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, June 28, 2012

Ocean Devotion (part 1)

Posted June 25, 2012 in Living SustainablyReviving the World's Oceans on switchboard.nrdc.org

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sunset over ocean 
We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.
                                                                  – Mother Teresa of Calcutta

It is easy to conceptualize the ocean as infinite. It is unquestionably vast, deep, powerful, mysterious. Since before the Polynesian navigators set out in double-hulled outrigger sailing canoes to settle new archipelagoes, and Jules Verne imagined secret cities and worlds 20,000 leagues down, the unfathomable size of the world’s oceans have reminded humanity of how tiny and insignificant we are.

Until now.

The living ocean is in real danger. Surfers now get infected from contaminated water at some of the world’s classic breaks, such as First Point Malibu. Older generations of fishermen and divers tell us of the limitless bounty of fish and seafood of their era, telling us of catches so big and abalone so abundant that we would laugh them off as “fish stories” if it weren’t for the photos. Scientists tell us that sharks and some other fish are at 10% of their previous population. How are we impacting the vast oceans?

Plastic Pollution Threatens Wildlife

In the 1967 film “The Graduate”, a well-meaning friend of his parents tells young Benjamin Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman) that “there is a future in plastics…” and he was not wrong. In the last fifty years, plastics have been instrumental in developing technological advances from the fighter jet to the ipod.

But single-use plastics—which are built to be practically indestructible— have had a devastating effect on our oceans. They inevitably find their way into the ocean, where they  break into tiny pieces and become floating detritus, harming birds and fish and other creatures that mistakenly ingest these foreign substances, but cannot digest them. Plastic pollution has now been carried by the currents to contaminate the most remote and pristine ecosystems in the world.

Earlier this month, my hometown Los Angeles became the largest city in the US to ban single-use plastic shopping bags. This is a huge step towards reducing plastic waste in the oceans, and other cities will follow. We all make choices every single day about when and how to use and dispose of plastics, and we should always consider ocean health when we do.

Oil Drilling

Ocean oil spills such as the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident and 2010 Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico attract a lot of attention as tragic accidents with disastrous consequences, and they are. They are impossible to clean up and follow-up studies are showing that the effect on the ecosystem will be wide-ranging and long-lasting.
Oil drilling is destructive to the oceans even when there is no catastrophic spill. Seismic exploration for oil wells can kill and injure marine mammals, and carbon pollution from the use of oil contributes to acidification.

Right now, Shell is trying to obtain a permit for drilling in the Arctic, and there are ongoing battles against drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Atlantic Coast as well. It is essential that we let our political leaders know that we will not tolerate this risk.

Acidification from Carbon Pollution

It is common knowledge that emissions from fossil fuels contribute to climate change and sea-level rise, but much less talked-about is the fact that elevated carbon in the atmosphere actually affects the chemical composition of the ocean water itself? Corals and shellfish are most directly affected by acidification, which prevents them from creating their calcium exoskeletons and rippling effects throughout the ecosystem.

To counter ocean acidification, we need to drastically cut the amount of fossil fuel emissions worldwide by transitioning to cleaner energy sources. The first step is to end government subsidies for the coal and oil industries.

Hope and Action

Last  week, the top 20 economic powers in the world met in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil for an “earth summit” to assess the state of the world environment. Ocean protection was one major topic of discussion and it looks like a lot was accomplished. International conventions and binding agreements are important structures, but the most impactful things we can do are often simple everyday actions. Substitute a car trip for a bike ride, say no thanks to a plastic bag at the store, or pick up three pieces of trash when you pack up your next blissful day at the beach.

Plastics in our Ocean Video

Posted on TVO.org

About the video:

Water Brothers Tyler and Alex tell about their journey on a 5 Gyres Research Expedition into the North Pacific Gyre for season II of their documentary series. The remote area is commonly known as the horse latitudes and the onboard team gathered samples there over several days to test for the level of concentration of plastic debris in the ocean accumulation zone. The Royal Ontario Museum's Dave Ireland is also interviewed and explains the impact of the ocean plastic problem on the marine life food chain and how our ingesting of sea food-infused microscopic plastics, can lead to serious health effects in humans.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Love Story on Midway Island

Posted in Outside Blog Thursday, June 14, 2012

 Midway Atoll is a 2.4-square-mile atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with three islands covering 1,549 acres. It's small, remote, and an essential landing strip for giant seabirds. More than three million of them plop down on the islands every year, which means it's crowded, especially when the birds decide to lay their eggs. Virtually every square foot has a nest.

Three species of albatross, of which the most prominent is the Laysan albatross—with 450,000 nesting pairs, take up space on the island every winter. Laysans are big birds, with roughly six-foot wingspans. They stay, more or less, for nine months. They are monogamous, for the most part, and can live for up to 40 years. After the pairs land in October or November, they spend some time dancing and clicking and deciding on a nest before laying an egg. The male and female take turns incubating the egg for about two months, fly off on a series of epic journeys to find food for their young over the course of four or five months, and then leave the youngsters alone so they can fledge in June or July.

Photographer and filmmaker Chris Jordan stepped into this scene—carefully, of course—and stayed for a couple weeks. It affected him in a profound way. That's because, as you've probably heard and seen, a lot of the chicks die with large amounts of plastic in their stomachs. Their parents inadvertently scoop up the debris while feeding on squid and other fish at the top of the Pacific Ocean, and regurgitate the plastic into the youngsters' mouths. Eventually, Jordan decided to make a movie called Midway, and he wants to go back. He's hoping to raise $100,000 on Kickstarter to finish his project. We checked in with him to find out a little bit more about his motivation.

Laysan albatross and chick. Photo: Chris Jordan

Do you have a favorite photograph of an albatross chick?The two weeks we spent photographing the hatching chicks on Midway was one of the most beautiful experiences of my whole life. The mother albatrosses allowed us so close to their hatching babies that in one case, my lens was right in the nest and the mother’s wing was resting on my head.

Laysan albatross and chick. Photo: Chris Jordan

Albatrosses are as big as eagles, with powerful beaks that could rip your face off if they decided to. But they trusted us to come literally within a few inches of their hatching babies with our cameras, displaying an elegance and grace that was incredible to behold. I will never forget the intimacy of that experience.

Laysan albatross and chick. Photo: Chris Jordan

Was there a specific moment when you decided to make the film?
The moment I knew I had to push deeper into the story of Midway was when I was visiting a girls’ school in Brisbane, Australia, showing my photographs of the plastic-filled birds. At the end of my talk, one of the teachers broke down weeping in front of her whole school. I stood there frozen, with my heart breaking, as tears poured down her face and her voice shook with horror and grief, and she asked me “How do we get to hope from here?” Her question resonated for me like a temple bell on so many levels, and I didn’t have an answer. I think maybe that’s a question we are all holding right now, as the news about the health of our world gets worse every day, and our leaders become more and more lost and paralyzed. I knew I had to go back to Midway and stand in the fire of that question until I had something to offer that teacher. The result has been a three-year project that has changed my life at the very core. 

