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!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Petition to EPA seeks strict Clean Water Act regulation of ocean plastics pollution

From the Center for Biological Diversity


A Global Tragedy for Our Oceans and Sea Life

Plastic never goes away. And it’s increasingly finding its way into our oceans and onto our beaches. In the Los Angeles area alone, 20 tons of plastic fragments — like grocery bags, straws and soda bottles — are carried into the Pacific Ocean every day.

Today some 40 percent of the world’s oceans are covered in giant, swirling convergences of garbage, including billions of pounds of plastic.

Plastics pollution has a direct and deadly effect on wildlife. Thousands of seabirds and sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals are killed each year after ingesting plastic or getting entangled in it. Endangered wildlife like Hawaiian monk seals and Pacific loggerhead sea turtles are among nearly 300 species that eat and get caught in plastic litter.

It’s time to get at the root of this ocean crisis. The Center for Biological Diversity just petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to finally begin regulating plastics as a pollutant under the Clean Water Act — a crucial first step in reducing the amount of plastic littering the oceans.

We need your help to get the EPA to do the right thing. Please take action today by signing our petition — and also, please sign up to get our email alerts.

We're surrounded by plastic. Think about every piece you touch in a single day: grocery bags, food containers, coffee cup lids, drink bottles, straws for juice boxes — the list goes on and on. Plastic may be convenient, but its success carries a steep price.

In the first decade of this century, we made more plastic than all the plastic in history up to the year 2000. And every year, billions of pounds of plastic end up in the world’s oceans.

Most ocean pollution starts out on land and is carried by wind and rain to the sea. Once in the water, there is a near-continuous accumulation of waste. Plastic is so durable that the EPA reports “every bit of plastic ever made still exists.”

Due to its low density, plastic waste is readily transported long distances from source areas and concentrates in gyres, systems of rotating ocean currents. The North Pacific Gyre, also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is twice the size of Texas (and growing) and consists mostly of small plastic particles suspended at, or just below, the surface, where fish and other animals mistake the particles for food.

In the Garbage Patch, plastic outnumbers fish food like zooplankton six to one. The Garbage Patch is only one of five such convergence zones, which in total cover 40 percent of the ocean.

Thousands of animals, from small finches to great white sharks, die grisly deaths from eating and getting caught in plastic: 

      • Fish in the North Pacific ingest 12,000 to 24,000 tons of plastic each year, which can cause intestinal injury and death and transfers plastic up the food chain to bigger fish and marine mammals.
      • Sea turtles also mistake floating plastic garbage for food. While plastic bags are the most commonly ingested item, loggerhead sea turtles have been found with soft plastic, ropes, Styrofoam, and monofilament lines in their stomachs. Ingestion of plastic can lead to blockage in the gut, ulceration, internal perforation and death; even if their organs remain intact, turtles may suffer from false sensations of satiation and slow or halt reproduction.
      • Hundreds of thousands of seabirds ingest plastic every year. Plastic ingestion reduces the storage volume of the stomach, causing birds to consume less food and ultimately starve. Nearly all Laysan albatross chicks — 97.5 percent — have plastic pieces in their stomachs; their parents feed them plastic particles mistaken for food. Based on the amount of plastic found in seabird stomachs, the amount of garbage in our oceans has rapidly increased in the past 40 years.
      • Marine mammals ingest and get tangled in plastic. Large amounts of plastic debris have been found in the habitat of endangered Hawaiian monk seals, including in areas that serve as pup nurseries. Entanglement deaths are severely undermining recovery efforts of this seal, which is already on the brink of extinction. Entanglement in plastic debris has also led to injury and mortality in the endangered Steller sea lion, with packing bands the most common entangling material. In 2008 two sperm whales were found stranded along the California coast with large amounts of fishing net scraps, rope and other plastic debris in their stomachs.
Plastic pollution doesn’t just hurt marine species. It’s also harmful to people.

As plastic debris floats in the seawater, it absorbs dangerous pollutants like PCBs, DDT and PAH. These chemicals are highly toxic and have a wide range of chronic effects, including endocrine disruption and cancer-causing mutations. The concentration of PCBs in plastics floating in the ocean has been documented as 100,000 to 1 million times that of surrounding waters. When animals eat these plastic pieces, the toxins are absorbed into their body and passed up the food chain.

As plastics break apart in the ocean, they also release potentially toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA), which can then enter the food web. When fish and other marine species mistake the plastic items for food, they ingest the particles and pass toxic chemicals through the food chain and ultimately to our dinner plates.

Plastic pollution affects our economy, costing us untold dollars spent in beach cleanups, tourism losses and damages to fishing and aquaculture industries. Beaches and oceans have turned into landfills. Prime tourist destinations are now littered with garbage. Kamilo Beach, in a remote corner of Hawaii, is now known as “Plastic Beach” for the tons of plastic debris that accumulates on its shores.

Plastic pollution in our oceans is endangering marine life and ecosystems, so the Center for Biological Diversity is tackling the problem.

The Center’s petition to the EPA asks the government to regulate plastics as a pollutant under the Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act is the nation’s strongest law protecting water quality, and we’re using the tools provided by this law to stop plastic pollution.  Recognition of plastic pollution under the Clean Water Act will enable states to develop water-quality standards to finally begin curbing the amount of plastic trash dumped on our beaches and in our oceans.

Ocean Plastics Soak Up Pollutants

ACS Meeting News: Some marine plastic debris attracts more pollutants than lab studies suggest
Photo of Chelsea Rochman deploying plastic samples in San Diego Bay.
Rochman deploys plastic samples in San Diego Bay.
Credit: Sarah Wheeler
Some plastic debris in the ocean continues to absorb organic pollutants for months after reaching marine environments, according to a field study presented at the American Chemical Society national meeting in Philadelphia on Sunday. The findings, which contrast with earlier laboratory studies, could change how researchers assess the effect of plastics on marine animals.

When fish and other marine creatures eat plastic debris, they consume a cocktail of multiple stressors, including the plastic itself and the pollutants it absorbs, said Chelsea Rochman, a graduate student at San Diego State University, who presented the study in the Division of Environmental Chemistry.

Rochman and colleagues deployed pellets used to make six types of common plastics in San Diego Bay for up to a year. They retrieved samples at monthly intervals and used gas chromatography/mass spectrometry to measure concentrations of more than 50 persistent organic pollutants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and polychlorinated biphenyls.

Some plastics continued to accumulate these pollutants for months, in contrast with earlier lab studies showing that plastics come to equilibrium with these pollutants over several days.

The researchers also found that some types of plastic absorbed 10-fold higher concentrations of organic pollutants than others, suggesting that some plastics could be more hazardous to fish than others.

