are some processes that either purposefully or inadvertently create microplastic particles in their own right."

One such source is nurdles, the little plastic pellets used as the raw material that's molded or extruded into plastic products.

A growing source is tiny plastic spheres - less than a millimeter across, and in some cases just microns in diameter - used in new industrial abrasives or in cosmetics as exfoliants, Baker said.

"Because they're used as abrasives, presumably they're pretty hard and pretty resilient to breakup," he said. "The general rule of thumb is, if it doesn't break down pretty quickly, it ends up in the ocean. We don't have any way of monitoring for them. We have no idea, really, if they're having any impact on any organisms."

Estimates of exactly how many particles are in the ocean give a wide range.

"You tend to have numbers that are much less than one per cubic meter," Baker said. "But if you do that in terms of the number of pieces per square kilometer of sea surface, it's tens of thousands."

Amphipods, lugworms, barnacles and mussels take up microplastic in aquarium experiments. Fish and birds in the wild have been found with microplastic pieces in their bodies. But the extent and effect of this ingestion is not yet known.

Plastic specks in the oceans appear to adsorb poorly water-soluble pollutants, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and persistant pesticides like DDT. This might give creatures that ingest pellets a superdose of toxins that can accumulate up the food chain.

"There's some indication that when the animal ingests those, they not only get the physical damage to the gut, but those pollutants can desorb into the animal," said workshop participant Douglas Helton of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Marine Debris Program, in Silver Spring, Md.

On the other hand, the pellets might act like pollutant sponges that mop up the contaminants and sequester them out of harm's way, Baker said.

One study presented at the meeting suggested that the amount of pollutant accumulated by one type of marine worm decreased when more plastic was added to sediment in an aquarium, suggesting the latter mechanism may work in that case.

One of the outcomes of the workshop was to identify areas where the greatest effects are likely to be seen.

"There are probably areas where it floats on the surface, and those are lagoons and marshes," Baker said. "The other place is coastal urban sediments, where it has settled to the bottom."

These are good starting points for additional research, because if microplastics are causing problems, such locations should show the effects most directly, he added. In the meantime, taking steps to reduce plastic debris - large and small - is a good idea, Helton said. "I don't think there's any right amount of plastic to dump in the ocean."

(c) 2008 Discovery Channel

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

New York Times: No More Plastic Bags

September 30, 2008
No More Plastic Bags

Westport, Conn., this month became the latest of a handful of communities to ban some plastic bags. The bags, which have only a brief, useful life, can survive forever in landfills and are of enormous concern to not only environmentalists but local officials who are running out of places to put their trash.

Westport’s ordinance will take effect in six months and applies to bags dispensed at checkout counters. Others, like dry cleaning bags, will be exempted. The aim is to reduce litter and encourage customers to tote their groceries in reusable cloth bags.

The town’s stand is laudable but will have only a limited effect on what is, after all, a statewide problem. The Connecticut Legislature rebuffed a proposed statewide ban last year. Massachusetts and Maine considered similar bans and also backed down.

Americans use and dispose of at least 100 billion bags every year. Although the plastics industry points out that plastic grocery bags are made more from natural gas than petroleum, natural gas is not a renewable resource and contributes to global warming. And about only 5 percent of all plastic bags are recycled nationwide. The rest end up in the trash, hanging in trees or floating in water where they menace marine life.

There are other possible remedies, including a constructive idea that has taken hold in Ireland. In 2002, Ireland became the first country in the world to impose a tax on plastic bags. Use of the bags dropped by 90 percent, and proceeds from the tax went to environmental causes.

If Ireland is any guide, tax laws may have greater impact on human behavior than recycling laws. Tax law could also be written to apply to an entire state, thus eliminating the need for town-by-town bans.

Monday, September 29, 2008

VOA: Volunteers clear trash

But those little bits of garbage have a huge cumulative impact. Ocean Conservancy President Vikki Spruill says every year, volunteers around the world clear away tons of trash that pose a serious threat to the marine ecosystem.

"To give a very specific example," she says, "a sandwich bag that seems innocent when it's being packed into your lunchbox, when it's discarded of improperly and ends up in our waterways and ultimately in the ocean, can be mistaken for a jellyfish. Something like a sea turtle, for example, sees that bag, eats it, and it results in death."

Read More

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Help Spread the Word: Rise Above Plastic!

SEATTLE, 1999.

In 1999 economic fairness, environmental wellness, and active democracy stopped the World Trade Organization (WTO) from meeting in Seattle.

Tens of thousands of ordinary people like us from around the world: union members, environmental activists, farmers, students, teachers, and nuns-gathered together in an extraordinary alliance to challenge the WTO in Seattle.

We have a historic opportunity THIS MONTH to rally together again to raise awareness of the WTO's failed, poverty-perpetuating and environmentally devastating policies - and how ordinary people can change everything. And international sea turtle protection is a central theme of the film. When was the last time you saw a Hollywood movie that discussed the importance of Turtle Excluder Devices?!

The new feature film, "BATTLE IN SEATTLE," starring Andre Benjamin as Django, the sea turtle activist, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Rodriguez, Channing Tatum, and Charlize Theron showcases activists as heroes protecting people and the planet from destruction at the hands of callous corporations.

WE INVITE YOU TO STAND UP TO THE WTO AGAIN TODAY by taking the following steps as we organize around this epic cultural event:

SEE THE FILM. Take your friends, your loved ones, your co-workers, your neighbors, and remember what victory looks like for the global environmental and social movement. The film transports you to the heart of the action, and leaves you filled with hope about creating a more just world. THE FIRST TWO WEEKS IN THE THEATERS ARE CRITICAL! If enough people see the film, it will expand into other cities around the country, bringing its important message to an even larger audience! Order tickets at HERE and invite your friends to join you HERE. If the film is not playing in your area use the "DEMAND IT!" widget HERE to bring it to your area.

INSPIRE 10 FRIENDS TO SEE THE FILM. Organize your own outreach campaign by emailing, calling or texting 10 or more of your friends in any of the opening cities (even if you don't live in one, yourself!) and ask them to relive our collective victory against corporate tyranny. Five lucky activists who use the email tool HERE or HERE will win a box of Fair Trade chocolate confections!

TAKE ACTION. Ocean Revolution is part of the 5 ACTIONS CAMPAIGN that provides 5 impactful and empowering actions you can take to follow in the footsteps of the activists in Battle in Seattle. Andre Benjamin (aka Andre 3000 of Outkast) plays Django, the sea turtle activist, in the film and has been very supportive of our efforts to protect turtles. Visit and click on the WILD OCEANS icon to participate in our Rise Above Plastic action. (Share your experience and we'll send you a limited pin and stickers designed by Shep Fairey/OBEY GIANT)

INSPIRE OTHERS TO TAKE ACTION. Pass out action flyers at the film screenings so audiences who see the film know how they can simply and powerfully take action themselves. To volunteer to hand out cards at theaters, please send an email to with "BIS Flyering Volunteer" and the city where you would like to volunteer in the subject line. Include your name, phone (preferably cell), the city where you would like to volunteer, dates and preference for a morning, afternoon, evening, or night shift (see the Battle in Seattle website for the available options). Shifts will be 3-4 hours long. DEADLINE TO SIGN UP: SEPTEMBER 10.

SPREAD THE WORD. Forward this email, post the links, or if you are on FACEBOOK or MYSPACE, change your profile photo to the 5 actions sea turtle icon. If thousands of us change our profile photos, it will have a huge visual impact on social networking sites and engage exponentially more people in the movement!

The film opens September 19 in New York, San Francisco, San Rafael, Seattle, and Minneapolis and September 26 in Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Sacramento, and Washington DC…check the website for new cities being added!

For more information, and to see the film trailer, visit

Please forward this email broadly!!!


Friday, August 22, 2008

Save Money, Save the Ocean, Save Ourselves

Save Money, Save the Ocean, Save Ourselves

Good Times Weekly

As oil prices break records daily and the $75 fill-up becomes standard fare at the corner station, Dow Chemical, purveyor of everything plastic, has been forced to raise prices 20 percent for the second month in a row.

The connections between oil and plastic are numerous. In the past 50 years, these two products have come to dominate our lives. But, over-consumption of both is destroying the ocean. Burning of fossil fuels is changing the climate and warming the ocean. Excess carbon dioxide is making the sea more acidic, destabilizing coral reefs and upsetting the ocean food web. Big oil spills, seepage from ships and residue runoff from roads make a toxic mess of all things aquatic.

Plastic, by the way, is made from oil. It lasts a very long time. And it’s everywhere. It’s in the North Pacific Ocean, for instance, where a continent-sized patch best described as “plastic soup” fills up albatrosses, sea turtles and even plankton that feed unwittingly on the stuff.

