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!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Polar set to fight bottle bill expansion

posted August 20, 2011 in the TELEGRAM & GAZETTE By John J. Monahan

Polar set to fight bottle bill expansion


With the advent of curbside recycling in many communities and other public recycling programs for home waste available in almost every city and town, the deposit return system has become an inefficient collection system by comparison, Mr. Crowley said.

WORCESTER —  Polar Beverages, the local bottling company that prides itself on environmental responsibility, has found itself lined up against environmental groups from across the state as those groups try to bring the long-running debate over an expanded bottle bill into the voting booth.

The nation's largest independent soft drink bottler, Polar, which produces up to 80 million cases of soda, seltzer, juice, teas and other drinks each year, has joined up with a large group of bottlers, retailers, labor unions and other businesses to stop the effort.

At stake is the inclusion of water and juice bottles in the state's 5-cent return deposit program, a proposal that for more than a decade has been unable to draw majority support in the Legislature but has been revived year after year for reconsideration.

Critics point out the water bottles, juice bottles and other containers that would be added represent a minuscule percentage of the state's solid waste stream, as little as 0.12 percent. But where industry sees a waste stream molehill, environmentalists, adding up the 1 billion water and juice bottles used in the state each year, see a mountain of recycling potential.

Advocates, who include almost every environmental group in the state, more than 50 lawmakers and the governor, say the expanded deposit system will increase bottle recycling rates, provide millions in new revenue for local recycling and trash reduction programs, and reduce litter in parks, sport fields, streets and sidewalks around the state.

Earlier this month, groups backing the bottle bill expansion filed a petition with the attorney general's office to put the issue on the 2012 ballot. They would rather see the Legislature adopt the bill by May, but unless that body acts, the groups intend to press on with the ballot question, assuming they can get 69,811 signatures for the measure by mid-November.

Among the 16 people signing the initial petition notice was Fitchburg Mayor Lisa A. Wong, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and former Gov. Michael Dukakis.

To Polar Executive Vice President Christopher J. Crowley, the proposal, which opponents say will increase costs for bottling companies and boost the price of soft drinks, would compound an already inefficient recycling system.

Back when there was no recycling in the state, he said, the current bottle bill, adopted 30 years ago after a fierce battle in the Legislature, made more sense. “It did a decent job, because there was no recycling then,” he said. “It's a good anti-litter bill, but it's not efficient.”

With the advent of curbside recycling in many communities and other public recycling programs for home waste available in almost every city and town, he said, the deposit return system has become an inefficient collection system by comparison. “It's been a pain in the neck and an expense all along,” Mr. Crowley said of the system, as he warned that expansion would increase costs and inefficiencies that would add to consumer drink prices.

“It costs about $50 a ton to pick up curbside,” he said, compared to the more than $500 per ton being spent collecting and processing bottles and cans. Distributors like Polar are required to cover the cost, which includes paying retailers a handling fee of 2.25 cents per container. Mr. Crowley said most of the Polar bottles end up being recycled in Michigan for materials used in making new bottles.

“There is a tremendous amount of energy involved in picking up all those empties,” he said. “It (the bottle bill expansion) would raise the price of all soft drinks and water.”

Under the bill, the handling fee paid to retailers would go up 1 cent to 3.25 cents per container.

Kenneth L. Kimmell, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, is citing a recent state survey that disputes the cost and efficiency criticisms.

That survey, he said, indicated that the expansion would not require retailers to buy more machines for returns, as the machines are used only at 10 percent capacity.

Moreover, he said, expanding the bottle bill would cut down on water bottle litter, save cities and towns up to $7 million in reduced trash collection costs and increase recycling of water and juice containers, many of which are now dumped in trash for disposal.

Mr. Kimmell said the survey found no discernable higher costs for beverages in New York, Connecticut and Maine, states that include juice and water bottles in their deposit programs. He estimated the expanded bottle bill would capture about 750 million of the 1 billion containers that otherwise may end up in landfills and incinerators in the state each year.