This is one of the first field experiments to follow plastic debris over time to assess how it interacts with pollutants in natural waters, commented Mark Anthony Browne, an ecologist at the National Center for Ecological Analysis & Synthesis at University of California, Santa Barbara. “It provides our most accurate understanding yet of this phenomena and challenges several theories developed from more simple laboratory studies,” he told C&EN.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2012 American Chemical Society

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Plastic Perils

Published August 19, 2012 in the Borneo Post by Mary Margaret

STREAMS of plastic bottles, plastic bags, Styrofoam packaging and pails were swept past by the out-flowing current along with coconuts, palm fronds and other naturally decomposing debris. The debris might be caught in nets before being swept out to sea, or entangled in roots, or dropped along the beach, or end up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
FOR RECYCLING: Used plastic containers wait to be recycled.

Charles Moore found the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Gyre about 10 years ago. Since then it is estimated to have increased by 24,000 tonnes of plastic rubbish per year – larger than the American state of Texas. The rubbish is blown in off land, swept down rivers or tossed over board from ocean-going vessels.

Wildlife deaths are well documented. Turtles consume plastic bags, as they resemble jellyfish when floating in the ocean. Seabirds, including albatrosses, prey on plastic decimating the population in the northwest Hawaiian Islands – a marine sanctuary. Huge chunks of plastic are left among the decaying carcasses.

Plastic has changed marine ecosystems. A recent article in a British newspaper described how the marine insect Halobates sericeus, a species of water skater, is now using the floating plastic debris to lay their eggs on. Before the change in environmental conditions, these insects laid their eggs on shells and feathers, for example, and were generally found close to shore.

What have we done to reduce the risk of plastic? In Kuching some shops do not provide free plastic bags on Saturdays. Miri has taken the leap to ban plastic bags and if you need one you must buy it. Toronto, Canada and Los Angeles, USA have banned plastic bags, a step also taken by some institutions.

Saying no to plastic and bringing along your reusable shopping bags is well on the way to becoming the norm. The plastic bags that we might still receive tend to feel floury, and these are naturally biodegradable as one of the ingredients in this type of plastic is starch. And this type of plastic is produced in Kuching.

Floating plastic is trapped (netted) from the section of the Sarawak River that runs through Kuching and in Kota Kinabalu, helping to reduce the accumulation of plastic rubbish in our oceans.

Plastic was experimented with in the mid-1800s but really came into its own in the 20th century. This man-made material is made up of long repeating links of carbon, along with, generally, oxygen, sulphur or nitrogen. It is a miracle material that takes multiple shapes and lasts forever. Its strength is its weakness.

It is also a very variable type of material that can be classified by its chemical composition. Some of the common names are acrylics (acrylic paint), polyester (material for clothes) silicones, polyurethanes and halogenated plastics. Plastics can be classed by if they undergo a chemical change when heated.

Thermoplastics do undergo a chemical change when heated and so can re-moulded when recycled. However, the chemical compositions of thermosetting polymers change when heated.

The first step to reduce the amount of plastic pollution is to reduce its use. We have taken that step by saying no to plastic bags and using of reusable containers. What else can we do? All plastics can be recycled, even through it is not easy because of the variety and in complex items such as hand phones there may be many types.

Despite this, much ends up in landfill sites covered from ultraviolet light, staying and remaining intact. Plastics are sometimes incinerated for disposal. However, this leads to the release of dioxins into the air.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch sits accumulating plastic in the Northern Pacific Gyre, but how can it be cleaned up? In 2009, a group of scientists and waste managers went to see and develop techniques. The large pieces, for example toys, could be easily collected in nets or collecting containers, but the smaller pieces posed greater difficulty as collection could also harm marine life.

The next question was what to do with the tonnes of rubbish. Disposing of it in a landfill site moves the problem but one suggestion is to use pyrolysis; this involves heating the waste to 288 degrees Celsius in a vacuum to turn the waste into fuel – an expensive option.

Plastic, the miracle material of the 20th century has led to plastic perils, but it is a material we have come to depend on.

We use plastic almost everywhere – our homes, offices and workplaces, modes of transportation – tables, chairs, dishes, computers, hand phones, car bumpers, hiking equipment … I don’t suppose many days go by when we do not use plastic, but this miraculous man-made material causes so many problems.

Ocean Legislators: Impose Fee on Plastic Bags

Legislation is an environmental issue, legislators say


Posted on August 15, 2012 on Patch.com by Daniel Nee

Statement on proposed legislation from Ocean County's 10th District Legislators Senator Jim Holzapfel and Assemblymen Dave Wolfe and Greg McGuckin:

10th District Legislators, Senator Jim Holzapfel and Assemblymen Dave Wolfe and Greg McGuckin are signing on as sponsors of Senator Brian Stack’s (D-33) bill S-675 “Plastic and Paper Bag Reduction Act.”  This legislation would require certain retailers to provide recyclable, compostable or reusable bags instead of plastic or paper carryout bags.

Each year, billions of plastic bags are used in the United States and only a fraction of these bags are returned to the store for proper recycling.  These single-use plastic bags are a major concern of pollution in New Jersey, littering highway medians and waterway shorelines.

“I applaud Senator Stack’s bill which would impose a $0.10 fee for every carryout bag distributed beginning January 1, 2013,” said Senator Holzapfel.  “This fee would encourage customers to bring their own reusable bags when they visit a grocery or convenience store and eliminate our dependence on single-use plastic bags.”

According to the bill, the operator of every convenience store, drugstore, supermarket or retail establishment that provides plastic or paper carry out bags would be required to charge a $0.10 fee for every carryout bag. The fees collected would be used by the Department of Environmental Protection to defray the implementation and enforcement costs of the bill.

 “The pollution generated from plastic bags is growing at an alarming rate and education and recycling programs have only gone so far.  We need to take immediate action to ensure that consumers have an option when going to the grocery store and encourage them to start making a change now,” continued Assemblyman Wolfe.

 Senator Stack’s bill also requires the operator of the store to report quarterly to the DEP on the volume of plastic and paper carryout bags purchased and the total fees collected from the distribution of carry out bags.  A further proposal beginning in January 1, 2015 would require store operators to provide only compostable plastic bags or recyclable paper bags to its customers and would prohibit them from providing any non-compostable or non-recyclable bags to customers.

“This is not a Republican or Democrat issue.  This is an environmental issue that needs to be addressed now.  Jim, Dave and I will be writing to our Republican caucuses urging our fellow legislators to sign on and get this important bill passed in Trenton,” added Assemblyman McGuckin.

The shore legislators have also introduced multiple pieces of legislation in an effort to restore the Barnegat Bay.  In recent years, the waters of the Barnegat Bay have been severely impacted from pollution causing the ecosystems of the bay to diminish.  Restoring the Barnegat Bay is a major concern for the legislators and these bills are to help protect, preserve and remediate the Barnegat Bay estuary and its watershed.

