A blog set out to explore, archive & relate plastic pollution happening world-wide, while learning about on-going efforts and solutions to help break free of our addiction to single-use plastics & sharing this awareness with a community of clean water lovers everywhere!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Buying Local and Organic? You're Still Eating Plastic Chemicals

Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates are what's known as "endocrine disruptors"—that is, at very small doses they interfere with our hormonal systems, giving rise to all manner of health trouble.

In peer-reviewed research, BPA has been linked to asthma, anxiety, obesity, kidney and heart disease, and more. The rap sheet for phthalates, meanwhile, includes lower hormones in men, brain development problems, diabetes, asthma, obesity, and, possibly, breast cancer.

So, ingesting these industrial chemicals is a bad idea, especially if you're a kid or a pregnant woman. But avoiding them is very difficult, since they're widely used in plastics, and are ubiquitous in the food supply.

The federal government has not seen fit to ban them generally—although the FDA did outlaw BPA from baby bottles last year (only after the industry had voluntarily removed them) and Congress pushed phthalates out of kids' toys back in 2008. Otherwise, consumers are on their own to figure out how to avoid ingesting them.

Unfortunately, that's a really hard task—and eating fresh, local, and organic might not be sufficient, as new research (abstract), published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, shows.

A team led by Sheela Sathyanarayana of University of Washington's Seattle Children's Research Institute performed a "dietary intervention" on two sets of five local families.

After using urine tests to establish baseline BPA and phthalate levels for each group, they subjected one set of families to five days of eating meals from a catering company that avoids plastics and uses fresh and, when possible, local and organic ingredients.

The other set was given "handouts describing best practice recommendations to reduce phthalate and BPA exposures" and asked to follow them as well as possible as they prepared their meals over the course of the five days. Levels of the chemicals were then again measured after the five-day period.

"I'm a pediatrician, and people are always asking me, 'What can we do in the home to reduce our exposure to these chemicals?'" Sathyanarayana told me.

The idea was to figure out whether merely giving people common sense tips—reduce consumption of canned foods, avoid contact between food and heated plastic, etc.—was sufficient for achieving significant exposure reductions.

They assumed that the catered diet, with its fresh, plastic-free foods, would see their levels of these chemicals drop, and that the families merely following good-practices guidelines wouldn't see much of a change.

The takeaway would be: The guidelines aren't enough, and we need to do more to protect people from these chemicals, because switching to completely scratch-cooked meals isn't an option for most families.

But what they discovered, Sathyanarayana said, was "completely unexpected": The handout-receiving group  indeed showed no change, but for the catered local and organic diet group, BPA levels doubled and levels of the highly toxic phthalate DEHP jumped a stunning 2,377 percent.

In other words, the researchers were right that following guidelines wouldn't do much to decrease exposure, but were surprised to find that eating mainly fresh, local, organic food, cooked and stored without plastics, seemed to dramatically boost levels of these endocrine disruptors.

The researchers were surprised for good reason. Sathyanarayana told me that the team went to great lengths to ensure that the food prepared for the catered-diet group had no exposure to plastic in preparation, cooking, or storage of the ingredients used, to the point that the caterer asked its local farm suppliers to deliver produce in crates instead of plastic bags.

And in a 2011 study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a different set of researchers had subjected five families to a similar catered diet, and got the expected result: BPA levels fell by 66 percent and levels of DEHP dropped by 53 percent to 56 percent.

DEHP is a phthalate. Note the dairy products at the top of the chart, and the spices, especially coriander, toward the bottom. Study by Sathyanarayana, et al, 2013.
Stunned by their outlier results, Sathyanarayana and her team went back to the caterer and tested a range of ingredients for phthalates (they didn't test the food for BPA).

The researchers found high levels of DEHP in two kinds of foods: dairy, which had come in glass bottles from a local farm, and spices, which were certified organic but imported. All of the rest of the ingredients showed very low levels. (See table, right).

Sathyanarayana said that phthalate levels for children in the study spiked even higher than those of the adults—probably because they may have consumed more dairy products than the adults, and because of their lower body weights.

Sathyanarayana told me that spices and dairy are well established as carriers of phthalates. She pointed me to this 2006 European study (PDF) on a range of foods (see table IV) that also found high levels in those foodstuffs.

She added that the levels found in the milk and spices used by the caterer were much higher than levels found in previous studies.

I asked Sathyanarayana how phthalates could be getting into glass-bottled milk from a Washington dairy that sells into the Seattle market. She stressed that the group had no specific information on the dairy itself and had only tested its retail milk, cream, and butter.

But she pointed out that that even in relatively small commercial dairies, milk is collected by from cows' udders through soft, flexible plastic tubing—the very kind that often contains phthalates, which are used to make plastic flexible. "It's warm milk going through soft plastic, and we know that when phthalates in plastic are heated, there's leaching," Sathyanarayana said. She stressed that her analysis of possible pathways for exposure was purely conjectural.

As for the organic spices—check out ground coriander in the chart above—she noted that organic standards say nothing about chemicals that might leach into foods through processing. Virtually all spices consumed in the United States are imported, and it's extremely difficult to get information on processing practices, which might be where endocrine disruptors are sneaking in.

I should note, as the study itself does, that these results require much more research before firm conclusions can be made about, say, dairy and spices. The sample size is extremely small, and the results could stem from a problem at a particular dairy or a spice processor. It would be foolhardy to draw conclusion about the BPA or phthalate levels of any particular food, organic, local, or not, from this study alone.

But the findings illustrate a larger point: Independent of choices we make as consumers—whether we buy milk in glass bottles or microwave food in plastic containers—processing is taking place beyond our view that can contaminate our food with endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

I ran the study by Kim Harley, associate director for health effects at University of California-Berkeley's Center for Environmental Research and Children's Health, who has done epidemiological studies on BPA and other endocrine disruptors.

"The lesson is that you can try to reduce exposure, but there are unknown sources of phthalates that could be very large lurking in the food chain," she said. She added that if the best efforts of well-resourced scientists can't always come up with food that's untainted by these chemicals, then consumers acting on their own are in a tight spot.

In my view, when individual consumers can't protect themselves through reasonable means, collective action—i.e., regulation—is the only remedy. These results add to a weight of evidence that should push the FDA to take action on the role of plastic conditioners in food processing and packaging.

I asked Sathyanarayana how she is advising families to minimize exposure to BPA and phthalates. "I'm advising that they not use plastic in cooking storage, and preparation, and to focus on fresh foods and low-fat foods," she said. If only that were enough.

