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!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Many plastics labeled 'biodegradable' don't break down as expected

Published in Phys.org March 18, 2015 by the American Chemical Society
Many plastics labeled 'biodegradable' don't break down as expected
Recycling plastic works; additives to biodegrade plastic do not.

A new study from Michigan State University shows that several additives that claim to break down polyethylene (i.e., plastic bags) and polyethylene terephthalate (i.e., soda bottles) simply don't work in common disposal situations such as landfills or composting.

"Making improper or unsubstantiated claims can produce consumer backlash, fill the environment with unwanted polymer debris and expose companies to legal penalties," said Susan Selke, co-author of the study and MSU packaging professor.

The results, featured in the current issue of Environmental Science and Technology, are a culmination of a three-year study that focused on five additives and three categories of biodegradation, which cover the majority of methods available on the market today.

The team studied biodegradation with oxygen, such as in composting; biodegradation without oxygen, such as in an anaerobic digester or a landfill; and simply burying plastics.

"There was no difference between the plastics mixed with the additives we tested and the ones without," said Rafael Auras, co-author and MSU packaging professor. "The claim is that, with the additives, the plastics will break down to a level in which microorganisms can use the decomposed material as food. That simply did not happen."

William Rathje, the late Arizona paleontologist and founder of the Tucson Garbage Project, revealed that even after years underground, chicken bones still had meat on them, grass was still green and that even carrots still maintained their orange color.

Since organic materials take so long to decompose, it's not surprising then that plastics, even with the aid of additives, would take decades or longer to break down, if at all. So, if the additives don't work, what's the solution?

"The solution is to not make claims that are untrue," Selke said. "The proper management of waste plastics is the proper management of waste plastics."

And for now, that means not using any of the disposal methods or additives included in the study as feasible options, Selke said.

It's a growing trend that many U.S. cities and countries have banned or have adopted legislation taxing the retail use of plastic bags, one of the largest sources of polyethylene waste. Plastic manufacturers are also seeking solutions to this problem, Selke said.

"Package-user companies funded this study because they wanted to know if the additives that are being marketed to them work," she said. "They wanted scientific proof to evaluate the products and disposal approaches that are available to them to break down plastic."

More information: Evaluation of Biodegradation-Promoting Additives for Plastics, Environ. Sci. Technol., 2015, 49 (6), pp 3769–3777. DOI: 10.1021/es504258u
Biodegradation-promoting additives for polymers are increasingly being used around the world with the claim that they effectively render commercial polymers biodegradable. However, there is a lot of uncertainty about their effectiveness in degrading polymers in different environments. In this study, we evaluated the effect of biodegradation-promoting additives on the biodegradation of polyethylene (PE) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Biodegradation was evaluated in compost, anaerobic digestion, and soil burial environments. None of the five different additives tested significantly increased biodegradation in any of these environments. Thus, no evidence was found that these additives promote and/or enhance biodegradation of PE or PET polymers. So, anaerobic and aerobic biodegradation are not recommended as feasible disposal routes for nonbiodegradable plastics containing any of the five tested biodegradation-promoting additives.

Sounding a Royal Alarm for the Ocean

Published in the Huffington Post on March 25, 2015 by Andreas Merkl

Last Wednesday, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, speaking in Washington, DC, to an audience of 100 governmental, corporate and nonprofit leaders, sounded the alarm about the ever-increasing quantities of plastic waste entering the ocean. He cited a recent study in the journal Science which stated that, without intervention, between five to 12 million metric tonnes of plastics will continue to enter the ocean every year. Think of that number like this: The global tuna catch is 4.5 million metric tons per year. We are taking out tuna and replacing it with plastic.

The Prince, an impassioned environmentalist, called for governments, corporations and non-governmental organizations to work together to reduce the flow of plastics into the sea. As the head of an organization committed to doing just what the Prince described, I was heartened by his words and deeply appreciate the urgency and global reach of his message.

Plastic is found in practically every species of fish examined and causes the deaths of countless seabirds and marine animals..

But the situation is also solvable if we take Prince Charles' mandate to heart. We are already seeing the kind of collaboration and action that he describes through our Trash Free Seas Alliance®, a forum Ocean Conservancy leads where industry, scientists and nonprofits join forces for solutions. The Alliance is working with producers of plastics and consumer goods that are stepping up to share responsibility -- and take action -- for this global crisis.

We know from the research cited in Science that as much as 83 percent of this waste comes from 20 countries -- the majority of them developing nations where implementation of more effective waste management could produce a significant decrease in the amount of plastic entering the ocean. And the flood of plastics is not "just" an ocean issue; it has major implications on public health, job creation, tourism and developing economies and markets.

While there are a number of responses that can work over the long term, the Alliance is committed to developing a collective industry response to "turbocharge" the increase of collection and treatment in the short term, especially for the five countries cited as contributing as much as half of the plastic waste.

Through a collaborative effort of corporations working with governments and agencies within these nations, lives and economies can be made better, and plastic waste entering the ocean can be drastically reduced. This type of approach is supported by the Global Ocean Commission, a group of world leaders working with industry, scientists, conservation groups and others, to identify solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing our ocean.

Scientists tell us that "global peak waste" will not come before the year 2100. That makes it even more urgent to develop the right tools and the winning solutions to "get this right" for the ocean, for its inhabitants and for people the world over.

For 30 years, through our International Coastal Cleanup, we have focused on trash removal from beaches and waterways around the globe. During that time, 11 million volunteers in over 150 countries have removed more than 190 million pounds of debris. Now we at Ocean Conservancy have expanded our focus and redoubled our efforts. With our partners in the Trash Free Seas Alliance®, we are committed to preventing plastic from getting into the ocean in the first place.

