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, January 24, 2014

The plastisphere menace

A new world: Plastic debris in the ocean has spawned a ‘plastisphere’ of organisms that scientists fear may send ripples through the marine ecosystem.

An ecosystem of mankind’s own making could pose an ecological threat.
Elizabeth Lopez manoeuvred a massive steel claw over the side of a 45m sailboat and guided its descent through swaying kelp and schools of fish 16km off the coast of San Diego, California.

She was hoping to catch pieces of a mysterious marine ecosystem that scientists are calling the “plastisphere”.

It starts with particles of degraded plastic no bigger than grains of salt. Bacteria take up residence on those tiny pieces of trash. Then single-celled animals feed on the bacteria, and larger predators feed on them.

“We’ve created a new man-made ecosystem of plastic debris,” said Lopez, a graduate student at the University of San Diego, during the recent expedition.

The plastisphere was six decades in the making. It’s a product of the discarded plastic – shopping bags, flipflops, margarine tubs, toys, toothbrushes – that gets swept from urban sewer systems and river channels into the sea.

Degraded plastic bags that have been washed ashore in Sekincan, Selangor. A new man-made ecosystem of plastic debris is taking shape in the sea.
Degraded plastic bags that have washed ashore in Sekincan, Selangor. A new man-made ecosystem of plastic debris is taking shape in the sea.

When that debris washes into the ocean, it breaks down into bits that are colonised by microscopic organisms that scientists are just beginning to understand.

Researchers suspect that some of the denizens may be pathogens hitching long-distance rides on floating junk. Scientists also fear that creatures in the plastisphere break down chunks of polyethylene and polypropylene so completely that dangerous chemicals percolate into the environment.

“This is an issue of great concern,” said Tracy Mincer, a marine geochemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

“Microbes may be greatly accelerating the weathering of plastic debris into finer bits. If so, we aren’t sure how zooplankton and other small creatures are responding to that, or whether harmful additives, pigments, plasticisers, flame retardants and other toxic compounds are leaching into the water.”

Planet Plastic
About 245 million tonnes of plastic is produced annually around the world, according to industry estimates. That represents 31.5kg of plastic annually for each of the 7.1 billion people on the planet, scientists say.

The waste gathers in vast oval-shaped ocean “garbage patches” formed by converging currents and winds. Once trapped in these cyclonic dead zones, plastic particles may persist for centuries.

The physiological effects of visible plastic debris on the fish, birds, turtles and marine mammals that ingest it are well-documented: clogged intestines, suffocation, loss of vital nutrients, starvation. The effects of the minuscule pieces that make up the plastisphere are only beginning to be understood.

Edward Carpenter, a professor of microbial ecology at San Francisco State University, first reported that microbes could attach themselves to plastic particles adrift at sea in 1972.

He observed that these particles enabled the growth of algae and probably bacteria and speculated that hazardous chemicals showing up in ocean animals may have leached out of bits of plastic.

Carpenter’s discovery went largely unnoticed for decades. But now, the scientific effort to understand how the plastisphere influences the ocean environment has become a vibrant and growing field of study.

From Woods Hole to the University of Hawaii, scientists are collecting seawater and marine life so they can analyse the types, sizes and chemical compositions of the plastic fragments they contain. Their findings are shedding new light on the ramifications of humanity’s addiction to plastic.

A fine mesh net called a ¿neuston net¿ collects samples of animal and plant life at the sea surface as it is towed,
A fine mesh net called a neuston net collects samples of animal and plant life at the sea surface as it is towed.

“We’re changing the basic rhythms of life in the world’s oceans, and we need to understand the consequences of that,” said marine biologist Miriam Goldstein, who earned her doctorate at University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography by studying plastic debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch between Hawaii and California.

In October, Goldstein and oceanographer Deb Goodwin of the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole reported that one-third of the gooseneck barnacles they collected from the garbage patch had plastic particles in their guts. The typical fragment measured 1.4mm across, not much bigger than a piece of glitter, according to their report in the journal PeerJ.

Some of the barnacles had bits of plastic in their faecal pellets too. That finding led Goldstein to speculate that some of the 256 barnacles that were plastic-free when they were captured by researchers had probably eaten plastic at some point in their lives but cleared it from their systems. Since crabs prey on barnacles, the plastic the barnacles eat may be spreading through the food web, Goldstein and Goodwin reported.

