A blog set out to explore, archive & relate plastic pollution happening world-wide, while learning about on-going efforts and solutions to help break free of our addiction to single-use plastics & sharing this awareness with a community of clean water lovers everywhere!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Running The Numbers: Oceanographic Visualization

published May 6, 2009 by Maria Popova on brainpickings.org

What 20,500 tuna have to do with your old toothbrush, or how a plastic comb ended up on top of Japan’s most iconic volcano.
We love TED. We love data visualization. We hate environmental demise.

Naturally, we love artist Chris Jordan‘s (remember him?) response to the overlooked but tremendously concerning issue exposed by legendary ocean researcher Sylvia Earle in her TED Prize wish — overfishing and the rapid decline of oceans’ natural vitality.

In Running The Numbers II, the second installment of his Portraits of Global Mass Culture series, Jordan looks at mass phenomena on a global scale. Again, each image portrays concrete data about a specific issue.

Depicts 270,000 fossilized shark teeth, equal to the estimated number of sharks of all species killed around the world every day for their fins.

Partial zoom

Further zoom

Detail at actual print size
Finding meaning in global mass phenomena can be difficult because the phenomena themselves are invisible, spread across the earth in millions of separate places. There is no Mount Everest of waste that we can make a pilgrimage to and behold the sobering aggregate of our discarded stuff, seeing and feeling it viscerally with our senses.

Depicts 2.4 million pieces of plastic, equal to the estimated number of pounds of plastic pollution that enter the world's oceans every hour.

Partial zoom

Detail of the top of Mt. Fuji

Detail at actual print size

Jordan’s work is both a reminder of and an antidote to our individual sense of insignificance as we face these disturbing global issues with an increasing sense of urgency — we love the idea of juxtaposing the effect of our collective actions with the tiny individual contributions that make them up. It’s a new kind of call for personal responsibility — could that be your old toothbrush at the foot of Mt. Fuji?
We are stuck with trying to comprehend the gravity of these phenomena through the anaesthetizing and emotionally barren language of statistics. Sociologists tell us that the human mind cannot meaningfully grasp numbers higher than a few thousand; yet every day we read of mass phenomena characterized by numbers in the millions, billions, even trillions.

Depicts 20,500 tuna, the average number of tuna fished from the world

Partial zoom

Detail at actual print size

For a deeper look at our collective individualism in its cultural context, be sure to check out Jordan’s absolutely brilliant book, Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait — it comes with our highest stamp of recommendation.

Manufacturers face cost dilemma in going green

posted July 27th in GMA News

Manufacturers wanting to make their products more environment-friendly are slowly coming to terms with the high cost of recycled materials and its patent inflexibility, leaving them no choice but to pass on the burden to consumers.

Such is the case for appliance manufacturer Electrolux, which launched late Tuesday a campaign that aims to raise awareness about plastic debris ending up in the world's oceans.

Terry Sales, Electrolux Philippines Inc. marketing manager, told GMA News Online that one challenge that besets the company in its green efforts is the difficulty of sourcing recycled plastic.

"As a manufacturer [of appliances], we use a lot of plastics," Sales said. "But right now, there are not enough supply of recycled plastic available to manufacturers like us."

Sales explained that despite the huge volume of plastic being produced, used and disposed around the world — 300 million metric tons in 2010, according to a report by the Royal Society in UK — plastic that can be used for manufactured products are still a scarce resource.

"Plastic still needs to be reprocessed. You can't just pick up plastic garbage and turn it into another plastic product. Unfortunately, there are not enough suppliers in the world who would like to invest in reprocessing plastics," Sales emphasized.

Virgin vs recycled plastic

This is the reason why the company's recently launched product in its green range, the UltraOne vacuum cleaner, is a little bit more expensive than its other products, Sales said.

UltraOne is made from 70 percent recycled plastic and uses up to 50 percent less energy than the regular vacuum cleaner.

"Recycled plastic is more expensive than virgin plastic, which is why it is more convenient for manufacturers to use [the latter]," he added.

Product design is also compromised when firms use recycled plastic. "You can only make products in black, since that's the only color available for recycled plastics," Sales said.

But Sales pointed out that cost of raw materials is not the only factor that leads to more expensive green products.

"There aren't a lot of green products available in the market today. As such, there is not much demand for it yet," he stressed.

Still, Sales said it is the goal of Electrolux to have 15 percent of all its product ranges as green products, and to have products made from 100 percent recycled plastic.

Debris from oceans

To address the dilemma, the company said it has started research into how they can use plastic debris recovered from the ocean as potential source of raw material.

"Right now, only post-consumer plastic on land meets our commercial safety and quality standards," the company said. "However, [we are exploring] how the ocean plastic may be used in the future, and one such step is to make a single concept vacuum that we can auction out."

Electrolux's "Vac from the Sea" campaign collated plastic garbage that drifted to several of the world's oceans, and processed them to create three different concept vacuum cleaners.

The green process

For greater impact toward saving the environment, activist group Greenpeace said manufacturers should look more into how their production processes are affecting nature.

While not discounting the efforts of companies to make their products more energy-efficient, for example, Greenpeace said the initiatives shouldn't end there.

"Hindi naman namin dinidiscount 'yung (efforts nila), but it shouldn't end there. We're telling companies to minimize their carbon footprint, and it helps, but they should also go for clean production cycles and zero toxic waste discharge," JP Agcaoili, the group's media officer, told GMA News Online in a phone interview.

Agcaoili cited the example of manufacturing firms who make efforts to establish wastewater treatment facilities when the more acceptable approach is to eliminate wastewater production entirely.