4 States Working to Ban Microbeads

Published in EcoWatch.com on March 30, 2015 by Staley Prom, Surfrider Foundation

There are currently numerous state bills introduced around the country focused on curbing marine plastic pollution. One notably popular subject this session is that of microbeads, which are teeny tiny bits of plastic put in consumer products such as toothpastes and facial scrubs, which (likely unbeknownst to consumers!) wash down the drain, are frequently not captured by wastewater treatment facilities (because they’re too small, do not biodegrade, and float), simply pass through wastewater treatment facilities, and eventually enter our waterways and pollute our oceans. These microplastics are found in all ocean gyres, bays, gulfs and seas around the world.
Microplastics are found in all ocean gyres, bays, gulfs and seas around the world. Photo credit: Surfrider Foundation
Microplastics are found in all ocean gyres, bays, gulfs and seas around the world. Photo credit: Surfrider Foundation
This is problematic for a multitude of reasons. First, plastic does not biodegrade into elements or compounds commonly found in nature like other organic materials, but instead, photodegrades into smaller pieces of plastic causing pollution that is virtually impossible to remediate. Second, microplastic debris absorbs toxic, environmentally persistent chemicals such as DDT, PCBs, PAHs, and flame retardants found in our waterways. In 2011, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association found that plastic debris accumulates pollutants such as PCBs up to 100,000 to 1,000,000 times the levels found in seawater.

Thus, aside from the negative effects of plastic consumption by marine life such as intestinal clogging and starvation, fish can become contaminated by the plastic’s absorbed toxins, which bioaccumulate up the food chain.  These toxins pose dangerous threats to humans and wildlife who consume them. Microplastics? Megaproblem.

Currently, there are at least 15 microbead bills pending at various stages across the country. Below is a sampling of some of these bills. While, as explained below, Surfrider Foundation has concerns associated with some of the bills, Surfrider is hopeful that states will carefully draft bills that will address the very serious threats that microplastic pollution poses to our coastal resources and water quality.

Connecticut currently has four microbeads bills in the works: House Bill (H.B.) 6081, H.B. 5206,H.B. 5403, and H.B. 5727. On March 10, 2015, Surfrider Foundation submitted testimony to the Joint Committee on the Environment supporting the bills, with amendments. Surfrider’s concerns with the bills primarily focus on any exceptions or exemptions for “over the counter” drugs or “biodegradable” particles. First, there must not be any exemptions for over the counter products, as this creates a huge industry loophole, rendering any microbeads ban futile, since the number of over the counter drugs is incredibly broad, and contains numerous types of products such as fluoride and whitening toothpastes, acne scrubs, moisturizing cleansers, and wrinkle creams, which are the exact kinds of products which typically utilize microbeads. Secondly, any exemptions for biodegradable particles are concerning, because “biodegradable” can be a misleading term. Any microbead legislation should only include a biodegradable exception if the term is carefully defined in a way to ensure that only products which are truly able to break down into natural elements in the marine environment or in wastewater treatment are considered biodegradable.

Recently, on March 18, Surfrider Foundation submitted testimony in strong support of Hawaii’s microbead bill, H.B. 621, with amendments, to the Energy and Environment Committee, and Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee. The bill gradually (i.e. between December 31, 2017 and December 31, 2019) phases in the prohibition on the manufacture and sale of personal care products that contain “synthetic plastic microbeads.” “Synthetic plastic microbead” means any intentionally added non-biodegradable solid plastic particle measuring less than five millimeters in size and used to exfoliate or cleanse in a rinse-off product. Violations are punishable by civil penalties up to $1,000 for a first violation, and up to $2,500 for subsequent violations.
As noted above, this microbead definition, which excludes “non-biodegradable” particles is potentially problematic. Thus, the Surfrider Foundation proposed in its testimony that the legislators must either remove the vague, misleading term “non-biodegradable” in the definition of “synthetic plastic microbead” and replace it with “non-compostable,” or define “biodegradable” as “capable of decomposing back into natural elements.”

Similarly, in Oregon, H.B. 3478 was first read March 2, 2015, and was referred to the Energy and Environment Committee March 9, 2015. The bill phases in the prohibition on the manufacture and sale of personal care products and over the counter drugs that contain synthetic plastic microbeads. Currently, the definition of “synthetic plastic microbead” means “a solid plastic particle that a manufacturer intentionally incorporates into a personal care product and that: (A) Measures less than five millimeters in diameter; (B) Is not biodegradable; (C) The manufacturer intends as a method for exfoliating skin or otherwise cleaning the human body; and (D) The manufacturer intends for the consumer to rinse off from the body after use.  Thus, the definition excludes particles which are “biodegradable.” As noted above, this is potentially vague and problematic, and any microbead legislation should ensure that the ban applies to all microplastic particles, and that only products which are truly able to break down into natural elements are excepted. The Surfrider Foundation, on behalf of the Oregon Surfrider Foundation Chapter Network, and the individual Oregon chapters have expressed these concerns in personal letters to their state legislators, and Surfrider Foundation staff will be participating in a work group on this bill in the future.

Meanwhile, Washington’s microbead bill, Senate Bill (S.B.) 5609 passed the Senate unanimously on March 11, 2015. In the House, the bill had its first reading and was referred to the House Committee on the Environment on March 13. The Committee recently held a public hearing on the bill on March 23, 2015.

Unfortunately, S.B. 5609 passed the Senate with a potential “biodegradable” loophole, similar to Hawaii and Oregon’s microbeads bills. The definition of the banned “synthetic plastic microbead” excludes biodegradable particles (i.e., synthetic plastic microbead means “an intentionally added nonbiodegradable solid plastic particle measuring less than five millimeters in size and used to exfoliate or cleanse in a rinse-off product”), which, again, could be problematic without further clarifying what is biodegradable and what is nonbiodegradable.

The Surfrider Foundation will continue to monitor these, and other proposed microbeads bills, and bring awareness to these issues such that legislators will be encouraged to craft effective bills that serve their intended purposes.  Go here for more information on the dangers of marine plastic pollution, and on Surfrider Foundation’s Rise Above Plastics campaign.

Visit 5 Gyres I Want Plastic Off My Face information page to learn how you can get involved.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Bayfield resident sharing documentary on Atlantic Ocean expedition

Published Friday, March 27, 2015 by Dave Flaherty, Goderich Signal-Star
Bayfield resident Jennifer Pate took part in an expedition across the Atlantic Ocean to study the effect of plastics and toxins on oceans and marine life late last year. Her documentary “eXXpedition – Jen Pate: Making the Unseen Seen” will be shown at Bayfield Town Hall on Thurs., Apr. 2 at 7:30 p.m. (Contributed photo)
Bayfield resident Jennifer Pate took part in an expedition across the Atlantic Ocean to study the effect of plastics and toxins on oceans and marine life late last year. 

