aDayWithoutPlastic.org

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 pluckfastic.org sticker for your reusable water bottle now!

Plastic Videos

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

OpEd: Message in a Bottle: The Problem is Plastic

by Wallace J. Nichols

“Walked out this morning, don't believe what I saw, a hundred billion bottles, washed up on the shore.”  -Sting

This month, the leaders of a global coastal cleanup network 400,000 strong, spanning 104 countries and 42 states, meet in Washington, DC coinciding with the release of Ocean Conservancy’s expansive report, “A Rising Tide of Ocean Debris.”  After almost a quarter-century of garbage and data collection from creeks, bays, lakes, reefs, beaches and oceans of the world, the results are crystal clear:  The problem of debris in the ocean is not really “debris” at all, but plastic. Debris is something that blows off trees onto the grass, or the driftwood and kelp that have naturally washed up on our beaches for millennia.

The term “marine debris” is a euphemism—an Orwellian neologism crafted by public relations pros working for the plastics industry. While the growing public involvement and attention on this issue, so evident in the “Rising Tide” report, are hopeful signs of a solution, plastic in the ocean remains an burgeoning threat to both human and animal well-being.

Plastic and water just don’t mix for two reasons: plastic floats and it doesn’t go away for a very long time, if ever.  What results is a mess, especially in the ocean. Whether you weigh it or count it, plastic makes up nearly 100% of what washes up on the beach.  In his new book, "Flotsametrics," oceanographer Curt Ebbesmeyer writes that samples of just about everything ever made of plastic can be found on the beaches of the world—plastic ropes, fishing nets and traps, plastic bags and bottles, plastic food containers, bottle caps, rubber ducks, flip-flops, plastic syringes, toothbrushes, diapers, tampon applicators and condoms, plastic cigarette filters and lighters. Gazillions of nurdles—those little pellets of plastic that are the raw material for so many molded items—are mixed with seawater and sand wherever the currents take them.

Plastic comes in many shapes, sizes and uses; it originates from every corner of the globe; and, it is a ubiquitous product of most every industry.  Since the 1950s, one billion tons of plastic has been discarded, and in the past two decades plastic use has simply exploded across the planet.  It is a blight on coastal villages, invading in thousands of new forms, with no exit strategy.  Since the 1960s, the number of plastic items in the stomachs of leatherback sea turtles, minke whales and Laysan albatrosses has spiked.

Recently, while on a research expedition to Indonesia, I witnessed a line of plastic on remote island beaches that are nesting grounds for endangered sea turtles.  I saw walls of burning plastic sliding down cliffs into the sea.  I found plastic fishing gear wrapped around reefs. Plastic bags clogged the intake of our outboard motor every fifteen minutes.

Here, at the bluest heart of ocean biodiversity, floats a sea of plastic.

“The Rising Tide” points out that plastic “falls from our hands, not the sky,” but manufacturers who churn out more and cheaper plastic at an alarming, increasing pace are spreading the problem irresponsibly.  Recycling has proven difficult.  The biggest problem is the labor-intensive sorting of plastic waste into its various types for reprocessing; the costs far exceed the value of the recycled plastic.  The plastic foam polystyrene, for example, is rarely recycled because it is just not cost effective.

We could just wait on Mother Nature for a solution.  Two types of nylon-eating bacteria were found in 1975, raising the hope that new bacteria will evolve the ability to consume other synthetic plastics.  But Mother Nature is slow and plastic is piling up in the ocean by the day.

So, what is the solution to plastic in the ocean? Simple answer: Don’t use petroleum-based plastic.

Human behavior is remarkably flexible when it comes to finding alternatives to plastic. Recently, new biodegradable substitutes have come on the scene.  Many of the plastic items removed from the world’s beaches have non-plastic, biodegradable, and compostable substitutes like those made from plant-based bagasse, the fibrous remains of sugarcane and sorghum stalks crushed for their juices.  Seek out these alternative products when you have to use a disposable container. They go by the names of EcoTainer, NatureWorks and Worldcentric and can be easily found online.  Encourage your local leaders and businesspeople to follow China, India, Ireland, Mexico City and Capitola, California, by banning certain disposable plastic items and taxing others. Reusable bottles, utensils and shopping bags are a start.  Wax paper is a good choice for many household needs.  Avoid plastic “to go” containers.  See if you can make it through a single day without using any disposable plastic.  It’s not as hard as you might think.
 
Who knows, if we succeed, maybe one day our beaches will again be cluttered with real, old-fashioned marine debris.  The kind your grandfather used to talk about: driftwood, kelp, seashells and the occasional message in a bottle—glass, of course.

Mexico City legislators pass plastic bag ban

MEXICO CITY (AP) - Mexico City legislators have approved a bill that would hit store owners or operators with 1 1/2 days in jail and fines of about $77,400 for giving customers plastic bags for their purchases.

The bill would exempt biodegradable plastic bags. The bill still must be signed into law by the city's mayor.
The law would give businesses one year to adopt appropriate bags.

In a press statement Tuesday, the city legislature cited estimates that the average city resident uses 288 plastic bags per year.
The city's trash dumps are overflowing, and plastic bags add to street litter. However, many city residents covet plastic supermarket bags, because they reuse them as trash can liners.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Flotsametrics.com

FLOTSAMETRICS AND THE FLOATING WORLD:

How One Man’s Obsession with Runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science

by Curtis Ebbesmeyer and Eric Scigliano

From Kirkus Reviews:

Lively as-told-to autobiography of a scientist who studied flotsam—floating trash—and revolutionized the study of the world’s oceans.