The Greenpeace official also cautioned against what pundits call "greenwashing," or the use of public relations and marketing practices that mislead the public into thinking the company's products are environmentally friendly.

"Companies have to make sure that when they do their green initiatives, they do not divert the attention from the real issues at hand," Agcaoili stressed.

"For example, some companies with high carbon footprint simply cannot eliminate or reduce it by just planting trees," he added.

Instead of doing these corporate social responsibility efforts, Agcaoili said firms should invest and focus on doing things properly with their processes.

"Being what it is, it's really an investment. But their investments will come back to them. If, for example, the world's waterways are clean, companies will benefit from that also," he said. — VS, GMA News

Plastic {Infographic}

posted July 27, 2011 by Zachary Shahan on Planet Save.com

Plastic — it is everywhere. While it has helped humanity in some important ways, it is also wreaking havoc on ecosystems and organisms around the world (including humans). Here’s an interesting infographic with some stunning and disturbing information on: how much plastic we use, what problems it’s linked to, plastic in the ocean, BPA, plastic’s ridiculously long lifespan, and how we can cut plastic out of our lives (OK, maybe not how we can do so completely, but how we can do so to a large degree).

The most interesting line of the infographic, in my opinion, is this one: “every piece of plastic made still exists today.” But, really, there’s a ton of interesting info here.

The infographic also does a good job of pointing out the key steps we can take to body-slam our plastic problem:

Use reusable bags
Cut the bottled water out of your life
Say no to single-serve plastic packaging
Use sandwich boxes instead of sandwich bags (cooler anyway!)
Use silverware (.. which actually results in a little more pleasant of an eating experience)
Go digital (forget the old-school plastic CDs & cases)
Use a refillable dispenser
Bring your “to-go” mug with you
Avoid plastic you can’t easily (and probably won’t) recycle
Try to find products not made of plastic (when you have to buy something, that is)

Anyway, here’s the infographic:  (CLICK GRAPHIC TO ENLARGE)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Plastic Bags - Oceans Report

posted on www.EnvironmentCalifornia.org on July 19, 2011


Leading the Way Toward A Clean Ocean: Communities Around the World Take Action Against Plastic Bags

Leading_the_Way_Toward_a_Clean_Ocean_final.July.2011.pdf Leading_the_Way_Toward_a_Clean_Ocean_final.July.2011.pdf

Executive Summary

On July 14th 2011, The California Supreme Court ruled that the city of Manhattan Beach can enforce a local ordinance banning plastic bags. The policy had been held up by a lawsuit brought by the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition. Manhattan Beach can now move forward on their bag ban, bringing the total number of California cities and counties that have successfully taken action against plastic bag pollution to 12.
[1] http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S180720.PDF

Our oceans are polluted with millions of tons of plastic trash. In the Pacific Ocean, plastic debris churns in a soup called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – an area twice the size of Texas where plastic bits outweigh plankton. Plastic pollution persists for hundreds of years, and can kill turtles, seabirds and other marine animals.

Throw-away plastic bags are a significant part of the problem. To reduce ocean pollution and protect the environment, more than 80 national and local governments across the planet have taken official action to ban throw-away plastic bags or to establish fees or taxes on such bags.

State, county, and city governments in California should follow their lead and ban the use of plastic grocery bags.

Plastic bags contribute to the pollution of California’s ocean and beaches.
  • Californians use approximately 16 billion plastic bags per year—more than 400 annually per person.
  • Less than 5 percent of plastic bags are recycled. Instead, they end up sitting in landfills, littering streets, clogging streams, fouling beaches, or floating out to sea.
  • Plastic trash threatens ocean ecosystems. Sea turtles and other marine animals often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and eat them, causing injury or death. In parts of the Pacific Ocean, including the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, plastic outweighs plankton by up to six times.
  • The city of San Francisco estimated that the taxpayer cost to subsidize the recycling, collection, and disposal of plastic and paper bags amounts to as much as 17 cents per bag. Applied to California as a whole, that adds up to more than $1 billion per year.
More than 80 national and local governments around the world have taken action to protect the ocean by reducing the use of plastic bags.
  • At least 20 nations and 47 local governments have passed bans on distributing specific kinds of throw-away plastic bags, including the nations of Italy, Kenya, Mongolia, Macedonia, and Bangladesh; the states of Maharashtra, India and Buenos Aires, Argentina; and the cities of Karachi, Pakistan and Telluride, Colorado.
  • Approximately 26 nations and local communities have established fee programs to reduce plastic bag use and/or increase the use of reusable alternatives, including Botswana, China, Hong Kong, Wales, Ireland, Israel, Canada’s Northwest Territories, Toronto, Mexico City, and Washington, D.C.
Bans and meaningful fee programs effectively reduce plastic bag pollution.
  • Bans and fee programs quickly reduce plastic bag distribution. Ireland, which in 2002 established a fee roughly equivalent to 28 U.S. cents per bag, saw plastic bag use drop by 90 percent within the first year. After Washington, D.C., implemented a much smaller 5 cent tax on plastic bags, the number of bags distributed by food retailers fell from 22.5 million per month to 3.3 million per month. And the year after banning plastic bags at pharmacies and supermarkets in 2007, San Francisco businesses distributed 127 million fewer plastic bags, and cut overall bag waste reaching the city landfill by up to 10 percent.
Eleven city and county governments in California have taken successful action to reduce plastic bag pollution.
  • Eleven California cities and counties have bans on plastic bags in effect, including Long Beach, Santa Monica, San Jose, San Francisco, and unincorporated Marin and unincorporated Los Angeles counties. Five of these communities, including Marin County and San Jose, have also authorized mandatory charges on paper bags to encourage citizens to use reusable bags.
  • Two additional communities, Oakland and Manhattan Beach, passed bans that were later struck down after legal challenges by plastic bag manufacturers.
Much more progress can be made to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean and transform our throw-away culture.
  • Education and recycling cannot keep pace with the generation of plastic bag pollution. Despite a 2006 law requiring retailers to place bag recycling bins in front of their stores, less than 5 percent of bags are recycled.
  • To make a real impact, all California cities and counties should restrict the use of plastic bags, and advocate for similar action at the state level.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Bags ban: good idea — on paper