Her documentary “eXXpedition – Jen Pate: Making the Unseen Seen” will be shown at Bayfield Town Hall on Thurs., Apr. 2 at 7:30 p.m. (Contributed photo)

Sailing across the Atlantic Ocean is something the majority of people will never experience.

Bayfield resident Jennifer Pate can stake claim to that experience and wants to share it with others.
This upcoming Thursday, Blue Community Bayfield will present “eXXpedition- Jen Pate: Making the Unseen Seen” at Bayfield Town Hall at 7:30 p.m.

The film documents an expedition of 14 women, including Pate, who sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to study the impact of plastics and toxins on oceans and marine life.

Pate has been participating in world expeditions for about five years now.

“After my first, I set up my own film company when I was still living in England,” Pate said.
As her films focus on environmental issues and social responsibility, Pate said her interest was peaked immediately when she heard about this particular expedition.

She was chosen out of a field of 300 applicants.

It was an all-female team, which Pate admitted caused some uncertainty for her at first.
“It was a first of kind for me, all of my other expeditions have been a mix of men and women. Before we left, a lot of us were wondering if it would get catty, you know, the typical stereotypes of a bunch of woman being together,” she said. “But I found it was the exact opposite – it was the most calm expedition I’ve been involved with.”

Beyond the experience of traveling across the Atlantic itself, Pate said she left the expedition with 13 new friends.

“We all said we can’t get rid of each other – when you go through an experience like that you’ve got friends for life,” she said. “We all came out like family and made a connection we will have for the rest of our lives.”

Although she has a mind for environmental issues, this was the first time Pate had become directly interested in the oceanic effect of plastics and toxins.

“The adventure was what drew me in, but the more and more I’ve read the more I have come to be so involved with this issue.”

The negative effect of smaller pieces of plastic such as beer and pop can rings and shopping bags has been known for a considerable amount of time, but Pate said they were looking at micro plastics, which never really break down, just disintegrate into smaller pieces and “become sponges for toxics”.

Sea creatures eventually ingest these pieces of plastic and the toxins along with them.

The expedition left from Lanzarote in the Canary Islands on Nov. 16, 2014 and arrived at Martinique in the Caribbean islands on Dec. 5.

“It 100% exceeded my expectations,” Pate said. “It was an incredible trip.”

The team traveled on a 72-foot vessel with a varying amount of sailing experience amongst the crew members.

“Half our team was brand new and even the ones who were experienced hadn’t necessarily sailed an ocean before.”

Pate had many more responsibilities than just holding a camera.

Each crew member took their turns handling cooking, cleaning and navigation duties.
The documentary premiered on March 7 in London, England, hosted by the Royal Geographical Society.

Pate said about 200 people attended, including 13 of the 14 crew members of the expedition.
The event at Bayfield Town Hall is sponsored by the Bayfield Photography Club and admission is by donation.

The documentary is available for streaming at www.vimeo/ondemand/exxpedition

Proceeds from film streams will go towards to creating an education package, which will be facilitated by British company Digital Explorers.

For more information on the film, visit www.exxpedition.com.

Pate said she hoping to organize a similar expedition for the Great Lakes in the near future.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Plastic waste responsible for nearly 92% life-threatening cases in marine life

Published in Customs Today Report February 21, 2015

 Plastic waste responsible for nearly 92% life-threatening cases in marine life

MEXICO: According to a new study thousands of individual animals from hundreds of marine species including every kind of sea turtle and around half of marine mammals have encountered plastic, glass, and other garbage in the ocean.

Often the encounters are fatal. In some cases they may be helping push some beleaguered species towards extinction in the wild.

Those are some of the findings in the most comprehensive look at the effects of debris on marine wildlife since 1997. Co-authors Sarah Gall and Richard Thompson, marine biologists at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom, looked in 340 different publications for reports about animal encounters with marine trash.

They found that 693 species of marine animals had some sort of interaction with human-made debris, with 17 percent of them listed with some degree of vulnerability to extinction on the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list.

Sometimes these encounters involved glass, metal, or paper. But plastic surged past those materials as a hazard to ocean wildlife, turning up in almost 92 percent of animal-meets-marine debris reports, according to the study published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

All together there were 44,006 incidents of individual animals, across 395 species, that had eaten plastic bits or been tangled in plastic rope or netting.

Around 80 percent of the time, these encounters injured or killed the animal.

There were reports of 138 hawksbill turtles, 73 Kemp’s Ridley turtles, and 62 leatherback sea turtles tangled in plastic. All three are listed as critically endangered—one step below extinct in the wild—on the IUCN red list.

Marine mammals as a group proved especially vulnerable to marine plastic debris, with 30,896 of the reports involving these animals tangled in ropes or netting. They included 215 Hawaiian monk seals, a critically endangered species, and 38 endangered northern right whales, as well as 3,835 northern fur seals and 3,587 California sea lions.

Among seabirds, Gall and Thompson found 174 records of individual birds from over 150 species being tangled in or eating plastic. They included 3,444 northern fulmars 1,674 Atlantic puffins, 971 Laysan albatross, and 895 greater shearwaters.

Your Face Scrub Could Be Starving Coral Reefs

Scientists find corals are eating as much plastic as food, and this can kill them.

(Photo: Mark Conlin/Getty Images)
Published in Take Part.com February 27, 2015

The ocean’s corals have a lot to deal with these days.

Ever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions are warming ocean temperatures, bleaching and sometimes killing coral reefs that shelter fish that end up on your dinner plate. The seas are absorbing carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels, which is acidifying the oceans and retarding the growth of coral.

Now Australian researchers have found that the 8 million tons of plastic we dump into the ocean each year are being eaten by corals, which gums up their digestive tracks and can lead to starvation.
Photos ‘a’ and ‘b’ show microplastics in the mouths of coral
polyps. Photo ‘c’ shows plastic fragments found in the
water near reef sites. (Photos: N.M. Hall)
By nature, corals are not picky eaters, said study coauthor Mia Hoogenboom of ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, and the 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the water today look just as enticing to the organisms as their favorite meal, zooplankton.