The first bill, S-1250/A-407, is known as the “The Barnegat Bay Protection Act,” which establishes the Barnegat Bay Protection Fund, dedicates a portion of the sales tax on fertilizer, authorizes special license plates, and provides opportunities for donations to the fund.

The legislators have also sponsored S-221/A-393 which prohibits the use of urea for melting and removing ice. Urea is a commonly used nitrogen-producing substance found in fertilizers and other products for the removal of ice on sidewalks, driveways and roadways. The bill targets the problems caused by excess nitrogen from urea which can cause a chemical imbalance and endanger the ecosystem through water runoff and storm drain systems.

The final bill introduced by the legislators is S-218/A-406, which gives tax credits to residents who live within 1,000 feet of Barnegat Bay and its tributaries who replace grass lawns with stone, crushed shells or other similar materials.  Property owners who either replace their lawns or already have lawns with existing stone or crushed shell lawns would be eligible for a recurring annual tax credit of $250 against the State income tax.

Turning the Tide on Plastic Pollution With Art

Beauty can be found in the most unexpected of places. In a moving series of photographs, artist Mandy Barker turns the tragedy of marine plastic pollution into compelling works of art. Her series, SOUP, documents plastics salvaged from beaches around the world in an effort to bring attention to the need for better regulations of plastic production and disposal.

Although single-use plastics are widely recognized as one of the largest threats to our oceans, plastic pollution is even more nefarious than what washes up on our beaches daily. Those tiny pieces of plastic that you see on your trip to the shore this summer are sadly a symptom of a much larger problem. The bulk of the plastic debris in our oceans accumulates not on the beaches, where it is easily seen, but in giant "garbage patches," floating like minestrone soup thousands of miles off of our coasts. Suspended particles in the sea create a recipe for disaster harming animals and poisoning the food chain as a deadly "plastic soup."

Another artist turned conservationist, Chris Jordan uses his art to illustrate the sheer number of plastics littering our oceans. One of his pieces is made up of 2.4 million pieces of plastic. Why did he choose 2.4 million? Well unfortunately that is the estimated number of plastic in pounds that enter the world's oceans every hour.

Marine plastics have become both the focus, and the medium of choice, for artists around the world who are merging conservation with creativity to bring a new level of attention to the problem of marine plastic pollution.

From installations inspired by the tons of plastic in the great pacific garbage patch, to a beach-combing couple's take on how to transform trash into treasures, this new trend is a comment on the global concern over the state of our seas.

As a source of inspiration, oceans seems endless and powerful, but we now know that our oceans are far more vulnerable to human impacts than once believed. Unlike the limitless inspiration they provide, our oceans' resources are actually finite. Perhaps through their ingenious work, these artists can inspire us all to find a better way of treating our oceans in order to sustain their life-giving productivity and health.

Japanese artist, Motoi Yamamoto uses his sculptural salt installations to illustrate our relationship with the ocean. The giant sculptures, take over a hundred of hours to create and are made entirely of salt. In a tribute to impermanence, Yamamoto invites the public to help him as the salt is returned to the sea at the end of the exhibition. This returning of salt to the sea is a beautiful gesture.

John F. Kennedy once said:
"All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea -- whether it is to sail or to watch it -- we are going back from whence we came."
These words and Yamamoto's giant salt mandalas reverberate for me and perhaps suggest an alternative way for society to view the ocean. Not as a source for food, money, and recreation, but rather as a place to come home to, something that is intrinsically a part of us and deserves our very best care.

Now, more than ever, this care is something that we must commit to. We can transcend by turning the tide on marine plastics, and put an end to the trashing of our ocean ecosystems. The trend of re-visioning ocean trash into meaningful works of art, reminds me that we can still revise what the future holds for our oceans and ourselves. I hope you will join me in reaffirming your commitment to protecting our world's ocean ecosystems from plastic pollution.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Sea The Truth

Posted by Films For Action on Jul. 21, 2012
60 min - Documentary
Sea the Truth is based on numerous scientific publications that examine the problems of seas and oceans. Below follows an overview of the themes addressed in the film and a brief explanation.

According to a report of the New Zealand news channel 3News sea mammals, among which whales, are dying of malnutrition. The makers claim that this is caused by overfishing. Watch the report here:http://www.3news.co.nz/Deep-Trouble-/tabid/371/articleID/169002/Default.aspx

Fishing policy around the world is destructive. Recommendations from scientists on quotas are ignored by policy makers, wealthy countries plunder the fishing territories of poor countries and bottom trawlers sow destruction all over the seafloor with their dragnets. In Europe, 88% of fish stocks have been overharvested, such as the blue fin tuna which sadly is threatened with extinction.

In addition to the effect on the fish stocks, fishing also affects all other organisms in the same habitat or ecosystem. Whether the fish being harvested are predatory or prey, the balance of the ecosystem is disrupted and this can have serious consequences. The degree of disruption strongly depends on the fishing method employed.

The term bycatch has come to be used to refer to fish caught unintentionally when fishermen fish for commercial fish. These kinds of fish are not interesting to sell and as a consequence they are thrown back into the ocean either death or mutilated. The average bycatch worldwide is about 40.4% of the total amount of fish being caught. This means that 3 kilos of consumed fish brings about 2 kilos of bycatch. In total, 37 billion kilos of fish per year is wasted bycatch.

People once thought that fish could not feel anything when they are caught. This idea was probably motivated because fish are cold blooded; this is in contrast with humans who are warm blooded. However, the ability to feel pain does not have anything to do with body temperature. From research studying the behavior of fish, as well as the study of anatomy and physiology, it turns out that fish have feelings and are in fact able to feel pain. This means that the current methods to catch and kill fish are in truth a torture for fish, moreover captured fish die of suffocation: a process that can take up to several minutes or hours.

Between Hawaii and San Francisco floats an enormous amount of rubbish -- a plastic soup with a surface area of 8.6 million square kilometres. To compare: This is 33 times greater than the surface area of the Netherlands (41,528 km2). This plastic soup was 'discovered' by Charles Moore when he sailed through this area with his boat and found himself surrounded day in day out by plastic waste. He later returned with scientific equipment to determine the soup's total size. The plastic soup is a huge threat to a number of marine animals and mammals.

We're told we should eat fish twice a week as it is packed with nutrition. These healthy nutrients are however easily obtained from other food sources, whereas fish may also contain large amounts of toxins. Mercury and dioxins 'enjoy' the status of most researched toxins in fish.

12-Year-Old Takes on ‘Big Plastic’ With Petition

Posted by Ted Duboise on Plastic Bag Ban Report.com
Abby Goldberg. Photo courtesy of Environment Illinois.

CHICAGO, Illinois, July 10, 2012 (ENS) – People are still signing Abby Goldberg’s petition asking the governor of Illinois to veto a bill on his desk that would make it illegal for Illinois cities and towns to enact plastic bag bans.