The oil ties to the ocean run deeper still. So high are fuel prices, that diesel subsidies are necessary to prop up the fuel-dependent fishing sector, which in turn uses those subsidies to strip the seas of millions upon millions of pounds of fish and wildlife annually. Monofilament lines and ghost nets—made of rugged, non-biodegradable plastic (read: oil)—break free, wander the ocean untended, and reap countless fish, dolphins, turtles, birds and whales along the way.

Oil and plastic and the ocean just don’t mix.

The current Administration’s “solution” to the crisis is to drill for more oil along our coasts and in wildlife refuges. The profits, of course, will fall to the oil companies and plastic manufacturers who seek to expand their sales. Exxon-Mobil and Dow both set new records for profits and sales even as news reports and scientific journals lay out in shocking detail how the ocean is warming, sea level is rising and the Pacific plastic garbage patch is expanding.

What this means to the rest of us is that traveling anywhere, eating at a seafood restaurant and buying just about anything plastic are about to get ridiculously expensive. So, here are a few ways you can pinch some pennies and protect the ocean at the same time:

• First, buy your food local and seasonal. This summer, dig into your farmers’ market and ask for local produce and seafood. Buying local and seasonal require less energy for transport and refrigeration.

• Wash, reuse and refill plastic containers: not just water bottles and shopping bags, but Zip-Loc bags, disposable forks and plastic plates. Better yet, avoid plastic completely. Can you make it through a day without throwing any plastic in the trash? It’s harder than you think (

• Instead of a road trip, join the International Coastal Cleanup and spend a day under the blue sky with friends in a global effort to clean local waterways and shores. (

• Share a ride, walk, bike, or hop a train or bus. If you’re looking to replace your car, go for one that doubles, or even triples, your previous miles-per-gallon. A 2003 Ford Expedition gets 14 mpg. A roomy, next-generation Toyota Prius is said to get nearly 100 mpg.

• Be heard: Tell your elected officials that there are safer, cheaper, smarter solutions to the energy crisis than hasty drilling for more oil along our coasts. And let the politicians who are leading the way to a greener future know that you like their style.

Americans aren’t strangers to this way of thinking. My grandmother called it frugality. To her it was a virtue. Maybe it is old-fashioned or just trendy eco-consciousness, but one thing is certain: the incentives to conserve our ocean and to protect our pocketbooks have never been greater—and, who knows, may come at just the right time to do some good for the ocean.

It’s time for each of us to join the revolution in ocean and energy conservation. Let’s get petroleum and plastic out of the ocean and put the profits back in our own pockets.

Save money. Save the ocean. Maybe even save ourselves.

Dr. Wallace J. Nichols is a marine biologist and ocean activist, living in Davenport. Visit

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Plastics suspect in lobster illness

MBL scientist investigates role of environmental toxin in shell disease


Contact: Diana Kenney
Marine Biological Laboratory

MBL, WOODS HOLE, MA—The search for what causes a debilitating shell disease affecting lobsters from Long Island Sound to Maine has led one Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) visiting scientist to suspect environmental alkyphenols, formed primarily by the breakdown of hard transparent plastics.

Preliminary evidence from the lab of Hans Laufer suggests that certain concentrations of alkyphenols may be interfering with the ability of lobsters to develop tough shells. Instead, the shells are weakened, leaving affected lobsters susceptible to the microbial invasions characteristic of the illness.

"Lobsters 'know' when their shell is damaged, and that's probably the reason when they have shell disease, why they molt more quickly," says Laufer, a visiting investigator at the MBL for over 20 years and professor emeritus of molecular and cell biology at the University of Connecticut. "But ultimately, they still come down with the disease. And we think the presence of alkyphenols contributes to that."

Like any crustacean, lobsters shed their shells multiple times in one lifetime. After molting, the outer skin of the soft and exposed lobster will begin to harden. It is here that Laufer thinks the alkyphenols are doing their damage. At this point, a derivative of the amino acid tyrosine, whose function is to harden the developing shell, is incorporated. It is known that alkyphenols and tyrosine are similarly shaped and Laufer suspects that the toxin may be blocking tyrosine from its normal functions. He is at MBL this summer to measure the amount of competition between the two molecules. Alkyphenols are also known to act as endocrine disruptors.

Laufer discovered the presence of alkyphenols in lobsters serendipitously while investigating a tremendous lobster die off at Long Island Sound in 1999, when shell disease, first observed in the mid-1990s, was noted to be on the rise. Although an unusually hot summer, it was also the first time New York City sprayed mosquito populations to prevent the spread of West Nile virus. Laufer, who began his career as an insect endocrinologist, suspected the toxins from the sprayings may have contributed to the lobster die off. In 2001, while searching for the mosquito toxins in lobsters, he instead found alkyphenols.

"It's a real problem," Laufer says. "Plastics last a long time, but breakdown products last even longer. Perhaps shell disease is only the tip of the iceberg of a more basic problem of endocrine disrupting chemicals in marine environments."

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

L.A. City Council votes for ban on plastic shopping bags

The council plans to ban plastic carryout bags in the city's stores by 2010, unless the state imposes a 25-cent fee on those who request them.

By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
July 23, 2008

The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to ban plastic carryout bags in the city's supermarkets and stores by July 2010 -- but only if the state fails to impose a 25-cent fee on every shopper who requests them.

Council members said they hope an impending ban would spur consumers to begin carrying canvas or other reusable bags, reducing the amount of plastic that washes into the city's storm drains and the ocean.

"This is a major moment for our city, to bite the bullet and go with something that is more ecologically sensitive than what we've ever done before," said Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents such coastal neighborhoods as Venice and Playa del Rey.

Tuesday's vote comes as the plastic bag industry, formally known as the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, is fighting efforts to regulate its products. The group filed a lawsuit last week challenging a Los Angeles County plan to reduce plastic bags about 30% by 2010.

Still, a lawyer for the coalition said that as long as the council's decision remains a policy and not a law, he sees no need for a legal fight.

"Why challenge it?" asked coalition attorney Stephen Joseph. "It's not an ordinance."

The council also voted to require city agencies to stop purchasing polystyrene food containers starting next year.

The plastic bag ban was hailed by environmental groups, including Heal the Bay and the Surfrider Foundation. Opponents warned the policy will have a devastating effect on the region's packaging companies.

"When we start banning things and closing factories, where are the blue-collar workers going to go?" asked Anatolio Riegos, a Highland Park resident who works for Pactiv, a packaging company in the city of Industry that has roughly 1,300 workers.

City officials estimate that Los Angeles consumers use 2.3 billion plastic bags each year. An estimated 5% of plastic bags are recycled statewide, according to the city's Bureau of Sanitation.

The ban was proposed by Councilman Ed Reyes, who called plastic bags "the graffiti of the L.A. River," which passes through his district.

Although the plan originally called for the bag ban to go into effect in 2012, council members Janice Hahn and Richard Alarcon persuaded their colleagues to embrace an earlier deadline.

Alarcon said the council would eventually pass a law regulating plastic bags. But for now, the council's vote is designed to persuade state lawmakers to impose a fee on them.

"If they don't do [a fee], then we do a ban," said Alarcon, who represents the northeast San Fernando Valley. "So yes, at some point there would be an ordinance."

Monday, July 21, 2008


Water on the Brain
Author Elizabeth Royte chats about the bottled-water boom and backlash
18 Jul 2008

Journalist Elizabeth Royte drinks tap water, but she spends a lot of time thinking about the bottled kind. In her new book, Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It, Royte investigates the causes and consequences of the bottled-water industry's astounding growth.

With her refillable water bottle in hand, Royte travels to Fryeburg, Maine, where a water-pumping operation for Nestle's Poland Spring label divides the town. In the course of her research, she also tastes fancy bottled waters with a water connoisseur, monitors her eight-year-old daughter's water intake, and conducts an informal poll of friends and acquaintances, asking whether they know where their tap water comes from. "Most people, even those who knew exactly how many miles the arugula on their plate had traveled, had no idea," she writes. Royte's own tap water comes from the famously high-quality New York City system -- a network of reservoirs that, with the blessing of the U.S. EPA, makes up the largest unfiltered water supply in the nation.

Grist recently caught up with Royte to talk about hydration myths, anti-bottle mayors, and water snobbery.


Sunday, July 6, 2008

OpEd: Do we need sea turtles?

OpEd: Do we need sea turtles?
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Article Launched: 07/06/2008 01:34:54 AM PDT

In 1996, I was on the first team to attach a satellite transmitter to the back of a sea turtle and track her migration across an entire ocean. Her name was Adelita, after the daughter of a local fisherman. Over the next 368 days, she swam some 7,000 miles from Mexico to Japan, the country where she was born. Adelita swam her way into computers and newspapers and, soon, into the minds and hearts of millions who followed her epic journey.