posted July 17th in the Signal.com

Los Angeles County’s ordinance on the ban of plastic shopping bags in unincorporated county stores went into effect July 1. Despite the huffing and puffing of many who claim it’s an infringement on consumers’ right to choose, it’s ultimately a good move, but not without some glaring flaws.

Yes, it’s odd that we’re on the side of an ordinance that also passed in San Francisco, but it’s for our own good.

How many times have you seen plastic shopping bags wafting down the streets when the Santa Ana winds come blowing through? How many thousands of discarded bags line the wash and the Santa Clara River? How many thousands, if not millions of dollars are spent clearing them from all over the county?

An L.A. County study estimates the average household in the county uses roughly 1,600 plastic bags each year. That’s a lot — especially when you consider that there are about 3.2 million households in the county. That comes out to about 5.1 billion plastic bags used each year.

And far too many of those end up on the streets, sidewalks, landfills and the ocean. The last part is evidenced by what’s called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a mass of trash floating north of Hawaii that’s roughly twice the size of Texas.

But paper bags are biodegradable, stores are required to use fully recyclable bags and 40 percent of each bag has to be made from recycled material.

Because plastic bags have been cheap to produce, free for consumers and available essentially everywhere for decades, we’ve all taken them for granted when we go shopping. So, for those who shop in unincorporated county areas — where the ban has taken place — it’s a bit jarring and frustrating. But it’s supposed to be.

There is some logic behind this, however ham-handed the execution may be.

Beyond the frustration of no longer being able to get plastic bags, shoppers are fuming at the fact that the once-free paper bags are now 10 cents apiece — as is mandated by the county ordinance.

The idea is to dissuade consumers from exclusively using paper bags so we aren’t instead using billions of those each year.

The 10-cent collection goes to the stores, not the county, as some believe. And its purpose is to cover the cost of the paper bags and to fund campaigns that encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags to the stores.

This is where we stop liking the ordinance.

Instead of using a proverbial carrot like Target’s model, in which customers who bring in their own bags get a five-cent discount per shopper bag used, those who are affected by the ban are given a heavy dose of stick — 10 cents at a time.

Ten cents per bag isn’t likely to break the bank for anyone, but it’s just pricey enough to be really annoying, especially after bags have been free for so many years. But that’s the point; the county wants shoppers to get frustrated and motivated enough to bring their own bags.

Reusable bags are a good thing; they save money and reduce pollution and litter. But it’s much more shopper-friendly to not penalize shoppers by charging them for the paper bags, and instead incentivize the use of reusable bags by offering discounts.

L.A. County is hoping its progressive and proactive stance on litter will serve as a template for the rest of the state and the country, but it’s already causing confusion and frustration in its limited execution.

Local shoppers who live just outside the city borders aren’t embracing the new change, and it has led many of them to drive down the road a bit and go to stores in the city of Santa Clarita — thus costing county merchants business.

It would be better if the ordinance were everywhere  or nowhere in the county, instead of targeting select areas and largely nullifying the environmental impacts of the change. This should be a state resolution to ensure sweeping change, and not just target a select few parts of California.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Calif Supreme Court upholds plastic bag bans

Posted in The Mercury News July 15th, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO—The California Supreme Court has upheld plastic bag bans in a unanimous decision applauded by environmentalists. 
The court ruled Thursday that Manhattan Beach can ban grocery stores and other retailers from using plastic bags without doing a full environmental study on the subsequent increased use of paper bags.

Dan Jacobson of the group Environment California says it's a victory for safeguarding the health of the ocean.

Plastic bag bans have already been approved by San Francisco, Long Beach, Malibu, Santa Monica, Marin County, San Jose, Calabasas and Los Angeles County.

The San Jose Mercury News says the city of San Carlos may now prohibit the use of plastic bags. San Carlos leaders were waiting for the high court ruling because an environmental study could cost the city $150,000.

Trawls and Trash Represent One-Two Punch for Threatened Turtles [Slide Show]

Studies have identified plastic pollution and fishing practices as major threats to sea turtles for several years. This knowledge is, at last, beginning to translate into action.

 | July 15, 2011

Image: Courtesy of NOAA

Nearly 200 Kemp's ridley (Lepidochelys kempii), green (Chelonia mydas) and loggerhead (Caretta caretta) sea turtles washed up along the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama coasts in April, the most deaths in one month since record keeping began in 1986. And 100 green sea turtles were found dead on the coast of Uruguay in the first three months of this year. The latter group died from ingestion of trash, primarily plastic. Most of the former showed signs of drowning in trawl nets.

Both events are the latest pointing to a larger trend in which pollution and fisheries practices pose significant obstacles worldwide to these endangered animals' recovery. Scientists who have been sounding the alarm for decades see these latest tragedies as the tipping point that may finally translate science into action.

