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!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Plastic Debris in Oceans has Spawned a 'Plastisphere' of Organisms

Published in Environment 360, November 13th, 2013

The plastic debris that litters the world's oceans has developed its own unique and diverse microbial ecosystem, which scientists have dubbed the "plastisphere." READ MORE 

Members of the rich microbial ecosystem living on plastic debris are shown in these scanning electron microscope images: a) a diatom and bacterial filaments; b) filamentous cyanobacteria; c) a predatory ciliate in foreground covered with symbiotic bacteria (inset), along with diatoms, bacteria, and filamentous cells; d) microbial cells that have pitted the surface of a piece of plastic debris. All scale bars are 10 micrometers. (Image credit: Zettler, et al., Environmental Science & Technology)

The plastic debris that litters the world's oceans has developed its own unique and diverse microbial ecosystem, researchers report. The microscopic community, which scientists dubbed the "plastisphere," includes more than 1,000 species of algae, bacteria, microscopic plants, symbiotic microbes, and possibly even pathogens, the researchers say in Environmental Science & Technology

Some of the plastisphere microbes, many of which had never before been documented, contain genes that could help break down hydrocarbons, indicating the microbes may play a role in degrading the debris, the research shows. Plastic trash is the most abundant type of debris in the ocean, inflicting harm on fish, birds, and marine mammals that are entangled by it or ingest it. 

Until now, researchers hadn't looked at microbes living on the debris, which make up a sort of artificial "microbial reef," one of the scientists said. The organisms on the plastic debris were different from the microbial communities living on driftwood, feathers, and other natural items floating in the ocean, and also different from the assemblage of microbes living in open water, the researchers report.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Another Texas Town Bans Plastic Bags

Surfrider Foundation

Published on ecowatch.com By Bill Hickman - July, 31, 2013

Surfrider chapters typically focus their plastic reduction efforts in coastal cities and towns since that’s where our members are who see the impacts of plastic pollution firsthand and want to take action. You have to start somewhere and as a grassroots organization, that somewhere is our backyard.

But it’s important to remember that everywhere on land is part of a watershed that flows to a river, creek or stream that then outlets in a lake, bay or ocean. So it’s great to see inland cities making efforts to reduce single-use plastic bags and the latest good news comes from the west Texas city of Kermit where a reusable bag ordinance has been enacted.

In addition to marine impacts, plastic bags can be a big nuisance for farmers. I recently spoke with some Surfrider activists in Texas who mentioned that cotton farmers can take a financial hit from plastic bag litter because it can taint their crop as it is processed by mills:

Bags find their way into farmers’ fields and then into modules of cotton. The bags go through the gin and textile mills and have even ended up in finished apparel. One thing that I would really like to emphasize this fall is to watch for those Wal-Mart bags in your fields. It’s almost humorous, but it’s dead serious. One mill in the east quit buying cotton in Georgia and the Carolinas because of it.

Kermit recently passed a type of reusable bag ordinance that eliminates plastic checkout bags at most retailers and puts a small fee on paper bags as an incentive for people to remember their reusable bag or go without a bag for small purchases. The City of Kermit website does a great job to explain the ordinance and why it’s needed:

Q: What kind of plastic bag is banned?
Plastic carryout bags include any bag made of plastic (from any source), which is provided to the customer at the point of sale.

Q: What kind of plastic bag is NOT banned?
Produce bags and product bags are bags without handles used exclusively to carry produce, meats or other food items to the point of sale or to prevent such food items from coming into direct contact with other purchased items.

Q: Why has the City of Kermit banned single-use plastic carryout bags?
The intent of the single-use carryout bag ordinance is to significantly reduce the environmental impacts related to single-use plastic and paper carry out bags and promote a major shift towards the use of reusable bags.

Q: How are single-use plastic carryout bags harmful to the environment?
They are consumed in extremely high volumes. They are produced from non-renewable resources. They are designed to be disposable (rather than reusable). They are difficult to recycle—less than 5 percent of the 19 billion plastic bags used annually in Texas are actually recycled. They are a significant and visible component of litter and do not biodegrade. They remain in the environment as marine, storm drain and beach pollution for decades. A significant hazard to ranch animals and birds, which often mistake plastic bags as food.