Earlier this month, the Great Turtle Race II expanded on Adelita's journey. Eleven leatherback turtles navigated the high seas. Thousands of turtle fans monitored their progress online. The race winner and first to cross the International Dateline, traveling almost 4,000 miles, was Saphira, our Santa Cruz hometown favorite.

In a recent New York Times blog covering the race, journalist Andy Revkin dared pose the question, "Do we need sea turtles?" The responses have been passionate and thought-provoking, but inconclusive.

For me, Revkin's query misses the point, begging more important and more provocative questions: Do we need all-you-can-eat shrimp dinners and swordfish steaks that kill so much ocean wildlife? Are endangered sea turtles worth saving at the cost of a few luxury items? How much do we really need?

As a scientist, I understand we know little about the ecological roles of sea turtles. The turtle populations we study are a mere tenth of their former abundance. Stories

from before the age of synthetic nets and outboard motors read like science fiction: clippers cutting through seas full of floating sea turtles, fish being raked into boats and psychedelic reefs exploding with life.

In ways we will never fully appreciate, each lost species weakens us all, but the loss of sea turtles goes far deeper than the loss of a single thread in the fabric of life.
For the Seri Indians of Mexico's Sonoran coast, sea turtles are life itself. To them, leatherback turtles are ancestors. They are at the heart of their songs, stories, dances, ceremonies and, lately, ocean conservation efforts. An ocean away, the Kei Islanders believe that their ancestors gave them the leatherback as a source of food to be hunted by hand from open boats. Always to be shared, but never sold. In Costa Rica, where leatherback turtle numbers have crashed hard, former egg poachers now protect turtles and lead ecotours -- a transformation bolstered in turtle hotspots around the world by Ocean Conservancy's SEE Turtles project.

On a recent flight, soaring high above the ocean, my row-mates described personal connections to sea turtles. "They changed our lives," they said. "Swimming with them, seeing them, on their terms, was the best thing we've ever done."

Thinking of them and pondering the question, "Do we need sea turtles?" I can only imagine the look on the faces of the Seri and the Kei Islanders and the millions of kids tracking turtles online, of a Mexican girl named Adelita, those Costa Rican turtle guides and a few strangers I met on a plane. Each would smile gently, shake their heads and laugh at the very question.

If you would like to ensure a world with sea turtles, visit or to plan a turtle-friendly vacation to see them in the wild, or join the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup to gather trash that threatens turtles, and, while you are at it, join Ocean Conservancy and become an outspoken advocate for sea turtle protections.

Wallace J. Nichols is senior research scientist at Ocean Conservancy and founder of the SEE Turtles conservation tourism project Visit for more information.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

New York Times: A Sea of Trash

Read it HERE

June 22, 2008
Sea of Trash

Off Gore Point, where tide rips collide, the rolling swells rear up and steepen into whitecaps. Quiet with concentration, Chris Pallister decelerates from 15 knots to 8, strains to peer through a windshield blurry with spray, tightens his grip on the wheel and, like a skier negotiating moguls, coaxes his home-built boat, the Opus — aptly named for a comic-strip penguin — through the chaos of waves. Our progress becomes a series of concussions punctuated by troughs of anxious calm. In this it resembles the rest of Pallister’s life.

A 55-year-old lawyer with a monkish haircut, glasses that look difficult to break, an allergy of the eyes that makes him squint and a private law practice in Anchorage, Pallister spends most of his time directing a nonprofit group called the Gulf of Alaska Keeper, or GoAK (pronounced GO-ay-kay). According to its mission statement, GoAK’s lofty purpose is to “protect, preserve, enhance and restore the ecological integrity, wilderness quality and productivity of Prince William Sound and the North Gulf Coast of Alaska.” In practice, the group has, since Pallister and a few like-minded buddies founded it in 2005, done little else besides clean trash from beaches. All along Alaska’s outer coast, Chris Pallister will tell you, there are shores strewn with marine debris, as man-made flotsam and jetsam is officially known. Most of that debris is plastic, and much of it crosses the Gulf of Alaska or even the Pacific Ocean to arrive there.

The tide of plastic isn’t rising only on Alaskan shores. In 2004 two oceanographers from the British Antarctic Survey completed a study of plastic dispersal in the Atlantic that spanned both hemispheres. “Remote oceanic islands,” the study showed, “may have similar levels of debris to those adjacent to heavily industrialized coasts.” Even on the shores of Spitsbergen Island in the Arctic, the survey found on average a plastic item every five meters.

Back in the 1980s, the specter of fouled beaches was a recurring collective nightmare. The Jersey Shore was awash in used syringes. New York’s garbage barge wandered the seas. On the approach to Kennedy Airport, the protagonist of “Paradise,” a late Donald Barthelme novel, looked out his airplane window and saw “a hundred miles of garbage in the water, from the air white floating scruff.” We tend to tire of new variations on the apocalypse, however, the same way we tire of celebrities and pop songs. Eventually all those syringes, no longer delivering a jolt of guilt or dread, receded from the national consciousness. Who could worry about seabirds garotted by six-pack rings when Alaska’s shores were awash in Exxon’s crude? Who could worry about turtles tangled in derelict fishing nets when the ice caps were melting and the terrorists were coming?

Then, too, for a while it seemed as if we might succeed in laying this particular ecological nightmare to rest. In the mid-1980s, New York’s sanitation department began deploying vessels called TrashCats to hoover up scruff from the waterways around the Fresh Kills landfill. Elsewhere beach-sweeping machines did the same for the sand. In 1987 the federal government ratified Marpol Annex V, an international treaty that made it illegal to throw nonbiodegradable trash — that is, plastic — overboard from ships in the waters of signatory countries. The good news for the ocean kept coming: in 1988, Congress passed the Ocean Dumping Reform Act, which forbade cities to decant their untreated sewage into the sea. In 1989 the Ocean Conservancy staged its first annual International Coastal Cleanup (I.C.C.), which has since grown into the largest such event in the world. But beautification can be deceiving. Although many American beaches — especially those that generate tourism revenues — are much cleaner these days than they used to be, the oceans, it seems, are another matter.

Not even oceanographers can tell us exactly how much floating scruff is out there; oceanographic research is simply too expensive and the ocean too varied and vast. In 2002, Nature magazine reported that during the 1990s, debris in the waters near Britain doubled; in the Southern Ocean encircling Antarctica the increase was a hundredfold. And depending on where they sample, oceanographers have found that between 60 and 95 percent of today’s marine debris is made of plastic.

Plastic gets into the ocean when people throw it from ships or leave it in the path of an incoming tide, but also when rivers carry it there, or when sewage systems and storm drains overflow. Despite the Ocean Dumping Reform Act, the U.S. still releases more than 850 billion gallons of untreated sewage and storm runoff every year, according to a 2004 E.P.A. report. Comb the Manhattan waterfront and you will find, along with the usual windrows of cups, bottles and plastic bags, what the E.P.A. calls “floatables,” those “visible buoyant or semibuoyant solids” that people flush into the waste stream like cotton swabs, condoms, tampon applicators and dental floss.

The Encyclopedia of Coastal Processes, about as somniferously clinical a scientific source on the subject as one can find, predicts that plastic pollution “will incrementally increase through the 21st century,” because “the problems created are chronic and potentially global, rather than acute and local or regional as many would contemplate.” The problems are chronic because, unlike the marine debris of centuries past, commercial plastics do not biodegrade in seawater. Instead, they persist, accumulating over time, much as certain emissions accumulate in the atmosphere. The problems are global because the sources of plastic pollution are far-flung but also because, like emissions riding the winds, pollutants at sea can travel.

And so, year after year, equipped with garbage bags and good intentions, the volunteers in the International Coastal Cleanup fan out, and year after year, in many places the tonnage of debris is greater than before. Seba Sheavly, a marine-debris researcher who ran the I.C.C. until 2005, says the Ocean Conservancy’s cleanup “has never been about curing the problem of marine debris.” It has always been, she told me, “a public awareness campaign.” Now a private consultant to the plastics industry and the United Nations Environment Program, among other clients, Sheavly says she believes that the primary value of coastal cleanups lies in the lesson they teach volunteers — “that what they’re picking up comes from them.” On Alaska’s outer coast, however, only a fraction of the debris washing in comes from local litterbugs. On much of Alaska’s 33,000-mile shoreline, in fact, there are no local litterbugs. On much of Alaska’s shoreline there are no people at all.