Kemp's ridleys, which live primarily in the Gulf of Mexico, are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In the recently ended 2011 season, U.S. National Park Service scientist Donna Shaver recorded 192 ridley nests on the Texas coast (95 percent of ridley nests occur in northern Mexico, where a record high of 12,143 nests were recorded in 2006). 

Green turtles, also endangered in the U.S., range widely in tropical and subtropical waters, generally between 30 degrees north and 30 degrees south latitude, with an estimated 200 to 1,100 nesting annually in Florida. Loggerheads, currently listed as threatened, are found throughout temperate and tropical regions of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, with an estimated 60,000 to 90,000 nests per year and declining. 

The four other species of sea turtles worldwide—leatherback, hawksbill, olive ridley and flatback—all are listed as either endangered or threatened, and the first three are also found in U.S. waters.

Deadly Seas
Sea turtles die of drowning or injury when caught on hooks, entangled in fishing line or trapped in fixed nets or trawls. For instance, the National Marine Fisheries Service estimates commercial shrimping in the Gulf of Mexico killed 5,365 turtles in 2009. And mid-Atlantic trawl fisheries capture an average of 770 sea turtles each year, says Elizabeth Wilson, a marine wildlife scientist at the nonprofit Oceana.

Sea turtles and commercially targeted fishes frequently gather in the same places, which results in turtles being caught as bycatch, says biologist Larry Crowder of Duke University. In fact, a 2004 paper Crowder and his colleagues published in Ecology Letters suggests that loggerhead and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) sea turtles face between a one half and two thirds chance of encountering longline gear every year. 

Sea turtle species also spend time near shore, where they can become bycatch of subsistence or artisanal fishers. A 2007 case study led by biologist Hoyt Peckham at University of California, Santa Cruz, suggests that these small-scale fisheries also represent a significant threat.

Turtles that elude hooks, nets and lines still face the risk of ingesting or becoming entangled in plastic debris floating at the sea surface or lower in the water column. Plastic washed up on beaches can interfere with nesting and hatching.

The Algalita Marine Research Foundation has documented plastic in all five of the Earth's large ocean gyres, says Marcus Eriksen, director of project development. In the North Pacific, foundation scientists have measured plastic particles at up to six times the volume by weight of zooplankton. Ingested plastic is also now found in the bodies of most marine organisms, where it can cause injury, nutritional deficiency and death, primarily by blocking their intestinal tracts—the fate of many of those Uruguay turtles.

Plastics can become a problem even before they are ingested. They start off containing potentially toxic chemicals such as nonylphenol and bisphenol A (BPA) and pick up more in seawater. A study in 2010 by Marc Ward of Sea Turtles Forever  and researchers from Algalita, Hokkaido University in Japan and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution identified regional patterns in the concentrations of some chemicals taken up by marine plastic. For example, PCB concentrations were greatest in Japanese and U.S. urban coastal areas, reflecting the chemicals' higher past usage in those areas. Plastic particles act as pseudo-plankton, introducing these chemicals into the food chain, where they work their way right up to humans.

Calls to Action
These threats to turtles have been known for decades. Research published in Nature more than 10 years ago warned that current fisheries activities would doom Pacific sea turtles, and a paper in Science in 1972 identified the threat of microplastics in the ocean. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.) Both problems have relatively clear-cut solutions, including reducing single-use plastics, cleaning up debris and developing and requiring turtle-safe fishing gear.

Yet translation of this knowledge into policy and concrete action remains limited and often controversial. Whereas a few U.S. fisheries require the use of devices to allow turtles to escape trawl nets, the majority of trawl fisheries worldwide do not, and even in the U.S. their use is not always enforced. U.S. longliners must use circle hooks, which cause less injury to turtles, and fish as bait, rather than more turtle-attracting squid. Enforcement remains spotty here, too, though, and the U.S. fleet, Crowder points out, represents, at most, about 10 percent of total longlining efforts worldwide.

Other possible protections have yet to get even that far. In March the federal government issued a six-month extension to its deadline for a final ruling on whether to change the status of loggerhead sea turtles from "threatened" to "endangered"—an effort first spurred by legal petitions back in 2007. The listing has proved controversial, in part because of its potential effects on fisheries, particularly those in the North Atlantic. "There has not been widespread acceptance of gear fixes by the fishing community, which generally resists any type of regulation," says Catherine Kilduff, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD).

Court Cases
Organizations are also seeking to catalyze action through the courts. In April the CBD, Oceana and Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN) sued the U.S. government for missing another deadline, this one to designate more than 70,000 square miles of waters off the West Coast as critical habitat for leatherbacks. As of June the parties were negotiating a settlement that would set another deadline for designation of the protected area, Kilduff says--this one technically enforceable by the court. Even if the designation is made, restrictions on fishing practices there will not necessarily follow.

On May 31 the CBD, TIRN, Sea Turtle Conservancy and Defenders of Wildlife filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service and the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama for violations of the Endangered Species Act. Acting in direct response to those sea turtles deaths along the Gulf Coast—which as of June 1 totaled 320 for these three states—the groups also asked for emergency closure of the Gulf shrimp trawl fishery. Kilduff says it is unlikely that anything will happen before the end of the 60 days.