Fish that ingest plastic debris tend to accumulate hazardous substances in their bodies and suffer from liver toxicity, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports. Not only was the plastic itself dangerous, so too were the toxic chemicals the plastic had absorbed.

The plastisphere isn’t limited to oceans. In 2012, a team of researchers discovered microplastic pollution in the Great Lakes – including high volumes of polyethylene and polypropylene “microbeads” used in facial cleansers.

Other scientists, including Mincer of the Woods Hole institution and microbial ecologist Erik Zettler of the Sea Education Association, spent three years coming up with the first comprehensive description of microbial communities that colonise plastic marine debris.

The researchers used fine-scale nets to skim plastic particles from more than 100 locations in the Atlantic Ocean, from Massachusetts to the Caribbean Sea. Using scanning electron microscopes and gene-sequencing techniques, they identified more than 1,000 different types of bacteria and algae attached to seaborne plastic, according to their report in June in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Of particular concern was a sample of polypropylene not much larger than the head of a pin. Its surface was dominated by members of the genus Vibrio, which includes the bacteria that cause cholera and other gastrointestinal ailments.

In a research on the effects of plastic waste, students from the University of San Diego use tweezers and a spoon to gather specimens of weathered plastic retrieved from the sea.
In a research on the effects of plastic waste, students from the University of San Diego use tweezers and a spoon to gather specimens of weathered plastic retrieved from the sea.
These potential pathogens could travel long distances by attaching themselves to plastic debris that persists in the ocean much longer than biodegradable flotsam like feathers and wood.

The team is now comparing microbial communities on plastic debris collected in the North Pacific and North Atlantic oceans, trying to understand the bacteria that feed on their waste products, and predators that feed on all of them.

“Each one of these plastic bits is a circle of life – one microbe’s waste is another microbe’s dinner,” Mincer said. “We want to know more about how some microbes may be hanging out on plastic trash, just waiting to be eaten by fish so they can get into that environment.”

Meanwhile, in San Diego, Lopez and her colleagues are examining the samples they collected under powerful microscopes and removing tiny bits of plastic for classification and chemical analysis.

Their findings will be shared with the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, a public research institute that monitors urban pollution.

“These microplastic worlds right under our noses are the next ocean frontier,” said Drew Talley, a marine scientist at the University of San Diego.

“It would be a crime not to investigate the damage they might be doing to the oceans and to humans. – Los Angeles Times/McClatchy Tribube Information Services

Hawaii’s Big Island Bans Plastic Carryout Bags

N.J. Still Considering Bill to Impose Fee for Disposable Bags

Published Jan 23, 2014 in Sandpaper.net

Hawaii’s big island began a ban last week on plastic bags at all grocery stores, restaurants and retailers, a step the state says it has taken to reduce or eliminate the environmentally detrimental presence of this single-use item. Kauai and Maui already enforced the ban, with Oahu set to follow suit in 2015. A fee for paper bags could be on the horizon, pushing consumers to rely primarily on eco-friendly reusable bags. 

“Being a marine state, perhaps, we are exposed more directly to the impacts of plastic pollution and the damage it does to our environment,” Robert Harris, director of the Sierra Club’s Hawaii chapter, said prior to the enacting of the Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance. “People in Hawaii are more likely to be in the water or in the outdoors and see the modern day tumbleweed – plastic bags – in the environment.”

Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle called the effort groundbreaking. 

“By signing this environmentally friendly bill … Hawaii has become the only state in the United States where every county has plastic bag legislation.

As explained on the website for the County of Hawaii Department of Environmental Management, hawaiizerowaste.org, the reasoning behind the law is focused on the environmental harm plastic bags cause. 

The bags can entangle or choke fish, turtles, birds and other animals that mistake them for food; they contribute to litter and “are not consistent with the county’s goal to reduce the quantity of materials going into the landfills”; and they leach potentially toxic chemicals while degrading.

“A high-quality reusable bag has the potential to replace over 600 single-use plastic bags over its lifetime,” the website notes, adding, “Paper bags are not a good alternative. It takes 14 million trees each year in the United States to produce a year’s supply of paper bags for retail use. Reusable bags reduce litter and conserve natural resources; making them the best choice!”

The ordinance does allows plastic bags for items such as meat, fish, nuts, grains, fresh produce, small hardware, garments and prescription drugs.

Erich Wida, who grew up on Long Beach Island and now lives on Oahu, said his children have learned about the ban in school, even though it hasn’t yet been enforced on that island. I see a push at the schools for sure on awareness of plastic in the ocean. I see very little plastic in the ocean here also.”