Notes From the Plasticene Epoch

From Ocean to Beach, Tons of Plastic Pollution

Like diamonds, plastics are forever. The tons dumped into the ocean float around, swirling on currents, breaking into smaller bits, never going away. Scientists have identified huge gyres of plastic in the Pacific. There is an Eastern Garbage Patch, between Hawaii and California; a Western Garbage Patch, off Japan, and a patch between them called the Subtropical Convergence Zone, north of Hawaii.

The patches are misunderstood to be visible islands of debris; you can’t actually see them from a boat or plane. They are more like vast, soupy concentrations of flotsam, some of it large, some tiny, all indigestible, sickening and killing fish, birds, whales and turtles.

What you can see is what washes ashore, as countless tons of plastic do on the Hawaiian Islands, which stick up like the teeth of a comb in the middle of the northern Pacific, snagging what drifts by.

On the southern tip of the Big Island of Hawaii, deep ocean currents rub against the remote and rocky shoreline. Volunteers regularly make a long, hot trip to clean the beaches, hauling away fishing nets, lines and traps, toys, shoes, buckets and bottles. Some of the fishing debris is shipped to a Honolulu power plant and incinerated. Some is left on the beach, and more always appears.

The Hawaii Wildlife Fund, which organizes the cleanups, estimates that they have removed about 169 tons of garbage in the last 11 years from a 10-mile stretch of Hawaii Island alone, and that about 15 tons to 20 tons of new trash comes ashore each year. On May 24, two dozen people went out again.

They collected 1,312 pounds of trash, including:

191,739 plastic fragments
562 bottle or container caps
93 toothbrushes
64 beverage bottles
48 hagfish traps
35 buoys and floats
3 refrigerator doors
3 G.I. Joe Real American Hero toys

On a nearby beach at Kamilo Point, geologists have identified a new kind of plastic-infused rock, in areas where the plastic is so abundant in the sand and soil you can’t avoid burning it in campfires. A paper published this month by the Geological Society of America suggests that “plastiglomerate” will someday be part of the fossil record, marking the geological era that some call the Anthropocene, for the human influence.

On Monday in Washington, the State Department will be holding an ocean conference. The topics are ocean acidification, sustainable fishing and marine pollution. The nations represented include the Seychelles, St. Lucia, Kiribati, Palau, Chile, Togo, Norway and New Zealand. Significant progress on healing the oceans is not expected.

The next cleanup is July 13 at Kamilo Point. The effort may seem futile, but at least people are doing something, like the volunteers working along shorelines in the Northeast, Texas, the Pacific Northwest and the Great Lakes.

World leaders, meanwhile? The nations of an increasingly plasticized planet? They are drifting in circles.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Seabirds Continue to Warn about Plastic Pollution in the Oceans


Plight of the flesh-footed shearwater in Australia illustrates how widespread the problem is


A special report ahead of World Oceans Day

It’s a late May night on Lord Howe Island, and the moon gleams across the volcanic mountains and white sand beaches of this six-mile long isle off the east coast of Australia. While most people are tucked inside their houses or hotels, conservation biologist Dr. Jennifer Lavers and her colleague, naturalist Ian Hutton, don headlamps and bike to the flesh-footed shearwater colony on the northeast side of the island. Lord Howe Island is one of the two main breeding areas for this seabird in the southwest Pacific Ocean (the other is in northern New Zealand). Tonight the colony bustles with 90-day-old chicks flapping their wings as they prepare for their first 6,500-mile flight north to the Bering Sea.
photo of a draggled, dead bird on a beach 
Silke Stuckenbrock / Two Hands Project Even though many seabirds are affected by plastic pollution, the plight flesh-footed shearwater illustrates how widespread the problem is.

Lavers and Hutton set up a makeshift research station in the colony, and handpick chicks to weigh, measure, and take feather samples. They also undertake a lavage process, guiding a tube down each bird’s throat to flush out its stomach contents. This part may seem gruesome, but the lavage provides important information about shearwater diet and nutrition. If a fledgling’s parents fed it well, it will regurgitate natural food sources like squid and fish. But more often than not, chicks will cough up something that does not belong in their stomachs – plastic.

Seabirds ingesting plastic debris that they mistake for food isn’t exactly breaking news. Scientists first discovered plastic debris in the Laysan Albatross in the 1960s. By the mid-1990s, over 111 seabird species were reported to have plastic in their stomachs, pointing to an escalating problem of plastic pollution in our oceans. “Seventy years on, these birds are still saying the same thing,” Lavers says. “They’re telling us that ocean condition is deteriorating, and we need to act now to improve manufacturing processes and management.”

Even though many seabirds are affected by plastic pollution, the flesh-footed shearwater illustrates how widespread the problem is. The species has been listed as “near threatened” in Australia and “nationally vulnerable” in New Zealand.
photo of two people doing a medical procedure on a bird 
Silke Stuckenbrock / Two Hands ProjectJennifer Lavers and Paul Sharp of the Two Hands Project guide a tube down a shearwater chick’s throat to flush out its stomach contents. More often than not, chicks will cough up something that does not belong in their stomachs – plastic.

For years, scientists believed the majority of plastic congregated in the North Pacific gyre, commonly known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” However, there are actually five main gyres that circulate plastic across the oceans. “A large percentage of the plastic that arrives on Lord Howe Island comes from Australia and New Zealand,” Hutton reports, “But plastic also comes from the Northern Hemisphere. We pick up a lot with Asian writing.”

Both shearwater adults and fledglings ingest plastic, but Lavers and Hutton surmise that adults have the instinct to cough it up. However, when the parents forage for their chicks plastic is inadvertently served for supper. “Fledglings sit in their burrows for about 90 days, getting fed food and plastic,” Hutton explains. “They tend not to cough up in the burrow, so the chicks retain that plastic for the entire 90 days.”

Plastic can puncture a chick’s stomach, leading to ulcerations, infection, and death. Lavers and Hutton also recently discovered that shearwaters are suffering from significant heavy metal contamination, most likely because of their plastic-rich diet. Plastic leaches toxic chemicals like chromium and cadmium into a bird’s bloodstream, causing permanent physiological and neurological damage. “Having just one piece of plastic in a seabird can potentially be detrimental,” Lavers says. “There is no safe threshold.”

Lavers studies seabirds around the world, but some of her most shocking finds have been with flesh-footed shearwaters. She once dissected a shearwater chick that contained 276 pieces of plastic, which was 14 percent of the bird’s body weight. While this case was extreme, the quantity of plastic found in shearwaters has increased nearly every year. In 2011, Lavers and Hutton found plastic in 96 percent of the flesh-footed shearwaters they studied. In 2012, 100 percent of the chicks contained plastic.  