What have scientists told you about what the plastic does to the Albatross chicks?
That is complex because albatross chicks have a high natural mortality rate, and it is difficult to determine in a particular case whether a chick died from plastic or from other causes. For example, if two parent albatrosses leave their nest for five days in search of food, their chick may be subjected to dehydrating heat, or rain storms that cause hypothermia. If the baby dies during that time, who can say what was the exact cause of death, and whether the 22 plastic bottle caps in its stomach had a contributing effect? All that can be said with certainty is that the plastic is increasing the mortality of the albatross chicks by an unknown factor.

But personally, I am not so much interested in saving the albatross as I am in receiving the urgent alarm signal they are sending us about the state of our world. The birds on Midway are like messengers, the canary in the coal mine. When the canary dies, the miners don’t run over and try to save the canary— they receive the message that bird just gave its life delivering, and then act quickly to save themselves. That approach resonates with me because it doesn’t view the birds as helpless victims that we passively observe; it places a duty on us to receive their message, and be changed by it (or not). 

What do you hope the end result of the movie will be?
I believe the story of Midway Island offers a profound metaphor for our time, like an epic piece of literature that carries symbolism and archetype on multiple levels. A lot of smart people are saying that what humanity needs right now is a shift in our story, and my own theory is that we need a new love story—a real one that we can believe in, and that includes us all. First-world culture has lost its connection with a deeply felt reverence for the miracle of our life, and for our sacred place in the great mystery. Being on Pihemanu (the Hawaiian name for Midway) is like standing on a razor’s edge between darkness and light, paradise and hell, the past and the future; it is a focused microcosm of our world, where horror meets innocence, grief meets joy, birth meets death, all wrapped in an envelope of violent history and stunning natural beauty that overwhelms the senses and transforms the mind. I don’t hold any specific hopes for the end result of my project; my fiduciary duty runs to the story itself, and I consider it my job to honor that story with the highest quality piece of visual poetry that can be achieved with the resources I have available to me. And once I tell that story, my role is done, and that is where the viewer’s responsibility begins.

For more on the Midway Film Project by Chris Jordan, check out Kickstarter.

H/T: @Revkin
 —Joe Spring

Tires Meant to Foster Sea Life Choke It Instead

published in the NY Times via the AP February 18, 2007

Anastasia Walsh/Sun Sentinel, via Associated Press
An artificial reef created in 1972 off the coast of South Florida has turned into a costly cleanup project.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Feb. 17 (AP) — A mile offshore from this city’s high-rise condominiums and spring-break bars lie as many as two million old tires, strewn across the ocean floor, a monument to good intentions gone awry.

The tires were unloaded there in 1972 to create an artificial reef that could attract a rich variety of marine life, and to free up space in clogged landfills. But decades later, the idea has proved a huge ecological blunder.

Little sea life has formed on the tires. Some tires that were bundled together with nylon and steel have broken loose and are scouring the ocean floor across a swath the size of 31 football fields. Tires are washing up on beaches. Thousands have wedged up against a nearby natural reef, blocking coral growth and devastating marine life.

“The really good idea was to provide habitat for marine critters so we could double or triple marine life in the area; it just didn’t work that way,” said Ray McAllister, a professor of ocean engineering at Florida Atlantic University who was instrumental in organizing the project. “I look back now and see it was a bad idea.”

Similar problems have been reported at tire reefs worldwide.

“They’re a constantly killing coral-destruction machine,” said William Nuckols, coordinator for Coastal America, a federal group involved in organizing a cleanup effort that includes Broward County biologists, state scientists and Army and Navy salvage divers.

Gov. Charlie Crist’s budget includes $2 million to help remove the tires. The military divers would work at no cost to the state by making it part of their training.

A monthlong pilot project is set for June. The full-scale salvage operation is expected to run through 2010 at a cost to the state of about $3.4 million.

Mr. McAllister helped put together the ill-fated reef project with the approval of the Army Corps of Engineers. He helped raise several thousand dollars (the county also chipped in), organized hundreds of volunteers with boats and barges, and got tires from Goodyear.

Goodyear also donated equipment to bind and compress the tires, and the Goodyear blimp dropped a gold-painted tire into the ocean in a ceremonial start to the project.

It was a disappointment, like other tire reefs created around the world in recent decades.

“We’ve literally dumped millions of tires in our oceans,” said Jack Sobel, an Ocean Conservancy scientist. “I believe that people who were behind the artificial tire reef promotions actually were well-intentioned and thought they were doing the right thing. In hindsight, we now realize that we made a mistake.”

No one can say with certainty why the idea does not work, but one problem is that unlike large ships that have been sunk for reefs, tires are too light. They can be swept away by the tides and powerful storms before marine life has a chance to attach. Some scientists also believe the rubber leaches toxins.

Virginia tried it several decades ago. But Hurricane Bonnie in 1998 ripped the tires loose, and they washed up in North Carolina.

Most states have stopped using tires to create reefs, but they continue to wash up worldwide. In 2005, volunteers for the Ocean Conservancy’s annual international coastal cleanup removed more than 11,000 tires.

Tires retrieved from the waters off Fort Lauderdale will be ground up for use in road projects and burned for fuel, among other uses.

“It’s going to be a huge job bringing them all up,” said Michael Sole, chief of the state Department of Environmental Protection. “It’s vigorous work. You have to dig the tires out of the sand.”

Monday, June 25, 2012

Charles Moore's Synthetic Sea Documentary

To see more go to http://www.algalita.org/ Algalita Marine Research Foundation

Produced and narrated by Bill Macdonald

Drowning in Plastic: The Impact of Single-Use Plastic

Posted in ivn.us By on 05/31/2012 in Energy and Water, Policy Reform

plastic baggg Drowning in Plastic: The Impact of Single Use Plastic
Credit: scholastic.org

As of May 23rd 2012, Los Angeles became the largest city in the United States to put a ban on plastic grocery bags. Over the next 16 months the city will be phasing out single-use bags in favor of reusable ones. Los Angeles joins the ranks of forty-seven other California cities that have also endorsed the ban. Environmentalists and plastic bag ban advocates are hopeful that this will prompt other large cities to quickly follow suit.

So how many plastic bags do we actually use?
A common estimate for the number of plastic bags consumed each year is 500 billion, although many environmentalist organizations claim that the number is closer to 1 trillion. These estimates would require 60 to 100 million barrels of oil per year to produce.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the United States goes through roughly 100 billion plastic grocery bags every year.

China, with its vast population has, in the past, been the largest consumer of plastic bags. According to China Trade News, China consumed up to 3 billion single-use plastic bags a day, before the country took steps to ban production and free retailer use before the 2008 Olympics. While major Chinese supermarkets report that they have greatly reduced their consumption of the bags, the ban has not been nearly as successful as many had hoped with plastic bags still in wide use throughout the country.