When the 12-year-old Grayslake, Illinois student presented Governor Pat Quinn with her petition on July 3 it had 150,000 signatures. Today, a week later, there are 157,530 signatures on the petition at change.org. People are signing up at the rate of more than 1,000 per day.

“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 of Grayslake, IL,” writes Goldberg in the introduction to her petition.

“My friends and I were making great progress, until the oil and chemical industry pulled a dirty trick to kill my campaign; these lobbyists used the politicians that they bought to pass a bill that would make it illegal for towns across Illinois to create plastic bag bans!” she writes.

“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!’” writes Goldberg.

The bill, the Plastic Bag & Film Recycling Act, SB 3442, requires the recycling of plastic bags. It passed the Illinois House and Senate June 1. Governor Quinn has 60 days from that date to either veto the bill or sign it into law.

The bill is backed by the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which represents the plastic bag manufacturing and recycling industry.

The Alliance argues that recycling used plastic bags provides business opportunities for for Illinois consumers and the environment without added costs.

“Businesses will benefit from being able to sell used plastic bags, sacks and wraps to recyclers so that they can be turned into new products – like backyard decking, plumbing pipes, playground equipment, and even new plastic bags,” the Alliance wrote in a May 1 open letter to the lawmakers in Springfield.

“S.B. 3442 provides an easier means for more consumers to recycle their used plastic bags, sacks and wraps by requiring bag manufacturers to supply more recycling bin locations and setting minimum recycling rate requirements,” the Alliance wrote. “By setting a statewide standard for recycling, Illinois will avoid having a patchwork of local laws that burden consumers and businesses.”

Plastic bags are 100 percent recyclable and are re-used by nine out of ten Americans, the Alliance argues. “They are made primarily from clean natural gas, and plastic bag manufacturing and recycling supports more than 30,000 manufacturing jobs across the nation – with 3,000 workers in Illinois alone.” “…we hope this legislation becomes a model bill for legislatures across the nation,” the Alliance wrote.

But the 12-year-old has set her sights on the defeat of S.B. 3442. Her petition is called “Gov. Quinn: Don’t Let Big Plastic Bully Me!”

Goldberg wrote that she is “especially angry” that the American Progressive Bag Alliance has said that SB 3442 could be “a model bill” for all states.

“That means that they could push their corporate interests all over America, preventing kids like me and towns like mine from taking action to stop pollution,” Goldberg wrote.

“Well, the corporations may be afraid of me, but I’m not afraid of them. I know that if thousands of people sign my petition, Governor Quinn will see that the public doesn’t want these big corporations telling our towns what we can and cannot do,” wrote Goldberg. “And when we win, that veto will be a signal to Big Plastic that they had better not expect to take their bill to other states without a fight.”

Goldberg has some powerful backers on her side too.

With her at Governor Quinn’s office to deliver the petition were Champaign, Illinois Mayor Don Gerard, whose City Council supported charging a fee for bags; Chicago Alderman Joe Moreno, the sponsor of a Chicago bag ban ordinance; Chicago Recycling Coalition President Mike Nowak and Environment Illinois’s Max Muller; along with Sierra Club Illinois Director Jack Darin, and Jared Teutsch of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

Governor Quinn has not said whether he will veto S.B. 3442 or not.

Goldberg is hopeful. “I had no idea it was going to get that many signatures,” she told the “Chicago Tribune” on Sunday. “It’s so amazing.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.
PHOTO: Abby Goldberg speaks to the media after delivering 150,000 signatures to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, July 3, 2012 (Photo courtesy Environment Illinois)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How Much Plastic Trash Clogs the Ocean? Exhibit Offers Insights

Posted on theblogaqauatic from the Ocean Conservancy

How do you explain the magnitude of the ocean trash problem, particularly to people in a landlocked country like Switzerland? Put a representative sampling right in front of them.

Check out this video of a crew setting up an installation that’s part of the fantastic exhibit “Out to Sea? The Plastic Garbage Project” at the Museum für Gestaltung in Zurich, Switzerland (soon going on tour). You can see it took some time.

Unfortunately, every 15 seconds this same amount of trash enters the ocean, according to estimates from the United Nations Environment Programme.

The trash was shipped from the Hawaiian island of Kaho’olawe, where thirty volunteers spent just four days picking up this huge amount—3 tons. This massive pile includes things we all use every day, things that find their way to the water no matter where we live.

Once in the water, trash threatens everything from wildlife to coastal economies.
Learn more about the project on Facebook. And in the comments section below, consider listing one way you’ll reduce your trash today.

Tsunami debris highlights growth of Pacific trash vortex

Published August 8th, 2012 By Kate Webb in the metronews Vancouver

Metro/Courtesy The Ocean Voyages Institute The crew of the Keisei hauled every type of plastic bottle, container, and net out of the ocean during a recent cleanup and research expedition.
The crew of a ship running expeditions to catalogue and clean up a massive patch of garbage in the Pacific Ocean was sailing off the Oregon coast last month when it found a huge piece of a dock believed to be wreckage from the Japanese tsunami.

They are hoping public interest in the tsunami debris that has been washing up all along the West Coast of North America will spark a movement to fund a large-scale cleanup of the world’s oceans.

Mary Crowley, founder of The Ocean Voyages Institute, said no one really knows how much plastic is in the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” despite reports that it is fast approaching an area twice the size of Texas.

“They’re doing that to try to give people a sense of it, but the fact is, the gyre [vortex] covers a huge area,” she said. “The gyre starts 500, 600 miles off our West Coast and goes 500, 600 miles off the coast of Asia. It’s about the size of the continental U.S. So when they talk about the size of Texas, they’re talking about if it were all together.”

No one knows the full extent of its impact on wildlife, but it is estimated hundreds of thousands of birds and marine mammals die each year from ingesting pieces of plastic and getting tangled in free-floating fishing nets.

Speaking at the Britannia Heritage Shipyard in Richmond Wednesday, Crowley called on the U.N. to create an emergency task force of ships ready to respond in natural disasters such as floods and tsunamis, to stem the growth of the already vast chemical soup.

“It would have been much easier to clean it up when it was all sitting together off of Japan,” she explained.

See what they found inside jellyfish in 2009:

She said much of the garbage is carried out to sea from coastal cities around the world when it rains. Other expeditions have turned up jagged pieces of plastic that have been through a crusher, she added, suggesting some places are simply using rivers and oceans as their dumping grounds.

The results, in hard-hit places such as Hawaii, she said, are beaches strewn with litter, and toxins making their way up the foodchain and onto dinner plates everywhere.

The Institute’s 46-metre tall ship, the Kaisei, which means Ocean Planet in Japanese, will be on display this weekend as part of the Richmond Maritime Festival, before it departs early next week on another tsunami debris cleanup expedition.