His wife, Katie Dean Wida, said plastic bags are also taken as part of their recycling pickup. 

“It will be tough to implement (the ban) on Oahu due to its size of population,” Erich believes, “but you never know.”  

Though Hawaii’s is the only statewide ban in the country, other places – San Francisco, Los Angeles, coastal North Carolina – have outlawed plastic bags as well, and a few states are currently considering single-use plastic bag bans or fees, or both.

In New Jersey – where there is no shortage of coastline and waterways, and plastic bags comprise a large portion of marine litter – a bill called the Carryout Bag Reduction and Recycling Act was approved by the state’s Senate Environment and Energy Committee in December 2012, but has not moved since.

The bill seeks to reduce the use of paper and plastic bags at supermarkets and retail establishments, keeping them out of the environment and the waste stream. The measure would require stores to impose a 5-cent fee per bag for the use of disposable carryout bags, allow stores to provide a 5-cent credit for each bag provided by a customer, and require all single-use carryout bags provided by stores to be recyclable by Jan. 1, 2015.

At the time the legislation was under review by the Environment and Energy Committee, local nonprofit Alliance for a Living Ocean described the measure as a double environmental win, because in addition to helping decrease the use of plastic and paper bags, the bill would generate funds to clean the local watershed, as money raised by the fee would go toward protecting Barnegat Bay.

“This bill makes so much sense, especially for our area,” said Chris Huch, the executive director of ALO at that time. “This bill will work to reduce plastic bag consumption by establishing a tax on plastic bags. That money would go straight into a fund set up by the state to improve water quality in Barnegat Bay. 

This will encourage people to bring reusable bags AND send money to improve our bay’s health! Plastic bags remain one of the most collected trash items in our cleanups and are deadly to many marine animals that mistake them as food.”

ALO President Amy Williams pointed out that the organization “has always been a strong supporter of avoiding single-use items, especially plastic.”

The organization’s new executive director, Kyle Gronostajski, is particularly interested in pushing the issue of less reliance on carryout plastic bags (as well as single-use water bottles and other disposable items). He hopes to raise awareness of the environmental hazards of disposable plastic bags, and to perhaps even get Island stores on board with a ban.

“We live in a very ecologically sensitive coastal area,” Gronostajski noted. He says residents and visitors should understand the problem with plastic bags, and cease using them, instead taking reusable bags to the store.

As he also noted, while Ocean County has informed residents to keep plastic bags out of curbside recycling containers since first accepting mixed recyclable materials in 2010 – as the bags hamper single stream sorting efficiency and can damage the processing equipment – the machinery at the county’s recycling center in Lakewood jams consistently because residents continue to throw these bags in with their recyclables. 

This, said Gronostajski, is just one more reason, of many reasons, to steer clear of plastic bags. 

Juliet Kaszas-Hoch

Hawaii Set To Begin Plastic Bag Ban

Imagine a future where endless balls of plastic bags aren't jammed underneath the kitchen sink, where the idea of a "plastic bag holder" is as quaint as a CD rack, and where that famous scene in "American Beauty" prompts children to ask their parents about the bygone days of plastic bag pollution.

For Hawaii, such a future is just around the corner. All four of the populated counties in Hawaii have passed legislation banning plastic bags at checkout counters, making it the first state in the country to pass such a ban. (There is a fifth county, Kalawao County, in Hawaii, but it is very remote and barely populated.) On the Big Island, where consumers have been paying for plastic bags at checkout lines for the past year, the ban officially begins on Jan. 17 at grocery stores, restaurants and retailers.

Consumers can opt for paper bags or bring their own, reusable bags. Plastic bags will still be available for bulk items such as nuts, fish, meat, grains, and fresh produce.

The islands of Kauai and Maui already enforce such a ban, with the most populated island, Oahu, set to join them in July of 2015.

"Being a marine state, perhaps, we are exposed more directly to the impacts of plastic pollution and the damage it does to our environment," Robert Harris, director of the Sierra Club's Hawaii chapter, said in 2012. "People in Hawaii are more likely to be in the water or in the outdoors and see the modern day tumbleweed -- plastic bags -- in the environment."

According to the Surfrider Foundation, Hawaii's success came from its local, grassroots movements. The state-wide ban, they note, "was not done by the state legislature, but instead by all four County Councils."