When Pallister took me there last July, a GoAK crew had been at work for two weeks cleaning up Gore Point (population: 0), part of a 400,000-acre maritime wilderness at the heart of the Kenai Fjords. Despite the pretty scenery, few nature lovers bother to visit. You can travel to Gore Point only by helicopter, seaplane or boat, and then only when weather permits, which it often does not. In the lower 48, beach cleanups tend to involve schoolchildren gleaning food wrappers and cigarette butts left by recreational beachgoers. GoAK’s cleanups, by contrast, are costly expeditions into the wild. The group’s volunteers must be 18 or older, and all must sign a frightening waiver in which they agree not to hold the organization liable for perils like “dangerous storms; hypothermia; sun or heat exposure; drowning; vehicle transportation and transfer; rocky, slippery and dangerous shorelines; tool and trash related injuries; bears; and” — in case that list left anything out — “other unforeseen events.”

The windward shore of Gore Point is what’s known among beachcombers and oceanographers as “a collector beach.” In 1989, according to The Anchorage Daily News, more of Exxon’s spilled oil ended up there than on any other beach on Alaska’s outer coast, but unlike the oil, the incoming debris never ended. Every tide brings more. Over the course of several decades, ever since the dawn of the plastics era, a kind of postmodern midden heap accumulated behind the driftwood berm. To beachcombers in the know, Gore Point was a happy hunting ground, one of the best places in Alaska to find exotic oddities. To Pallister, it was a paradise lost. Now, subsidized by a $115,000 matching grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (N.O.A.A.), he had embarked upon a possibly quixotic mission to regain it.

Pallister refuses to accept that beach cleanups are merely public awareness campaigns. And so, it seems, does the federal government. In 2006, in part thanks to lobbying by the Ocean Conservancy, Congress passed the Marine Debris Research, Prevention and Reduction Act. Last winter, Pallister applied for one of the grants authorized by the bill. By then GoAK certainly had acquired the requisite expertise. Before founding GoAK, Pallister and his field manager, Ted Raynor, helped organize an annual volunteer beach cleanup in Prince William Sound. Over the course of four summers, working their way eastward from Whittier, the volunteers scoured approximately 70 miles of rugged shoreline. At that rate, Pallister and Raynor calculated, it would take 200 years to clean Prince William Sound just once. Rather than abandon all hope — perhaps the most rational response — they chartered GoAK and started raising money.

In its first summer in action, GoAK managed to clean 350 miles of rugged shoreline, picking up enough trash to fill 46 trash-hauling bins. Pallister wasn’t satisfied. It wasn’t enough to clean beaches near coastal communities. And so, last summer, Gore Point became a front line in the federal government’s campaign against debris. What would it take, Pallister hoped to learn, to clean up one wild beach?

To me, Gore Point seemed like the scene of an unsolved environmental mystery — unsolved and possibly unsolvable. Who, if anyone, can be held accountable for all that plastic trash? What, if anything, does it forebode for us and for the sea?

By the time we reach GoAK’s base camp on Gore Point’s leeward shore, Alaska’s long midsummer twilight has begun. Pallister is anxious to have a look at the cleanup site before dinner. Raynor leads the way, his brindled pit bull Bryn racing ahead, sniffing the ground for marmots and bears. The narrow trail dips and meanders eastward across an isthmus, following the edge of a meadow where wildflowers are in bloom before veering into the forest, the floor of which is overgrown with devil’s club, an aptly named shrub whose thorns, Pallister warns me, can be fiendishly difficult to get out. In the distance, trash bags, some yellow, others white, flash between the spruce trunks. By Raynor’s estimate, in the last two weeks, he and nine other workers the crew manager Doug Leiser, Leiser’s two sons, Pallister’s three sons and three volunteers from Homer filled around 1,200 garbage bags weighing, on average, 50 pounds each. That’s 60,000 pounds, or 30 tons, of debris. All along the length of the beach, a dozen yards apart, are heaps of bags, great colorful cairns, and here and there, clustered in the grass, are loose objects too big or heavy for bags the wheel of a car, a microwave oven, a television screen that, shorn of its cabinet, looks naked, like a brain without a skull.

There’s one acre of forest left to be cleaned up. As we approach, the mossy earth begins to crackle and crunch underfoot. I recognize the sound: we’re walking over buried plastic. Behind the moldering trunk of a fallen spruce, a deep drift of trash has collected, like water behind a dam. This is what the entire shore looked like two weeks ago, Raynor says. Gill-net floats appear to be the most abundant item, polyethylene water bottles the second-most abundant. Many of the floats and nearly all of the bottles are inscribed with Asian characters. I unearth a flip-flop, and then, a few moments later, an empty container of Downy, the fabric softener.

Pallister has a theory about where all this trash comes from. “There’s a weather phenomenon we have here,” he told me in Anchorage. “A winter low sets this prevailing wind pattern that will just funnel this way for days on end if not weeks on end. That wind is blowing right across that bunch of plastic out there.” The “bunch of plastic” he was talking about is the flotilla of trash, purportedly at least as big as Texas, that has accumulated at the becalmed heart of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a giant clockwise circuit of currents that revolves between East Asia and North America.

High-pressure systems like the one that predominates over the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre force currents to spiral inward. Oceanographers call these spirals “convergence zones.” Low atmospheric pressure systems like the one that predominates over the Gulf of Alaska have the opposite effect, creating “divergence zones” where the surface currents move outward toward shore. Divergence zones tend to expel debris. Convergence zones collect it.

In 2001 a peer-reviewed scientific journal called The Marine Pollution Bulletin published a study, whose undramatic title, “A Comparison of Plastic and Plankton in the North Pacific Central Gyre,” belied its dramatic findings. The lead author — a sailor, environmentalist, organic farmer, self-trained oceanographer and onetime furniture repairman named Charles Moore — went trawling in the North Pacific convergence zone about 800 miles west of San Francisco and found seven times as much plastic per square kilometer as any previous study.

“As I gazed from the deck at the surface of what ought to have been a pristine ocean,” Moore later wrote in an essay for Natural History, “I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic. It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot. In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments.” An oceanographic colleague of Moore’s dubbed this floating junk yard “the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” and despite Moore’s efforts to suggest different metaphors — “a swirling sewer,” “a superhighway of trash” connecting two “trash cemeteries” — “Garbage Patch” appears to have stuck.

The Garbage Patch wasn’t merely a cosmetic problem, nor merely a symbolic one, Moore contended. For one thing, it was a threat to wildlife. Scientists estimate that every year at least a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die when they entangle themselves in debris or ingest it. “Entanglement and ingestion, however, are not the worst problems caused by the ubiquitous plastic pollution,” Moore wrote. Plastic polymers, as has long been known, absorb hydrophobic chemicals, including persistent organic pollutants, or POPS, like dioxin, P.C.B.’s and D.D.T. Highly controlled in the U.S. but less so elsewhere, such substances are surprisingly abundant at the ocean’s surface. By concentrating these free-floating contaminants, Moore worried, particles of plastic could become “poison pills.” He also worried about toxins in the plastic itself — phthalates, organotins — that have been known to leach out over time. Once fish or plankton ingest these pills, Moore speculated, poisons both in and on the plastic would enter the food web. And since such toxins concentrate, or “bioaccumulate,” in fatty tissues as they move up the chain of predation — so that the “contaminant burden” of a swordfish is greater than a mackerel’s and a mackerel’s greater than a shrimp’s — this plastic could be poisoning people too.

In the scientific community, Moore’s work is somewhat controversial. Even marine biologists who share his alarm have misgivings about the sensationalism with which the Garbage Patch is sometimes described. Since the plastic debris in the North Pacific convergence zone is spread out unevenly across millions of miles of ocean, and since most of it is fragmentary, flowing through the water column like dust through air, the Garbage Patch bears little resemblance to a floating junkyard. But it is, numerous scientists assured me, very much for real.

Beth Flint’s nuanced testimony was typical. Flint is a wildlife biologist with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. One seabird she studies is the Laysan albatross, which, thanks to a recent Greenpeace ad campaign, has become plastic pollution’s most famous victim — its poster bird, if you will. The ad shows a photograph in which a slimy casserole of bottle caps, cigarette lighters and unidentifiable plastic shards spills from the downy belly of a necropsied Laysan albatross chick. “How to starve to death on a full stomach,” the caption reads. The image is not merely powerful, or shocking; it’s persuasively accusatory. Look, dear consumer, it seems to say; look at what you’ve done, look where what you throw away ends up.

There’s only one problem, Flint says. No one knows for certain whether plastic killed the albatross. Do plastic shards perforate the intestines of chicks? Sometimes. Does plastic obstruct the digestive tract or make a bird “starve to death with a full stomach”? Probably, in some cases. Then again albatrosses eat squid, and chitonous squid beaks are also indigestible. Are the toxins in and on plastics poisoning the birds, as Moore has proposed? It wouldn’t be surprising. According to Flint, long-lived seabirds like albatrosses do indeed have alarmingly high contaminant burdens. But research into the pathology of plastic poisoning is ongoing, and in the meantime, “it’s still all sort of circumstantial.”