Researchers took corals from the Great Barrier Reef and put them in water littered with microplastics—five-millimeter bits or smaller that make up most of the ocean’s total plastic pollution. They found that the coral polyps ate almost as much plastic as the marine plankton they were supposed to be eating, and the tiny plastic pieces ended up lodged deep in their gut cavity tissue.

Coral gets energy in part from photosynthesis, but the symbiotic creature needs that gut tissue to digest food. If it’s jammed up with plastics, it could slowly starve to death. Scientists studied the water around the Great Barrier Reef and found bits of plastic there too—just in smaller numbers.

“If microplastic pollution increases on the Great Barrier Reef, corals could be negatively affected as their tiny stomach cavities become full of indigestible plastic,” Hoogenboom said.
Coral is just the latest organism found to be dealing with plastic pollution.

Hundreds of marine species are trying to cope with increasing encounters with plastics they come across in the sea. In a recent study, researchers found that plastics were the culprits in 92 percent of marine animals’ reported encounters with debris. Those encounters usually involved animals either eating plastic bits or getting tangled in plastic rope or netting and resulted in injury or death about 80 percent of the time.

Still, the effects of microplastics have been understudied, and there is a need “for further investigation of whether and how microplastic contamination influences the physiology, growth, and survival of marine organisms,” the authors wrote.

Ban Microbeads in California

Take Action to Tip The Scales
Let's Ban Microbeads in California!
The 5 Gyres Institute has come a long way since we began sailing the high seas on a mission to document the emerging global plastic crisis.  In the last 5 years, we have sailed over 50,000 miles, collected more than four hundred ocean surface samples, published several peer reviewed scientific papers documenting our findings, and helped launch a national movement to ban microbeads from personal care products like facial scrubs and toothpaste. 

Your support right now will help 5 Gyres tip the scales in favor of the planet and win the battle to Ban Microbeads in California. A win against microbeads in California will help pave the way toward legislative wins across the country.


The movement has caught fire. In the last few months, 18 states across the country - from Hawaii to Maine - have introduced legislation to ban microbeads. Were building upon the tremendous efforts of our partners at The Plastic Soup Foundation, who first galvanized European audiences to take this issue on. Just last week, a federal bill was introduced in congress. But major players in the cosmetics industry are spending big bucks to introduce language that allows bioplastics to replace current plastic beads. Without adequate testing and oversight, 5 Gyres and our coalition partners are wary of bioplastics - unless they are proven beyond any shadow of doubt to break down into before they reach the ocean.   

With research emerging daily highlighting the devastating effects of plastic on marine life - from starving coral reefs to poisoning fish that humans consume - it's clear that we need to act now to stop plastic pollution at the source, before it ever has a chance to reach the oceans.

That's why in California we have teamed up with Assembly Member Richard Bloom (D - Santa Monica) and a coalition of leading environmental groups to introduce the most comprehensive ban in the country. Over the next several months, 5 Gyres will be working to educate lawmakers and citizens about the dangers of microplastic pollution, build grassroots support in key districts, and pass responsible policies with one objective: to keep plastic off of our faces and out of our oceans.

We have a momentous battle ahead - and the stakes could not be higher. What happens in 2015 in legislatures across the country will determine the fate of billions of microbeads and accordingly, our oceans. Join us in our last stand to ban the bead and protect the oceans that we cherish, and the marine life that calls them home.

Support our work to protect the oceans from microplastic pollution by making a contribution today.

The 5 Gyres Team
donate button

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Swiss expedition to study trash in world’s oceans

A Swiss-led, state-of-the-art trimaran yacht will set sail on March 15 as part of a research expedition to study the impact of plastic pollution on the global marine environment. It will focus on five trash ‘vortexes’ located in three oceans.

The “Race for Water Odyssey” expedition (R4WO), skippered by Swiss sailor Stève Ravussin, former winner of the Route du Rhum, will commence its 300-day ocean voyage in Bordeaux and cross the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The aim is to study plastic pollution at five key areas, known as “gyres” or “vortexes”, where waste accumulates in large quantities, and in particular the impact of pollution for island populations living near these zones.

It is estimated that the surfaces of the worlds’ oceans are laden with nearly 269,000 tonnes of plastic pollution from 5.25 trillion particles, but much more lies below.

“The oceans have become the biggest rubbish bins in the world. Eighty per cent of all ocean pollution is plastic,” declared Marco Simeoni, chairman of the Race for Water Foundation, the initiator of the expedition.
 (Race for Water)
(Race for Water)
Although several individual studies have already been conducted on certain vortexes, such as that of the 5-Gyres Organisation published last year, this will be the first time an expedition will collect and analyse systematic and comparable data on all five of the planet’s gyres in one go.

“There are about a dozen other organisations working in this area but very few are active; most are involved in awareness raising,” said Simeoni.

(Extract from plastic rubbish collection from Midway Journey film (2009))

The six-member expedition crew will focus in particular on 15 island beaches located in the five vortexes and follow standardised techniques for collecting samples of microplastics. These will be sent back to a scientific team at Lausanne’s Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) for analysis.

“We are starting to understand the overall problem much better but we still are not familiar with the general dynamics and how this pollution evolves over time,” said EPFL scientist Florian Faure, who has studied microplastic pollution in Swiss lakes and rivers. “It's interesting to focus on the islands to have fixed points to collect the rubbish. This research can be repeated over time and continued by people locally.”

Researchers from Duke University and Oregon State University will also help coordinate a digital mapping project of the plastic rubbish together with Swiss drone specialists SenseFly, an EPFL spin-off company.

During their voyage the crew will stop off in New York, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, Shanghai and other cities to raise awareness about the problem. The team also plans to meet with island residents, sailors, fishermen, local authorities and NGOs to gather information about their solutions for mitigating plastic pollution on their coastlines as a future follow-up.


Environmentalists pan microbead ban pushed by beauty industry

The push is on in Washington state to ban synthetic plastic microbeads, the tiny pieces of plastic sometimes used in face washes and bath products as an exfoliant.