What happens to single-use plastic bags after they are discarded?
Many of the plastic bags used end up in the ocean, as the second most common ocean refuse after cigarette butts. It has been estimated that every square mile of ocean has approximately 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it. According to the United Nations, 10% of the plastic produced every year worldwide will end up in the ocean.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a prime example of what happens to plastic when it enters the ocean. A subtropical gyre, creating a slow moving clockwise spiral of ocean currents, it is filled with millions of pounds of trash, the vast majority of which is plastic. Scientists estimate that its size is about twice that of the state of Texas, and is ever increasing. While the plastic in this huge oceanic dump will not degrade any time soon, it continues to break down into smaller and smaller pieces creating a murky wasteland of plastic.

pacific garbage patch Drowning in Plastic: The Impact of Single Use Plastic
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the north Pacific Ocean Credit: greatpacificgarbagepatch.info

Once in the ocean or landfills a plastic bag will take 400 to 1,000 years to degrade, and no more than 5% of the bags are ever recycled.

Besides ending up in the ocean or being buried in local landfills, a significant amount of the world’s plastic waste is shipped to China. As the largest waste importer in the world, China brings in enormous amounts of paper, plastic, and electronic waste each year. The UK has reported exporting over 200,000 tons of plastic waste to China each year. With landfill costs up, it is cheaper to send waste abroad than to dispose of it domestically. The Chinese waste industry has experienced an economic slump in recent years leaving countries like the U.S. and UK with the burden of disposing plastic waste within their borders.

The plastic bags we use on a day to day basis will never disappear in our lifetime, a fact that kind of makes you think twice before using them in the first place. With the world population ever growing the amount of non-biodegradable waste will increase as well. While banning plastic grocery bags seems a step in the right direction, will it really make a difference?

Straw Wars: Campaign to ban plastic straws in restaurants and bars launches

Published on Fri Jun 01 2012 in the Star.com by Debra Black

They're fun, they're colourful. But straws are bad for the environment.
They're fun, they're colourful. But straws are bad for the environment.

British environmentalist David de Rothschild — who built and sailed a 60-foot catamaran made out of 12,500 empty plastic bottles across the Pacific in 2010 — has launched a new campaign to encourage restaurant owners to stop using straws.

Straw Wars, as it’s known, has been launched in London’s Soho district. “The idea is simple — either get rid of straws completely or provide a straw only when requested by a customer,” advises his website.

So far, 35 bars and restaurants in Soho have signed on. But the 33-year-old de Rothschild, who is indeed related to the famous European banking dynasty, has larger plans. He hopes to make the campaign international in the next couple of months.

And he encourages restaurants and bars around the world to sign up online and take the pledge to stop using plastic straws.

“The premise is to get restaurants to stop using straws,” he said in an interview with the Star. “It’s really simple. Straws just suck so let’s get rid of them.”

According to the campaign’s website one million seabirds, 100,000 marine mammals and turtles die every year when they entangle themselves in or ingest plastic pollution.

“Billions of straws are discarded every year, filtering into landfill and littering the oceans,” the website says.

The effect is devastating, de Rothschild argues, because the plastic isn’t biodegradable and lasts indefinitely.

The campaign “was a natural progression of ideas” that flowed out of the Plastiki project, the plastic bottle catamaran effort, he said.

“There was a lot of conversation about dumb plastics we use and we figured why not create a website to get businesses to eliminate straws,” said de Rothschild.

De Rothschild believes there has been a sea change towards disposable plastics, pointing to the fact that Miami Beach has recently banned the use of plastic straws on the beach to cut down on litter.
The environmentalist calls his campaign a “simple call to action.”

“You can become part of the solution just by taking straws out of your establishment,” he advises restaurant and bar owners everywhere.

“It’s a simple arc. It saves money for bar owners and its easier for staff that don’t have to clean them up.”

Canadian reaction to the campaign by fellow environmentalists has been enthusiastic.

“He’s a smart guy who understands that sometimes to understand the significance of complicated issues you have to boil things down to a potent icon,” said Rick Smith, executive director of Canada’s Environmental Defence.

“The Plastiki was all about that — in a very dramatic and tongue in cheek way to convey the significance of plastic pollution in the ocean. This latest gambit of his is very smart and will interest a lot of people.”

“He’s chosen an icon of the everyday that people understand and use and come into contact everyday,” said Smith, suggesting there is a similarity between de Rothschild’s straw wars campaign and the successful push here to get rid of plastic bags — a campaign now under threat by Mayor Rob Ford.

“I think the best kind of campaigns is centered around seemingly small things, but yet they’re not small. They’re descriptive of a larger problem and a larger issue.”

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: What Is It and What Can You Do?

Posted by Greenhome.com on June 1, 2012

What is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
Sea of Trash
Sea of Trash

Tons of plastic and other debris end up in our oceans every year. In fact, of the 200 billion pounds of plastic produced every year, about 10% eventually makes its way to the ocean. It may start out as litter on the beach or as rubbish tossed from the side of a ship, but no matter where it comes from, this trash will eventually get picked up and carried by ocean currents. These currents, known as gyres, work like a vortex to concentrate all that floating garbage in a central location. In the north Pacific Ocean, this oceanic dumping ground is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and it’s situated about halfway between Japan and the west coast of North America. Estimates of its size range from the area of Hawaii to the span the of continental U.S., but because the debris patch can drift by thousands of miles depending on currents and weather, it’s exact scope has been difficult to determine. Similar patches have been found in other parts of the Pacific and in the Northern Atlantic as well.

So what’s floating out there?
While most of us probably think of a giant floating landfill when we hear about ocean litter, in fact most of the debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch isn’t actually visible to the naked eye. Instead, the majority of the waste is made up of tiny particles of plastic suspended at or below the surface of the water. Unlike biological waste, which decomposes into elements like hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon that can be reused in the environment, plastic never breaks down. Instead, when a plastic bag or bottle ends up in the ocean, it will be physically broken into smaller and smaller pieces, but those pieces never stop being plastic. Sampling has shown the concentration of these bits of plastic to be extremely high in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but because the pieces can’t easily be seen it is difficult to judge just how widespread the pollution is. All sorts of other waste also gets caught up in ocean currents and deposited in the Pacific Garbage Patch, but because plastic floats and is so abundant it makes up the vast majority of ocean debris.
Plastic Turtle
Plastic Turtle

All this trash poses a number of serious environmental hazards. Large debris like nets and bags can drown or strangle animals like birds and turtles, while small underwater particles damage or kill the birds, fish, and filter feeders that mistake them for food. Tiny plastic particles are also known to absorb pollutants from the water, which means that when they’re eaten these chemicals either poison the animal or are carried further up the food chain. Finally, many of the toxic chemicals used to produce plastics, like phthalates, BPA, and dioxins, can leach from floating plastic trash into the water.

What can you do?
These little plastic particles are nearly impossible to clean up, which is why avoiding plastic in the first place is always one of the best things you can do to help the environment. When possible, opt for more eco-friendly materials like glass, metal, or ceramic instead. For example, you can replace plastic storage containers with glass, plastic shopping bags with cloth ones, and disposable razors, pens, and bottles with reusable options. And to help keep the plastic you do use out of the oceans (and out of landfills), make you always recycle and support eco-friendly companies by buying recycled products.