Despite these caveats, Flint has little doubt that plastic is “clearly not good” for seabirds, and her praise for Moore is unequivocal. “I think that he’s done a tremendously valuable service to humanity by pursuing this when none of the big oceanographic or academic institutions or government institutions did,” Flint said. She predicts that other researchers will soon “get on his bandwagon.” Already her prediction seems to be coming true. In the last few years several studies of plastic poisoning appeared in prominent journals, including Science.

The hardest question to answer about the Garbage Patch, it turns out, isn’t whether plastic threatens animals and ecosystems, but what, if anything, can be done about it. “We haven’t been able to hatch up any good ideas,” Flint admitted. Albatross chicks don’t forage on land, she said. In fact they don’t forage at all. Their parents do, flying far and wide across the Pacific, swooping down to snatch morsels off the surface, which they bring back home and regurgitate into a hungry chick’s mouth. That’s where all the detritus in that Greenpeace ad came from. Even if we were to clean every beach in the world, it wouldn’t keep albatrosses from stuffing their offspring full of plastic. “You’d have to clean the entire ocean,” Flint said.

During the few days I spent helping out at Gore Point, GoAK’s labors came to seem all the more Herculean. Cleaning up debris turns out to be slow, mind-numbing, back-straining work. We crouched amid the devil’s club, a few feet apart, like gleaners harvesting surreal produce — plastic gourds, fungi of foam. Every now and then someone would find something remarkable — a bottle with Arabic writing on it, a toy, a shoe, a Russian vacuum tube — and would hold it up for the rest of us to see, before pocketing it or, more often, dropping it into a bag with the other trash. When you stepped back to examine your progress, the difference would hardly be noticeable. But the hours and bags added up, and finally there was nothing left on that forest floor but a sprinkling of plastic foam.

Pallister wasn’t ready to celebrate. Even now, the success of GoAK’s rescue mission remained in doubt. He still didn’t know how he was going to remove all that trash from that windward shore, where the waters were rocky and the surf could be dangerously rough. The original plan was to load the bags onto six-wheelers, drive them across the isthmus to the protected leeward shore and transfer the bags onto a bow-loading amphibious barge, which would ferry them 80 miles to the landfill in Homer. But archaeologists with the Alaska parks department recently told Pallister, no six-wheelers. So now what? Sweat equity? Helicopters?

The week before, he spoke to a helicopter pilot who assured him that timber companies regularly airlifted logs out of forests as dense as this one. If GoAK loaded the debris into bulk bags, and if the weather wasn’t too foul, it wouldn’t be a problem. (A bulk bag is a giant, white, rip-proof plastic sack, the size and shape of a balloonist’s gondola, that the shipping and construction industries use to sling cargo — more than 4,000 pounds of it — through the air.) The pilot would snake a hook down through the trees on a 125-foot cable, a man on the ground would catch it, snap on a load of bulk bags, and up through the branches they would go, three or four at a time. But standing in the forest, peering up through the dense canopy, Pallister was having a hard time imagining it, despite the pilot’s assurances. “We’re going to have to find some clearings for the helicopter,” he said to Raynor.

Even if he could make the airlift work, it wasn’t clear how he was going to pay for it. A chartered helicopter would run him approximately $2,000 an hour, the barge $4,000 a day. Already Pallister, who keeps a well-thumbed copy of Edward Abbey’s “Monkey Wrench Gang” on his coffee table, had hit up dozens of corporate sponsors — Princess Cruises, REI, Alyeska Pipeline, BP, whose sunflower logo decorates most of GoAK’s garbage bags. Then there was the weather to worry about. Autumn comes early to the Kenai Peninsula’s outer coast. The barge and helicopter wouldn’t be available until mid-August. By then, summer would be ending, the purple fireweed would have finished blooming and on the upper slopes of the Kenai Mountains the tundra would be tingeing red. By then the weather could turn. The southeasters could start howling in off the Pacific, buffeting the windward shore, making waves surge up into driftwood, stripping branches, scattering debris 400 feet into the trees. If that happened, you could forget about an airlift. If that happened, the crew would have to lash down the heaped bags with cargo nets and pray they survived the winter.

“That’s not unusual,” Charles Moore told me, when I described the midden at Gore Point. “Any windward side of an island’s going to have situations like that. The question is, how much can we take? We’re burying ourselves in this stuff.” Moore sympathized with Pallister’s motives, and said that GoAK’s efforts could help “raise awareness.” But if Pallister thought he was saving Gore Point from plastic pollution, he was fooling himself. “It’s just going to come back,” Moore said.

This, in Moore’s opinion, is why the 2006 Marine Debris, Research, Prevention and Reduction Act is likewise doomed to fail. “It’s all been focused on cleanups,” he says of federal policy. “They think if they take tonnage out of the water, the problem will go away.”

In the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, whose shores are washed by the southern edge of the Garbage Patch, federal agencies are staging one of the biggest marine-debris projects in history. Since 1996, using computer models, satellite data and aerial surveys, they have located and removed more than 500 metric tons of derelict fishing gear in hopes of saving endangered Hawaiian monk seals from entanglement. The results have been mixed at best. Biologists are now finding fewer monk seals entangled in debris; but they are also finding fewer monk seals, period. Meanwhile, an estimated 52 tons of fresh debris inundates the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands every year.

Along with financing and volunteers, corporate sponsors of the International Coastal Cleanup contribute homilies about saving the planet. “Working together we help keep our coasts clean,” ran Coca-Cola’s contribution to the I.C.C.’s 2006 report. Marine debris, declared Dow Chemical, is a “people problem that we, the citizens of the world, have the power to stop.” Is it? Yes, says Moore, but “there is no magic bullet,” and the solutions may require sacrifices that the citizens, governments and corporations of the world are reluctant to make. Eventually we will have to abandon planned obsolescence, and instead manufacture products that are durable, easily recyclable or both, Moore said. And we will have to overcome our addiction to conspicuous consumption.

In the meantime, other smaller, more practical actions could be taken. In 1999, the National Resources Defense Council successfully sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for permitting municipalities to pollute watersheds around Los Angeles. As a result of the lawsuit, Los Angeles County had to comply with stricter total maximum daily loads, or T.M.D.L.’s, the local pollution limits that the E.P.A. places on a region’s waterways under the Clean Water Act. The new T.M.D.L.’s, the first in the country to treat trash as a pollutant, will require the county to reduce the amount of solid waste escaping its rivers and creeks from 4.5 million pounds a year to zero by 2016. To meet that target, cities will have to invest in “full-capture systems,” filters that strain out everything larger than 5 millimeters in diameter. In theory, every region in the country could follow suit, but already cash-strapped governments in Southern California are complaining that these “zero-trash T.M.D.L.’s” are too costly and ambitious to implement. Moore, meanwhile, has collected data showing that even full-capture systems would allow tens of thousands of plastic particles to escape the Los Angeles River every day.

As nearly everyone I spoke to about marine debris agrees, the best way to get trash out of our waterways is, of course, to keep it from entering them in the first place. But experts disagree about what that will take. The argument, like so many in American politics, pits individual freedom against the common good. “Don’t you tell me I can’t have a plastic bag,” Seba Sheavly, the marine-debris researcher, says, alluding to plastic-bag bans like the one San Francisco enacted last year. “I know how to dispose of it responsibly.” But proponents of bag bans insist that there is no way to use a plastic bag responsibly. Lorena Rios, an environmental chemist at the University of the Pacific, says: “If you go to Subway, and they give you the plastic bag, how long do you use the plastic bag? One minute. And how long will the polymers in that bag last? Hundreds of years.”

“The time for voluntary measures has long since passed,” says Steve Fleischli, president of Waterkeeper Alliance, a network of environmental watchdogs to which, it should be noted, the Gulf of Alaska Keeper does not belong. (Waterkeeper officials have objected to GoAK’s use of their brand, but Pallister insists that their objections are without legal merit. “They’ve trademarked ‘Riverkeeeper,’ ‘Soundkeeper,’ ‘Baykeeper,’ ” he told me, “but not ‘Alaska keeper.’ ”) Fleischli would have us tax the most pervasive and noxious plastic pollutants — shopping bags, plastic-foam containers, cigarette butts, plastic utensils — and put the proceeds toward cleanup and prevention measures. “We already use a portion of the gasoline tax to pay for oil spills,” Fleischli says. Such levies shouldn’t be seen as criminalizing the makers and sellers of plastic disposables, he argues; they merely force those businesses to “internalize” previously hidden costs, what economists call “externalities.” This market-based approach to environmental regulation, known as extended producer responsibility, is increasingly popular with environmental groups. By sticking others with the ecological cleaning bill, the thinking goes, businesses have been able to keep the price of disposable plastics artificially low. And as Pallister learned at Gore Point, the cleaning bill may be greater than we can afford.