The Foundation also notes that the plastic bag ban is only the first step: if the state enacted a fee for paper bags, it would further reduce the use of disposable products.


Petition started to ban plastic bags

By Brady Hebert
Posted Jan. 23, 2014 in the Cheboygan News

Cheboygan, Mich.
CHEBOYGAN — David Martin, member of the Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace and Justice, has started a local petition to ban plastic grocery bags in Cheboygan and is hoping to gain for support for the cause.
"I've always been interested in the environment since high school, and to me things are just getting worse," said Martin. "My goal is to take the petitions in front of the city council around Earth Day. It seems to be a time where more people are concerned about the environment."
Although Martin is taking the lead role and doing the "leg work" with the petition, he said his mother, Karen Martin, did a lot of research on the threat that plastic grocery bags pose to the Earth.
Martin said that the state of Hawaii passed a ban on plastic grocery bags that went into effect in January, and that more and more municipalities in the United States have either banned the bags or levy taxes on them, including San Francisco, Los Angeles County, Portland, Washington D.C., Seattle and more.
"While ringing the bell for the Salvation Army this Christmas, I saw how many people were carrying plastic bags. It disturbed me," explained Martin.
Eight million pounds of plastic, including bags, are dumped in the ocean each year, according to Martin, creating an island of plastic twice the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean. The "plastic island" is 300 feet deep in some places. The plastic kills numerous species of fish, mammals and birds, he said.
Plastic bags are made from polyethylene, a thermoplastic made from oil. The bags photo degrade over time and break down into smaller, more toxic petro-polymers, which eventually contaminate soils and waterways, and the microscopic particles can enter the food chain, Martin explained. He said that the typical customer uses the bags for 30 minutes from store to home to the trash can. In the trash heap or ocean, the particles last for centuries.
Martin urges people to switch to reusable bags instead of the plastic grocery bags. The bags are bad from the start, he said, taking millions of gallons of oil to make them with the remnants of the bags lasting far beyond our lifetime.
Martin hopes to get to local businesses as soon as possible to solicit signatures for the petition. He can also be contacted at (231) 818-6806. Concerned citizens can also sign a worldwide petition at www.Care2.com.
The Straits Area Concerned Citizens for Peace and Justice is a group that seeks to promote the peaceful and just resolution of conflict using nonviolent means through educational programming, informing community leaders, and holding vigils.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

July Algalita Expedition Heading for ‘Garbage Patch’

 Published January 7, 2014 in Maui TV News

LONG BEACH, CA – Captain Charles Moore, the man who discovered the swirling vortex of plastic trash widely known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” will once again sail to one of the most polluted areas of the world-the North Pacific Central Gyre. Moore and the Algalita Marine Research Institute have assembled a highly qualified team of scientists who will live amid the debris for 30 days and study the region beginning in July.  The ultimate goal is to evaluate long-term trends and changes in the Gyre by merging data collected over the past 15 years with new 2014 data.

The persistence and increasing quantity of plastic debris, including new arrivals from the Japanese tsunami, have created artificial habitats in the North Pacific Gyre-essentially building “plastic reefs” where sea creatures have made their homes. How have the marine ecosystems impacted the area since Algalita’s first expedition 15 years ago? What have they done to the various species that live there? How are toxic contaminants from plastic transferred to marine life, and what are the consequences for human health?

Algalita’s researchers will investigate the area to find answers. This voyage will result in new and repeat monitoring data needed to make scientific conclusions about the scope and effects of plastic marine pollution.

Since 1999, Algalita has conducted eight research expeditions and produced the longest running data set for the region. The organization, which has participated in similar expeditions in the North and South Atlantic Gyres, South Pacific Gyre, Indian Ocean Gyre and in Antarctic waters, was the first to develop a standard methodology for sampling and analyzing micro-plastic debris from the ocean.

The expedition will also launch the latest live Ship-2-Shore<http://www.algalita.org/ship2shore/> educational program, which uses satellite communications systems to connect students with researchers at sea.

The Algalita Marine Research Institute is a nonprofit organization committed to solving the plastic pollution crisis in our oceans. In 1997, our founder, Captain Charles Moore discovered an area of plastic debris in the North Pacific Ocean known by many as the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch.’ Since then, the Long Beach, CA-based organization has been studying the devastating impact of plastic on our oceans and educating the public. To date, Algalita has collected and analyzed more than 1,114 plastic debris samples from five oceans. The organization reaches thousands of students worldwide every year. For more information, please visit www.algalita.org .