Metro/Courtesy The Ocean Voyages Institute

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Method Turns Ocean Trash Into Packaging

Published  August 3rd, 2012 By Paul Smith on triplepundit.com
 recycling Method innovation Hawaii Great Pacific Garbage Patch
By now, much of the world has heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. For the uninitiated, it’s a huge island of trash in the central Pacific, a majority of it said to be composed of fast food packaging. There’s been a lot of work done to measure it and analyze it. But there’s not been much movement around what to actually do with what’s already there.

Until now.
Cleaning product company Method has come up with a novel way to take action, while engaging the communities affected by it. Hawaii’s beaches are frequently the final destination for debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as the winds and currents carrying the garbage there. Method hosted numerous beach cleanups during National Oceans Month, linking up employees, customers and volunteers from non-profits Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and Kokua Hawai’i Foundation. They collected more than 3000 pounds of usable plastic material.

But whereas most ocean cleanups just move the trash from the coast to the dump, Method went further, and is incorporating it into its already 100% post consumer packaging for its new Sea Minerals line.

This is not only beneficial to the environment, it’s a smart move as a business, as it clearly demonstrates its commitment to innovatively make an impact, together with several stakeholder groups. It meaningfully differentiates Method from other companies and is a highly shareable story for participants to pass on, both at the time of the cleanups and when the resulting products hit the shelves.

Method is clear that one initiative alone cannot solve the issue of ocean pollution, but that by doing something unique and beneficial, it will draw more awareness to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  On the business side, as Method puts it, their intention is to, “…use our business to demonstrate smart ways of using and reusing the plastics that are already on the planet.”

This is where the real impact can be made, as it will give other companies the courage to explore similar options, now that they have an in the field product that shows something can now be done with this previously unsolvable issue.

Readers: What other initiatives to address the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have you seen out there? What else do you envision being done? Would your company pursue such initiatives as Method has?
via Inhabitat

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, global trend tracker, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing.

Teens aim to educate on dangers of plastic pollution

Teens aim to educate on dangers of plastic pollution
Megan and Kimberly Chang-Haines from Carlsbad are working to educate people on the dangers of plastic pollutions. Courtesy photo 
CARLSBAD — Teen philanthropy is on the rise and two Carlsbad sisters are riding the wave.

Armed with global awareness knowledge, they opened the doors to their nonprofit, New Ocean Blue, last year.

The Chang-Haines sisters educate others on the dangers of plastic pollution in the ocean, while rallying their peers toward a quest for positive action to protect the waters.

“After learning a little about the issue of plastic pollution, we were immediately hooked,” Megan Chang-Haines, 15, said. “We realized in a very short period of time that this was a huge issue. We began to immerse ourselves in the information and research as much as possible.”

The girls didn’t just haphazardly start a nonprofit. Megan said they developed contacts who guided them along the way so they could be as successful as possible.

This year, the sisters delivered the nonprofit mission to their campus at Pacific Ridge School.

“We decided to expand New Ocean Blue by integrating it into the school as a way to reach a wider audience and to educate people whom we interact with on a daily basis,” said Kimberly Chang-Haines, 17.

“New Ocean Blue’s mission is primarily to educate the population, specifically the younger generation, about the dangers of plastic pollution. Plastic is all around us and in nearly every daily object that we use.”

Kimberly said their nonprofit wants to help people to reconsider their actions while also switching over to nonplastic items.

Some easy examples include using reusable sandwich containers instead of plastic bags; cloth shopping bags instead of plastic bags; and stainless steel water bottles versus plastic.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Debris Program, nearly 100,000 marine mammals perish because of “trash related deaths” per year.

Megan describes plastic pollution as a critical issue because its lifespan is enormous. Experts are still grappling with the timeframe.

“As a result, plastic is piling up on our planet — every bit of plastic that has ever been manufactured is still around,” Megan said.

A driving force for these sisters is how plastic pollution directly effects both their generation and future generations.

Kimberly wants people to know that pollution is a continuing problem for both waterways and oceans. It negatively impacts environmental health.

“According to Dan Imhoff, author of ‘Paper or Plastic,’ a plastic bag, something that is used briefly then thrown away, is the No. 1 consumer product in the world,” Kimberly said. She continued, “Because plastic does not degrade in our lifetime, every piece created is still somewhere here on our earth.”

In the San Diego’s Tijuana River Valley during the dry season, the sisters said, plastic trash can pile up to four feet. And when it rains, this trash washes away into the sea.

Kimberly and Megan’s mother, Silvia Chang, is extremely proud of her daughters for shouldering this environmental responsibility.

“They have taken this organization from the concept stage to implementation themselves and spend a significant number of hours in their free time carrying out their mission,” said Silvia, adding that her daughters have always been inquisitive. “I believe that they understand that they can have an impact on the world around them and that they should not be complacent.”

Chang said her daughters helped open her eyes when it comes to plastic pollution and their passion for the cause has enlightened her.

Megan believes that people are still not fully aware of plastic and its negativity.

“If we do not start addressing this problem now, in the future the problem may be insurmountable and the impact on our environment and health may be irreversible,” Megan said.

To learn more about New Ocean Blue, including its appearance at upcoming events, visit newoceanblue.org.

SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Parks eliminate plastic bags

Published: August 8th, 2012 By Heather Caliendo in Plastics Today
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment will remove plastic shopping bags at all its theme parks within the next year making it the largest theme park operator to make this commitment.

Park gift shops will offer paper bags made from 100% recycled paper or guests can choose to purchase reusable bags.
The company said this move will keep an estimated four million plastic bags from entering landfills and the environment each year. Approximately 1.4 billion tons of trash, including plastic bags, enters the ocean annually, the company stated. Wildlife such as endangered sea turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, one of their favorite foods.

"SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment has a long history of actively supporting sea turtle conservation and rescues hundreds of these animals each year in the wild that have been impacted by human behavior," a SeaWorld spokesperson told PlasticsToday. "This change is natural for us and provides an opportunity to communicate to guests how they, too, can help make a difference for these animals."

The company began exploring the concept at SeaWorld San Diego in 2011, when the park discontinued the use of plastic gift bags to mark the opening of its new Turtle Reef attraction.

"The response to this commitment from team members, guests and the general public has been extremely positive," the spokesperson said.

Will other theme parks follow suit? Walt Disney World has considered switching to just paper but according to the Orlando Sentinel, the company found that "plastic bags are more durable and that humidity can make it difficult to adequately store paper bags."

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, headquartered in Orlando, FL, owns and operates SeaWorld Orlando, SeaWorld SanAntonio, SeaWorld San Diego, Busch Gardens Tampa, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Discovery Cove and Aquatica in Orlando, Adventure Island in Tampa, Water Country USA in Williamsburg and Sesame Place in Langhorne, PA near Philadelphia.