In addition, annual unclaimed deposit money that reverts to the state would increase from $10 million to $15 million, which under the bill would be used on trash reduction and recycling programs.

Mr. Crowley said if the Legislature fails to act, and the environmental groups put the measure before voters, the coalition of opponents is ready to fight it.

“We almost have to defend ourselves because it is going to cost us so much more. From a cost-benefit analysis, it is worth fighting against,” he said.

He said he is hoping for better choices to meet the need for increased recycling of containers that people throwaway.

“Hopefully we can come up with real solutions to the problems of solid waste, not just window dressing,” Mr. Crowley said.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Beach report: Human health linked to oceans

By Gail Johnson, on Straight.com

Ocean Gybe’s Ryan Robertson, Hugh Patterson, and Bryson Robertson (from left) document waves of seaborne garbage.
Having grown up in the seaside town of Gonubie, South Africa, brothers Bryson and Ryan Robertson were self-described beach bums by the time they hit grade school. So after their family moved to North Vancouver when the boys were in their teens, the avid surfers weren’t about to settle for just any nearby waves.

Tofino-area beaches were fine, but on weekends and summer holidays, the two would travel by boat and hike for hours in knee-deep mud up and down Vancouver Island’s west coast in search of hard-core crests. What they ended up finding on so many remote beaches astounded them.

“Every single beach, no matter how far away it was, no matter how perfect or desolate, had garbage on it,” Bryson, 29, tells the Georgia Straight by phone. “In 2004, we started to explore the north end of Vancouver Island. Every beach was covered in trash. It was incredible. About 50 to 70 percent of it was from the opposite side of the Pacific: Japan, China, the Philippines.

“It struck me. I thought: ”˜We’ve got all of their garbage; I wonder where our garbage is going and whose life I’m impacting that I’m not even aware of.” I’d be very surprised if someone could find a beach anywhere in the world that does not have plastic on it.”

Along with pal Hugh Patterson, a native Vancouverite, the Robertson brothers were determined to combine their passion for the ocean and quest for adventure with their desire to learn more about the state of the planet’s beaches. The three decided to sail the world and document what they discovered on coastlines along the way. They called their three-year expedition Ocean Gybe.

On Nicaragua’s La Flor Beach—a nature reserve protected for turtle rehabilitation—the team found 354 pop bottles, 162 plastic bags, 32 oil containers, and one car battery, among other debris.

In Barbados, at Long Pond Beach, the three found, among other items, 15 pieces of Styrofoam, 85 bottle caps, 37 plastic bottles, 59 pieces of fishing line and rope, and a toilet seat.

Besides Styrofoam, fishing nets, bottle caps, and rubber sandals, the three found nearly 100 pieces of assorted plastic on Indonesia’s Savu Island beaches. The list goes on.

Although Patterson and the Robertsons completed their circumnavigation of the globe last fall, they’ve since gone on to document the pollution at beaches closer to home, such as those on the Hesquiat Peninsula, north of Tofino. (There, they came across everything from Japanese fishing floats to various pieces of plastic and metal to a backpack.)

Their mission is ongoing: to promote the protection and conservation of the world’s oceans. They do this mainly by sharing their story and the results of their “garbage studies” with school and youth groups.

“We want people to understand their interconnectedness with the world’s oceans,” Bryson says. “The most obvious impact is garbage on our beaches. But all that garbage in the ocean releases endocrine disruptors, PCBs, and other toxins that enter our food chain.” We’re polluting, and we’re also the ones getting polluted.”

In recent years more research has focused on the link between ocean health and human health. “Alarms have been sounding about the health of the oceans for some time, but most of the discussion has been limited to marine organisms themselves, as if people were somehow divorced from the ecosystems upon which they depend for their health and well-being,” writes Nancy Knowlton, director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, in an editorial in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. “Sadly, it is no longer possible to ignore the fact that corals and fishes are not the only things suffering from our poor stewardship of the sea around us.”

According to SeaWeb, an international nonprofit organization that advocates for sustainable seafood and ocean conservation, land-based pollutants such as plastics and electronics account for 80 percent of all marine debris. Then there are the countless pounds of pharmaceuticals that are flushed down the drain every year, not to mention oil spills.