Despite this linear trend, 2014 is proving to be an anomalous year. The chicks seem to have less plastic inside them, but more pumice. As Lavers explains, the increase in pumice is probably due to the Kermadec Volcano eruption in 2012, which littered the Tasman Sea with volcanic rock. “It’s sad to say that plastic is the norm now,” Lavers says, “but I have to say that plastic is the norm. And yet we’re seeing a significant reduction in the proportion of birds containing plastic, and also the total number of pieces in each individual bird has gone down.” While this development could be viewed as a positive shift for the species, Lavers notes that most of the shearwater chicks were severely underweight this year, which points to a larger problem.

“It’s important to do studies over many years,” Hutton explains. “If someone had come in this year, and said, ‘okay, let’s see how the birds are being impacted by plastic,’ they might not think it’s a problem.” Lavers and Hutton have yet to publish their latest findings, but their next paper will examine the patterns and trends in flesh-footed shearwaters over the past 15 years, which could provide valuable information about ocean health. (Long-term studies like the one Lavers and Hutton are conducting are rare and underfunded.  They rely on private donors, crowd-funding, and spend a lot of personal money to fund their research)

In the meantime, we need to listen more carefully to what flesh-footed shearwaters – and other seabird sentinels – are telling us. Hutton stresses the importance of public education, and the need for governments to work with corporations to reduce plastic waste. Lavers also believes that plastic pollution needs to be struck at the roots, placing responsibility with the industries that produce it. “Ocean plastic is the modern day Trojan horse, little toxic bullets in sheep’s clothing,” she says, “Exposing the enemy is a monumental task, but we may solve the problem if we find a way to prevent plastic from reaching the ocean in the first place.”

Help fund Lavers and Hutton’s research by donating here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Governor signs bill making Illinois first state to ban microbeads

Published June 08, 2014 in the Chicago Tribune
  • Enlarged photo of tiny synthetic plastic particles called microbeads placed for a press conference outside the Shedd Aquarium on April 16.
Enlarged photo of tiny synthetic plastic particles called microbeads placed for a press conference outside the Shedd Aquarium on April 16. (Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune)
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation Sunday banning the manufacture and sale of personal care products containing synthetic plastic microbeads.

“Banning microbeads will help ensure clean waters across Illinois and set an example for our nation to follow,” Quinn said. “Lake Michigan and the many rivers and lakes across our state are among our most important natural resources. We must do everything necessary to safeguard them.”

The new law bans the manufacture of personal care products containing microbeads by the end of 2017, the sale of personal care products and the manufacture of over the counter drugs by the end of 2018, and the sale of over the counter drugs by the end of 2019.

Environmentalists have said the non-biodegradable plastic particles used as exfoliants in many facial cleansers and soaps slip through sewage system filters and pile up in waterways, where they suck up toxins and harm wildlife. Preliminary studies in Lake Michigan have found millions of microbeads.

“I’m optimistic that we’ve started a nationwide movement to protect not just the Great Lakes, but other bodies of water with high concentrations of microbeads,” said State Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, who co-sponsored the bill.

At least four other states are considering similar bills, and at least one, New York, has an earlier deadline -- 2016 -- for eliminating the microbeads.

Johnson & Johnson, Unilever and L'Oreal already have information on their websites explaining their plans for gradually eliminating the scrub beads from their products and testing for natural alternatives, like ground seeds or nuts.

Unilever says on its website that it plans to complete its phaseout of microbeads globally by 2015.

Until the products are off the shelves, consumers who don't wish to use products with the plastic bits should watch out for products that list polyethylene and polypropylene in their ingredient lists, according to the Alliance for the Great Lakes, an advocate for protection of the Great Lakes.

chicagobreaking@tribune.com | Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

World Oceans Day 2014: World's Most Polluted Seas Revealed

Published in Sudan Vision on June 17, 2014

Sunday 8 June is World Oceans Day, an event to raise global awareness about threats to the oceans and promote marine conservation. The special day has been recognised by the United Nations since 2008.

According to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), more than 80% of marine pollution is caused by land-based activities that cause oil spills, fertilisers and toxic chemical runoff and the discharge of untreated sewage.

Some water pollution starts also as air pollution, which settles into waterways and oceans, according to the United States' National Ocean Service.

IBTimes UK looks at the most polluted oceans areas and seas in the world.

Atlantic Ocean - Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone

The Gulf of Mexico is a basin in the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by the gulf coast of the United States, Mexico and Cuba.  The dead zone here is one of the largest in the world.

Its waters are full of nitrogen and phosphorous that come from major farming states in the Mississippi River Valley, including Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

The presence of these chemicals frequently turns Gulf of Mexico waters hypoxic, or low in oxygen. Hypoxia kills fish in huge numbers.

"Hypoxia in bottom waters covered an average of 8,000–9,000 km2 in 1985–92 but increased to 16,000–20,000 km2 in 1993–99," according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Atlantic Ocean - North Atlantic Garbage Patch

This patch was first documented in 1972 and is entirely composed of man-made marine debris floating in the North Atlantic Gyre.

Scientists estimate that the North Atlantic Garbage Patch is hundreds of kilometres in size and has a density of 200,000 pieces of trash per square kilometre in some places.

Pacific Ocean - Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Located in the northern Pacific Ocean, near the North Pacific Gyre, this collection of marine debris is largely composed of plastic and chemical sludge.
This patch is believed to have formed gradually as marine pollution was brought together by ocean currents.

The exact size of the patch is unknown, but estimates range from 700,000 sq km (270,000 sq miles) to more than 15 million sq km  (5.8 million sq miles). Because the floating debris is largely composed of microscopic pieces of plastic, it is invisible from space.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch collects marine debris from North America and Asia, as well as ships travelling through the area.

Rubbish from the coast of North America takes about six years to reach the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, while detritus from Japan and other Asian countries takes about a year.

Indian Ocean

A garbage patch in the Indian Ocean was discovered in 2010. This patch, mainly formed by plastic debris and chemical sludge, is the third major collection of plastic garbage in the world's oceans.
According to the Indian Ocean Experiment (INDOEX), the Indian Ocean is gravely polluted by plastic debris and chemical runoff, resulting in hypoxia.

INDOEX has documented widespread pollution covering about 10 million sq km (3.86 million sq miles).

According to scientists, tropical cyclones that cause large numbers of deaths around the Arabian Sea (region in the northern Indian Ocean) are becoming increasingly common as a result of pollution.

Mediterranean Sea

The Mediterranean is probably the most polluted ocean in the world.

The United Nations Environment Programme has estimated that 650,000,000 tons of sewage, 129,000 tons of mineral oil, 60,000 tons of mercury, 3,800 tons of lead and 36,000 tons of phosphates are dumped into the Mediterranean each year.