"This is a significant change for our company, one we hope will provide a model for our industry overall," said Jim Atchison, president and CEO of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. "Eliminating plastic bags is an important statement about our commitment to the environment, as well as the need to help protect marine animals from debris. It also allows our guests to play a direct part in making a difference on our planet."

Plastic problem plagues Pacific, researchers say

Published: August 08, 2012 By Martin van den Hemel - Richmond Review

"Everybody is part of the problem and everybody can be part of the solution." said Project Kaisei co-founder Mary Crowley, who spoke at a press conference Wednesday about the research efforts aboard the Japanese brigantine research vessel Kaisei. It's currently docked at Britannia Heritage Shipyard and will remain here for this weekend's Richmond Maritime Festival before departing next week.

Crowley, in town with the visiting Kaisei to raise awareness about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, said that although scientists don't know for sure, the plastic vortex is thought to be the size of the state of Texas, perhaps twice as large.

It consists of discarded plastic detergent bottles, water bottles, and other everyday plastic objects.

"It's like looking at your own garbage, spread out through the ocean," she told reporters.

"You can see a lot of sea life is ingesting the plastic," Crowley said, explaining a video she presented which shows that plastic containers slowly break up into smaller pieces, and some are eventually ingested by sea life, such as jelly fish.

Aside from killing marine life, researchers fear the plastic is entering the human food chain, something researchers hope to verify and demonstrate.

Crowley said the floating garbage patch continues  to grow "due to poor waste management practices on land and sea."

Rather than one solid floating mass, she described the oceanic debris field as "like an archipelago of little islands."

Coun. Harold Steves urged consumers to do their part and stop drinking bottled water, and said hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on infrastructure to make Lower Mainland tap water clean and safe.
He wondered why thermoses and paper grocery bags are less trendy today.

"The insidious thing about plastics is that it lasts for hundreds of years," he said. "We need to make using thermoses cool again."

According to the Ocean Voyages Institute, only about five per cent of the world's plastics are recycled.

With 260 million tons of plastic produced globally each year, Crowley fears the garbage patch could double in size in the next decade.

The Kaisei departed San Francisco on July 4 and about 300 miles off the coast of Washington and Oregon made a shocking discovery: a massive amount of debris thought to have originated from the tsunami in Japan and that's been heading towards North America's west coast since March 11, 2011.

Crowley hoped that media coverage about the advancing debris field from Japan's tsunami would raise awareness about the problem of garbage congesting the Pacific Ocean.

Mary Crowley, Executive Director and founder of the Ocean Voyages Institute, steers the tall ship Kaisei, which has just returned from the North Pacific where crew members tracked and salvaged manmade debris found floating in the area known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. (CARMINE MARINELLI/ 24 HOURS)There's a massive vortex of plastic debris growing daily in the Pacific Ocean, a mountainous problem that will require an equally immense global effort to find the solution.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Grocery stores ready as Bellingham plastic bag ban starts this week

published July 29, 2012 on thenewstribune.com by Dave Gallagher

Sue McGroddy of Sudden Valley loads groceries into her car in a reusable tote box from The Market on Lakeway Drive, Thursday, July 26, 2012 in Bellingham. The Market on Lakeway Drive have sold reusable tote boxes for two weeks in anticipation of the plastic bag ban in Bellingham grocery stores. (NICK GONZALES/THE BELLINGHAM HERALD)
While Bellingham's single-use plastic bag ban is expected to take some time for shoppers to get used to, local stores appear ready to make the shift this week.

The bag ban starts Wednesday, Aug. 1. Shoppers will either have to bring in reusable bags or pay a nickel for each paper bag they need at checkout.

The biggest impact among businesses will be at grocery stores, where single-use plastic bags have been commonplace in recent years. Those stores are not only ready for the ban but are welcoming it.

"Overall I think it's a good thing," said Sue Cole, a spokeswoman for The Markets LLC. "We want to be part of the solution."

Aside from stopping the use of single-use plastic bags, the biggest adjustment for grocery stores is the self-checkout section. For many stores, the checkout computer will prompt the customer with a question about whether they need paper bags and how many. Grocery stores will have staff on hand to help with the self-checkout stations, but this change will have a consumer self-regulation aspect to it as they decide how many paper bags they might need before checking out.

Stores like Fred Meyer also have been working out the kinks when it comes to weighing reusable bags at the start of the self-checkout process, said Melinda Merrill, a spokeswoman for Fred Meyer.

"When you put your bag on the scale at the beginning of the transaction, the computer knows it and asks you if you're using your own bag," Merrill said. "It may not be perfect all the time, but our employees have handheld devices that alert them to any problems so they can override it quickly."

The ban also means an uptick in reusable bag sales, which are already taking place in local stores. Haggen stores recently introduced locally designed bags, receiving input from Squalicum High School students and artwork from area students.

Glen Foresman, vice president of retail services at Haggen Inc., said reusable bag sales could at times be used as a fundraising tool, something they've done in the past with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Along with its own reusable bags, The Markets LLC recently introduced cardboard totes that hold four properly packed bags, providing stability for the groceries in cars. The company also introduced Chico reusable bags, which can be stuffed into a pocket.

While reusable bags sales are up, grocery stores are also putting in extra orders of paper bags. When the city of Edmonds banned plastic bags two years ago, one of the lessons learned from that was to have extra paper bags on hand at the beginning, said Foresman.

"After about two weeks, it became a non-event in Edmonds," Foresman said. "I think it will be the same thing here in Bellingham."

With areas like Edmonds and Seattle putting in similar plastic bag bans and the resulting publicity around it, awareness is expected to be less of an issue for Bellingham residents. Cole and Foresman also credited the group Bag It Bellingham with helping to get the word out about the upcoming ban.

"We think most of our customers are very aware of this (ban)," Foresman said.

The bag ban may come as a surprise to Canadian shoppers. Merrill said employees at the two Fred Meyer stores have expressed concern that Canadians aren't aware yet.

"There may be a bit of a surprise factor for the first few days," Merrill said, referring to Canadian visitors.

One of the initial challenges for customers is to remember to bring their bags, which is another reason stores will be stocking up on paper bags in the first few days.

"I think for the first week or two we'll get a lot of 'Oh, I left my bags in my car' type of comments," Cole said.

For further details about the Bellingham single-use plastic bag ban, including an extensive informational section for retailers, visit the city of Bellingham's website.