Nor is the scientific community twiddling its thumbs. Ward pays locals in Costa Rica $2 an hour to remove plastic from the reef and plans to seek more funding to pay fishers to net plastic. Eriksen, in addition to publicizing research on plastic pollution, also plugs existing technology that uses plastic waste to make literal building blocks and technology used by PyroGenesis Canada, which uses waste (including plastic) to generate power. In 2009 the United Nations Environment Program called for a worldwide ban on plastic bags, and more than nine countries, including the Congo, had banned or taxed plastic bags as of June 2011.
Meanwhile, some scientists point out that individuals can make a difference by changing the way they use and dispose of plastics and demanding sustainably caught seafood. Individuals can also call on industry and policy makers to respond, helping to turn these most recent tragedies deaths into action. Then they may yet prove to be that tipping point.

Plastic-bag ban: Bellingham gets the job done

posted July 14th in the Seattle Crosscut By Bob Simmons

With grocery stores lining up in support, Bellingham bans plastic bags with little of the fuss seen in Seattle. The city takes the "Oregon model," which Oregon hasn't adopted.
The city of Bellingham showed this week how controversial ideas can gain traction in small towns without the bitterness and confrontation that define politics in the big city.

With little fuss and no anger, the Bellingham City Council voted Monday to ban the use of disposable, “single use” plastic bags for bagging groceries and other retail goods. Backers of the ban are confident there are lots more to come, as cities move ahead of the states to confront plastic pollution and its effects on the world’s oceans.

As the second Washington city to ban the bag (Edmonds did it first in 2009), the City of Subdued Excitement escaped the wrath of a giant trade organization representing the bag makers. Just two years ago, the American Chemical Council spent $1.4 million beating up on a Seattle ballot measure that would have required retailers to collect a 20 cent fee for each plastic bag.

But if the ACC flexed its biceps in Bellingham, City Council members seemed not to notice. They voted 7-to-0 for the ban.

The Bellingham measure closely resembles a proposed Oregon state law that sharply divided legislators and interest groups in that state.

Some of the key features of the measure voted on by the council include: requiring merchants to charge at least 5 cents as a pass-through fee for each paper bag (which must be made of at least 40 percent recycled material) provided to customers; allowing restaurants for health reasons to offer disposable plastic bags for take-out items; and delaying for one-year the effect of the ordinance so retailers can use up their inventories of the disposable plastic bags and shoppers can get used to the change.

There are also a series of partial exemptions, including free bags for low-income shoppers; free distribution of recycled paper bags by farmers' market merchants; and hardship exemptions of up to one year that the mayor can approve.

Councilmember Seth Fleetwood, who sponsored Bellingham’s ordinance, said he was thrilled at its passage and gratified that no council member voted against it. “These bags are toxic, they’re poisoning marine life and, and there’s no reason to keep adding them to the environment.” he told Crosscut. “We don’t need them, and it makes sense to get rid of them.”

Not that there wasn’t opposition. When Fleetwood first offered his ordinance back in March, public reaction hit the proverbial fan. The Bellingham Herald’s first story on the proposal drew 343 comments. As a proportion of the readership, that’s like 17,000 comments in The Seattle Times. Most of the commenters were unhappy. That’s putting it mildly, which they did not.

Fleetwood credited the original authors of the ordinance, local residents Brooks Anderson and Jill McIntyre Witt, with organizing grassroots support, cooling down the debate, and winning over council members and grocery retailers. Large chains such as Fred Meyer and Albertsons endorsed the proposed ban early. It took longer to persuade the dominant grocery company in Bellingham, Haggen Food Inc., a privately owned company with 30 stores in Washington and Oregon. A few days before the ordinance was to be heard in committee, Haggens announced its support, as did The Markets, another independent chain.

Unlike Seattle’s experience, there was no industry-backed campaign to whip up the opposition in Bellingham. And Anderson and McIntyre Witt’s organization, “Bag It Bellingham,” gathered more than 3,400 signatures to present to the city council in support of the ban.

Their campaign highlighted findings by organizations such as Algalita Marine Research Foundation, that show vast areas of the ocean polluted beyond redemption by floating plastic garbage, with an associated loss of fish, marine mammals, and birds. Critics of plastic bags also say they waste resources.

The sponsor of the Oregon bill that provided the model for Bellingham, state Sen. Mark Hass of Beaverton, came within a single vote of getting it through the Oegon Senate last March, in the face of an all-out assault by the plastics lobby.

Hass claims an officer of Hilex Poly, the nation’s largest maker of plastic shopping bags, offered to build a commercial recycling center in Hass’s senate district if he would drop the bill. “I told them Oregon’s not for sale,” he told Crosscut. A spokesperson for Hilex Poly firmly denied Hass’s account, in an interview with The Oregonian newspaper.

Hass says he still hopes states will ban plastic shopping bags, rather than the cities. “We need uniform laws within the states,” he told Crosscut. “The grocery chains could find it really difficult to adjust to a patchwork set of ordinances city by city. However,” he continued, “if we can’t get it done at the state level, then we’ll have to do what Bellingham has done.”

That process would seem to be underway. In a phone interview, Heather Trim, toxics program manager for People for Puget Sound, praised the Bellingham action and said her organization will press Seattle officials to try again. The city of Portland is working out details of a proposed ordinance modeled after Hass’s bill. Ten other Oregon cities passed resolutions supporting that legislation, and some of are drafting ordinances that will copy Bellingham’s rewrite of the Oregon bill that almost passed.

Bob Simmons is a freelance writer and former KING-TV journalist living in Bellingham, Wash. You can reach him in care of editor@crosscut.com.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Is ocean garbage killing whales?