Because it is so enclosed by land, the warm waters of the Mediterranean take more than 100 years to clean and renew themselves, according to Greenpeace.

Due to the high rates of pollution, many marine species are at risk of extinction, among them the Mediterranean Monk Seal, one of the world's most endangered marine mammals.

Baltic Sea

Overfishing, oil spills and land-based pollution are high threats to the Baltic Sea, situated between Central and Eastern Europe.

Half of the fish species in the Baltic are at levels below the critical biological level.
As it only has a narrow outlet to the ocean - between Sweden and Denmark – its water takes 25-30 years to refresh itself.

The health authorities of Finland have warned against eating some species, such as Baltic herring, from the Baltic Sea.

Caribbean Sea

Located in the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea is one of the areas most seriously damaged by human activity.

According to a study by the National Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), oil spills, over-fishing, pollution and climate change are killing marine life. Oyster and sea grass beds, mangroves, fisheries and coral are slowly disappearing.

By IBT, 08/06/2014

Monday, June 16, 2014

Social Entrepreneurs Create 3D Printed Wrench From Recycled Ocean Plastic

Published in Forbes magazine June 8, 2014 by Anne Field

The Plastic Bank, a Vancouver-based social enterprise I wrote about last fall, just announced it’s created, in the words of co-founder Shaun Frankson,  “the world’s first 3D printed item from entirely recycled ocean plastic.”  Specifically, they made a wrench.

Of course, this requires more explanation.

The company is the brainchild of David Katz, who previously founded Nero Global Tracking about 12 years ago. During his travels around the world, Katz was stunned by just how much plastic waste he encountered  littering beaches and waterways, especially in less-developed countries.

Then he got an idea—a pretty big one.   It combined recycling with helping impoverished people to find a way out of poverty through self-sustaining entrepreneurial micro-ventures. 

People would collect plastic refuse and take it to an exchange center; the facilities would be located in places where there’s a lot of poverty, in addition to a lot of plastic waste around waterways. In return, they’d get money and something else: credits towards making something on a 3D printer. 

These things would be items they could use to start their own businesses—say, selling gaskets –or they could have other consumers pay them to create something they needed. (Trainers would help collectors learn methods for the safe handling of plastic waste).  
Or people would  be able to use the credits to fund schooling. According to  Frankson, they’re working out the details now. But one possibility involves providing tablets  pre-loaded with educational videos.

(Photo credit: jonrawlinson)

Katz calls the collectors “micro-recycling entrepreneurs” and the material they deal with “social plastic”, which he refers to as a new type of currency.

The Plastic Bank would make money by selling what Katz calls “ethical plastic” to like-minded companies.    “We‘re providing companies that use plastic in their manufacturing and that want to be socially responsible the ability to have  plastic that is socially responsible,” he says.

As for the item they just produced: The system was  developed in conjunction with engineers at the University of British Columbia.  They built a machine through which you can place plastic. Then it extrudes a long filament, which is the building block of 3D printed items.   

Together with 12 NGOs and community groups, they spent much of the fall in Alaska, collecting plastic waste with which to test  out the extrusion-3D printing process. 

The final product was a wrench.   A small one–but it proved the viability of the system.    
Plastic Bank hopes to open its first exchange centers in a few weeks in Lima, Peru.  They’re in the final steps of arranging funding from PeruRail, according to Frankson.  Katz says he‘s also spent about $400,000 of his own money.

A new form of currency. A new category of entrepreneur . A new use for plastic waste.   It’s quite an idea.

The Ocean Clean-up Feasability Study

published June 10th, 2014 in Surfer Today
The Ocean Cleanup: a passive method of catching plastic debris

A 19-year-old entrepreneur has developed an offshore structure that captures plastic debris floating in the world's oceans.

Boyan Slat paused his Aerospace Engineering study to completely focus his efforts on "The Ocean Cleanup," an array of floating barriers that catches and concentrate the plastic, enabling a platform to efficiently extract it afterwards.

Nearly 90% of all rubbish floating in the world's oceans is plastic. It is killing marine life, and polluting shores and beaches around the planet. Slat believes that instead of wasting energy by going after the plastics, we should simply wait for the plastic to come to us.

"I wondered, why move through the oceans, if the oceans can move through you? By attaching a system of long floating arms to the seabed, the oceans could basically clean themselves," underlines Boyan Slat.

One of the main advantages of this passive cleanup concept is that it is scalable. Because nets are not used, this passive cleanup system is harmless to the ecosystem.

The plastic collection rate will total 65 m3/day, which means the plastic collected has to be picked up by a ship every 45 days.

After completing a 530-page feasibility study, Boyan Slat's team started thinking on the second moment of the project: the pilot phase. "The Ocean Cleanup" prototype costs two million dollars, and a crowd funding plea has already kicked off.

Every year we produce about 300 million tons of plastic, a portion of which enters and accumulates in the oceans. At least one million seabirds, and hundreds of thousands of marine mammals die each year due to the pollution.

The removal of garbage from coastlines costs up to $25,000 per ton of plastic.

These Popular Plastic Bottles May Be Messing With Your Hormones

A new study finds that many BPA-free brands advertised as safe may be anything but.

Many BPA-free plastics may leach BPA-like chemicals that are potentially damaging to human health, a dilemma Mother Jones explored in our exposé on the plastics industry earlier this year. But consumers have had no way of knowing which of the items lurking in their pantries might wreak havoc on their hormones.

Until now. A new paper in the journal Environmental Health identifies specific plastic products—including AVENT baby bottles, CamelBak sippy cups, and Lock & Lock food storage containers—that leach estrogen-mimicking chemicals. Perhaps more importantly, it also names a few options that are hormone-free.

Between 2010 and 2013, scientists from CertiChem, a private lab in Austin, tested 50 reusable BPA-free plastic containers. In most cases, they used a line of human breast cancer cells that multiplies in the presence of estrogen, as well as substances like BPA that mimic the female hormone. The researchers found that some products leached hormone-altering chemicals even before being exposed to conditions, such as heat from a dishwasher or microwave, that are known to unlock potentially toxic chemicals inside plastic. And most containers did so under some circumstances.

After exposure to the type of ultraviolet rays that are found in sunlight (UVA) and used to sterilize baby bottles (UVC), more than three-quarters of the containers tested released synthetic estrogens. The chart below shows the results for a sampling of products before and after UV exposure.

Are There Hormone-Altering Chemicals in Your Plastic Bottle?