Read more here: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2012/07/29/2230046/grocery-stores-ready-as-bellingham.html#storylink=cpy

Ship Tracking Tsunami Debris, Ocean Trash Makes Stop in BC

Marine litter a growing problem, but cleanup plans are in the works

published in TheEpochTimes August 7, 2012 by Joan Delaney
The tall ship Kaisei, seen here docked in Richmond after several weeks of tracking debris and gathering research on the Great Pacific Patch and the Japanese tsunami. The findings will be presented at the Richmond Maritime Festival Aug. 10-12. (Courtesy of City of Richmond)
The tall ship Kaisei, seen here docked in Richmond after several weeks of tracking debris and gathering research on the Great Pacific Patch and the Japanese tsunami. The findings will be presented at the Richmond Maritime Festival Aug. 10-12. (Courtesy of City of Richmond)

After several weeks of tracking floating debris from last year’s Japanese tsunami as well as debris from the North Pacific Gyre, the tall ship Kaisei has arrived in Richmond, B.C.

The Kaisei is the primary research vessel for San Francisco-based Project Kaisei, an international program dedicated to raising awareness and implementing solutions to the growing problem of marine debris.

The research gleaned during the Kaisei’s latest voyage will be presented at the Richmond Maritime Festival from August 10 to 12, where the public will be able to board the 46-metre brigantine and learn firsthand about her environmental mission.

We see [marine debris] as a major global epidemic that is affecting the health of the ocean.

— Project Kaisei co-founder Mary Crowley
There will also be a series of question-and-answer talks led by Project Kaisei staff and scientists, including co-founder Mary Crowley, as well as video screenings highlighting the project’s latest research.

Crowley, executive director of the Ocean Voyages Institute, the non-profit that operates the Kaisei, says the problem of marine debris is worrisome, given its detrimental effect on marine life and the overall health of the world’s oceans.

“I personally, and our organization, have been extremely concerned with the global issue of ocean trash, because in all of the world’s oceans we are getting more and more proliferation of mainly plastic—just all this plastic that never goes away and is really bad for sea life,” Crowley told The Epoch Times.

According to UN estimates, at least 80 percent of litter in the sea comes from land-based sources.

“I mean, there’s 330,000—at least—marine mammals being killed every year by either ingesting plastics or getting entangled in them. So whales and dolphins and seals and all sorts of things are getting killed.”

According to UN estimates, at least 80 percent of litter in the sea comes from land-based sources.

Much of this waste ends up in the North Pacific Gyre, more infamously known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a large expanse of remote open ocean where four currents converge, acting as a catalyst in collecting floating materials.

The gyre has become home to huge fields of plastic and other debris from both North America and Asia, and represents one of the world’s great environmental challenges in terms of the scope and scale of the debris.

“We see [marine debris] as a major global epidemic that is affecting the health of the ocean,” says Fowler.

Tsunami Debris

The hundreds of tons of debris swept into the sea by the Japanese tsunami, which is currently floating across the Pacific and beginning to wash up on shores along the west coast of North America, “just adds another layer of bad things happening for the ocean,” Fowler notes.

“I think the issue of the tsunami debris is a very serious one for the ocean and a very serious one for shipping. And in our studying of it, we would like to be proponents of going out there and doing clean-up—getting as much of it out of the ocean as possible.”
Kaisei crew members cut through ocean debris before hauling it aboard. (Ocean Voyages Institute/Project Kaisei)
Kaisei crew members cut through ocean debris before hauling it aboard. (Ocean Voyages Institute/Project Kaisei)

As well as tracking the debris, the Kaisei is taking large water samples that will be tested at the University of Hawaii to discover the degree of radioactivity being spread throughout the Pacific.

While the tsunami debris itself hasn’t been shown to have significant levels of radiation, Crowley says radioactivity continues to be dumped into the ocean from the Fukishima nuclear plant.

“After the tsunami a great deal of radioactivity was dumped into the ocean, but the fact is it’s continued to be dumped into the ocean—it’s being dumped into the ocean today,” she says.

“It’s a general belief that the ocean is so large that the radioactivity spreads out and becomes insignificant, but I think there’s a limit.”

On its return trip to San Francisco, the Kaisei will conduct further research on large fields of tsunami debris it encountered off the west coast of the U.S. on its voyage north to Richmond.

“When we do our return voyage, we’ve allowed quite a lot of time to survey off the coast of Washington and Oregon to follow up on some of the sightings we took coming north, and spending more time doing a pattern through the area recording the debris and picking up debris as is appropriate, etc.,” Fowler says.

The Kaisei team is also studying the effects of Persistent Organic Pollutants, or POPs, from collected samples. Land activities and leachates from marine debris are sources of pollutants that can negatively affect marine life and human health.

Cleaning Up

This was Kaisei’s third voyage to the garbage patch, and on each trip the crew salvaged a good deal of ocean trash, but much more needs to be done, says Fowler.

To that end, Project Kaisei has partnered with Covanta Energy, an international waste-to-energy company that can convert ocean waste into fuel or energy.
A plastic container and other ocean garbage picked up by the Kaisei. (Ocean Voyages Institute/Project Kaisei)
A plastic container and other ocean garbage picked up by the Kaisei. (Ocean Voyages Institute/Project Kaisei)

“I think from the point of view of being responsible and caring about the health of the ocean and the health of the planet that clean-up is imperative, and it also is necessary to be sure that everything that’s cleaned up is being recycled and repurposed. And we definitely are able to accomplish that,” Fowler says.

Project Kaisei is also working with researchers from the University of Hawaii—experts in ocean current patterns who can direct the ship to areas containing debris.

In addition, Fowler has assembled a think-tank consisting of naval architects, marine engineers, fishermen, sailors, and ocean industry representatives to help come up with a plan for the most effective ways to do a major clean-up.

“We’ve actually come a long way in a couple of years, putting all the pieces in place,” she says, adding that the project is currently looking for funding to do a series of clean-up expeditions.

“We have people from Europe, people from India, people from South America all coming to us and asking for the most effective ways to do clean-up,” she says.

“My think-tank really feels that we have to do a couple of big expeditions and then we will happily release all the information and consult with and help people around the world, because that’s what we want to do is inspire people in all different parts of the world to do clean-up.”

The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 19 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.


Plastic-Eating Underwater Drone Could Swallow the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

published July 24, 2012 on popsci.com by Rebecca Boyle
Underwater Plastic Capture The Marine Drone can autonomously swallow plastic garbage floating in the ocean, containing it in nets suspended between unbreakable buoys. Elie Ahovi and Adrien Lefebvre
A new underwater drone concept could seek and destroy one of the ocean’s most insidious enemies, while earning a profit for plastics recyclers. This marine drone can siphon plastic garbage, swallowing bits of trash in a gaping maw rivaling that of a whale shark.

Industrial design student Elie Ahovi, who previously brought us the Orbit clothes washer concept, now presents the Marine Drone, an autonomous electric vehicle that tows a plastic-trapping net. The net is surrounded by a circular buoy to balance the weight of the garbage it collects. It discourages fish and other creatures from entering its jaws via an annoying sonic transmitter, and it communicates with other drones and with its base station using sonar.
The system could stay underwater for two weeks, sipping tiny plastic shards and entire plastic bottles. As its batteries drain, it can return to an ocean base, where human crews will haul it up and empty the plastic for recycling. The project is a response to a challenge from France-based environmental services firm Veolia, which asked students to come up with ways to tackle the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Ahovi, Adrien Lefebvre and fellow students developed several schematics, including a concept that looks much like a whale shark. The main iteration is more cylindrical.