7 Recycling Tips In Honor Of World Oceans Day

Credit: SF Brit / Creative Commons

Friday, June 8th is World Oceans Day. Although only one day a year is officially set aside for celebrating and honoring our world’s oceans, there are steps that each of us can and should be taking every day to help protect and preserve the integrity of the oceans and the life it supports. On that note, here are 7 recycling tips to get you on your way:

1 – First step is to get yourself educated. Learn about all the different items that can be recycled and find out how and where you can recycle them.

2 – Set up a designated recycling bin in your home. You and your family will be more likely to recycle items if you have a bin for recyclables. Even the kids will quickly learn what to recycle.

3 – When you are out and about, be sure your trash and recyclables make it into the proper bins so that none of them end up on the ground, in the local lake or river, on the beach, in the ocean or anywhere else in nature.

4 – Invest in a reusable water bottle. Why waste money on a plastic water bottle when you can buy a reusable water bottle that you can fill up anytime you need it. They are easy to take with you and will save a lot of time, money and plastic waste.

5 – Cut down on “single use” items. No more plastic utensils, paper plates, straws, plastic bags, and other items. A prime example is the single wrapped food item, such as cheese slices. You’ll save a lot of plastic when you buy a block of cheese and slice it yourself.

6 – When you go out to the park, on a picnic, hiking or any other outdoor activity, be sure to follow the “leave no trace” motto and pick up after yourself. By packing your own reusable containers you will have less waste and it will be less work all around.

7 – Participate in or organize an aquatic clean up event at your local beach, lake, or waterfront. This is a great way to get involved, with the community, to help keep the oceans and water clean. You should also rally to get permanent recycling containers set up (if they don’t already exist).
or those of you who want to take extra steps towards helping protect our oceans, you can download the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app so you know which restaurants serve ocean-friendly seafood and sushi.

Then make the seven C’s pledge for ocean conservation. Commit to making a real difference, conserve in your own home, be a conscious consumer, communicate your concerns and interests, challenge yourself on a daily basis, connect with your local community and celebrate the oceans!
Last but not least, wear blue this Friday to show your support for World Oceans Day and at your earliest convenience, visit the ocean (or your local lake) to help remind yourself why you recycle and take the steps you take to help protect the oceans and Earth itself.

[Source: Bio Friendly Blog]

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bioplastics Get Trashed in Rhode Island

Posted in EcoRI.org by JOANNA DETZ/ecoRI News staff DateSunday, June 3, 2012

Click infographic to enlarge. (Joanna Detz/ecoRI News staff)

Maybe you’ve seen them in the supermarket. Or maybe you’ve seen the ads. Maybe you were skeptical. Or maybe you thought, Cool!

We’re talking about plastic bottles that are made from plants. Dasani’s PlantBottle is one.

The claim on the bottle and on Dasani’s website, which shows an image of a water bottle emerging from a dew-flecked green leaf, is that its plant-based PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles are made from up to 30 percent plants and are 100 percent recyclable.

But buyers of Rhode Island’s post-consumer plastic consider plant-based PET plastic to be a contaminant, according to Sarah Kite, director of recycling services for the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC).

"Until they (our buyers) tell us that plant-based plastics are OK, we have to say that they are not recyclable in Rhode Island," Kite said.

For now at least, the place for Rhode Islanders to put these bottles is in the trash, not the recycling bin.

Perplexed that Dasani’s marketing claims weren’t matching up to reality, ecoRI News contacted Steve Alexander at the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APPR), a national trade association representing companies who acquire, reprocess and sell more than 90 percent of the post-consumer plastic in North America.

Alexander, who said APPR worked with Coca-Cola, Dasani’s parent company, to design the PlantBottle to meet current recycling specifications, was blunt when told that RIRRC’s customers consider PET made from plants to be a contaminant. “You’ve gotten some bad information,” he said.

“These bottles are the same as other PET bottles and can be recycled as PET,” Alexander said. “If it has the same molecular components, it is recyclable.”

To make sure the facts were right, ecoRI News contacted its science expert and composting guru, Michael Bradlee, founder of Earth Appliance. He backed up Alexander's claim.

"Purified chemicals do not retain any memory of their origin; monoethylene glycol (MEG), one of the components in PET, derrived from petrolium is absolutely identical and cannot be distinguished from plant-based MEG," Bradlee said.

ecoRI News went back to Kite, who stood by her earlier statement that plant-based PET is not accepted by RIRRC customers at this time.

And so, with Rhode Island rolling out its new single-stream recycling system this week, a system that aims to simplify recycling for residents and calls on them to put all plastic containers of 2 gallons or less in their recycling bin, we already have an exception to that rule. Actually, we have a few, all of them bioplastics.

PET plastic made from plants, along with PLA plastics and biodegradable plastics, are all considered trash in Rhode Island, at least for now.

Head spinning yet? Welcome to the complex world of bioplastics.

What is this stuff?
Bioplastics have been around since the 1950s, but with awareness growing as to the scourge of traditional fossil fuel-intensive plastics and with the cost of petroleum on the rise, companies such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi are looking for alternative ways to create plastics and, parenthetically, a marketing buzz.

Because they rely less on greenhouse-gas emitting fossil fuel and more on renewable plant-based sources, bioplasics are generally considered to be more sustainable than traditional plastics.
A bioplastic can have one or all of the following attributes: bio-based (made from plants), biodegradable and/or compostable.

Currently, bioplastics represent less than 1 percent of all plastics on the market today, but you can expect that percentage to increase as new innovations come online and as more companies adopt bioplastic packaging.

Bioplastics can be a PET (or an HDPE)
The Dasani bottles mentioned above are PET bottles. PET is made up of two components: monoethylene glycol (MEG) and terephthalate. MEG accounts for 30 percent of the weight of PET and this is what Coca-Cola, with its PlantBottle, is producing from plant sources, such as sugarcane grown in Brazil.

Historically, MEG was created using petroleum.

Odwalla, the smoothie-producing subsidiary of Coca-Cola, now sells its drinks in an HDPE, or high-density polyethylene, plastic bottle made almost entirely (at least 96 percent) from molasses and sugarcane.

Though the raw materials for plant-based PET and HDPE come from renewable, lower-carbon sources, the resulting plastics are chemically identical to traditional plastic bottles. And, as plastic, the plant-based bottles carry all the same environmental impacts as those made from fossil fuels, and they don't biodegrade.

So, are they better for the environment? That is a complicated question and one that depends on how the plants used to make the plastic are grown: Are they grown with petrochemicals? Are they produced from GMOs? And so much depends on the afterlife of the bottle — in Rhode Island plant-based PET (and HDPE) bottles go in the trash.

Even in states or municipalities that do recycle these bottles, manufacturers typically peg the recycling rate for PET at 27 percent. And so, even if a PET bottle made from plants isn’t front loaded with carbon, it could still wind up in a landfill, or, worse, in the ocean, where it will pollute just as a traditional plastic bottle would.