Estrogenic activity before and after UV exposure
Very high
Product Type of plastic Before UV exposure After UV exposure
Baby bottles        
AVENT Polyester (PES) Not tested Positive
Born Free Polyester (PES) Not tested Positive
Green to Grow Polyester (PES) Negative Positive
Evenflo Tritan Not tested Positive
Weil Baby Tritan Negative Positive
Sippy cups        
CamelBak, blue* Tritan Positive Positive
Weil Baby Tritan Negative Positive
Water bottles        
CamelBak, black Tritan Not tested Positive
CamelBak, blue Tritan Not tested Positive
Nalgene, blue* Tritan Negative Positive
Nalgene, green* Tritan Negative Negative
Topas Cyclic Olefin Copolymer (COC) Negative Negative
Zeonor Cyclic Olefin Polymer (COP) Negative Negative
Other products        
Crate & Barrel wine glasses, red* Acrylic Positive Positive
Disposable cup Polystyrene (PS) Positive Not tested
Lock & Lock food containers Tritan Positive Positive
Clamshell takeout container* Polystyrene (PS) Positive Not tested
*Tested using BG-1 cells

Read about the methodology.
Source: George D. Bittner, et al, Environmental Health
Chart by Jaeah Lee

Many of the items above are advertised as healthy alternatives to plastics containing BPA and the hormone-altering chemicals known as phthalates. Born Free markets its baby products as the "natural choice for moms who want a safe, calm experience every time they feed their baby."

Weil Baby claims that its bottles are made from "revolutionary new materials" that are "ultra-safe." After UV exposure, CertiChem's study found that both companies' products leached potent synthetic estrogens. (Born Free declined to comment on these findings, but Laura Monaghan, the company's senior director of brand development, said via email that "Born Free products comply with all applicable federal safety standards and are tested by independent third-party laboratories to confirm compliance."

 Weil Lifestyle said that it severed its licensing agreement with the company that makes its Weil Baby bottles in 2011, although the products are still on the market.)

The study doesn't name the chemicals involved or reveal how exactly they affect human health. But a 2012 literature review by 12 prominent scientists found "substantial evidence" that hormone-altering chemicals are damaging, even at minute doses. BPA, the most studied estrogen-mimicking compound, has been linked to a long list of maladies, including to asthma, cancer, infertility, low sperm count, heart disease, liver problems, and ADHD. In some cases, the effects appear to be handed down, meaning the chemical reprograms an individual's genes and causes disease in future generations.

Weil Baby claims that its bottles are made from "revolutionary new materials" that are "ultra-safe." But after UV exposure, they leached potent synthetic estrogens.
The news isn't all bad, though. CertiChem's study also names several products that are free of estrogenic activity, among them green Nalgene water bottles (the green dye apparently blocks the effects of UV rays) and reusable water bottles from Topas and Zeonor. CertiChem's founder, George Bittner, who is also a neuroscience professor at the University of Texas at Austin, cautions that even these products aren't guaranteed to be safe since minor change to the chemical formula can introduce estrogens.

"Everything depends on the exact chemicals that are in a given product," he explains. "Something as small as tweaking the colorant can make a big difference."

Also, manufacturers sometimes swap one plastic for another without alerting consumers. Evenflo Feeding Inc. told Mother Jones that it had stopped using Tritan plastic, which was in the Evenflo products CertiChem tested, "due to a lack of customer demand." But it wouldn't say what it's using instead.

CertiChem's new paper builds on the findings of a 2011 study authored by CertiChem scientists and V. Craig Jordan, a well-known pharmacologist and Georgetown University professor, and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The group tested 455 store-bought food containers and storage products and found that more than 70 percent of them leached synthetic estrogens under some conditions.

The original paper didn't mention brand names. But CertiChem went public with its findings that Tritan—which is is marketed as estrogen free—was highly estrogenic in CertiChem's tests. Tritan's manufacturer, a $7 billion company called Eastman Chemical that was spun off from Eastman Kodak in the 1990s​, later sued CertiChem and its sister company, PlastiPure, for false advertising and unfair competition.

During the trial, it came to light that some of Eastman's own testing had found that Tritan was likely estrogenic. (For more on Eastman's methods, see "The Scary New Evidence on BPA-Free Plastics.") Nevertheless, Eastman won, and a federal judge barred Bittner's companies from discussing their Tritan findings, except in scientific settings.

The court decision,​ and the fact that CertiChem and PlastiPure are for-profit companies that collect fees for helping clients detect and root out estrogenic chemicals, has made some industry executives skeptical of CertiChem's new study, which is heavy on Tritan data.

"We believe that this discredits their findings," says Jeremy Galten, the vice president of research and development at CamelBak, which makes some of its water bottles from Tritan. Eastman spokeswoman Maranda Demuth also dismissed the new paper and called CertiChem's claims about Tritan misleading.

"To ensure the safety of Tritan, Eastman has undergone extensive testing over multiple years using well-recognized scientific methods," Demuth said. "We continue to stand by this testing and the safety of Tritan."

About the methodology: Testing was performed using human breast cancer cells (MCF-7) and, in some cases, ovarian cells (BG-1). Chemicals were extracted for testing using a variety of solvents, including saline solution, pure ethanol, and ethanol with distilled water. The combination of solvents varied between products. Estrogenic activity was measured by comparing cells' response to plastic extracts with their response to pure estrogen (17-beta estradiol). Less than 15 percent of the maximum response to estrogen was considered negative. For the purposes of the chart above, 15-25 percent is mild; 25-50 percent is moderate; 50-75 percent is high; and 75-100 percent is very high. Results differed depending on extraction method and type of UV radiation. The chart represents the highest values.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Kids at Beach Cry 'Clean Me Up!'

Published in the Huffington Post by Lisa Kaas Boyle
From the San Fernando Valley Sun:
Nearly 4,000 Los Angeles kids, teachers and volunteers send a giant text message from the ocean to "CLEAN ME UP :)" as part of the 21st annual Kids Ocean Day Adopt-A-Beach Clean-Up organized by the Malibu Foundation, City of Los Angeles, Spectral Q, Keep LA Beautiful and the California Coastal Commission in Los Angeles May 15, 2014. The kids are alerting the world about the need to help the ocean and protect it from the everyday trash and plastic litter that flow down the streets, killing marine life and polluting food resources. Photo Credit: Jeff Pantukhoff, Spectral Q, Kids Ocean Day
How often do you hear kids calling out "CLEAN ME UP!" but that is exactly what 4,000 kids did at Dockweiler Beach on a 100 degree day at the beach for Kids Ocean Day in Los Angeles. Despite the record temperatures, Michael Klubock, founder of The Malibu Foundation, and Aerial Artist John Quigley and a team of volunteers worked successfully with 4,000 school children from 33 Los Angeles schools to send out a message in the sand to all grown-ups, especially legislators and other decision makers, that our oceans are in trouble and need help.