Ebbesmeyer graduated college as a mechanical engineer in the mid-1960s and went to work for Mobil/Standard Oil, which financed the doctorate studies that made him the company’s first oceanographer. Years of traveling the world gave him an intimate knowledge of how ocean movements affect oil rigs, but he grew increasingly fascinated by sea currents and eddies and began to focus on beaches, more specifically on debris deposited there. An epiphany came in May 1990 when a Pacific storm knocked five containers filled with thousands of athletic shoes off a cargo vessel. Nearly a year later, the shoes began washing up along the West coast of North America. With the help of a surprisingly large and cooperative fraternity of beachcombers, Ebbesmeyer tracked the progress of the shoes up and down the coast and as far as Hawaii, producing a groundbreaking study of ocean currents. With the help of maritime and environmental journalist Scigliano (Michelangelo’s Mountain: The Quest for Perfection in the Marble Quarries of Carrara, 2005, etc.), Ebbesmeyer spins a fascinating tale. Even readers with little interest in ocean science will be riveted by the author’s chronicle of the epic travels of oceanic trash; the entertaining explanations of how floating debris guided Christopher Columbus and the Vikings to safe harbors; the horrific stories of men adrift at sea; how flotsam may have triggered the origin of life; and frighteningly, the warnings of the threat that an increasing avalanche of plastic waste poses to the oceans.

A captivating account of the man who turned beachcombing into a science.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Grist.org: Awash in junk

Awash in junk: A volunteer army takes on oceans of trash

Posted by Jonathan Hiskes (Guest Contributor) at 8:08 AM on 11 Mar 2009

On a single day last September, some 390,000 volunteers collected 6.8 million pounds of garbage from coastal locations and waterways throughout the world, providing a stark and detailed snapshot of the trash polluting the world's oceans.

They picked up 3.2 million cigarette butts, the most common single item, according to the figures released Tuesday in the Ocean Conservancy's Marine Debris Index.

They retrieved 2.1 million food wrappers, plastic bags, and other items from shoreline recreation activities (like beach picnics), the most debris-causing activity, the report said.

In the Philippines volunteers collected 11,077 diapers. In the U.K. they pulled in 19,504 fishing nets.

The 23rd annual International Coastal Cleanup took place at 6,485 sites (many of them inland, because much debris reaches the ocean through other waterways) in 104 countries, 30 percent more countries than the previous year.

Before moving on to the bad news, can I offer a big freaking kudos to the 390,881 international volunteers who devoted a Saturday last September to picking up other people's messes? That's a truly awesome turnout. (But no props to my home state, Washington, which didn't make the top ten states for participation, despite its supposedly eco-enlightened population. Letting Alabama show us up? Lame.)

OK, so on to the bad news: the cleanup just scratched the surface; there's lots more debris in the oceans. The uncollected trash damages fishing and tourism industries, threatens human health, and kills wildlife. Last year's cleanup volunteers found 443 animals entangled or trapped by marine debris and released 268 alive.


"Our ocean is sick, and our actions have made it so," Ocean Conservancy President and CEO Vikki Spruill said in a news release. "We simply cannot continue to put our trash in the ocean. The evidence turns up every day in dead and injured marine life, littered beaches that discourage tourists, and choked ocean ecosystems."

By weakening ecosystems, ocean debris reduces animals' ability to adapt to other stresses, such as climate change. "Just as a person with emphysema or pneumonia would be less likely than a healthy person to survive working in a coal mine, an ocean compromised by many ills is less likely to survive the challenges of climate change," the report said.

The Ocean Conservancy has worked to sound the alarm about ocean acidification -- the changing of the oceans' pH balance as it continues to absorb excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. It's taken on the more visible problem of trash and debris, Spruill said, because it's a preventable problem.

"It's one of the easiest ways we can help to improve our oceans' resiliency as we deal with the overarching problem of climate change," she said. "We need to be giving the ocean and all the life in it a fighting chance. And again, we focus on this because it is a preventable problem. There's a lot we can do to prevent this from happening."

The report recommends various responses, including several that reach up the supply line of items that end up in the ocean. "Much of what winds up in the ocean wasn't truly necessary in the first place," the report said. "We can produce less packaging up front and cut back on debris through programs that encourage positive changes in behavior such as recycling and the routine use of cloth grocery bags."

A "pay-as-you-throw" garbage pick-up program that charged based on the amount of trash thrown away would reward consumers for buying products with less packaging. (Of course, it might also encourage them to litter more ... ) Plastic bag taxes -- the sort that fell into, then out of style in several U.S. cities -- could also help.

Also included are technological solutions, such as photodegradable six-pack rings that weaken when exposed to sunlight, allowing ensnared animals to break free. The report offers an argument for compostable plastics, which cost more than most conventional plastics: "Where new technologies seem too expensive on first glance, we must weigh aspects like price against hidden costs like waste management, dead and injured animals, and greenhouse gas emissions."

The Conservancy suggests a number of personal action items, including signing up for this year's cleanup, on September 19.

"We have to ultimately change our behavior," Spruill said. "We have to be more responsible with our trash."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

See a Bottle, Pick it Up

a short meditative video about one little plastic Coke bottle that didn't get to join the Pacific Garbage Patch : )