Communication breakdown
Biodegradable plastic, a plastic that can be plant or petroleum based, is appealing to consumers because there is the promise that the bottle they’ve just purchased will — Presto! — disappear.

ENSO Plastics, an Arizona-based company that produces one such biodegradable plastic bottle, claims that its bottles are biodegradable in both landfill and compost environments. The company creates material for its bottles by injecting the polymers that make up plastic with additives that attract microbes, which, in turn, break down the plastic.

But not much breaks down in a landfill, which lacks oxygen. And, even if biodegradable plastics do break down in this oxygen-free environment, they emit methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

To properly degrade, biodegradable plastics need to be sent to a commercial composting or anaerobic facility. But, most places, Rhode Island included, lack such facilities. Because of the biodegradable additives, these plastics are universally considered to be a contaminant among recyclers.

"It is difficult to impossible in some cases to properly identify the plastics with the additives," Kite said. "This means that all the selected plastics are sent to the remanufacturer. The plastics with additives are reblended into the new plastic, compromising the plastic's integrity."

There also is concern, among environmental groups, that biodegradable plastics may actually encourage litter and increase consumption if people think that these plastics will degrade.

PLA it forward
You’ve perhaps seen compostable plastic at eco-minded cafés, where compostable to-go cups are used for iced coffee or other cold drinks.

These cups are made from PLA, or polylactic acid. Producing PLA uses 65 percent less energy than producing conventional plastics, according to an independent analysis commissioned by NatureWorks, the Cargill-owned company that produces PLA from corn.

PLA is said to decompose into carbon dioxide and water in a “controlled composting environment” in fewer than 90 days. A controlled environment is a large facility where compost reaches 140 degrees for 10 consecutive days.

But again, here in Rhode Island, residents have no access to commercial-scale composting, and so the promises of compostable plastic breaking down are fleeting. Instead, these plastic bottles are either erroneously put in the recycling bin, where they are considered a contaminant, or tossed into the trash and ultimately buried in the landfill, where they will not break down at all.

"Here at our MRF (materials recovery facility), we are unable to sort for PLA or bioplastics, just as no other MRF is able to do," Kite said. "Keep in mind how biodegradable works: You need the proper conditions for materials to break down (air, light, water), and in a sanitary landfill, those conditions do not exist. Compostable plastics need to be composted in a commercial composter, which doesn't exist in Rhode Island."

Is there a great future in bioplastics?
The marketing claims on bioplastics ring hollow in Rhode Island. And all the green ad-speak hoodwinks uninformed consumers into thinking they are being environmentally responsible by purchasing these materials.

For now, bioplastics in the Ocean State, be they compostable, biodegradable, recyclable or all three, are considered trash. But this could change if the market shifts to accept bio-based PET or if Rhode Island gets a large-scale composting facility. If these “ifs” come to fruition in Rhode Island and elsewhere, bioplastics might offer some solutions to the scourge of plastic waste.

Athena Lee Bradley, projects manager at Northeast Recycling Council Inc., a multi-state organization committed to responsible solid waste management, is skeptical of bioplastics. "There has not been enough research done to know what kind of an impact these bottles will have on the recycling stream, so any company marketing and selling the bottles, is in my opinion, being irresponsible," she said.

We Need Your Bottles... All 23 Billion of Them!

posted 12/6/2012 by Closed Loop Recycling Co. in the UK


The UK is sitting on top of 1.4 million tonnes of untapped resource in the form of post consumer plastic that could drive the UK recycling industry to the next level. That’s according to pioneering plastic bottle recycler, Closed Loop Recycling which is launching a brand new campaign, backed by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson in support of the British recycling industry, aimed at encouraging all aspects of the supply loop to collect and recycle more plastic bottles here in the UK.

1.8 million tonnes of post-consumer plastics are generated every year in the UK, nearly a third (580,000 tonnes) being plastic bottles – that’s 23.2 billion bottles.  However 300,000 tonnes of good quality plastic is still sent to landfill each year and a large percentage of what is collected - 70 per cent in the case of bottles - is shipped abroad, stifling the UK recycling industry which relies upon this valuable resource.

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, said: “Taking time to chuck your unwanted plastic bottles into the recycling bin, rather than your rubbish bin, is not only good for the environment, but great for our wallets too. Recycling saves Londoners money, with the added bonus of creating jobs in London.”
Unveiling a specially designed logo, Closed Loop Recycling is launching its campaign with a hard-hitting ‘We Need Your Bottles’ message to coincide with National Recycle Week (18-24 June 2012), which is focusing specifically on plastic bottle recycling.

At a time when there is a huge national focus on all things ‘British’ thanks to last weekend’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the upcoming London 2012 Olympics, Closed Loop Recycling is urging the British public to remember to place their used plastic bottles in available recycling bins – whether at home or out in public places – in order that they can be collected for recycling into new food and drink packaging.

An example of this is in the London borough of Westminster, which was at the heart of nationwide Diamond Jubilee celebrations last week, Closed Loop Recycling took receipt of all plastic bottles that were collected by waste company Veolia from streets and recycling bins, carefully sorting, washing and super-cleaning them into material for companies such as Marks & Spencer, Britvic and Solo Cup.  Plus throughout the busy Olympics period Closed Loop Recycling will be receiving plastic bottles collected on the London Tube network thanks to its contract with Bywaters.

Closed Loop Recycling CEO Chris Dow explains: “’We Need Your Bottles’ is all about educating people about the importance of mining Britain’s urban forest.  Used plastic bottles are a valuable resource to the UK recycling industry, which has the knowledge and technology to recycle them for the future.

“By encouraging consumers to recycle more than they are doing already, asking waste firms to support UK recyclers rather than shipping overseas and incentivising UK brands to use UK-sourced recyclate in their packaging, companies like ours will be able to grow further, create more green jobs and boost Britain’s low carbon economy.

“Recycling plastic bottles in the UK is best for the environment, for British businesses and for British jobs.” 

As part of its campaign, Closed Loop Recycling is urging the government to review the current PRN/PERN system so that it no longer favours overseas waste shipments versus domestic recycling.

The company is asking for a more level playing field.

Veto the Big-Plastic-Lobbied Plastic Bag and Film Recycling Act

Governor Quinn: Don't Let Big Plastic Bully Me!
Once again, big corporations are trying to use big government to control the rights of citizens in towns all over America, but this time you can help me stop it!

"My name is Abby Goldberg, and as a 12-year-old girl who, after seeing the devastation that millions of plastic bags have caused the environment and ocean life, I made my school project this year to be getting a local ban on single-use plastic shopping bags in my home town Grayslake, IL.

My friends and I were making great progress, until the oil and chemical industry pulled a dirty trick to kill my campaign; these lobbyists passed a bill that would make it illegal for towns across Illinois to create plastic bag bans!  Even worse, they’re trying to make it look like a green environmental bill, by putting in a few ridiculously-low requirements for so-called “recycling” of plastic bags, and are bragging they’re going to make it "a model bill for all states!”

Now it’s in the hands of our Governor to stop them, but he needs to hear from all of us!