We still have limited tax dollars to spend and scarier nightmares to fear. No one — not Pallister, not Moore — will tell you that plastic pollution is the greatest man-made threat our oceans face. Depending whom you ask, that honor goes to global warming, agricultural runoff or overfishing. But unlike many pollutants, plastic has no natural source and therefore there is no doubt that we are to blame. Because we can see it, plastic is a powerful bellwether of our impact upon the earth. Where plastics travel, invisible pollutants — pesticides and fertilizers from lawns and farms, petrochemicals from roads, sewage tainted with pharmaceuticals — often follow. Last June, shortly before my voyage in the Opus began, Sylvia Earle, formerly N.O.A.A.’s chief scientist, delivered an impassioned speech on marine debris at the World Bank in Washington. “Trash is clogging the arteries of the planet,” Earle said. “We’re beginning to wake up to the fact that the planet is not infinitely resilient.” For ages humanity saw in the ocean a sublime grandeur suggestive of eternity. No longer. Surveying the debris on remote beaches like Gore Point, we see that the ocean is more finite than we’d thought. Now it is the sublime grandeur of our civilization but also of our waste that inspires awe.

One evening in mid-August, despite N.O.A.A. forecasts calling for gale-force winds, a rusty 100-foot barge called the Constructor plowed its way in darkness from Homer to Gore Point, reaching the leeward anchorage just before dawn. Day broke to mild breezes and blue skies, which showed how much you could trust N.O.A.A. forecasts out here on the unpredictable coast. The helicopter was supposed to arrive by 10, bringing a local television news crew with it. Shortly before the appointed hour, Raynor, Leiser and Pallister’s elder sons assembled on Gore Point’s leeward shore. Dressed in fleece jackets and rubber boots, reclining on overstuffed bulk bags as if they were Barcaloungers, they gazed west, beyond the barge, to the Kenai Mountains, above which, any moment now, they expected the helicopter to appear. “God’s smiling,” Raynor remarked of the weather. “God’s saying: ‘Thank you. Thank you for cleaning up Gore Point.’ ”

A half-hour later, when the helicopter had not arrived, Raynor wasn’t so sure what God was saying. Had something gone wrong? Was Homer weathered in? The Pallister boys rose from their bulk bags, walked down to the surf and began amusing themselves with strands of bull kelp, whipping the slick green ropes toward the water as if casting lines.

At last, from the opposite direction than expected, the unmistakable throb of a rotor could be heard, growing louder. The four men turned almost in unison and shaded their eyes with their hands. But then the noise faded. The treetops tossed around in the wind. The men continued to stare. “They must be doing a flyover of east beach,” Leiser said. “Probably the TV crew wants an aerial shot.” The treetops kept tossing. At this distance the helicopter sounded like a neighbor’s lawn mower. Then, thundering, it appeared, swooping past, dark blue, alive with gleams, flying low enough that it was easy to read the words “Maritime Helicopter” on its side. Here in the wilderness it seemed angelic. The pilot banked over the inlet, over the Constructor, where Chris Pallister stood on the deck looking up.

Donovan Hohn, a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine, is at work on a book about a shipment of bath toys lost at sea.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Is your exfoliant harming marine life?

Scrubbing Out Sea Life
By Hillary Rosner
Posted Monday, June 16, 2008, at 2:45 PM ET

Is your exfoliant harming marine life?

A smiling model glides, mermaidlike, through a lush underwater garden. Undulating ribbons of something resembling kelp rise from the sea floor, and tiny enchanting pearl-like beads bubble up though the aquamarine water. Polish your troubles away with Olay Body Wash Plus Spa Exfoliating Ribbons, the subject of this commercial, and you too might feel as if you're floating through a luxurious Atlantis.

The trouble is, the more you exfoliate, the less Edenic that underwater realm becomes for the creatures who live there. That's because the exfoliating ingredient in Olay's body wash, and in most similar big-brand products (such as Dove Gentle Exfoliating Foaming Facial Cleanser and Clean & Clear Daily Pore Cleanser), is actually made out of plastic: tiny particles of polyethylene that scrub the dirt from your face and then wash straight down the drain and into watersheds and, eventually, oceans.

Read more HERE

Sunday, June 15, 2008 Hitting the Squids

Deep-sea squid and octopi full of human-made chemicals

Posted at 12:10 PM on 13 Jun 2008

Human-made chemicals have snuck on down into the ocean depths, showing up in the tissues of deep-sea cephalopods, says new research. In a study to be published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, researchers found various persistent organic pollutants -- including PCBs and DDT -- in nine species of octopi, squid, cuttlefish, and nautiluses. "The fact that we detected a variety of pollutants in specimens collected from more than 3,000 feet deep is evidence that human-produced chemicals are reaching remote areas of the open ocean, accumulating in prey species, and therefore available to higher levels of marine life," says study coauthor Michael Vecchione. "Contamination of the deep-sea food web is happening, and it is a real concern."

source: SPX

Sunday, June 8, 2008

World Ocean Day 2008

Make World Ocean Day 2008 a day without plastic. Join thousands of others around the world who will make this coming World Oean Day, June 8th, 2008, plastic-free. It's not so hard.

Email us at and let us know you will be plastic-free for a day!

Friday, June 6, 2008

OpEd: Live like you love the ocean

World Ocean Day OpEd: Live like you love the ocean

San Jose Mercury News

Everywhere I go, people ask: “What one thing can I do for the ocean?”

My daughter, a kindergartener, answers simply: “pick up your trash.” Of course, using energy efficient light bulbs or driving a hybrid are good answers, since global warming is fundamentally an ocean issue. Then again, the simple act of choosing to eat only seafood that is sustainable and healthy can help the ocean.

But our ocean is in serious trouble. Reading recent news and scientific papers is enough to make your head spin. They tell us that there is no corner of our vast ocean that is not free of human fingerprints.

As an oceanographer, I’m quite familiar with the relentless bad news. Keeping up-to-date on it all is a part of my job. Since the ocean holds the majority of life on Earth and governs our air, our climate, and our food, that means we’re in real, big trouble.

As daunting as it appears, the ocean crisis can be boiled down to three problems: we’ve put too much in, we’ve taken too much out, and we are wrecking the edge.

Who wouldn’t be concerned about the ever-expanding Texas-size “garbage patch” in the Pacific Ocean, the shutdown of West Coast salmon fishing, right whales and sea turtles drowning in fishing gear, and the summer closure of beaches due to toxic pollution?

Obviously, there is no silver bullet … or, is there? If I had one answer to give to those who ask, “What can I do for the ocean?” it would be this: “Live like you love the ocean.” Living like we love the ocean means putting less in, taking less out, and protecting the ocean’s edge where so much life lives.

Less in. Less out. Protect the edge.


Rather than wringing our hands, hope is on the horizon. We can live like we love the ocean in many ways.
First, shop like you love the ocean.

Buy products that are ocean-friendly. Use a canvas bag to get your stuff from the store to your car to your house, rather than a plastic bag that will stick around forever. Drink filtered tap water from a refillable glass or steel bottle instead of buying water shipped halfway around the world.

Second, eat like you love the ocean.

When you choose seafood, be sure it’s caught sustainably. That’s gotten a heck of a lot easier lately as Whole Foods, thousands of local restaurants, and even WalMart are going organic and sustainable.

Third, vacation like you love the ocean.

This summer, hike in a coastal park or visit an aquarium. Go on a sea turtle or whale watch where your visit supports conservation. Surfing, kayaking, and snorkeling are all ocean-friendly activities. Why not join Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup and make a day of it with your friends?

Lastly, vote like you love the ocean.

Many local, state, and national politicians support bold efforts to tackle global warming, create ocean parks—our so-called “Undersea Yosemites” that Ocean Conservancy is helping to build—and better fund cutting-edge ocean science. With our votes, we must be perfectly clear: we want leaders who bring about sea change.

We are entering a decade of progress in the culture of conservation and sustainability. Millions who care deeply about the ocean are joining to transform our relationship with the sea … they are starting a sea change.
Each of us must be part of this ocean revolution -- each in our own way, each as part of a connected whole.

Join for yourself. Join for others. Join for the ocean. But, when you join, please remember to live like you love the ocean.

June 8th is World Ocean Day. Find out more at

Dr. Wallace J. Nichols is a senior scientist at Ocean Conservancy and a research associate at California Academy of Sciences. He was featured in the documentary film The 11th Hour. On World Ocean Day he will be speaking in Baja California Sur, Mexico, on the shores of the Bay of Loreto National Marine Park.

Monday, June 2, 2008

21st Century Waterfall

Computer animation comparing the US rate of plastic water bottle recycling (approx. 100 bottles/second) to the nonrecycled
rate (approx. 845 bottles/second; see image) for 2005.