But in a twist, an environmental group working to curb plastic pollution is critical of the plan, while manufacturers of microbead-laden beauty products are pushing it.

The small plastic beads, commonly used in facial scrubs and body washes, are known to pollute waterways and can end up in the bellies of fish and other marine animals, according to the state Department of Ecology.

A proposal in the Legislature would phase out products containing the synthetic microbeads by 2020. House Bill 1378 will receive a public hearing at 8 a.m. Thursday (Jan. 29) before the House Environment Committee.

As written, though, the legislation would only ban microbeads that are made out of plastic that isn’t biodegradable, which one environmental group said wouldn’t solve the problem.

The biodegradable plastics now on the market don’t break down in cold environments such as the ocean, according to 5 Gyres, a nonprofit working to reduce plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. Instead, the currently available biodegradable plastics need to be composted in a high-heat industrial compost facility, said Anna Cummins, executive director of the group.

5 Gyres has been critical of a similar law passed in Illinois last year that also targets only non-biodegradable plastic microbeads.

“The whole point is to prevent these toxic plastic pellets from entering our oceans,” Cummins said. “Replacing plastic microbeads with compostable plastic microbeads would be a huge loss for the environment.”

Yet the Personal Care Products Council, a national trade group representing about 600 companies, is supporting the legislation. So is the state Department of Ecology.

Karin Ross, director of government affairs for the Personal Care Products Council, said there aren’t many scientific studies yet showing that microbeads have become a large pollution problem, but manufacturers want to get ahead of the issue.

She said manufacturers of personal care products are already switching voluntarily to alternatives to plastic microbeads, which she said may include natural exfoliants such as ground seeds.

“The industry has taken the worries about them possibly ending up in waterways very seriously,” Ross said.

Ross made no mention of biodegradable plastics being used as an alternative, but said she couldn’t speak to all the products in development by companies represented by her organization.

The proposal the House committee will hear Thursday would phase out products containing non-biodegradable plastic microbeads over a five-year period. Under the bill, it would be illegal for anyone in Washington to manufacture or knowingly sell any products containing synthetic microbeads starting in January 2020.

Violators could be fined between $1,000 and $10,000.

Microbeads are defined in the legislation as plastic particles less than 5 millimeters in diameter that are used for exfoliation.

An identical bill has been introduced in the Senate, and both bills have a mix of Republican and Democratic supporters.

State Rep. Joan McBride, D-Kirkland, said her intention in sponsoring the House version of the legislation is to stop microbead pollution in waterways.

She said Wednesday that she hadn’t heard of any opposition to the bill until a reporter told her of 5 Gyres’ concerns. She said she is open to amending the the bill to apply to all products with plastic microbeads, regardless of whether they are made of biodegradable or non-biodegradable plastic.
McBride said the plastic microbeads are particularly problematic because they are often too small to be caught by water filtration systems.

She said that she’s worried about plastic microbeads contaminating the state’s food supply and damaging aquatic ecosystems.

“They’re not meant to be ingested,” McBride said. “They work at exfoliation — they don’t work as food for fish.”

David Cuellar Pens "Plastic Island"

David Cuellar Pens PLASTIC ISLAND San Jose, Calif.

A 2001 study found an average of 334,271 pieces of plastic per square mile in the northern Pacific Ocean. The middle of the Pacific Ocean holds a stationary garbage heap about twice the size of Texas that goes unnoticed. Author David Cuellar is trying to change that.

In his short children's story, "Plastic Island," Cuellar stresses the importance of keeping the environment clean. Pollution affects all living beings, from a boy who plays the flute to an eagle that flies in the sky. Cuellar believes that Mother Nature has done her part, so it's time for mankind to do his.

While on a hiking trip in Middletown, California, Cuellar first learned of garbage patches in the ocean from a fellow hiker.

"My first reaction was disbelief," Cuellar said, "But after researching it, I realized the truth. I saw the vortex in the ocean as the Earth doing its part to gather up our mess."

Everyone can contribute to the beautification of the earth. Kids, teens, adults, CEO's and even members of the United Nations have a part.

Cueller hopes to spread awareness of the garbage patches in the ocean and to help raise more environmentally conscious kids.

"Plastic Island"
By: David Cuellar
ISBN: 978-1-4907-4903-7
Softcover: $16.49
E-book: $3.99
Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Trafford.com

About the author
David Cuellar is a Financial Advisor and Certified Financial Planner in San Mateo County, Cal. Committed to financial education, Cuellar has taught thousands of classes at the College of San Mateo, CAÑADA College and De Anza College. Cuellar is involved in his community as a volunteer for CORA, an organization designated to end domestic violence, and attends many local theater, musical and arts events. Sometimes you might even find him playing his Native American flute in a local community park.

# # #
For review copies or interview requests, contact:
Craig Cainkar

Friday, March 13, 2015

Interview with Dr. Sylvia Earle

Published in the Earth Island Journal | Spring 2015

Oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle is sometimes fondly referred to as “Her Deepness.” She has set records for solo diving, lived in underwater laboratories, and navigated dark corners of the oceans in small submarines. In the course of her research and exploration, she has spent more than 7,000 hours underwater marveling at the diversity of the oceans.
photo of a woman on the edge of the sea, she is happyphoto Kip Evans

At 79, Earle has watched the oceans change radically in her lifetime. She has had a front-row seat from which to view coral bleaching. She has witnessed up-close the destructive power of industrial fishing operations, and she has seen the global reach of plastics pollution.

When not undersea, Earle spends much of her time advocating for the conservation of our “life support system,” as she often refers to the ocean. During the course of her 50-year career, she has worn many hats, including chief scientist of NOAA, field researcher, nonprofit founder, and National Geographic Society Explorer in Residence.

In the process, Earle has contributed greatly to our growing understanding of ocean ecosystems. “I wish we could go back 50 years armed with what we know today,” she says. Despite witnessing the seas deteriorate before her eyes, Earle doesn’t despair. Preserving the health of the oceans is a challenge that inspires her to do more. After all, she says, “It’s just going to get harder as time goes by.”

You’ve spent a long time studying the ocean, roughly half a century, if I’m not mistaken. How has our understanding of the ocean changed over the course of your career?