July 11, 2011

posted in the Tehran Times

Millions of tons of plastic debris dumped each year in the world's oceans could pose a lethal threat to whales, according to a scientific assessment to be presented at a key international whaling forum this week. 
A review of research literature from the last two decades reveals hundreds of cases in which cetaceans -- an order including 80-odd species of whales, dolphins and porpoises -- have been sickened or killed by marine litter.

Entanglement in plastic bags and fishing gear have long been identified as a threat to sea birds, turtles and smaller cetaceans.

For large ocean-dwelling mammals, however, ingestion of such refuse is also emerging as a serious cause of disability and death, experts say. Grisly examples abound.

In 2008, two sperm whales stranded on the California coast were found to have a huge amount -- 205 kilos (450 pounds) in one alone -- of fish nets and other synthetic debris in their guts.

One of the 50-foot (15-metre) animals had a ruptured stomach, and the other, half-starved, had a large plug of wadded plastic blocking its digestive tract.

Seven male sperm whales stranded on the Adriatic coast of southern Italy in 2009 were stuffed with half-digested squids beaks, fishing hooks, ropes and plastic objects.

In 2002, a dead minke whale washed up on the Normandy coast of France had nearly a ton of plastic in its stomach, including bags from two British supermarkets.

“Cuvier's beaked whales in the northeast Atlantic seem to have particularly high incidences of ingestion and death from plastic bags,” notes Mark Simmonds, author of the report and a member of scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which meets this week from July 11-14 on the British island of Jersey.

How widespread the problem is, and whether it could threaten an entire population or species, remains unknown.

“In many areas of the world, stranded whale carcasses are not recorded or examined, and in areas where strandings are recorded, examination of gut contents for swallowed plastics is rare,” said Chris Parsons, a marine biologist at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. The majority of cetaceans that die from intestinal trauma getting caught up in fishing gear probably sink to the ocean floor, experts say.

-----Plastic debris can harm sea animals

“There is, however, evidence that plastic debris in the seas can harm these animals by both ingestion and entanglement, and this needs to be urgently further investigated,” said Simmonds, Director of Science for Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

The main threats to cetaceans worldwide are accidental capture in fishing nets and climate change, he noted in an email exchange. “We don't yet know enough about marine debris to rank it against other threats, but as it continues to sadly grow in the oceans, it will surely play a greater and greater role.”

Studies have shown that litter concentrates in so-called convergence zones -- formed by currents and wind -- where whales feed on abundant prey.

Scientists have been slow to measure the impact of ocean refuse on animals living in or by the sea, and international organisations have been even slower in taking action.

In 2003, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) established the Global Initiative on Marine Litter, but it launched a detailed analysis of the scope of the problem only in 2009.

More recently, representatives from 38 countries meeting in Hawaii in March adopted the “Honolulu Commitment” outlining a dozen voluntary measures.

For whales, the level of threat from ocean garbage varies according to species and type of debris, the new report said.

For toothed whales from the suborder Odontoceti, ingestion of plastic pieces appears to pose the greatest danger.

Sperm and beaked whales are thought to be especially vulnerable because they are suction feeders.

Less is known about the impact on filter-feeding or baleen whales (suborder Mysticeti), which consume huge quantities of tiny zooplankton and small, schooling fish.

A single blue whale, for example, eats up to 3,600 kilos (8,000 pounds) of krill each day during feeding season.

Potentially, the greater danger here is from toxins in plastic that breaks down over time into tiny, even microscopic, particles. Collisions with ships, and tissue-damaging noise pollution from off-shore oil exploration are additional threats, experts note.

The IWC is riven between countries that oppose whale hunting, and those that back the handful of nations -- Japan, Iceland and Norway -- that defy a 1986 whaling ban or use legal loopholes to circumvent it.

(Source: AFP)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The beach of shame…

Posted on by Tim Silverwood

Since being involved in the marine debris issue a couple of years ago I became aware of a specific beach in Hawai’i that was reported to be bombarded with trash from the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre aka…the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The notorious site is Kamilo Beach. This was the first stop on my Great Pacific Shame project earlier this week.
Yes it really is as bad as they say…
‘Seas of Shame’ first aired in a special 60 Minutes report on Channel Nine back in July 2008. It was a revolutionary story for most Australians eating dinner in front of the telly on a Sunday night, not many had heard of marine debris and not many knew of the mysterious Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Three years after it aired here I was bouncing down the same bumpy trail to Kamilo with the same two people instrumental in having the story told, Suzanne Frazer and Dean Otsuki founders of Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawai’i (www.b-e-a-c-h.org).
The incredibly devoted founders of B.E.A.C.H, Dean Otsuki and Suzanne Frazer
Kamilo Beach lies on the southern-most tip of the Big Island of Hawai’i and hence…is the southern-most point of the entire United States. It is remote and difficult to access, ideally it should be spotlessly clean…it isn’t.
We’d timed our arrival to coincide with a high tide…Suzanne, knowing I was departing for the sailing trip to the N. Pacific Gyre in a week wanted to show me the infamous plastic ‘confetti’ here as it touches land. Within moments of stopping the car I had the underwater camera filming tiny plastic shards splashing into the volcanic rock, I was seeing debris from the North Pacific Gyre for the first time, this was garbage patch trash.
Pretty? Think again..
The shoreline was caked with larger items of debris including huge conglomerates of fishing net mixed with abandoned rope. Everything was plastic – plastic bottles were rife (most of which were in a very brittle state – a sign of the effects of photo degradation where sunlight causes them to turn brittle and break into tiny pieces). So many of the broken items showed evidence of bite marks – some tiny nibbles – some larger, an attempt to swallow the object whole perhaps.
Seeing the shoreline awash with trash was a heartbreaking site despite my knowledge and mental preparation of what I expected to see. The thing I found most challenging was the plastic ‘sand’. I’d seen photographs and heard of the tiny brightly coloured shards of plastic replacing the sand but nothing prepared me for the sheer quantity and the way it infiltrated every corner of the beach. In one case we collected two bags of confetti by simply burying hands into crevasses in between rocks – there must be billions on this beach alone.