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Keep the Coast Clean Pledge with Ryan

Published on Nov 20, 2013

Can't embed the video here, but its a must watch!!

At only six years old, Ryan is already a great advocate for a healthy ocean. Why is this six-year-old an ocean hero? You won't believe how hard Ryan has already worked to protect the ocean—from bringing reusable bags to the grocery store to making sure you recycle your aluminum cans. Watch Ryan's video and learn what you can do to make a difference.

The animals Ryan and all of us love, face threats from man-made pollution every day. As Ryan says, he's scared that one day when he looks out at the bright blue water, no one will be looking back. Ryan says we need to act right now, and he's right.

Take action today and take the pledge to fight ocean trash:


Plastic bags deserve their bad wrap

Of the many new laws making their debut today the one that will be felt by nearly everyone is the ban on single use plastic bags within the city of Los Angeles, making all of L.A. County a bag-free zone.

Unless that bag contains this newspaper.

Or broccoli.

Or the sandwich bag your dealer sells your stash in.

At Ralphs or the corner bodega, you can fill your cart to the brim with boxes of plastic bags; giant black yard bags with pull strings and tiny thin trash can liners, but when you get to the checkout stand you can’t get a plastic bag for your plastic bags.

Nuclear weapons and AR-15s are still legal but plastic bags are verboten.

It’s not the end of the world.

The wife and I live on the edge of Los Angeles and do most of our shopping in stores long subjected to the county ban on bags. I grumbled and adjusted. So will you.

The question is should we be forced by law to do so?

Not that long ago “One for the road” was a way of life in America and every year we lost north of 50,000 on our roads, many to boozed-up drivers.

Along came MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and attitudes changed.

“One for the road” wasn’t so cool anymore. The three-martini lunch became the zero-martini lunch. Laws were toughened and enforcement tightened. We still lose thousands to drunk drivers, but not nearly as many as before.

Not that long ago “Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em,” was a common cry. We smoked ourselves to death.

For 40 years Americans have been warned and lectured about the dangers of smoking. We’ve banned smoking practically everywhere and jacked up the price per pack to astronomical levels through punitive taxes, making smokers in California almost as rare as Republicans.

Unless you smoke pot. Somehow pot is still cool.

Like cigarettes used to be.

We are burying ourselves in our own filth and I’d like to believe we’re smarter than that. We’re also burying freedom under an avalanche of legislation and I’d like to believe we love liberty too much to surrender it out of laziness.

Recycling was once patriotic.

During World War II every man, woman and child happily recycled tin cans, paper, nylon, anything necessary to help beat Hitler and Tojo.

It took 80 tons of scrap metal to make one tank. What we couldn’t get through recycling we saved though rationing; butter, fat, gas, oil, grease, sugar were all proscribed by law. Willingly and not so willingly we changed the way we lived for a cause greater than ourselves.

We need to do the same today.

The hundreds of tons of plastics dumped into the ocean each year is a genuine threat to our health and the health of the planet. This isn’t eco-propaganda, although there’s plenty of that floating around as well. The reality of plastics poisoning the ocean is as real as a tax audit.

But first let’s clear up some nonsense.

We’ve all heard about the trash island in the Pacific the size of Texas? Not true. It’s much worse. There are actually five of them around the globe and they’re more like trash soup than trash islands. They’re called “gyres,” enormous spirals of partially decomposed shopping bags, milk containers, wrappers and the million other things we use once and toss away without a second thought.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

We can voluntarily change our behavior because it makes sense, the way we once recycled to beat Hitler, or we can do nothing and wait until the government mandates change by law.

While L.A.’s plastic bag ban reeks of political feel-goodism, the kind of eco-friendly legislation that’s catnip to politicians, it’s at least something.

If we want to keep government from reaching into yet another aspect of our lives, and I do, we need to once again make recycling a patriotic duty. We need to prosecute the slobs who toss trash out their car windows under existing laws.

But let’s not kid ourselves; doing nothing is not an option. The oceans are becoming giant vats of toxic PCBs. Now is the time for all good Earthlings to come to the aid of their planet.

Doug McIntyre’s column appears Sunday and Wednesday. He can be reached at: Doug@KABC.com.

New study shows plastic pollution much worse than accepted

published in Sail World on Sun 22 Dec 2013 by Jeni Bone

'Marine plastic concentrations in Australian waters'    . ©

Plastic pollution is likely to be much worse than officially recognised, posing a threat to Australian species and ecology, according to the latest study published in journal PLOS ONE.