I think it is safe to say that more has been learned about the ocean since the middle of the twentieth century, since the 1950s, when I first began exploring the ocean. At the same time, more has been lost. There has been more change, of a negative sort. I mean, the good news is we know more, but we’ve also been witnessing an era of unprecedented loss, destruction, change. And not changes for the good.

Good changes are that we now know better than ever before where the mountains are; we have better maps. Although only about 10 percent of the ocean has been mapped with the same degree of resolution that we have for the land, or the moon, or Mars, or Jupiter. And much of the ocean still really is not well mapped at all, as evidenced by the inability to determine what the sea floor configuration is like where that aircraft went down in the Indian Ocean. We had to map first, and then look for where the airplane is, so little is know about that area.

At this point in time, what do you consider the most pressing marine issue?

Well, naturally you think about what we are putting into the ocean – pollution issues, and ocean acidification as a consequence of excess carbon dioxide that is entering the sea, as a consequence of burning fossil fuels. We need carbon dioxide to power photosynthesis, but too much of a good thing causes changes in planetary dynamics. That means, among other things, that the ocean is becoming more acidic. That is bad news, for everything, including the basic life support functions that we take for granted.

We really don’t know what changing the chemistry of the ocean will do, except that it certainly makes sense for us to hold the planet steady in ways that have favored us throughout all of our history, and the changes in the acidity of the ocean could signal some really radical shifts in things such as carbon capture and oxygen production and the many things we have heretofore relied on as more or less stable.

And the plastics in the ocean – that’s new, since the middle of the twentieth century. Plastics were a novelty when I was a kid, but now they have become a plague in the ocean. They still serve us well in so many respects. It’s not that all plastics are the problem, but single use plastics where you use something once and throw it away. It’s a really bad habit that we’ve gotten into that has to stop, not just because of problems for the ocean. It isn’t just trash, not just the unsightliness of it, or even the entanglement of animals that is the problem. It’s is also the influence on the chemistry of the ocean there too. Many toxins are introduced, toxins concentrated around bits and pieces of floating plastic. Anyway, that’s one whole area of issues of pollution under a broad category.

It is also what we are taking out of the ocean. Unprecedented levels of ocean wildlife have been and are being extracted using technologies that did not exist until close to World War II. The technologies and materials have enabled us to find, capture, and market half way around the world – distant places – whatever we have taken from the ocean.

To look at whatever wildlife in the sea – whether it’s shrimp, or fish, or crabs, or oysters or clams or whatever – they are treated as commodities, in spite of new insight about the importance of life in the sea just as life on the land. We need trees for more than board feet of lumber, and fish are much more valuable alive than they are on a plate. And yet, we are slow to respond to the evidence. Now 90 percent of many of the big fish are gone. Tuna, swordfish, cod, even many of the small ones like menhaden and anchovies, are at unprecedented low numbers, owning to our capacity to extract on an industrial scale. There is nothing like it in the history of the planet.

So all that said, what we are putting in and what we are taking out are really major problems. But, the number one problem that really underlies the others is communications, lack of people, generally speaking, knowing why the ocean matters, knowing what we’re doing to the ocean, seeing the cause and effect relationship between the decline of the ocean and the perils that presents to the future of human civilization. So, until we make that connection, until people know why they should care, and then affirmatively take action as a result of knowing, we’re going to see a continued move in the direction of decline.

Last year, President Obama expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, creating the largest marine reserve in the world that is completely off limits to commercial resource extraction, including commercial fishing. How far do you think marine reserves will take us in terms of protecting the ocean? 

Well, protected areas are vital. It’s like saying, ‘protect your heart.’ What can you do? Well, you remove the stress if you can, you do what you can to maintain your healthy life support system, your body. In this case, the ocean is our life support system, and to the extent that we can take the pressure off, then we are benefiting the way the world works, benefiting the present and the future of humankind. But, so far, the part of the planet that is fully protected, including the part that was recently protected by President Obama’s action, is under three percent. In fact, it’s just barely creeping up on one percent that is fully protected, that is, where even the fish are safe.

So suppose you said, ‘I’m only going to protect one percent of my heart.’ Is that enough? How much is enough? Well, I think we need to respect all of it. And, like the doctor who is treating a sick patient, first do no harm with your actions. Do everything you can to take care of the vital systems that keep us alive.

That means looking at the ocean with new eyes, looking at the fish with new eyes, looking at what we’re putting in the ocean, with respect to dumping, whether it is garbage or sewage or whatever. Treat is as if your life depends on it, because your life really does depend on it.

And concerning President Obama’s action, that was a wonderful, positive move, cause for celebration. And people have been celebrating around the world. However, it would have been twice as large. He originally, last June, proposed twice the size that ultimately was given protection. The reason that it got derailed was because of the tuna industry. These are not local fishermen who are just trying to make a living feeding their families; this is the large, industrial, factory-scale operations where fish are not feeding people who need something important to eat. It is not supplying protein. It is supplying bank accounts. Tuna today are just big business.

They’re mining the ocean, clear-cutting the ocean of fish that are sold not, again, for food security, but for corporate bank accounts. And when people understand that, they should just say, ‘wait a minute, we want a healthy ocean.’

Tuna are down to a tiny fraction of what they were when I began exploring the ocean. Not just Bluefin tuna, the one that commands the highest price, but tunas generally are so hammered, so sought after. Again, not to feed families and communities, but to feed almost an endless market for a high-end luxury taste for things like sushi and sashimi.

Along those lines, I’ve read that you don’t eat fish. 

No, I don’t.

I’m curious when you made that decision and what ultimately motivated you.

It’s all about knowing. I used to consume fish. You can come from a seafood loving family, but now that I know, I can’t do what I used to do. It’s all about, not just knowing fish as fish on their own terms, but recognizing their much greater value in the oceans, and also their desperate states right now. Fish are in serious trouble globally. The populations that we’ve disrupted – we’ve disrupted whole ecosystems, and whole cycles of nutrients in the ocean.