I am heartbroken and so angry, because kids and adults like me are standing up to Big Oil and Big Plastic by creating bans everywhere, including in Los Angeles, Hawaii, Seattle, Toronto, Austin, Mexico City, Mumbai, Italy, Rwanda and more! Why? Because bag bans can be literally 2000% more effective than “bring your own bag” campaigns!

I am not scared – even though I’m just a kid, I care too much about animals, our environment, and our future natural resources to let them beat down my town, just so they can make an extra buck. Now I need your help to stop them, and give hope to other people around the world that they can stand up for their own rights!

The governor could sign at any minute, so we need your voice as soon as possible, or my dream of getting a healthier environment for my town, our environment and our world will be totally crushed.

Thank you!!"

Letter to the Governor of Illinois:

Dear Governor Quinn,
I urge you not to let and plastic-industry corporations use government to eliminate the right of citizens to determine their own local policies.

I stand with 12-year-old Illinois resident Abby Goldberg in asking you to veto a dangerous bill before you that would prevent communities across the entire state of Illinois from taking action to care for their local environments. The so-called "Plastic Bag and Film Recycling Act," while noble in name, is actually a plastic-bag-lobby bill designed to strip communities of the right to find alternatives to single-use plastic bags.

Abby is working hard in her community to try and pass a plastic bag ban -- a measure we know is extremely effective in curbing the pollution caused by rampant plastic bag use. Plastic bags litter our farm lands, hang from our trees, choke up our waterways, hurt our wildlife, and their production wastes oil and natural gas that we need to help us bridge to a renewable-energy economy. That's why communities all around the country -- from Seattle to Austin to Los Angeles, and even the entire state of Hawaii – have successfully banned the distribution of plastic bags.

But the legislation before you would rob Illinois communities of the right to do the same, including Grayslake, Illinois, Abby's hometown, where she's worked extremely hard to get a local bag-ban.

Gov. Quinn, I urge you not to cave in to Big Oil and the plastics industry, and instead stand with Abby Goldberg and thousands of others by vetoing this dangerous bill. Local communities should be able to decide for themselves whether or not to ban plastic bags. Passing this bill would set an extremely harmful precedent that could very well have national implications – an industry spokesman claims they are trying to make this “a model bill for all states.”

Don't allow Illinois to undo the work of Abby and concerned citizens around the country, who want to take care of and preserve their environment. Please veto the "Plastic Bag and Film Recycling Act," IL SB3442.

As Abby Goldberg says, this bill is a wolf in sheep's clothing, and will only serve to harm communities across the state.

Thank you for your time.
[Your name]

At the time of this posting, Abby had 8,600 signatures out of a 10,000 goal.   Here is a link to the petition on Change.org:

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

New "Plastic Shores" Documentary

A non-profit educational film about the effects of plastic debris on our marine ecosystem
In the year 2010 global plastic production reached 300 million tonnes. A third of this was used in disposable packaging. In the United Kingdom, 3 million tonnes of plastic are thrown away every year, 1% of the total amount of all plastic manufactured on the planet.

But what happens to this plastic when it is thrown away? Most of it makes its way to landfill. Some goes to recycling or incineration. The rest escapes into our environment, and to the world's oceans…and nobody knows how long it will stay there. Estimates range from decades to hundreds of thousands of years.

'Plastic Shores' is a documentary that explores how plastic affects the marine environment. Travelling from the International Marine Debris Conference in Hawai'i to the polluted Blue Flag beaches of Cornwall, the film reveals just how bad the problem of plastic debris is and how it harms aquatic life. There is now not a single beach or sea in the world that is not affected by plastic pollution and the problem is only increasing.
Due for release Summer 2012View the trailer for ‘Plastic Shores’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QhqTsEGeA8I
Visit the website: http://plasticshoresfilm.com

Plastic Free Guide now Available

Plastic Free — How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too

Posted January 17, 2012 in myplasticfreelife.com by

The Book For Plastic Addicts and Their Friends!

Available now in beautiful 4-color hardback or electronic version

Readers Guide:  Download a free Readers Guide for your book group with over 50 questions to get you thinking and discussing!

Updates:  As I mention in the Author’s Note, while the principles of plastic-free living are timeless, the specifics can change.  Resources change, websites move, companies go out of business, campaigns succeed or fail.  Visit the Updates Page for changes and corrections since the book went to press in early 2012.


If you find the information on MyPlasticfreeLife.com to be useful, why not buy the book?  Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too (Skyhorse Publishing Company) is a practical guide to ridding your life—and the planet—of plastic.

Publisher’s Description:
Like many people, Beth Terry didn’t think an individual could have much impact on the environment. But while laid up after surgery, she read an article about the staggering amount of plastic polluting the oceans and decided then and there to kick her plastic habit. Now she wants to teach you how you can too. In her quirky and humorous style—well known to the readers of her popular blog, My Plastic-Free Life—Terry provides personal anecdotes, stats about the environmental and health problems related to plastic, and personal solutions and tips on how to limit your plastic footprint.

Terry includes handy lists and charts for easy reference, ways to get involved in larger community actions, and profiles of individuals— Plastic-Free Heroes—who have gone beyond personal solutions to create a change on a larger scale. Plastic-Free also includes chapters on letting go of eco-guilt, strategies for coping with overwhelming problems, and ways to relate to other people who aren’t as far along on the plastic-free path. Both a practical guide and the story of a personal journey from helplessness to empowerment, Plastic-Free is a must-read for anyone concerned about the ongoing health and happiness of themselves, their children, and the planet.

People who are just waking up to the problems of plastic will find the step-by-step approach useful and non-intimidating.  Those who are a lot further along the path will find plenty to further challenge themselves.  Everyone will be inspired by the interviews with some amazing activists and entrepreneurs who are going beyond personal changes to have an even greater impact in the world.  And look for tips from MyPlasticfreeLife.com community members.

How to Order or Download

Order the book from BuyGreen.com.  Your book is guaranteed to arrive in plastic-free packaging, and a higher percentage of your dollars will support MyPlasticFreeLife.com.
Order the book (or download Kindle version) from Amazon.com.
Order the book (or download NOOK version) from Barnes & Noble.
Order the book locally through IndieBound.

Special Signed Copy to Benefit the Plastic Pollution Coalition

Order a signed copy directly from me at full cover price of $19.95 plus sales tax and shipping.  $2.00 will be donated to the Plastic Pollution Coalition.  Only one book per order address.  Please pay via PayPal or contact me directly for other payment options or if you are outside the continental United States.
If you would like me to write anything special in the book (the name of the recipient or a particular message), please let me know in PayPal’s “Special Instructions to the Seller” section under your shipping address.  Click the button below to order a copy to be sent via Media Mail within the continental United States.