But back to that plastic. If it doesn’t wash up on some distant shore, ocean currents carry it to one of the globe’s “gyres”, slowly rotating monster whirlpools where trash accumulates.

The North Pacific Gyre is about twice the size of the United States. Plastic debris will remain there for decades or more, being pushed in a gentle, clockwise spiral toward the centre, according to 5 Gyres, a global organization dedicated to researching and eliminating plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.

“It’s basically a huge, floating garbage patch,” Bryson says of the North Pacific Gyre.

There are simple steps people can take to help minimize the amount of plastic that ends up in the sea and that ultimately threatens environmental and human health, Bryson says.

For starters, there’s the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, which takes place September 17 to 25 at various locations, including lake, inlet, and ocean beaches. (Volunteers can sign up at Shorelinecleanup.ca.) Last year, the most common types of litter picked up included cigarettes, food wrappers, plastic bags, and beverage bottles.

Then there’s changing our mindset.

“We live in a disposable culture,” Bryson says. “We need to become more aware of how we consume and look at things like plastics, water bottles, packaging.” A single-use plastic water bottle is used on average for about 12 minutes. But we don’t even know how long it lasts in the environment. We can learn how to consume more carefully. It is possible for us to change this; we can do it.

“Dozens of cities have banned plastic bags,” he adds. “Vancouver hasn’t yet, but I hope it’s coming.”

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Documenting the Decline

posted August 10th, 2011 in the Juneau Empire By DIXIE BELCHER

My turn: Plastic shopping bags endanger our planet’s future

Six years ago I was invited to attend an international environmental conference in Anchorage — I was not an environmental activist and knew almost nothing about the state of the world’s oceans.

Scientists there discussed acidification — oceans absorbing millions of tons of carbon dioxide that, when mixed with water becomes carbonic acid that destroys reefs and prevents tiny shellfish at the bottom of the food chain — including the salmon food chain — from making shells. They talked about “dead zones” — oxygen — free areas often found at urban river deltas where nothing can live — spanning hundreds and sometimes thousands of square miles.

They described hundreds of thousands of tons of poisonous chemicals and garbage continuously dumped into the ocean. And they talked about the impact of plastics — including layers of plastic bags so thick that scientists sometimes couldn’t reach the ocean floor with their instruments — and birds, sea mammals and fish ingesting plastics that clog their digestive systems — their bodies biodegrading but the plastic remaining intact to be ingested by other animals. Plastic does not biodegrade. It is here forever.

They described their work as “documenting the decline.” If the degradation continued, they estimated 2050 as the ocean’s probable death.

In June of this year, international scientists met and were alarmed at the “exponential” increase of this decline. In a report to the United Nations, Alex Rogers, scientific director of the International Program on the State of the Ocean stated “The findings are shocking. ... We now face losing marine species and entire marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, within a single generation,” (Reuters–June 21, 2011.)

Their report to the U.N. was in newspapers across the nation, including the Anchorage Daily News. It was not mentioned in the Juneau Empire.

As a direct result of this conference, Turning the Tides was formed to help raise awareness about the state of the ocean and what ordinary people can do. We believed that, once aware, most people would want to know what they could do to help reverse the ocean’s degradation. We picked plastic bags because it is a problem that everyone can easily help to solve. The world uses about one million a minute and — figuring 400 bags a family, Juneau’s 13,000 families use over five million a year. Because of their horrible impact on ocean life, they have been taxed in cities and countries around the world and banned in over a quarter of the planet.
Taxes on plastic bags are shown to lower use by an average of 95 percent.

We are not suggesting paper over plastic. We believe that Juneauites, like people everywhere, can form the habit of using reusable bags. Until recently, most of the world didn’t have a “paper or plastic” option. People carried their own.

Humans cannot live without the oceans. In addition to supplying food and medicine, they provide at least half of the world’s oxygen.

Our future quality of life does not bode well if we can’t bring ourselves to contemplate changing even one small habit.