Q: Is there any exception to this ban?
The ordinance does NOT prohibit the distribution of plastic product bags such as those distributed within a grocery store for bagging produce or meat.

Q: What stores are required to charge 10 cents for each recycled paper bag?
All grocery stores, convenience stores, minimarts, liquor stores, drug stores and pharmacies are prohibited from providing free distribution of single-use paper and plastic carryout bags. If these stores decide to make paper carryout bags available for their customers, they are required to sell recycled paper carryout bags made from 100 percent total recycled content with 40 percent post-consumer recycled content for not less than 10 cents per bag.

Q: Why is there a $0.10 fee on recycled paper carryout bags?
The fee of $0.10 on recycled paper carryout bags encourages the use of reusable bags. This cost pass-through reimburses retailers for the costs of providing recycled paper carry out bags to their customers. All of the revenue from the cost pass-through remains with the store.

Q: How do I avoid paying 10 cents for each recycled paper bag?
It’s easy—remember to bring your own reusable bags to the store. Some stores will even offer you a credit or gift for bringing your own bag.

Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.

EPA Launches Initiative to Reduce Plastic Pollution in Oceans

Published For Immediate Release, November 6, 2013 on biologicaldiversity.org
Contact: Emily Jeffers, (415) 632-5309, ejeffers@biologicaldiversity.org

EPA Launches Initiative to Reduce Plastic Pollution in Oceans
New Steps Follow Petition to Protect People, Wildlife From Toxic Trash
SAN FRANCISCO–- After a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Environmental Protection Agency says it will take steps to cut plastic pollution in oceans, improve monitoring and conduct a scientific review of the human-health effects of eating fish that have ingested plastics and other pollution.

Ocean plastics pollution
Photo courtesy NOAA. Photos are available for media use.
The agency also says it will develop national data on the economic costs of ocean litter to local, state and national governments, and will do more to prevent people and businesses from littering in oceans.

“We’re happy to see the EPA taking plastics pollution seriously,” said Emily Jeffers, an oceans attorney at the Center. “Every year bits of discarded plastic kill thousands of seabirds, sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals. Some choke on plastic, and others are poisoned by it. Still more find themselves swimming through vast patches of toxic litter. It’s an international tragedy that needs to be addressed.”

Billions of pounds of plastic are found in giant, swirling convergences around the world, including the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, twice the size of Texas. The root of the problem is plastic and other garbage that’s dumped into the oceans. 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.

Last year the Center petitioned the EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to develop water-quality standards for plastic pollution and publish information to guide states in monitoring and preventing harm to waters from plastic pollution. Although the EPA declined to develop plastic-specific water-quality criteria, the agency agreed to expand other efforts to protect people and wildlife from litter in oceans and other aquatic environments.

According to the statement granting the Center’s petition, the EPA said it will develop and provide information on reducing plastic pollution at its source — guidance covering, as the Center requested, plastic-pollution threats, monitoring and measurement, best management practices to reduce that pollution, and direction for states and cities to create regulations to prevent plastic pollution.

“Obviously we think the EPA needs to move as aggressively as possible to stem the spread of ocean plastic pollution, including strict limits on discharge,” said Jeffers. “But the agency is moving in the right direction with these new steps. We hope we can begin getting a handle on this crisis before it’s completely out of control.”
Plastics pollution has a direct and deadly effect on wildlife. Curious marine mammals get entangled and drown in plastic garbage, seabirds feed the bright, colorful pieces to their young instead of food, and sea turtles eat plastic bags mistaking them for jellyfish.

Thousands of seabirds and sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals are killed each year after ingesting plastic or becoming entangled in it; many more suffer after ingesting plastic particles that contain toxic substances, which can cause death, injury or reproductive failure.

Endangered wildlife like Hawaiian monk seals and Pacific loggerhead sea turtles are among the nearly 300 species affected by plastic litter.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.