The Malibu Foundation provides in school and on-the-beach education to school children about our precious oceanic resources and our responsibility to keep the oceans free from pollution: especially chemicals and plastic pollution that reach our oceans through storm water and rivers that all lead to the ocean with a toxic mix of man-made waste.

The 4,000 children cleaned the beach of trash: most of it is plastic and not biodegradable, trash that stays around forever and causes significant harm and death to sea creatures when it enters their ecosystem. Also, the plastic trash and chemicals that enter the ocean become part of the food chain, poisoning the sea life that we consume. Research has shown that small broken bits of plastic and plastic microbeads are consumed by fish we eat.

Luckily, there are legislators in California who hear the message from the children and have authored bills currently up for action in the California Legislature to help Clean Up the Ocean from plastic pollution, the number one type of trash polluting our seas. Senators Padilla, DeLeon, and Lara have a State Wide Plastic Bag Ban (SB 270) that has garnered support from a wide range of groups seeking to keep the plastic bag, the number one plastic pollutant out of our environment.

California already has 76 local Bag Ban Ordinances in effect, covering 105 jurisdictions in California. Hawaii has banned plastic bags on each of its islands. Please add your voice to the call for California's state wide legislation to ban plastic bags Here.

Also, Assembly Member Richard Bloom has authored AB 1699, a Plastic Microbeads Ban sponsored by 5 Gyres Institute that seeks to rid personal grooming products of plastic microbead exfoliants that wash straight down the drain and into the ocean, bypassing filtration at water treatment plants because of their small size.

These microbeads resemble fish eggs and are consumed by fish that we humans consume. The plastic microbeads are found in facial and body scrubs and even toothpastes. Natural alternatives like rice bran or apricot husks are not only biodegradable and nontoxic, but also work better because the perfectly spherical surfaces of plastic beads are not good exfoliants, simply sliding over the skin's surface before washing down the drain. The bill has been approved by the California Assembly and now moves to the California Senate for a vote. Please encourage the California Senate to pass the Ban on Plastic Microbeads Here.

Kids Ocean Day, sponsored by The California Coastal Commission, was celebrated at 5 other beaches along the California Coast with over 8,500 children participating in the program statewide.

"The students and teachers who participate in this program are leading the way to a more sustainable world, says Steve Kinsey, Chair of the California Coastal Commission.

 "They are coastal stewards, caring for the beach and raising awareness. I hope the people who see their aerial art design in the sand will be inspired by their example and heed their message: that our lives depend upon each of us doing our part to help take care of the ocean."

Steve Kinsey told the crowd assembled that we are tantalizingly close to having a state wide plastic bag ban and asked the kids "How many of you and your families bring your own bags to the market?" A sea of hands went up.

Toxic Effects of Ocean Plastic Far Greater Than Previously Thought

Plastic Toxicity Working by Stealth in Oceans

By Shar Adams, Epoch Times | May 28, 2014
SYDNEY – When dead seabirds washed up in their thousands along the eastern and southern seaboards of Australia last year, biologist Dr Jennifer Lavers became worried, very worried.

A research fellow at the Institute for Marine & Antarctic Studies in Hobart, Dr Lavers had been studying flesh-footed shearwaters, also known as mutton birds, for nearly a decade.

She knew that mass deaths, known as “wrecks”, were not uncommon for the migratory shearwaters which travel huge distances from the Bering Sea to Australia every year.

Wrecks of seabirds traditionally occur every ten years or so as a result of large storms or lack of food. They begin in September as the birds arrive exhausted from their travels and usually last a couple of weeks.

But the wreck last year continued for an unprecedented four months, and dead birds appeared in the tens of thousands on beaches from Mackay in Queensland to Albany in Western Australia.

“It was quite unusual, to have birds washing up dead in January, which is when their chicks should be hatching,” Dr Lavers said in a phone interview.

Wrecks are becoming more common with seven events  since 2007. Dr Lavers believes they signal a much wider problem.

She has been studying the effects of plastic on shearwaters and says that while there are many contributing factors to wrecks, recent research indicates plastic is having a far more toxic effect on seabirds than first understood.

For one, the amount of plastic seabirds are ingesting has increased. Around 79 per cent of seabirds studied contained plastic in 2007 but that has now jumped to 100 per cent. Seabirds now contain “copious” amounts of plastic, she said. On average, around 17 pieces of plastic are found in a flesh-footed shearwater, but Dr Lavers says many contain much more.

“It is not unusual in fleshfoots to find more than 100, or more than 200, pieces of plastic in a single bird. They are very heavily impacted,” she said.

Toxicity of plastic

The amount of plastic in the ocean is well documented – the North Pacific Geyre near Hawaii is just one of six eddies known to trap oceanic garbage in patches of plastic and junk that extend over millions of square kilometres.

But an understanding of the way plastic is impacting our world has taken an alarming turn. In a new area of study, Dr Lavers joined forces with neurologist Professor Richard Banati from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO).

Professor Banati had refined a technique called the tracer principle, which involves using slightly radioactive tracers to study and track materials at the molecular level. At ANSTO he has been working on detection of contaminants in a wide range of ecosystems.

It appears that plastic, no matter how small or in what quantities, increases in toxicity the longer it floats in the ocean, the process releasing more and, at the same time, attracting more toxins.

“As the plastic floats in the ocean for weeks, months, decades, it acts like a sponge or magnet. It takes all of the contaminants in the ocean water that are diluted into low concentration, absorbs it, sucks it up and concentrates it on the surface,” said Dr Lavers.

“The concentration of the heavy metals on the plastic can be more than one thousand times the concentration of that same contaminant in the ocean water.”

Those contaminants include heavy metals like lead, mercury and cadmium, known to affect the liver, kidneys, respiratory and neurological systems in animals and humans.

The two researchers discovered heavy metals in the feathers and wings of sea birds, suggesting that those contaminants were being absorbed into animal tissue. They found that plastic was acting as a facilitator or conduit of contaminants into the animals system.

“Regardless of the size…any plastic can act as a vector,” she said. “Hands down, across the board, we now know this without a doubt.”

Dr Lavers also found a correlation between the birds’ condition and the amount of plastic in the bird – the higher the amount of plastic, the higher the level of heavy metals and the poorer the body condition, including emaciation and dangerously short wing spans. The results are ringing alarm bells.

“Seabirds are highly respected as indicators of the health of the marine environment,” she said.