This is not an effort to increase Juneau’s Assembly coffers but a small attempt to add to efforts around the world to bequeath a livable planet to our children and grandchildren.

• Belcher is a Juneau resident and the founder of Turning the Tides.

Bag It

posted on KPBS.org Airs Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

 Is your life too plastic? In this touching and often flat-out-funny film, we follow "everyman" Jeb Berrier as he embarks on a global tour to unravel the complexities of our plastic world.

Title graphic for "Bag It"
Above: Title graphic for "Bag It"

Americans use 60,000 plastic bags every five minutes, disposable bags that they throw away without much thought. But where is “away?” Where do the bags and other plastics end up, and at what cost to the environment, marine life and human health?

"Bag It" follows “everyman” Jeb Berrier as he navigates our plastic world. Jeb is not a radical environmentalist, but an average American who decides to take a closer look at our cultural love affair with plastics. Jeb’s journey in this documentary film starts with simple questions: Are plastic bags really necessary? What are plastic bags made from? What happens to plastic bags after they are discarded? What he learns quickly grows far beyond plastic bags.
A plastic bag stuck in a tree by the ocean as featured in "Bag It."
Enlarge this image
Above: A plastic bag stuck in a tree by the ocean as featured in "Bag It."

What he discovers is shocking:
• The average American uses about 500 plastic bags each year, for an average of 12 minutes before they are discarded.

• Two million plastic bottles are consumed in the U.S. every five minutes, less then 25% are recycled.

• The average American contributes 800 pounds of packaging waste to landfills per year.

• 14 million pounds of trash end up in the ocean each year.

• The floating “island” of plastic and other debris swirling around in the North Pacific Gyre is more than twice the size of Texas.

• Plastic debris resembles plankton—fish food—and there is 40 times more plastic than plankton in some parts of the ocean. In this way plastic enters our food chain.

• It is estimated that 100,000 marine mammals and sea birds die each year from becoming entangled in or ingesting plastic debris.

• Plastic bags are made of fossil fuels such as petroleum and natural gas, which are non-renewable resources.

• The U.S. was once the largest exporter of oil in the world. Now, it is the largest importer.

• Ireland reduced its plastic bag use by 90% after instituting a fee on single-use disposable plastic bags.

• China banned “ultra thin” plastic bags in 2008. They reduced their use by 40 billion bags in the first year.

“A powerful and deceptively simple movie that is sure to change the way you look at everday objects. I didn’t expect a movie about plastic bags to change my life in such a deep and profound way. Gripping, funny, intelligent and sure to change your life.” -Louie Psihoyos, Director of "The Cove"

"Bag It" is on Facebook. Visit the "Bag It" blog for more information and resources.

When Jeb finds out he and his partner are expecting a child, his plastic odyssey becomes a truly personal one. How can they protect their baby from plastic’s pervasive health effects? Jeb looks beyond plastic bags and discovers that virtually everything in modern society – from baby bottles, to sports equipment, to dental sealants, to personal care products – is made with plastic or contains potentially harmful chemical additives used in the plastic-making process.

Two of the most common of these additives, “endocrine disruptors” Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, show links to cancer, diabetes, autism, attention deficit disorder, obesity, infertility and even smaller penis size.

As adults, we make all kinds of choices of convenience: single-serve bottles, small units of food, household items, and bath and beauty products. These products are both made with and come packaged in plastic. As a consequence of our modern day culture, we have become addicted to plastics, and they have quietly in- filtrated every aspect of our lives. Even our children (especially during in utero development) have unwittingly and alarmingly become our modern day lab rats.

"Bag It" makes it clear that it is time for a paradigm shift. Join Jeb as he meets with people who fought the American Chemistry Council lobby that spent more than a million dollars fighting the Seattle bag fee; as he interviews a man sailing the Pacific in a boat made of plastic to raise awareness about our ocean’s health; as he gets tested to determine the levels of chemicals in his own body; and as he welcomes his baby into the world, a world he hopes we can leave with a little less plastic and in a little better shape for the next generation.