This computer animation was made to raise awareness about bottled water, and its surprisingly poor recycling rates. Since its recent popularization, bottled water (in all its flavors) has become ironically one of the most consumed, yet least recycled beverages. For example, it is estimated that in 2005 alone approximately 30 billion plastic water bottles were purchased in the US, with only about 12% recycled (in part due to out-dated deposit laws), and the remaining 25 billion bottles landfilled, littered or incinerated.

Reduce, reuse, recycle. Innovate.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Plastic JUNK launches today!

As marine debris is one of our main concerns as ocean advocates, I thought everyone would be interested in this creative "EcoDaredevil" project by some of our friends and colleagues...

Crossing the Pacific on Junk raft

A guest post from Anna Cummins, education advisor of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.

The average Emerald City reader has likely heard of the infamous "Pacific Garbage Patch," that mythical swath of debris in the Pacific, the size of Texas. Or was it two Texases or wait, twice the size of the moon?

Having recently returned from a month-long research trip through this massive marine landfill, I'll clear up a few misconceptions:

•    The garbage does indeed exist. HOWEVER it is not a "patch" of garbage, nor a trash island. It's more like a huge bowl of dilute plastic soup, from California to Japan.

•    We can't clean it up, net it away, or sieve it out. It's an area twice the size of the United States, and the debris is too spread out. Imagine a handful of plastic cornflakes sprinkled over a football field. Now imagine 9 million football fields in the Pacific Ocean.

12 years ago, Captain Charles Moore accidentally "discovered" the plastic debris debacle in the North Pacific while sailing an infrequently traveled route from Hawaii to Los Angeles. Stunned by the endless river of plastic junk he found -– toothbrushes, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments –- Moore decided to return with research tools and scientific sampling methods, to better understand what he saw.

In 1999, Moore et al. published the groundbreaking study, 4,200 miles across the Pacific, collecting surface samples the entire way.

What we found this year: the problem has gotten much, much worse. Though our samples are still being processed, Captain Moore guesstimates a fivefold increase in 10 years, bumping plastic to plankton ratios up to 30:1.
And still, we tear through plastic bags and bottles like they're going out of style...

Actually, we'd love to see disposable plastics go out of style. So to bring public attention to the junk in our ocean, we're sailing from Long Beach to Hawaii -- on Junk.

For the last few months, Dr. Marcus Eriksen, Joel Paschal and myself have been creating Junk -– a raft made of 15,000 plastic bottles, an old Cessna 310 airplane, and other assorted junk, to sail from Long Beach to Hawaii.

Marcus and Joel will set sail on June 1 from the Long Beach Aquarium, carrying hundreds of individual messages about plastic debris, to be delivered to D.C. legislators next winter. I'll be charting their daily progress from land, keeping up the blog, and praying for gentle, steady winds.

Come on board! To support our mission, write your message in a bottle here. And to see history in the making -- the first ever plastic bottle boat cross the Pacific -- come on down for the June 1 launch party, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Long Beach Aquarium.

Follow the journey at the JUNK blog. And for information, e-mail me at

Top photo by Joel Paschal; bottom photo by Peter Bennett

Friday, May 30, 2008

JUNK launches on June 1st!

JUNK Launches on June 1st!

Check it out HERE and be there if you can to send them off on their trip from CA to Hawaii aboard a plastic bottle raft.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

OR IV: The Mother Hips

Ocean Revolution IV: The Mother Hips rock SC

June 14, 2008



The fourth annual Ocean Revolution celebration will be held at Moe's Alley in Santa Cruz on June 14, to celebrate World Ocean Day. The Mother Hips will be headlining with special guest Matt Butler, starting at 9:30 pm. The event will offer a chance to get up-and-close with local, national and international ocean conservation groups and their leaders, to celebrate the ocean in a rocking atmosphere and to explore ways in which we can all live like we love the ocean.

The event is organized each year by Santa Cruz locals Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, OCEAN REVOLUTION founder and Ocean Conservancy Senior Scientist, and Will Henry, renowned photographer and Save the Waves Coalition founder, who are joined this year by many other ocean activists.

"After four years this celebration is something lots of ocean-loving people look forward to. There's no better place to celebrate World Ocean Day than Santa Cruz, the heart of the Ocean Revolution," says Nichols.

"The Mother Hips' lead singer and guitarist Tim Bluhm has proven his ongoing dedication to ocean protection over the past few years," adds Henry.

The band has headlined three out of four OCEAN REVOLUTION shows and also played at the May "Life is a Wave" benefit concert in San Francisco. The event raised over $25,000 for Save the Waves Coalition.

OCEAN REVOLUTION is an international program designed to grow a creative network and inspire a new wave of young leaders, united in their quest for innovative solutions to protect our oceans.

Save the Waves Coalition is a non-profit that works to preserve surf zones internationally, and is based in Davenport.

For more information, contact Will Henry at or 831-818-9292

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Wal-Mart tightens safety standards for toxics in toys

Beauty of the Beast

Wal-Mart tightens safety standards for toxics in toys

Posted on at 7:55 AM on 14 May 2008

Wal-Mart, the world's largest toy retailer, has told its suite of suppliers that they must meet new safety standards for toxics in toys by later this year. Some 25 million toys were recalled by toy makers last year in the United States, many due to high lead levels. Wal-Mart's new standards apply to a range of toxics, including antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Laura Bush says "reduce, reuse, recycle"!

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, Laura Bush wrote: (excerpted)

"…People everywhere have a responsibility to be good stewards of our environment. The trash we throw away can have harmful consequences on wildlife and the environment far from home. President Bush joins me in encouraging all Americans to reduce the amount of plastic we use in our daily lives; re-use the plastic we already have; and buy items made of recycled materials and those that can be recycled. Our efforts will help ensure a cleaner and healthier environment for future generations."

Laura Bush
The White House
Washington, DC

Read the whole article HERE

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

War on Plastic: IKEA

Ikea wages war on plastic

Mercury News

Since March 2007, "Bag the Plastic Bag" has been the rallying cry at Ikea stores nationwide. The yearlong goal throughout the furniture and accessories chain: Save trees and sequester carbon dioxide by reducing plastic bag consumption - from 70 million to 35 million - and persuading customers to fork out 59 cents for the store's new reusable bag.

It's a year later. The results are in. And they are stunning, reports Mona Astra Liss in Ikea's corporate office in Pennsylvania.
Turns out 92 percent of the store's patrons went for the blue tote or used their own. The 8 percent who preferred plastic were dinged a nickel each, resulting in $300,000 that Ikea donated to American Forests, a non-profit citizens' conservation organization (


War on Plastic: Wiltshire, UK

Town declares war on plastic bags
Exclusive By Katie Adams

THE harmful effects of plastic bags on the environment will be the hot topic of conversation in Corsham this summer.

A multi-pronged attack on plastic bags will be spearheaded by the Pound Arts Centre, which will be linking up with Corsham Town Council, local shops and Corsham School to encourage people to think seriously about recycling.

On May 3 from 11am until 3pm people are being invited to take their old carrier bags to the arts centre in Pound Pill for use in a workshop with textile artist Alison Harper.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Studies on Chemical In Plastics Questioned

Congress Examines Role Of Industry in Regulation
By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 27, 2008; A01

Despite more than 100 published studies by government scientists and university laboratories that have raised health concerns about a chemical compound that is central to the multibillion-dollar plastics industry, the Food and Drug Administration has deemed it safe largely because of two studies, both funded by an industry trade group.

The agency says it has relied on research backed by the American Plastics Council because it had input on its design, monitored its progress and reviewed the raw data.

The compound, bisphenol A (BPA), has been linked to breast and prostate cancer, behavioral disorders and reproductive health problems in laboratory animals.

As evidence mounts about the risks of using BPA in baby bottles and other products, some experts and industry critics contend that chemical manufacturers have exerted influence over federal regulators to keep a possibly unsafe product on the market.

Congressional Democrats have begun investigating any industry influence in regulating BPA.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Think You Can Live Without Plastic?

One writer chronicles the ubiquity of plastic products in daily life.

by Jill Neimark

Also see DISCOVER's new feature article on the investigation into the dangers of plastics.

How do I love thee, plastic? Let me count the ways. I wake up and glance at my plastic digital cable box to check the time. I go to the bathroom to use my plastic toothbrush, shaking a bit of my “nontoxic” tooth powder from a plastic bottle. I fill the plastic container of my Waterpik with mouthwash from another plastic bottle. I step into the shower—my lacy white curtain is protected by a plastic liner, and my chlorine-free shower water comes to me through a plastic-encased filter.


Friday, April 18, 2008

The Dirty Truth About Plastic--excerpts

Discover Magazine



BPA and other plastics may be as harmful as they are plentiful.

by Jill Neimark

"The most pressing question about plastic...may be whether daily exposure alters the health and fertility of our children and perhaps even our children’s children. It turns out that the hormonelike chemicals in plastic may remodel our cells and tissue during key stages of development, both in the womb and in early childhood."