Dr Lavers believes her discovery is ground breaking because environmental scientists have traditionally focused on quantifying the physical effects of plastics on sea life, like throat or intestinal blockages and plastic bags wrapped around the head. A molecular pathway of toxicity is a whole other level.

“What is happening we can’t see and that is far more widespread than anyone understands,” she said.

Rethinking plastic

While many people may be aware of the toxic nature of some plastics, particularly Bisphenol A (BPA), vinyl chloride (PVC) and polystyrene, the study highlights the dangers of any plastic including biodegradables.

A combination of starches and plastic in the form of polychromes, biodegradables can be broken down in industrial facilities using specials conditions like extreme heat and other processes, but they do not break down by floating around in cold ocean water.

“Plastic does not biodegrade, polymer chains do not biodegrade, that is the definition of their chemical structure, they do not break down, they truly last forever,” said Dr Lavers.
As a result of his molecular line of research, Dr Banati says the pervasive nature of plastic requires a rethink.

“A traditional approach to environment management has been ‘the solution to pollution is dilution’. However researchers are becoming concerned about this approach,” he said in a statement.

“Specifically we are finding that mass plastic consumption, together with increased degradability of plastics, may actually lead to a steady increase of hazardous contaminants in the environment which would be difficult to reverse.”

Dr Banati says showing the traceablity of plastics allows a more comprehensive analysis of the lifecycle of plastic well beyond what can be seen with the naked eye.

The results indicate clear environmental, biological and social concerns and raise questions about industry standards for reusable or biodegradable plastics and for their collection.

“These are interesting questions and, if anything, what research at the atomic scale shows is that they are at least worth putting out there and discussing,” Dr Banati said.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Original Unverpackt: Germany's First Zero-Waste Supermarket to Open this Summer

Published in inhabitat.com by Beverley Mitchell, 06/02/14
Germany is set to unveil the country’s very first zero-waste supermarket. Berlin’s Original Unverpackt is the brainchild of friends Sara Wolf and Milena Glimbovski.

Frustrated by the overpackaging and wastefulness they saw in the retail food industry, the young women decided to take action and launched a crowdfunding campaign in early May that has succeeded beyond all expectations. They now have the funds to open their first outlet this summer, with a second to follow soon after.

Read more: Original Unverpackt: Germany's First Zero-Waste Supermarket to Open this Summer | Inhabitat - Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building

The concept of the store is simple: all food is provided in bulk and customers bring their own containers. If you forget your containers, you can borrow multi-use ones from the store, or make use of recycled paper bags.

While the concept is familiar to food co-ops, Original Unverpackt will be on a larger scale and will provide absolutely no single use packaging or pre-packaged goods.

The team have been carefully sourcing stock as they prepare to open and their philosophy remains simple too. As they say, “You won’t find countless brands for each product because one, the right one, is enough.”

Where possible, produce will be sourced locally to reduce food miles, and both organic and less-expensive conventional products will be on offer as well “Everyone should be able to afford to help the environment in the way they can,” the duo adds.

Related: Fruta Feia Saves a Whopping 21 Tons of ‘Ugly’ Produce from Going to Waste in Portugal
Dry goods will be dispensed from gravity bins, allowing shoppers to customize their purchase and avoid wasting food at home caused by buying more than they really need.

The women aim to provide a real alternative to Germany’s larger supermarket chains and plan to expand the number of outlets as finances allow.

With a crowdsourcing campaign that has already more than doubled their €45,000 goal, they are well on their way to making a difference to the 16 million tons of packaging waste produced each year in Germany alone.

While the biggest battle now will be getting customers to remember their containers, similar concepts elsewhere show it can be done.

+ Original Unverpackt
Via takepart and Startnext.de

Photos by Original Unverpakt

Read more: Original Unverpackt: Germany's First Zero-Waste Supermarket to Open this Summer | Inhabitat - Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building

Monday, June 2, 2014

Oceans of Plastic: Melbourne Filmmaker Sees Firsthand the Effects of Plastic on Marine Health

Published in the Epoch Times by Philippa Rayment, May 28, 2014

Melbourne-based filmmaker Michael J. Lutman has made two documentaries, 'Plasticized' and the newly-released 'Baykeepers', about plastic pollution in the world's oceans and on local Australian shores. (Michael J. Lutman/Facebook)

When Melbourne-based filmmaker Michael J. Lutman agreed to film a scientific expedition examining water quality in a section of the Atlantic Ocean in 2010, little did he realise how much it would change his life.

Mr Lutman, 33, says he knew nothing about boats, had never been out to sea before, and was not a conservationist. Yet in 2010 he joined the research vessel Seadragon on the very first scientific expedition to document plastic waste in the South Atlantic Gyre.

“Somehow, after a couple of drinks in San Francisco with a very passionate friend, I found myself in a port in Brazil about to sail for South Africa,” Mr Lutman recalled.

Essentially a landlubber at heart, Mr Lutman defied seasickness to film this research expedition. It involved four weeks at sea in a yacht in all weathers, trawling the surface of the ocean. His intention was just to film and remain neutral in his thinking. But the expedition had a profound effect on him, leading him to reflect on his own lifestyle and consuming habits.

Leading the expedition was Dr Marcus Ericsson, co-founder of the 5 Gyres Institute, a California-based organisation focused on raising awareness of the impact of plastic waste on the world’s oceans and in particular in all of the gyres.

The gyres are whirlpools where the currents of the oceans meet. Above Australia and lying between California and Hawaii is the North Pacific Gyre, commonly called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Below this and relatively close to Australia is the South Pacific Gyre.

In gyres, plastic pollution accumulates to such an extent that they have become vast floating garbage patches. Sea vessels tend to avoid travelling through gyres, so the effects of plastic pollution in these areas was not well-known.

Mr Lutman says the scientists were expecting to find plastic. “But unfortunately,” said Mr Lutman “we found plastic in every single sample that was pulled in.

By the time we got to the very centre of what is known as a gyre, the samples were becoming more like handfuls of plastic particulate, almost like if you put your hand in pebbles and picked them up.”

He recalls the crew hardly saw any marine life on their voyage even though they were at sea for 33 days. Sometimes fish could be seen around larger chunks of plastic and nibbling at it.

But most disturbing for him was seeing one whale travelling alongside the yacht, all the while like a giant sieve drawing into its stomach the small particles of plastic, just as the research team was doing the same with their own trawling sieve.

“I never was an environmentalist before, it was just an interesting topic for a film maker. Now I realise how big of a problem it is,” Mr Lutman said.

“It has altered my shopping habits and I am also telling my friends about it.