Trailer: Bag It

Bag It Intro from Suzan Beraza on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Alliance for a Living Ocean installs first of three 'hydration stations' in Long Beach Township

published August 5th, 2011 in pressofAtlanticCity.com

By Donna Weaver, Staff Writer

Through an anonymous donation, the Alliance for a Living Ocean will be able to fund tankless water coolers, called hydration stations, across Long Beach Island.

The yearlong project came to fruition last week when the first of the organization's three stations was installed at the 68th Street beach entrance in the Brant Beach section of Long Beach Township.

The public can use the hydration stations to fill their reusable water bottles with cold, filtered, remineralized municipal water.

Kristin Stahler, executive director of the alliance, said in a news release Wednesday that the stations will help promote the use of reusable water bottles and reduce the need for plastic bottles.

"Plastic can be extremely detrimental to our environment and, when not recycled, it often ends up in the ocean. There it breaks into billions of pieces that look like food to marine life. Tens of thousands of creatures die every year from ingesting plastics," Stahler said.

The alliance says that by refilling one reusable bottle, 167 single-use bottles are stopped from entering the environment.

Although problems with discarded plastic originate on land as litter, they eventually end up in the water, Stahler said.

The alliance slogan that accompanies the hydration stations is "Put Water in Your Bottle, not Your Bottle in the Water."

Angela Andersen, Long Beach Township's recycling coordinator, said plastic litter is a problem on the township's beaches and in local waterways, but through projects such as this one, reusing water bottles will combat the problem.

Two more hydration stations will be installed, at Bayview Park in Brant Beach and in the parking lot of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in the Holgate section of the township.

Representatives from the alliance and Long Beach Township said they are planning to present the concept of hydration stations to the remaining five municipalities on Long Beach Island.

Contact Donna Weaver:

Learn more
For more on Alliance for a Living Ocean, visit www.livingocean.org or email alolbi@verizon.net

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Disturbing drift on a duck trail

published July 30th by Judith Ireland in the Canberra Times

Dangerous: Little ducks like this one look super cute, but they can be ingested by marine animals - and then, possibly, by all of us.
Dangerous: Little ducks like this one look super cute, but they can be ingested by marine animals - and then, possibly, by all of us. 
In January 1992 in a part of the North Pacific Ocean known as the Graveyard of the Pacific, a Greek-owned, Taiwanese-operated ship hit rough weather. Exactly how rough is not known. But what we do know is that the wind and waves were wild enough to free two columns of containers from the decks of the Ever Laurel and send them crashing into the ocean below.

Among the liberated cargo were 28,800 Chinese-made plastic bath toys, destined for the United States: 7200 red beavers, 7200 green frogs, 7200 blue turtles and 7200 yellow ducks.

No one was supposed to know, but 10 months later, Alaskan beachcombers discovered several dozen of the plastic toys washed up along Chichagof Island. Then, in 1993, a local journalist placed a few phone calls put two and 28,800 together.

As New York author Donovan Hohn writes in his new book, Moby-Duck, this is where the story of the toys should have ended. The case was closed. ''But then something else unexpected happened. The story kept going.''

The ducks kept showing up on north American beaches and people (mostly beachcombers) kept finding them. Like the mysterious travelling ducks, the story also travelled through the pages and airwaves of the world's media.

They leapt into popular culture as children's author Eric Carle published a book Ten Little Rubber Ducks about toy ducks who go missing at sea and the ducks (by now the toys had morphed into one creature) were used in a high-profile advertising campaign for a mobile phone.

Hohn then a high school teacher first heard of the ducks in 2005, when one of his students wrote an essay about their supposed journey as far as the Arctic. Also a writer in his spare time, Hohn wondered what had happened to the toys. What was their journey like? Where were they now?

As soon as he started thinking about the runaway ducks, he realised how ubiquitous toy ducks are in modern culture. They adorn people's bathrooms and work cubicles. And you can't move in a children's ware shop without seeing them on pyjamas, clothing, towels and toys.

''The more I thought about its golden, graven image, the more it seemed to me a kind of animistic god but of what?'' he writes.