Care was taken to wear gloves at all times to avoid being poisoned by the toxins that are reported to be super-concentrated on marine debris from this area. DDT, DDE and PCB – all banned toxins – are known to be absorbed into plastic debris, likened to a sponge taking in water. The longer the items are there – the more toxins likely to be attached. We found an intact fishing crate with some coral growing on it – a sign it has been floating at sea for around 7 years according to Suzanne. If it has been there that long and is in tact – how long has the confetti been there? The plot doesn’t play out very nicely for the species who are nibbling and swallowing this toxic laden detritus – wait a minute, don’t we eat fish?

The experience put the problem of marine debris into a bleak perspective for me – and I haven’t even reached the Gyre yet. My mind is spinning about how we can all come together to deal with so much of it. It’s ironic that here I am on a global mission to raise awareness of marine debris yet I hail from a part of the world where marine debris is predominantly consumer waste that has escaped our (possibly weak) clutches to seek out a malicious life on the wild sea.

The beauty of Take 3 is that we can put an end to consumer waste entering the sea by simply picking it up off the land before it gets there and being more mindful of our use and abuse of plastic. But Kamilo Beach has REAL marine debris, stuff that has been swirling and circulating the ocean for years or decades: oyster pipes from Japan, eel traps from Korea, consumer goods from the USA – this is the challenge.
Any negative thoughts I developed after seeing Kamilo were quickly quashed by the energy of Suzanne and Dean – a couple who will never say never. Their campaign to save the oceans and humanity from marine debris is full of hope. They know that people can make a difference – they’ve cleaned and cleaned, engaged the community and completely transformed beaches on Oahu previously abandoned by beachgoers due to debris.

Despite filling every little nook and cranny (and roof) of the SUV with debris including over 150kg of rope and net over the two days we camped out the beach was still choked. On the drive out you could see Suzanne was upset that she lives so far away and couldn’t do more on this occasion – you get the impression if she had time she would literally clean that beach until it was spotless with her own two hands. A sign nailed to a tree brought a smile to her face though – a child’s drawing with the simple words, “Please look after our ocean”. Kamilo’s notoriety is bringing people together and the clean up will go on.

Our bounty…3 people, around 8 hours of work. If we all pitch in we CAN make a difference.
Check out the work B-E-A-C-H does here. Support them if you’re able.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Turtle death sparks renewed call for container refunds

posted on ABC news an Australian news source

'Shocking case': plastic kills turtle

Green turtle library shot

Australian Seabird Rescue says it helps dozens of sea turtles each year that have swallowed plastic. (David Loh/Reuters)
A green sea turtle has been found dead on a New South Wales beach with more than 300 pieces of plastic in its digestive system.

The turtle was found washed up at Ballina, in the state's north, earlier this month.
Australian Seabird Rescue spokeswoman Rochelle Ferris says it is the most shocking case she has seen in 15 years.

She says there is no doubt the plastic killed the animal.

"We see 40 or 50 sea turtles each year that are suffering from plastic ingestion," Ms Ferris said.

"This is definitely an extreme of that, but we're only looking at 250 kilometres of coastline.
"There's a million turtles out there on the Barrier Reef of this species and I have no doubt there are more out there in this condition.

"The governments must take charge of stormwater drainage that goes into our rivers and waterways, which is just feeding a constant stream of this garbage into our marine environment.

"It has to be better filtering of stormwater drains.

"I understand the complexities of this issue... but the governments are going to have to increase regulation of the waste treatment that's coming out of urban areas."

Update posted July 1, 2011

317 pieces of plastic found in the digestive system of a dead Green Sea Turtle at Ballina
317 pieces of plastic found in the digestive system of a dead Green Sea Turtle at Ballina (ABC Local: Jo Joyce)
The former state Greens MP, Ian Cohen, says the packaging industry should take more responsibility for cleaning up its own mess.

The amount of plastic waste in the ocean is under renewed scrutiny after the death of a green sea turtle which washed up at South Ballina Beach.

It had more than 300 pieces of plastic in its digestive system.

Mr Cohen says his failed container-deposit legislation would have made the plastics industry accountable and reduced the amount of rubbish in the ocean.

"They would rather push it over to councils or the general public or have it shoved into landfill," he said.

"They don't really have that impetus and it's a disaster, between container deposit or lack of and polluting our marine environment there's a huge toll.

"It needs to have a mentality of recycling everything and that's something that container-deposit legislation would be very valuable in doing, but we were thwarted by the packaging industry in NSW that had great power.

"They did everything to stop that and I am very concerned that the Coalition government would be even closer to the packaging industry, so I wouldn't hold my breath about getting that," Mr Cohen said.

L.A. County passes sweeping ban on plastic bags

posted November 16, 2010 in the LA Times

Enacting one of the nation's most aggressive environmental measures, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to ban plastic grocery bags in unincorporated areas of the county.

The vote was 3-1, supported by Supervisors Gloria Molina, Mark Ridley-Thomas, and Zev Yaroslavsky, and opposed by Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich. Supervisor Don Knabe was absent.