Along with cleaning the oceans, the trash drone could yield profits for companies seeking to reduce petroleum use and recycle plastics, Ahovi says. Unless someone builds an island out of the Pacific patch, this cleanup concept could be a real solution.

Pacific Garbage Patch Drone: Human crews would catch and empty the autonomous garbage collectors, and the plastic they captured could be recycled for future use.  Elie Ahovi and Adrien Lefebvre

California: A Styrofoam State of Mind

posted August 7th, 2012 in the Huffington Post by Mathew Spiegl

The promise of a clean environment -- some people demand it, most expect it, a few deny it, but we all deserve it. So why is styrofoam* (expanded polystyrene foam) still polluting our tiny blue planet?

Before it ever makes it into our creeks and streams and rivers and the ocean; before it ever covers our beaches and parks and playgrounds; before it ever litters our streets and highways and clogs our storm drains; before it ever makes it into the stomachs of birds and marine life that starve and die; the plastic industry lobbyists do their dirty deed peddling foam cups and to-go food ware from behind closed doors, in secret hallways, and the darkest corners of the California State Capitol; leaving a metaphorical trail of foam litter swirling around at their feet like a plastic gyre in a snow globe as they move from one legislator to another.

We don't live in a snow globe, the environment is not a toy, and there is nothing innocent or pristine about the scene that is going to be played out in Sacramento in the next few weeks. We live in the real world, a world facing serious environmental threats from plastic pollution.
See the world through the eyes of child, because that is who we are doing this for.

But like a snow globe, nothing is going to happen in California, or anywhere else, unless we shake things up.

Shaking things up is what California is about to do as it stands to become the first in the nation to pass a statewide ban on expanded polystyrene foam to-go food ware. Senate Bill 568 by Senator Alan Lowenthal is the groundbreaking piece of legislation that can do it. The bill is cosponsored by Clean Water Action and the Surfrider Foundation.

Last year the SB 568 passed the Senate and made it to the Assembly floor, but the votes just weren't there. Now the bill has one last chance; a window of opportunity has opened. The California Legislature reconvened on Aug. 6, 2012, and the Assembly has until Aug. 31, to vote on the bill. If it passes and is signed by Governor Brown, it will be an environmental game changer for California and the rest of the world.

Demand and production of polystyrene food ware is already declining due to consumer preference for a better product made from alternative, biodegradable and compostable materials. If SB 568 passes, it will boost job growth in California related to manufacturing non-foam packaging.

But is California up to the challenge? Is it still the Golden State? Can it take the lead and show the world how the environment and the economy can coexist and prosper by forging new collaborative alliances?

Are Governor Brown and the Legislature willing to do what it takes to provide incentives to attract new entrepreneurs who will create new jobs and develop new markets for the new environmentally sustainable products that everyone now wants?

The only thing standing in the way of this landmark piece of legislation is a handful of members in the State Assembly (both Republican and Democrat), who are willing to obstruct the public consensus, and jeopardize the public good, by placing their own political aspirations above social responsibility and environmental stewardship.

Imagine the shame of a member of the State Assembly who opposes SB 568, but wants to represent a portion of the Big Sur coast; the iconic coastline that inspired great literary works by Steinbeck, Stevenson and Jeffers, and photographs by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston.

Picture "the greatest meeting of land and water in the world" (Point Lobos) littered with polystyrene foam because the Assembly member who represents that stretch of California's coast did the bidding for the plastic industry instead of the people he represents.

If a politician says to you that we just can't do this right now, and starts to look the other way, make them look into the eyes of child, because that is who we are doing this for, and it's just too important to wait.

If our elected representatives have any doubt that this is the right thing to do, or the right time to do it; if they don't fully appreciate what's at stake, then they haven't given it enough thought, and they need to think again.

This is our world to change, but it's the children's world to inherit, and we must make it a better place for the next generation. There are now more than 60 cities and counties in California that haven't waited for Sacramento to act; they have taken the initiative and forged ahead with their own polystyrene foam bans because they understand what's at stake for future generations.

The leaders of these local grassroots movements aren't environmental extremists; they're soccer moms and blue-collar dads who care about their children and recognize the perils of our convenience driven society and the bleak future their children and our planet will face under a suffocating blanket of plastic pollution if we don't do something bold and decisive now.

In May 2011, a Los Angeles Times editorial, stated that SB 568 should be passed, noting that the impact on eateries and consumers is tiny, while the cleanup of plastic ocean trash is imperative.

In February 2012, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously (14 to 0) to support SB 568.

In a May 1, 2012 editorial, the San Jose Mercury News said that Silicon Valley must do its part to reduce plastic in the oceans by addressing the issue of single use plastic bags and foam food ware; a week later, the San Jose City Council adopted a position supporting SB 568, but not before the city's environmental services department determined that there was no indication of adverse business or other negative economic effects related to the banning of polystyrene foam food ware as explained here.

Some major figures in the ocean conservation community are also weighing in on the issue and urging the Legislature to act. A few months ago, legendary ocean explorer and environmentalist, Jean-Michel Cousteau gave me an exclusive statement regarding his support for styrofoam bans, including SB 568; his words are eloquent and powerful and should be read by all. His entire statement can be found here.
... to successfully and unconditionally prevent the degradation of our environment, we as a people, as a society, must change our ways. Specifically, we must recognize the harm caused by discarding styrofoam, and stop it... if styrofoam is banned -- if styrofoam is not available to litter and end up in our landfills -- we are all better off... In other words, in our efforts to preserve and protect our planet, let's use all realistic and obvious capabilities. Banning styrofoam is one of those capabilities...
-- Jean-Michel Cousteau, President Ocean Futures Society (April 12, 2012)
Governor Brown and the members of the Assembly would do well to heed Jean-Michel's words. It's time for the governor to show some leadership on this issue, and to impress upon the members of the Assembly that the cost to California, the cost to the taxpayers, the cost the environment, and most importantly, the cost to our children and future generations, that is being levied by the single-use disposable plastic industry, and the litter and pollution it leaves behind, is far too great to ignore any longer.

Californians simply can't afford to live in a styrofoam state of mind.

(*Styrofoam is a registered trademark of the DOW Chemical Company. "Styrofoam" is commonly, although mistakenly, used by the general public as a generic term for expanded polystyrene foam or EPS food ware products such as foam cups and clamshell take-out containers.)

Follow Matthew Spiegl on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MatthewSpiegl