Initially, Hohn thought he'd interview a few oceanographers and beachcombers and just write a feature for a magazine. But after he received a map from a Seattle oceanographer, outlining the likely route the ducks had taken, Hohn realised he might have enough for a book. ''That map seemed to me almost like a kind of trail,'' Hohn recalls.

His magazine article turned into a five-year odyssey, which saw him quit his job and leave his pregnant wife (and what then turned into his young family) for weeks at a time, while he chased the ducks around the northern hemisphere.

He talked to beachcombers who collected the ducks and environmentalists who went on crazy coastal clean-up missions. He interviewed oceanographers about the power and whimsy of currents and Chinese manufacturers about cheap, soulless plastic toy production.

The author also spent hours reading textbooks and cornering scientists for ad-hoc tutorials. ''I feel like I completed a degree in oceanography even if I don't have a piece of paper to prove it,'' he says.

Hohn was joyously able to find a duck in the Alaskan wilds, but sadly, didn't find any duck evidence in the Arctic. But as he tracked the toys from their beginnings in a Chinese factory in Dongguan to their possible end point somewhere in the Canadian Arctic, Moby-Duck became as much a story of environmental degradation and plastic waste, as childhood fantasy.

Even though it is illegal in most of the developed world, dumping rubbish in the sea is still a widespread practice in parts of the developing world, he says. And while hard figures don't exist (blame the secrecy of the shipping industry) Hohn says that cargo falls off the back of ships ''all the time''.

The little ducks look super cute, but at a time when we know plastic pollutes our oceans, is ingested by marine animals and then possibly by us, Hohn reasons, they should be handled with care.

Off the coast of Hawaii, the author travelled with renowned oceanographer Charles Moore, who discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 1997 a gyre (system of rotating currents) of marine rubbish in the North Pacific Ocean, spread out across millions of kilometres. While the extent of the Garbage Patch is contested, Hohn writes, ''on one thing scientists, plastics executives, and environmentalists agree: the amount of plastic in the ocean is increasing.''

As Susan Freinkel notes in her recent book Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, the Garbage Patch is one of at least five gyres around the world. While no one knows how much plastic is in the ocean, estimates range from between 1300 to 3.5million pieces per square kilometre.

''Before the age of plastics, the trash consisted of materials that marine microorganisms could quickly break down. Now the gyres are swirling with stuff that, at best, breaks up into small morsels that are too tough for nature to chew,'' Freinkel writes.

Hohn acknowledges that plastic waste in the ocean is not the most serious environmental problem facing the world today or even the most serious environmental issue facing our oceans.

Climate change, industrial and agricultural waste and overfishing arguably pose more dire threats. But, he says, these serious problems can be difficult to detect without sophisticated equipment and tests. ''I feel like one of the themes through much for the book is about trying to see what's invisible,'' he says. Stories of great, toxic, unsightly amounts of plastic waste circulating in our oceans or washing up on beaches is something that everyone can understand and relate to. ''There is evidence you can see with the naked eye,'' Hohn says.

In turn, getting people enthused about rubbish, or a lack of it, in our oceans, may be a means to get them interested in more complex issues, such as consumption. Although, Hohn notes there's no easy solution to the health of our oceans. ''The sources of the pollution are so numerous,'' he says.

As all good marine lawyers will tell you, it's almost impossible to make individuals, businesses or countries accountable for the middle of the ocean. ''We treat the atmosphere and the ocean as a sort of a global commons,'' Hohn says.

Despite having started work on a new, land-based book, Hohn still thinks about the ducks that first captured his imagination in 2005 and about the thousands that have never been found. ''I suspect that by now most of them have begun to disintegrate,'' he says.

But for him, the ducks have always only been part fact. ''I had this idea that I was chasing both the actual toys that fell off the ship and the mythic duck,'' he says. Ultimately, the author was most enchanted by the incongruity of the childlike duckies lost on the big bad sea. ''It's about as far from a bathtub as you could get.''

Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them. By Donovan Hohn. Scribe. Published August 1, 2011. $35.

Judith Ireland is a staff reporter