Advanced Praise

“The problem or the solution starts with each one of us. We can choose to live a life of mindless consumption, becoming consumed by our possessions, or we can choose to live an inspired life, always working to create harmony with our environment. In Plastic-Free, Beth Terry shares the story of her path to a life filled with less plastic and more harmony. Anyone who reads this book will be motivated to follow her lead.” —Jack Johnson, musician, cofounder of the Ko¯kua Hawai’i Foundation

“I’ve been struggling to rid my home of plastics for years. This book makes it so much easier!” —Linda Ronstadt, musician, Plastic Pollution Coalition member

“Friendly, fun, and informative, Plastic-Free is a tutorial on how to cut plastics from your life. Beth empowers us to implement change in our own lives and save the world at the same time. Refuse disposable plastics!” —Dianna Cohen, visual artist, creative director and cofounder, Plastic Pollution Coalition

“Tempted to bring your own reusable silverware to take-out joints but dread the eye-rolling it may generate? This book is for you. With sass and intelligence, the anti-plastic crusader Beth Terry guides readers toward the road less consumptive, offering practical advice and moral support while making a convincing case that individual actions to lighten our environmental impact do matter.” —Elizabeth Royte, author, Garbage Land and Bottlemania

“We’re so addicted to plastic, it’s hard to imagine doing without it. But Beth Terry dared to imagine, and with hard work, humor and lots of trial and error—turns out there’s no easy way to make your own liquid hand soap—she broke the plastic habit. Her book is informative and inspirational—an ideal combination for anyone hoping to follow a less plastic path.” —Susan Freinkel, author Plastic: A Toxic Love Story

“We could have such lovely things in our lives. Why do we settle for crap made from plastic? Beth Terry is the pioneer when it comes to building a life filled with the things that truly matter.” —Colin Beavan, author, No Impact Man, and founder of the No Impact Project

“This is the tool that we’ve all been waiting for to ease the transition to going plastic-free. Time to wake up. Peace.” —Rosanna Arquette, actor, Plastic Pollution Coalition member

“The use of plastic is enmeshed in our American way of life. Kicking any habit is tough, but kicking a habit that is invisible in its ubiquity is even more difficult. In this important and enjoyable book, Beth Terry walks the reader through her trials and travails and shows what the average person can do to rid themselves of plastic. Along the way, she creatively demonstrates that ridding one’s life of plastic is not only good for the planet but also good for the health and the pocketbook of the American consumer. This book is inspirational and has helped me kick my plastic habit not only when shopping but throughout my daily life.” —Congressman Steve Cohen, Tennessee

“Beth Terry is one of the most inspiring people on the planet. Her wisdom about plastic-free living is a beacon of hope for what’s possible. Everyone should read this book!” —Stacy Malkan, cofounder, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and author of Not Just a Pretty Face

“Inspiring. Empowering. And most of all, liberating! Finally, here’s everything you need to know to live a healthy, safe, plastic-free life. Kudos to Beth Terry! She’s definitely my plastic-free guru!” —Diane MacEachern, author, Big Green Purse

“Beth is the most knowledgeable person on plastic, particularly disposable plastic, that I know. Her journey to getting rid of disposable plastic is inspiring and amazing, but she also makes it doable for the rest of us. When I first met her, I lived my life pretty nontoxic, but I still used a lot of disposable plastic. Her efforts inspired me to eliminate disposable plastic too, and faced with choices, I always ask myself WWBD (or What Would Beth Do)? She is the standard by which I measure my ‘greenness.’ ” —Jennifer Taggart, www.thesmartmama.com, author of Smart Mama’s Green Guide: Simple Steps to Reduce Your Child’s Toxic Chemical Exposure

“Plastic-Free tells a story that could inspire everyday behavior change for all of us. Small steps, leading to one big milestone—a planet free of plastic pollution. The power lies with each of us to take these steps. It is that simple.” —Daniella Dimitrova Russo, cofounder and executive director, Plastic Pollution Coalition

Japan tsunami debris looms off U.S. coasts

published May 24th, 2012 on mothernaturenetwork.com by Russell McLendon

Items washed away by the 2011 tsunami are already arriving in North America, raising fears of an environmental crisis from Alaska to California.

Japan tsunami debris 
OUT TO SEA: An aerial view of floating debris from the March 2011 tsunami that struck northern Japan. (Photo: U.S. Navy/AFLO/ZUMA Press)
The Pacific Ocean is no stranger to litter, thanks to a big maritime mess known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. But for the past 14 months, a different type of debris has been sailing around the Pacific — not the familiar bits of plastic found in the garbage patch, but some 5 million tons of detritus that washed offshore after the deadly Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March 2011.
Most of that tsunami debris sank to the seabed, according to scientists at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But about 1.5 million tons kept floating east, and now nobody knows how much is approaching North America — not to mention what it is or when it will arrive. NOAA's computer models predict some will reach Hawaii this winter, approach the U.S. West Coast and Canada in 2013, and then circle back to Hawaii between 2014 and 2016. But as the agency points out, it's "very difficult to predict" how a mass of random objects will behave in the open ocean.
In fact, some of the debris is showing up ahead of schedule. In April 2012 alone, a Japanese teen's soccer ball washed ashore in Alaska, the U.S. Coast Guard sank a floating "ghost ship" from Hokkaido, and a motorcycle with Japanese plates emerged on a Canadian beach. According to south Alaska's Homer Tribune, "massive amounts of debris" are scattered over at least 50 miles of beaches, including wall insulation, oil and gas canisters, fishing nets and Styrofoam buoys. A new cleanup effort on nearby Montague Island aims to remove 40 tons of tsunami debris in coming weeks.
While it pales in comparison to the disaster that sent it there, some worry all this debris could pose environmental dangers for the U.S. and Canada, possibly even on par with an oil spill. "This is more hazardous than oil," Chris Pallister of the Gulf of Alaska Keeper Organization tells the Homer Tribune. "Entire communities went into the ocean — industrial, household chemicals, anything you can think of in your garage — and it's all coming here. This is like a great big toxic spill that is widely dispersed."
NOAA is more reticent in its outlook, noting that the lack of a unified "debris field" makes it hard to forecast where the objects will go. But dispersal doesn't necessarily negate the danger — NOAA warns against "picking up debris you are not well equipped and trained to handle," like sharp objects and oil drums, and adds that even lone objects can hinder ship traffic or damage coral reefs. Some items may still be clustered, too, especially if they're sealed in boxes, drums or shipping containers.
Below is a map of where NOAA thinks the debris was located as of May 15, 2012, based on computer models that consider the objects' point of origin as well as historical ocean currents and wind speeds (click map to enlarge):
tsunami debris map
This map comes with a caveat, though: "Conditions in the ocean constantly change, and items can sink, break down and disperse across a huge area," NOAA explains. "Because it is not known what remains in the water column nor where, scientists can't determine with certainty if any debris will wash ashore."
The mystery is largely due to sparse details about the debris, since some items are inevitably more seaworthy than others. Many floating objects are considered "high-windage," with more exposed surface area that can catch the wind like a ship's sail. Soccer balls and Styrofoam fit into this category, but so do heavier objects if they're in buoyant containers. Other debris that drifts underwater or barely breaks the surface is "low-windage," and will typically take longer to cross the ocean.
Nonetheless, many people from Alaska to California say tsunami debris is already flooding in, and they want immediate action. "The time for talk is over," Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said in a recent statement. "The prospect of debris coming to our shorelines is not just a theory, it is here." Begich and other lawmakers have pushed the Obama administration to allocate emergency funds to study the tsunami debris, and to reconsider a planned budget cut for NOAA's Marine Debris Program.
"We need something much more elaborate to understand and stop this debris before it actually reaches our shores," said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., during a May 17 oversight hearing about the tsunami debris. "Many people said we wouldn't see any of this impact until 2013 or 2014. And now ships, motorcycles and this various debris is showing up, and people want answers."
While individual objects may pose serious threats to public and environmental health, NOAA does offer one positive note: The chance of radioactive debris washing up anywhere is "highly unlikely." Much of the tsunami debris didn't come from anywhere near the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and regardless, the nuclear crisis began after most of the objects had already washed out to sea.
The enormity and variety of the debris still makes it a threat, though, and experts emphasize it will continue washing ashore for a long time. Famed U.S. oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer has said he expects the amount of debris to peak in October, and as the Associated Press reports, he told the audience at a recent tsunami symposium that about 100 vessels will likely wash up "over the next couple of years," similar to the 164-foot ghost ship sunk by the U.S. Coast Guard last month.
Yet in a reminder of how manageable such problems are compared with the tsunami itself — which killed more than 15,000 people across eastern Japan — Ebbesmeyer also offers a more somber prediction: Human bones could soon begin washing onto U.S. and Canadian beaches. "That may be the only remains that a Japanese family is ever going to have of their people that were lost," he told attendees Monday at the symposium in Port Angeles, Wash. "We're dealing with things that are of extreme sensitivity. Emotional content is just enormous. So be respectful."
Also on MNN:
Also check out these great hi-res photos & videos from CNN:

Monday, June 4, 2012

L.A.'s sweeping ban isn't in the bag yet

posted By Steve Lopez May 23, 2012 in the L.A. Times

Councilman Paul Koretz has proposed banning plastic and paper bags. But lobbyists for the bag industry are pitching a weaker alternative at City Hall.

Under the proposal, Los Angeles would become a national leader in the proliferation of reusable bags. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
A lobbyist representing a consortium of plastic bag producers was roaming the halls of Los Angeles City Hall this week, trying to torpedo Wednesday's anticipated City Council vote to ban the ubiquitous, flimsy flower that litters the urban landscape and fouls the seashore.

Naturally, environmentalists were in a tizzy, fearing the worst outcome while hoping for the best. Under the proposal by Councilman Paul Koretz, paper bags would also be banned, and Los Angeles would become a national leader in the proliferation of reusable bags.

The worry among enviros was that a weaker and more voluntary alternative proposal, drafted by the bag industry and offering retailers a chance to buy out of the restrictions by paying a fee to the city, might be introduced if a sponsor could be found. They're also nervous about rumors that former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez himself was in the hall on behalf of the bag people. Nuñez is unloved by green-folk for helping to scuttle a statewide bag ban two years ago. But I couldn't find anyone who'd actually seen Nuñez. Was he lobbying in broom closets?

I suggested to one council member that there was an easy way to flush him out. Announce a high-end wine tasting in the rotunda, with a junket to study bag disposal in and around four-star European hotels. Nuñez — famous for his champagne tastes while globe-trotting on the state dime — would be first in line.

But when I called Nuñez's office, a colleague returned the call to say Nuñez was not lobbying in L.A. He was in Sacramento, "providing strategic counsel" on the bag issue.

And what exactly does that mean?

"It means advising clients."

And who are the clients?

"A consortium of plastic bag manufacturers."

This person said I needed to talk to Vanessa Rodriguez, who was doing the actual City Hall lobbying for Mercury Public Affairs. But Rodriguez called me from City Hall and said I needed instead to talk to Donna Dempsey of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, who was also making the rounds in City Hall.

I was waiting for the promised call from Dempsey when someone called from Hilex Poly, a plastic bag manufacturer and recycler in South Carolina, saying that no, Dempsey would not be speaking to me. They were trying to get hold of someone else who could answer my questions.

If I might offer a bit of strategic counsel — for far less than whatever Nuñez is charging — it isn't good PR to act like you're trying to hide something.

In the end, Mark Daniels of Hilex Poly called to answer my questions. He's chair of the American Progressive Bag Alliance — are there regressive bag alliances? — and he thinks the L.A. bag ban introduced by Councilman Koretz is "just a terrible idea," and he threw in "outrageous" for good measure.

Banning plastic and paper bags will cost "a tremendous amount" of sack manufacturing jobs held mostly by Latinos in California, and export them to China, Daniels claims. He also said plastic bags can be and are recycled in great numbers, and charging a buck or two for reusable bags is a hardship for many families. He said the Koretz plan to have stores temporarily charge 10 cents for paper bags until an eventual ban is regressive, and he argued that proponents are over-estimating the amount of bag litter, underestimating the amount of recycling, and exaggerating the amount of damage to marine life caused by bags.

"You think 3 million people are going to clean their reusable bags after every use?" asked Daniels, who claimed that plastic bags account for such a tiny fraction of litter, banning them "will have zero environmental impact."

He was beginning to sound like a man whose main interest is selling bags.

Zero environmental impact?

By some estimates, the amount of plastic bags in California's waste stream is in the thousands of tons, many of them are not biodegradable, and the cost of disposal is in the many millions.

I once slogged through Compton Creek with Heal the Bay, before L.A. County supervisors beat the L.A. City Council to the punch and banned plastic bags and reported a 94% reduction in the use of plastic bags, and they were wrapped around plants and layered into the banks like lasagna. Everyone has seen them draped against fences, dancing down streets and clogging storm drains. A 2010 survey by Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup found that plastic bags were second on the floating litter list behind cigarette butts and ahead of food wrappers, caps, lids, cans and bottles. Paper bags rounded out the top 10.

Koretz said only a small fraction of plastic bags manufactured in California end up in Los Angeles, so claims of big local job losses are nonsense. He said there's a local program in which veterans are producing reusable bags, and he thinks more green jobs would be created with a plastic ban.

Councilman Tom LaBonge, for one, favors the ban on plastic bags, which he says are a particular eyesore along the Los Angeles River. LaBonge said he wonders why the city doesn't attempt to collect fines for littering as aggressively as it goes after parking and traffic infractions.

But he's not sure about the ban on paper bags. He wants an updated study on where trash comes from and where it ends up. I'm hearing that other council members may have the same reservations about banning paper.

Koretz's plan calls for a six-month education period, followed by a ban on plastic and an 18-month period in which paper bags cost 10 cents before being banned altogether. He told me he's thinking about a revision in which the total ban on paper would be put to a vote at the end of the 18-month trial.

On a personal note, I have several reusable bags, but often leave them in my trunk at the grocery store and get paper bags, which I use to recycle newspapers at my house. If the store begins charging me 10 cents apiece, I'll stop getting paper bags.

Hey, it works.