Each square kilometre of Australian sea surface water is contaminated by around 4,000 pieces of tiny plastics, according to researchers, Julia Reisser, Oceanographer and PhD candidate at the University of Western Australia and Charitha Pattiaratchi, Winthrop Professor of Coastal Oceanography at UWA.

These small plastic fragments, mostly less than 5mm across, are loaded with pollutants that can negatively affect several marine species, from tiny fish and zooplankton to large turtles and whales.

Plastics can be transported from populated areas to the marine environment by rivers, wind, tides, rainwater, storm drains, sewage disposal, and flooding, or can directly reach the sea from boats and offshore installations.

Throughout their marine journey, plastics break down into increasingly smaller pieces mostly due to the effect of sunlight and heat. These plastic fragments, commonly called microplastics when smaller than 5mm, represent the vast majority of human-made debris present at beaches, seafloor, and in the water column.

Gyre ocean rubbish -  .. .  

The effects of plastics on food webs and ecosystems have become focus of concern over the last decade. It is now known that over half of our plastic objects contain at least one ingredient classified as hazardous.

To make matters worse, plastics that enter the oceans become increasingly toxic by adsorbing oily pollutants on their surface.

When plastic is ingested, these concentrated toxins can be delivered to animals and transferred up their food chains.

This biomagnification of toxins is more likely to occur when plastics are small enough to be ingested by low trophic fauna, such as small fish and zooplankton.

These tiny ocean plastics may affect the health of entire food webs, which include humans. For instance, little plastic pieces were found in the stomach of some Southern Bluefin tuna captured off Tasmania and destined for human consumption.

Until now, plastic contamination in Australian waters was mostly inferred from beach clean-up reports. There was no at-sea survey focused on sampling plastic debris in waters around this country.

Researchers used a net called Manta Net to catch floating plastics at the ocean surface. Small fragments of hard plastic were the most common type, but soft plastics, such as fragments of wrappers, and strings (mostly fishing lines) were also common.

Oceanic gyres -  .. .  
Size and types of marine plastics collected around Australia. Examples of each plastic type are shown in the photos. 

These plastics were mostly made of polyolefins (polyethylene and polypropylene). These polymers account for 52% of our plastic production and are typically used to make throwaway packaging. They are also used for manufacturing fishing equipment such as crates, nets, ropes, and lines.

Our overall mean sea surface plastic concentration was 4,256.4 plastic pieces per km2. This mean value is higher than those reported for other regions, such as the Caribbean Sea (1,414 pieces per km2) and Gulf of Maine (1,534 pieces per km2).

However, in the subtropical gyres, plastics tend to accumulate due to converging ocean currents, and mean plastic concentrations are higher: from 20,328 pieces per km2 in the North Atlantic Gyre, to 334,271 pieces per km2 in the North Pacific Gyre. The Mediterranean Sea is also a global hotspot for plastics: it has around 116,000 plastics per km2.

Researchers observed higher plastic concentrations close to major Australian cities (Sydney, Brisbane) and industrial centres (Karratha) as well as in remote areas where ocean currents converged (such as south-west Tasmania).

These observations, along with our ocean current modelling results, indicate that marine plastics reach Australian waters from multiple sources: domestic and international populated areas, as well as maritime operations.

Plastics, made mostly of oil and gas, are cheaper than the natural materials they replace for the manufacture of many objects, such as packaging and fishing gear.

As a result, incentives to re-use or recycle every-day items have decreased over the last few decades. Meanwhile plastic production has increased from 1,700,00 tonnes in 1950 to 280,000,000 tonnes in 2011.

In Australia, 1,476,690 tonnes of plastics were used in 2011-2012, of which just 20.5% was recycled. Most of these plastics (around 37%) were used for manufacturing single-use disposable packaging, including plastic bottles, cups, and bags.

Marine plastic pollution is a global issue caused by our massive production of plastic waste. The solution for this recent environmental problem is not simple.

Authors of the report believe there are three important steps. First, decrease plastic waste: this could be achieved by reducing production of single-use plastic packaging. Second, improve our plastic disposal practices on land at an international level. And last, better enforce the laws prohibiting dumping of plastics at sea.

More at www.plosone.org

by Jeni Bone

Related Stories:

"Plastics highly concentrated in Australian waters" - Phys.org