We are taking about nitrogen or phosphorous or the ability of the ocean to capture and hold carbon, which has really become recognized, for forests, as a vital contribution for holding the planet steady. What is now coming to be recognized is blue carbon – the role of fish and whales and other ocean wildlife, not just carbon-based units, but also for carbon capturing and carbon sequestration. If you take 100 million tons of ocean wildlife out of the sea every year, which we are – sharks, tunas, and all of the other great cornucopia of life in the sea – you are essentially, just as when you clear-cut a forest, you are releasing the carbon. You are allowing it to be put back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

I know you have really spent a lot of time underwater. What is your favorite thing about it, and how does this time underwater inform your views of the ocean? 

Well, being in the ocean is physically pleasurable, especially in the warm clear water where you can just sort of melt into the water and become a part of it, like a jellyfish (laughing). And it’s just glorious to be weightless in the sea, and be able to do the kinds of things you might dream about, like you can essentially fly in the ocean underwater; and breathing underwater is such a pleasure; and with little submarines, to be able to just glide along not just in areas where scuba divers can go, but down thousands of feet beneath the surface, something that, in a few decades, many more people will have the capacity to do.

Just like in the early days of flying, very few people in the twentieth century knew what it was like to be up in the sky, you know, higher than you could jump or climb a mountain. But the technology is rapidly advancing that makes personal exploration of the ocean into the deep, dark, cold, unexplored parts much more accessible.

So that, for me, is the real joy of going down into the ocean, and meeting creatures, and observing the wondrous diversity of life on earth. On the land, only about half of the many major divisions of life occur over all the continents and islands put together, the terrestrial parts. But even in a bucket of seawater you may find as many of these major divisions of animal life, plus a nice dollop of photosynthetic organisms as well.

Fifteen phyla would not be uncommon on a single chunk of rock or in a single bucket of water taken from the ocean, if you count the larval stages, which you naturally have to do. And it is about the same number of phyla of animals, about 15, that occur on land. And you have to more than double the number that occur in the ocean. About half of the creatures that occur in the ocean occur only there, of the major divisions.

Think of starfish and their relatives. There’s no counterpart anywhere on the land or anywhere in fresh water. Or look at the whole category of life that includes the jellyfishes and the corals. Well, there are a very few freshwater jellyfishes, but they are such a small number compared to the great, great majority that are out there in the ocean. And so on down the list.

There are a handful of freshwater sponges, but there are thousands, tens of thousands of marine species. So the dominant diversity of life on earth, contrary to what some people think, is not rainforests, as wonderfully diverse as they are. It’s the ocean! It’s the ocean!

According to some studies, ocean diving can compromise reef health. How do you balance the desire to experience reefs and dive, with not wanting to harm them?

It’s pretty easy to not harm the ocean through diving. It’s so easy to weight yourself and show respect for the creatures that are there. And, if occasionally, a bit of coral is snapped off or whatever, that’s a small price to pay for what an educated ambassador for the ocean can contribute at this point in time. Divers are not the problem, unless they’re armed with spear guns.

There is much more danger about fishing than there is diving. Fishing is not, across the board, a really bad thing, but industrial fishing, I think categorically should be stopped, because methods are so destructive, and the amount of wildlife they take is so enormous, and the capacity to alter the nature of the ocean, the nature of nature, the nature of the way the world works, is so great.

Catching something for dinner, like shooting a duck, it leaves a space. And if we’re gonna feed seven billion people, we’re not going to do it with wild ducks, we’re not going to do it with wild fish, we are going to do it by cultivating carefully and efficiently the sources of calories that will provide us with food security.

It is baffling to me that we have legal limits on some creatures that are at such low levels. Every abalone counts, every tuna counts, and why we insist on continuing to take, justified on the basis of food or sport or whatever it is. The value left in the ocean is so much greater, we need to just pull back and realize the reality of the time we’re in.

Given that we are realizing what a big impact we are having on the oceans, how do we translate that knowledge into action and start protecting the ocean?

Well it’s starting already. In California, for example, there is a network of small but really critically important fully protected areas that some have justified on the basis of, ‘oh, we’ll get more fish if we protect these areas, and there will be a spillover effect.’ You protect fish so you can have more fish to kill; that’s the rationale.

For me, we have to kind of reverse the logic, and say we need to have more fish, so we can have more fish, so we can have more fish, because we need to recover from centuries of extracting without knowing the limits. Especially in recent decades, we have technologies that take whole populations of squid, or entire schools of fish; trolls that are not just destroying the targeted species, but are taking everything that is just in the path of the net. It’s like using a bulldozer to catch songbirds or squirrels – take the whole forest and throw the trees and everything else away so that you can have a little bushel of wild birds.

What role do you think that regulation can play, both domestic and international, in safeguarding our ocean ecosystems?

Regulations are really critically important to rein in those who are more concerned about their short-term gains than the benefits to society as a whole. So you need governments, you need laws, not to govern the behavior of the good guys, but to find a mechanism to enforce those who misbehave.

If everybody were on board and saw the reason for taking care of the ocean, there would not be a need to have laws about dumping, or extracting fish or other wildlife, or to have protected areas. But we’ve already learned on the land, if you don’t establish a park and defend it, it only takes one or two people sometimes to break the faith of the rest of the community.

It was a problem in the early days of national parks. People complained to Theodore Roosevelt that it did no good to establish a park because people would just go in and shoot the birds and the animals and cut the trees, and there would be no way to enforce this.

Well two things happened. First, by having the legal framework, there was authority then to move in and apprehend those who were misbehaving. If there had been no designation, there would be nothing you could enforce. It would still be a free-for-all. By specifically delineating areas, then you have the authority to protect.

The other thing is that the attitudes of people have changed. So even outside parks, there tends to be greater respect once people know why it matters. For example, take the bird watching community. They really value songbirds because they’re beautiful, they add much to their life, they make life more interesting. So they protect them, not just because they are in a protected area, but because they value them.

We need overarching guidelines about protecting species migration routes and all of that, but we also need that ethic, caring, and we certainly need an ocean ethic to really underpin all the rest. If everyone respected the real value of taking care of the ocean, we wouldn’t need a law. But it’s helpful to have a law for those who tend to misbehave no matter what.

Do you think there is still time to stop and even reverse the damage we have done?