"Thus, if the worst-case scenario proves true, early exposure to plastic can reshape not just our children but their children, too."

"At the center of the Pacific Ocean in a windless, fishless oceanic desert twice the size of Texas, a swirling mass of plastic waste converges into a gyre containing an estimated six pounds of nonbiodegradable plastic for every pound of plankton. Called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it is an indelible mark of human domination of the planet. But plastic has also left its mark in us. Plastic’s chemical co-travelers make their way into our urine, saliva, semen, and breast milk."

"Chemicals leaching out of plastics may reshape not only your children but your children’s children.
In a recent study, Swan found that “we could predict the anogenital distance in babies just by knowing which phthalates a mother was exposed to and how much.” Those with the highest exposure to phthalates gave birth to boys with the shortest anogenital distance."

"Back in the 1940s when plastics were being developed, no one suspected that chemicals leaching out of these marvelous materials could have insidious biological effects. What industrial chemists did know was that by tinkering with a highly reactive molecule called a phenol they were able to devise countless synthetic chemicals for use in new materials."


"Ireland’s “plastax,” launched in 2002, has resulted in a 90 percent voluntary reduction in plastic bag use. Finally, corn-based, biodegradable plastics are beginning to surface, and though these polymers are not yet as durable as current plastics, the technology is advancing."

“We have no choice,” Soto says. “If reproduction is being affected, the survival of the species is compromised'

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Better environment starts with all of us

Battle Creek Inquirer


As Earth Day 2008 approaches next week, complex issues such as global warming, renewable energy and contamination of our air and water are at the forefront.

Most of us are content to let scientists, environmentalists, politicians and industrialists haggle over the best actions to take to address these matters.

But that does not free us of personal responsibility when it comes to protecting our environment.

We can start by picking up after ourselves. According to a report released Wednesday by the Ocean Conservancy, too many of us are inclined to simply drop our debris wherever we choose. One Saturday last September, 378,000 volunteers scoured 33,000 miles of shoreline in 45 states and 76 countries, and came up with approximately 6 million pounds of trash. The Ocean Conservancy report catalogs the nearly 7.2 million items they found, ranging from omnipresent cigarette butts to fishing lines and plastic bags that pose lethal threats to wildlife. In fact, volunteers found 81 birds, 63 fish, 49 invertebrates, 30 mammals, 11 reptiles and one amphibian entangled in debris.

According to the report, 57 percent of the trash was related to shoreline recreational activities (food wrappers, bottles, cups, lids, etc.), 33 percent from smoking-related activities, 6.3 percent from fishing or waterway activities, 2 percent from dumping and less than 1 percent from medical and personal hygiene activities. Volunteers found vehicle tires, building materials, beverage holders - and 2.3 million cigarette butts, filters and cigar tips.

Disgusting? Yes. Surprising? Hardly. Our shorelines, roadsides, parks and forests have become the all-too-handy receptacles for a throwaway world.

While the Ocean Conservancy report found that volunteers worldwide collected an average of 182 pounds of trash per mile of shoreline, the U.S. average was 390 pounds per mile - the highest by far of any nation.

Perhaps the saddest part of the report's findings is that the problem is entirely preventable. We literally are trashing our world because too many people just don't care. We have become too lazy to take care of our own trash and too unconcerned about the people who come after us.

So as we prepare for the hoopla of yet another Earth Day, maybe we should take a little more time to clean up after ourselves.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Canada Likely to Label Plastic Ingredient ‘Toxic’


OTTAWA — The Canadian government is said to be ready to declare as toxic a chemical widely used in plastics for baby bottles, beverage and food containers as well as linings in food cans.

A person with knowledge of the government’s chemical review program spoke on the condition he not be named because of a confidentiality agreement. He said the staff work to list the compound, called bisphenol-a, or B.P.A., as a toxic chemical was complete and was recently endorsed by a panel of outside scientists.


Thursday, April 10, 2008



Heal the Bay, L.A County urge Assembly to impose fees on plastic bags statewide

SACRAMENTO, CA (April 10, 2008) – Leading environmental group Heal the Bay has joined forces with the County of Los Angeles to endorse AB 2829, a bill that would impose a mandatory fee on the distribution of single-use plastic shopping bags at all large grocery stores and pharmacies statewide.

The bill, authored by Assemblymember Mike Davis (D-Los Angeles), would mark the most aggressive action by any state legislature to curb the proliferation of plastic bags and limit their negative impacts on the marine environment, local economies and quality of life for millions of citizens.

In a bid to encourage consumers to bring their own reusable bags, store owners would be required to charge 25 cents for each plastic bag requested by shoppers. Funds raised would be directed back to local governments on a per-capita basis for litter prevention and reduction efforts.

Members of the Assembly’s Natural Resource Committee are scheduled to vote on the measure Monday. The bill has the support of a wide range of environmental, business and government groups.

“This precedent-setting bill can propel California once again to the forefront of progressive environmental public policy,” said Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay. “Along with a ban, a fee-based proposal is the most effective way to help rid our state of its addiction to wasteful, single-use packaging.”

Californians use more than 19 billion disposable plastic shopping bags each year, with taxpayers spending more than $25 million to collect and dispose of them. While the bags are recyclable, less than 5% of them are recycled. The vast majority wind up in dwindling landfill or clogging our watersheds and blighting our public spaces.

AB 2829 amends a state law that currently forbids municipalities from imposing carryout bag fees, restoring local government’s authority to enact measures that have been shown to reduce pollution. Ireland, for example, has reduced use of plastic bags by 90% since 2002 after imposing mandatory fees.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, hamstrung legally to charge fees, passed a measure this year that set recycling targets for retailers that distribute plastic bags. The county is a sponsor of AB 2829.

“The distribution of plastic bags has created a hidden cost on residents,” said L.A County Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke. “They not only pay for plastic bags in the price of their commodities, but their tax dollars fund litter prevention and abatement efforts. It is our poorest communities that are most negatively impacted by the high amount of plastic bag blight.”

The Assembly committee is mulling a separate plastic-bag measure sponsored by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys). Heal the Bay opposes that bill because it relies on unrealistic recycling thresholds and delays action until 2011.

Heal the Bay is a nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to making Southern California coastal waters and watersheds, including Santa Monica Bay, safe, healthy and clean for people and aquatic life.

Contacts: Matthew King, Heal the Bay, (310) 451-1500, x 137,
James Bolden, Los Angeles County, (213) 974-1079,


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Warning on plastic's toxic threat

By David Shukman

BBC environment correspondent, Midway

Plastic waste in the oceans poses a potentially devastating long-term toxic threat to the food chain, according to marine scientists.

Studies suggest billions of microscopic plastic fragments drifting underwater are concentrating pollutants like DDT.

Most attention has focused on dangers that visible items of plastic waste pose to seabirds and other wildlife.

But researchers are warning that the risk of hidden contamination could be more serious.

The thing that's most worrisome about the plastic is its tenaciousness, its durability --Matt Brown, US Fish and Wildlife Service

Dr Richard Thompson of the University of Plymouth has investigated how plastic degrades in the water and how tiny marine organisms, such as barnacles and sand-hoppers, respond.

He told the BBC: "We know that plastics in the marine environment will accumulate and concentrate toxic chemicals from the surrounding seawater and you can get concentrations several thousand times greater than in the surrounding water on the surface of the plastic.

"Now there's the potential for those chemicals to be released to those marine organisms if they then eat the plastic."

'Magnets for poison'

Once inside an organism, the risk is that the toxins may then be transferred into the organism itself.

"There are different conditions in the gut environment compared to surrounding sea water and so the conditions that cause those chemicals to accumulate on the surface of the plastic may well be reversed - leading to a release of those chemicals when the plastic is eaten."

According to Dr Thompson, the plastic particles "act as magnets for poisons in the ocean".

In an experiment involving plastic carrier bags immersed off a jetty in Plymouth harbour, he is assessing the time taken for them to fragment.

In related projects, he and colleagues have also added plastic powder to aquarium sediment to establish how much is ingested by marine life. Research on stretches of shoreline has shown that, at the microscopic level, plastic pollution is far worse than feared.

In a typical sample of sand, one-quarter of the total weight may be composed of plastic particles.

Studies have found that plastic traces have been identified on all seven continents.

Here on Midway, Matt Brown of the US Fish and Wildlife Service echoes the warnings of a long-term threat from plastic waste.

"The thing that's most worrisome about the plastic is its tenaciousness, its durability. It's not going to go away in my lifetime or my children's lifetimes.

"The plastic washing up on the beach today… if people don't take it away it'll still be here when my grandchildren walk these beaches."

Story from BBC NEWS