“They see me as being kind of a bit eccentric so to speak – not buying a tomato sauce that comes in a plastic bottle, I’ll buy the ones that come in glass. I won’t take the store’s bag, I’ll bring my own.

Mr Lutman’s resulting documentary, Plasticized, calls attention to the toxic soup that has resulted from decades of dumping used plastic into the ocean. He says that the biggest shock for the crew was that it wasn’t a plastic island that you can go out and walk on.

“There weren’t the bigger chunks. But when you looked a little bit closer, there were little bits of plastic in every single square kilometre of that ocean,” he said.

He says studies of blood samples have revealed the transference of these chemicals into our body and into our blood streams. “We are at the top of the food chain, so that pollutant builds up in our fatty tissue and ultimately affects our health.”

At a screening of Plasticized in Melbourne earlier this year, one viewer said she found it fascinating and very disturbing at the same time.

“It is just absolutely mind boggling the amount of plastic that there is getting into our system,” said Ms McWilliams. “We are all consuming things from the ocean in some way, shape or form. So we are throwing this rubbish away, but it is actually coming back into us at some point. It was mind blowing.

“I do have a recycled coffee cup that I use every morning. But I am sure there is a lot more that I will be thinking about after this.”

Awareness comes with being able to see what is happening, and as a documentary producer, Mr Lutman says it is the magic of film that inspires him.

“It is a great tool to show the beauty of the ocean and talk about something that is really important. It allows people to go on the journey that I went on, and to feel the same way as I do from having that experience,” he said.

Now four years on from the Seadragon research expedition, Mr Lutman says some progress has been made to stop the overflow of plastics into the ocean. A few months after a screening of Plasticized in Fremantle, WA, and a chat with the Mayor, the city put forth legislation to ban single-use plastic bags.

“I feel like there is hope despite the pessimistic outlook,” Mr Lutman said.

After screening Plasticized at the Eco Centre in St Kilda, Mr Lutman was commissioned to make another film, called Baykeepers, into the investigation of plastic pollution on a local Australian level. He’s been busy filming seals entangled, dead birds with bellies full of plastic, and even a dolphin that had ingested plastic bags.

“It was all quite startling,” Mr Lutman said, “but essential to show in my new film, as it shows this plastic pollution problem is happening everywhere, including Melbourne, Australia.”

A free screening of Michael Lutman’s new documentary Baykeepers will be held at the Royal Yacht Club in Williamstown, Melbourne on May 31.

To learn more about Plasticized, visit www.plasticizedthemovie.com.

5 Gyres To Study Ocean Plastics Off Bermuda

Published in Bernews May 29, 2014 | 1 Comment
On the heels of a successful plastic microbead campaign and four years of sailing the world’s oceans to complete the first global assessment of microplastics, the 5 Gyres Institute is returning to Bermuda to embark on a new mission to survey microplastics in the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre and the subpolar ‘Viking Gyre’, yet to be studied for plastics.

A spokesperson said, “The expedition will embark on June 8, 2014 from St. George’s, Bermuda, sailing with a crew of 14 professional sailors, scientists, advocates, artists, filmmakers, photographers, and journalists northeast to Iceland. 5 Gyres co-founder and Research Director Dr. Marcus Eriksen will serve as expedition leader and principle investigator.

Dr. Eriksen said, “5 Gyres is on the frontier of oceanic plastic pollution, reaching beyond the North Pacific to discover garbage patches around the world. We’re always striving to learn more about how plastics affect ocean ecosystems, which brings us to monitor remote seas, like the area south of Iceland. These waters are where microplastics, including the microbeads we found in the Great Lakes, likely find their final resting place. We’re going there to find out.”

“5 Gyres has already seen positive change occur from their unique approach of utilizing scientific data to drive solutions to plastic pollution. On other expeditions to the Great Lakes, 5 Gyres discovered high concentrations of plastic microbeads traced back to personal care products that use beads as exfoliants, such as facial scrubs and other cosmetics. This data, published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, is the basis for 5 Gyres’ advocacy campaign to ‘Ban The Bead.’

Carolynn Box, a 5 Gyres Research Coordinator who will also join the expedition, said, “These products are designed to be washed down the drain, often escaping sewage treatment, which means they’ll eventually find their way to the ocean. We’ll be on the lookout for microbead pollution as well as the typical, photo-degraded plastic that blights our oceans.”

“Thus far, armed with irrefutable data, 5 Gyres has successfully worked with several of the companies that manufacture these products to agree to a voluntary phase out.”

Stiv Wilson, the 5 Gyres Associate Director who has headed the ‘Ban The Bead’ campaign, said,

“Though voluntary phase-out is a good first step, we realized that we needed to take a legislative approach to ensure that these plastic beads are eliminated from commerce. We’d love to see Bermuda merchants voluntarily phase out products that contain these beads, as a model for other island nations.”

“5 Gyres has successfully introduced legislation in several American states, and the policy is on the way to passage.

“In addition to searching for microbeads, 5 Gyres will be researching the subsurface distribution of microplastics and the impact of plastics on foraging fish, and testing new collection equipment at sea.

Dr. Eriksen said, “We’ll be studying the water column to look at plastics below the waves, as well looking at the toxins this plastic absorbs, what kind of fish are eating them, and how this might affect a major food source for humans worldwide.”

Dr. Eriksen said, “Research is costly at sea. When we have the opportunity to do our work, I seek collaborations with the global scientific network, collecting samples for my colleagues who concentrate on related fields of study to plastic pollution. With this partnerships, we can further our scientific understanding of plastic pollution while managing the costs associated with data collection in the most remote parts of the world.”

“There will be several opportunities for the public in Bermuda to join the 5 Gyres team and crew to learn more about plastic pollution:
  • On June 5, 5 Gyres will work with Bermudian scientists and volunteers at Keep America Beautiful, a long time collaborator of 5 Gyres, to conduct beach surveys at various locations around the island.
  • On the evening of June 5, 5 Gyres will give a lecture at BIOS from 4.00pm through 6.30pm that will be free and open to the public.
  • On June 6, the team will conduct more beach surveys and will host an evening fundraiser/cocktail party at BUEI [please contact 5 Gyres for details].
  • On June 8, The Viking Gyre Expedition will embark from St. George’s, sailing for three weeks and conducting research as they sail for Iceland, hoping to arrive by the end of June.
“For details on events or to get involved with our beach survey, interviews, and high-resolution images please contact Stiv Wilson, Associate Director, 5 Gyres, via email at stiv@5gyres.org or via telephone at 503-913-7381.

“For information on how to participate in beach surveys, please contact Anne Hyde, Executive Director, Keep Bermuda Beautiful, via email at kbb@northrock.bm.”