Well, we have to do the best we can in the circumstances that we have available to us. I wish we could go back 50 years armed with what we now know. But the best we can do is take what we’ve got, and realize that it’s not gonna get better. That, in fact, the sooner we exercise our power to protect what remains of the systems that keep us alive, the better it will be. It’s just going to get harder as time goes by.

So, I said ten years ago that the next 10 years will be the most important in the next 10,000 years for doing what it takes to ensure an enduring place for humankind in the future. And here we are 10 years later, and we haven’t achieved that magic place where we know that what we’re doing now will be okay. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. If anything, we’ve upped the amount of effort going into killing ocean wildlife, and now we know about problems that were not considered important 10 years ago, like ocean acidification. We are seeing an ever-increasing avalanche of plastics in the ocean. We are seeing a heap of indifference.

But at the same time there is a growing awareness, which is the best way to counter indifference. People who know might care. They can’t care if they don’t know. They might not care even if they do know, but they can’t if they don’t know what the issues are. So I’ll say it again: The next 10 years will be the most important in the next 10,000 years in terms of shaping a future where humans can have a hope for an enduring place within the natural systems that keep us alive.

 Better if we had had the knowledge of today applied 10 years ago, or 20, or 50, but you know, you deal with what you’ve got. It’s going to get harder. The sooner we act to protect as much of the natural fabric of life, the watersheds, the areas that are still in pretty good shape, whether they’re on the land or in the ocean, we can help restore animate systems, largely by taking the pressure off.
photo of a woman smiling in an underwater habitat or hard-suitphoto by Kip EvansSylvia Earle has spent more than 7,000 hours underwater. 

Like Chesapeake Bay. Stop killing menhaden. Stop taking the oysters. Just give the clams, and the crabs, a break. Just stop. Just stop. What’s hard about that? Just cold turkey. Just stop killing them. And watch what happens. Give them five years. Give them 10 years.

There are plenty of things that people can eat without eating the things that maintain the healthy ocean systems that people seem to care about so very much. The finest and best use of the ocean is not what we can take from it to eat. It’s our existence that we take from the ocean that is the highest and most important thing. And now that we can see it, it ought to be like ‘oh, now I understand, now I’ll go this way instead of that way, because if I continue what I’m doing, the problems are going to get worse.’

And we are at that point in history where, as never before, we’ve got knowledge available that did not exist even five years ago, and the ability to communicate in ways that didn’t exist until quite recently. So I consider this a sweet spot in time. We’re right at this crossroads, and I’m not alone in observing the urgency of taking the knowledge we have and applying it to ensure that we can do the best we can with it.

And if anybody thinks that we can escape to another planet, you should really get serious about looking at what it takes to send people to the moon or Mars, and imagine relocating seven billion people anywhere else other than here on earth.

We have a planet – truly it is a miracle. You look at all the unfriendly options out there in the sky, galaxies of other places, but none with a built-in life support system that is exactly right for humankind. So first priority should be to keep the world safe for our children.

This is not just about guns and wars and things, this is about making it possible to continue breathing. Do you like to breath? Listen up if you’d like to have water that magically falls from the sky. Listen up if you want to have a planet that works in your favor. Take care of the ocean. Get smart. Get educated. Get knowledgeable. Use your power, whoever you are.

We are so close to the edge on so many fronts. In one way, at one time, you might say ‘humph, it’s so depressing.’ And on the other hand you might say, ‘This is so exciting, this is exhilarating. I can make a difference. What I do or don’t do can have an impact on the world.’ And we aren’t making this up. It is the truth. What you do or don’t do has an impact on the world. So be positive, make a difference.

If you had one thought, or one lesson, that you could instill in people about the ocean, what would that be? 

Take care of the ocean as if your life depends on it, because it does.

Zoe Loftus-Farren is an Earth Island Journal contributing editor. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Missouri Bill Would Stop Cities From Banning Plastic Bags

Posted: 02/23/2015 in the Huffington Post By Summer Ballentine

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri lawmaker who also leads an association of grocery stores is trying to stop cities and towns in the state from restricting the use of plastic bags, bucking a national trend toward banning their use to help the environment.

The move comes as the city of Columbia, the home of the University of Missouri, considers a ban that would prevent grocery stores from offering plastic bags and would impose a 10-cent charge on paper bags.

Legislation by a state representative, who also serves as a board member of the Missouri Grocers Association, would stop that. A House panel is set to vote on the bill Tuesday.

Environmental activists have successfully pushed plastic bag bans in cities across the U.S., including Chicago, Seattle and Austin, Texas. Hawaii is also on track to have a de facto statewide ban, with all counties approving prohibitions.

California in September became the first state to enact a ban on single-use plastic bags in an effort to cut down on litter and protect marine life, although opponents of the ban have submitted signatures to the secretary of state's office to have a statewide vote on the ban.

Republican state Rep. Dan Shaul of Imperial, who sponsored the Missouri legislation, said state and local bans go too far.

Shaul, who also is state director of the Missouri Grocers Association, said it should be up to grocery stores and consumers to choose what bags they use.

He said sponsoring the bill while serving in the association is not a conflict of interest. The association's website says it, "monitors industry related bills and is actively walking the halls" of the state Capitol to represent members.

"It doesn't affect the organization, it affects the consumer, it affects the industry," Shaul said. "I mean sure, it could be a conflict if you want it to be. I don't think it is."

University of Missouri School of Law professor Richard Reuben said legally it may not be a conflict of interest.

"But from a standpoint of public perception it makes him look pretty bad," Reuben said. Missouri has relatively loose ethics laws for legislators compared to many other states, and lawmakers are considering measures to tighten them this session.

So far Florida is the only state that has halted local efforts to regulate the use of plastic bags, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Similar efforts in 2013 failed in Texas.

At issue is local control, said Columbia City Councilman Ian Thomas, who is in favor of a ban on plastic bags but said it might take time to gain more community support.

"The state ban on city bans is an enormous overreach," Thomas said. "It's important for individual cities that maybe have a different political outlook or a more progressive tendency to be able to approve this kind of legislation."
Plastic bag bill is HB 722.
House: http://www.house.mo.gov