La-me-plastic-bags  The ban, which will cover nearly 1.1 million residents countywide, is to the point: “No store shall provide to any customer a plastic carryout bag.” An exception would be made for plastic bags that are used to hold fruit, vegetables or raw meat in order to prevent contamination with other grocery items.

If grocers choose to offer paper bags, they must sell them for 10 cents each, according to the ordinance. The revenue will be retained by the stores to purchase the paper bags and educate customers about the law.

“Plastic bags are a pollutant. They pollute the urban landscape. They are what we call in our county urban tumbleweed,” Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said.

Mark Gold, president of the Santa Monica environmental group Heal the Bay, said previous county efforts to promote recycling of plastic bags at grocery stores was a failure.

“You cannot recycle your way out of the plastic bag problem,” Gold said. “The cost of convenience can no longer be at the expense of the environment.”

The measure is a significant win for environmental groups, which suffered a major defeat in Sacramento at the end of August with the failure of the state Senate to pass a sweeping plastic bag ban that won the support of the state Assembly and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger amid heavy and costly lobbying by plastic bag manufacturers.

But the ban could cause confusion. The action by the Board of Supervisors only covers the unincorporated areas of L.A. County, covering some neighborhoods like Altadena, Valencia and Rowland Heights, but doesn't cover 88 cities in L.A. County. City councils could adopt a similar ordinance.

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich  raised the prospect that small mom-and-pop shops could suffer financially because they won’t be able to buy paper and reusable bags in great volume, and could force low-income people to buy bags to pick up pet waste or carry their lunch.

“At a time of economic uncertainty, with a large number of businesses leaving our state and community this would not be an appropriate time ... to impose this additional regulation,” Antonovich said.

Opponents of the ban told the supervisors that a legal challenge to the ban is still a possibility.

With the Tuesday vote, L.A. County’s measure is more stringent than similar bans adopted elsewhere in California, Gold said.

San Francisco’s ban, which passed three years ago, is less restrictive because it still permits grocers to offer bioplastic bags made from corn starch, which are imperfect because they also do not degrade in the ocean, Gold said. Bans in San Francisco and Malibu also do not add a surcharge on paper bags, Gold said, which does not give consumers an incentive to switch to reusable cloth bags.

Washington, D.C., decided to tackle the issue not with a ban on any kind of bag, but a 5-cent surcharge per any item of disposable bag.

Gold, however, said an outright ban will be more effective on reducing the 6 billion plastic bags that are used in L.A. County every year, which according to the county, account for 25% of the litter picked up here.

Government figures show that just 5% of plastic bags are recycled.

Last week, the American Chemistry Council, one of the chief opponents of the ban,  warned L.A. County leaders that the proposed ordinance and fee on paper bags fall under the voting requirements of Proposition 26. The initiative, which passed this month, reclassifies most regulatory fees on industry as "taxes" requiring a two-thirds vote in government bodies or in public referendums, rather than a simple majority.

County Counsel Andrea Ordin said Tuesday that the 10-cent surcharge on paper bags is not a fee covered by Prop. 26 because the revenue is being kept by the grocers and not directed to a government agency.

-- Rong-Gong Lin II at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration

Photo: Laurie Gould of Pasadena shows her support for a ban on plastic bags during a meeting of the  L.A. County Board of Supervisors. Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

See Also:  
Ban on plastic grocery bags takes effect July 1 in unincorporated L.A. County

Pacific Ocean study finds fish tainted by plastic

posted June 30, 2011 in the LA Times blog by Tony Barboza

Southern California researchers found plastic in nearly 1 in 10 small fish collected in the northern Pacific Ocean in the latest study to call attention to floating marine debris entering the food chain.

The study published this week by scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego estimated that fish in the northern Pacific Ocean are ingesting as much as 24,000 tons of plastic each year.

Although the research found a lower percentage of affected fish than previous studies, it is the latest to quantify how many fish are eating marine garbage — most of it confetti-sized flecks of discarded plastic — that has accumulated in vast, slow-moving ocean currents known as gyres.

The results came from a 2009 voyage a group of graduate students made to the so-called Pacific garbage patch, an area of high concentration of fragments of floating garbage about 1,000 miles off the California coast. Researchers cast nets into the water and collected 141 fish, mostly lanternfish measuring just a few inches, and took them to a laboratory in San Diego to dissect.

Scientists found plastic debris in 9.2% of their stomachs, much of it broken down into multicolored fragments smaller than a human fingernail. However, they believe the actual proportion of fish that have consumed plastic is significantly higher.

“We can’t tell how many fish ate plastic and died, how many fish ate plastic and regurgitated it or passed it out of their intestines,” said Rebecca Asch, a Scripps doctoral candidate in biological oceanography and one of the study's authors.

Because the widespread lanternfish is a common food source for larger fish, the study raises concerns that plastics and pollutants they contain, could be making their way up the food chain into seafood ingested by humans.

Scripps found a lower rate of plastic ingestion than previous research, such as a study by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation that found plastic in the stomachs of 35% of fish in the same general area of the Pacific. Past studies may have been inflated by keeping nets in the water for longer periods, giving fish the chance to eat bits of plastic swept up in the nets with them, Scripps scientists said.

In their study, they tried to minimize that by towing their net only 15 minutes at a time. They stressed that their study broadly concludes the same thing: garbage is present in the food chain.

“We’re still finding a substantial amount of plastic,” Asch said. “It should be zero.”
--Tony Barboza

Photo: Two lanternfish and several bits of plastic collected in 2009 during the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition. Credit: J. Leichter