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, September 21, 2015

A new report reveals just how many of the tiny plastic balls flow into waterways in the United States every day.

(Photo: Facebook)
Published in Take Part by Liz Dwyer, Sep 18, 2015
Toothpaste, body wash, and facial cleansers—if you use any of the hundreds of personal care products that contain microbeads, you’re contributing to the estimated 8 trillion tiny plastic spheres entering aquatic habitats in the United States every day. Need a little help wrapping your head around exactly what that amount of microbeads looks like? According to a new report released Friday from a group of scientists from seven colleges and universities, it’s enough to cover 300 tennis courts every day.

But it gets worse: The plastic particles are too small to be captured by wastewater treatment plants. In the report, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the researchers estimated that 800 trillion of the abrasive beads may be in the sludge produced daily by sewage plants.
That sludge is sometimes used as fertilizer, which means once it rains—or once a farmer turns on an irrigation system—those beads may eventually end up in waterways too.

“Contaminants like these microbeads are not something our wastewater treatment plants were built to handle, and the overall amount of contamination is huge. The microbeads are very durable,” Stephanie Green, a researcher at the College of Science at Oregon State University and coauthor of the report, said in a statement.
The only way to protect marine life—and ourselves, because really, who wants to eat plastic?—wrote the researchers, is an out-and-out international ban on microbeads.

“We’ve demonstrated in previous studies that microplastic of the same type, size, and shape as many microbeads can transfer contaminants to animals and cause toxic effects,” said Chelsea Rochman, a researcher at the University of California, Davis, and lead author of the report. “We argue that the scientific evidence regarding microplastic supports legislation calling for a removal of plastic microbeads from personal care products.”

Microbeads have been found in every ocean and in smaller bodies of water, including the Great Lakes and the Los Angeles River. But because they’re so tiny, when you’re at the beach, you don’t notice a microbead like you’d notice a plastic bottle cap or a candy wrapper floating along the shore. “We’re facing a plastic crisis and don’t even know it,” said Green.

A single container of face wash can have as many as 300,000 microbeads in it. And as much as companies tout their exfoliating properties, the miniscule plastic balls pack a serious polluting punch. A study released in August found that in the U.K. alone, as much as 80 tons of microbeads are being released into marine habitats every year.

In early September, California became the eighth state in the U.S. to pass a ban on microbeadsColorado, Illinois, Maine, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Indiana, and Maryland are the others. Gov, Jerry Brown still has to sign the bill in the Golden State.

As this report points out, the language of some bans allows companies to slip through regulatory loopholes. Companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble have pledged to stop using microbeads in their “rinse-off personal care products”—such as face wash. But because microbead-containing cosmetics, deodorants, lotions, nail polish, and cleaners don’t rinse off or aren’t always considered personal care products, companies may be able to get around the ban.

In many of these states, the prohibition on the microplastics won’t go into effect for several years. In California, popular brands that make microbead-containing products, such as Neutrogena and Aveeno, would be allowed to sell items containing microbeads until 2020.

Eight trillion beads a day times 1,825 days—go ahead, whip out your calculator and do the catastrophic math.

Legislative battle heating up as plastic beads pollute waterway

Microbeads have emerged as a serious threat to aquatic ecosystems. Luckily, activists in the US are securing victories at the state level and are building up momentum at the national level.

"Nurdles 01 gentlemanrook" by gentlemanrook - originally posted to Flickr as Plastic Pellets - "Nurdles". Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons
Aquatic systems across the United States and the world are being flooded with tiny, seemingly innocuous pieces of plastic. The flood of these microbeads into water systems is largely due to a recent trend of personal care manufacturers mixin tiny plastic beads into body wash, toothpaste, and other cleaning products. Supposedly, the microbeads will help clean and exfoliate skin. In reality, these beads could pose a major threat to ecosystems.
Now, legislative battles are heating up, especially at the state level where numerous state governments either have or are considering banning the use of plastic beads in personal care products. At the national level a bill has already been introduced in Congress, the bipartisan Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015 (H.R. 1321). The bill has managed to attract 34 cosponsors, with signees coming from both parties, but still lacks the clout needed to make its way through Congress.

So far, activists have been finding better luck at the state level. Illinois, Maryland, and several other states have already banned and restricted the use of plastic beads. Earlier this month the California state legislature also passed a bill banning the use of microbeads, but it is still awaiting the governor’s signature. If governor Jerry Brown does sign it into law, it’ll be a major victory given California’s massive population.

Researchers from seven different institutions have found that as many as 8 trillion microbeads could be entering waterways in the United States each day. While the beads are banned in many places, researchers warn that loopholes in existing legislation, as well as a lack of any legislation at all in many states, means trillions of the beads are still making their way into waterways. Still, activists are stepping up their fight against microbeads, and have secured a number of victories in state legislatures.

So far the cleaning properties of these microbeads is questionable, but the potential damage to ecosystems is not. These tiny microbeads are able to pass through filtration systems and make it into waterways unimpeded. Since they are made of plastic, they do not break down naturally. This means they accumulate in nature. Animals frequently swallow and absorb the plastic, which could potentially be toxic.

Microbeads are generally about the size of a grain of sand and add a bit of grittiness to cleaning products. In theory, they help scrub away dirt, food, and other things. Dentists and other healthcare professionals have warned, however, that the beads could be bad for human health. With teeth, for example, it is believed that the microbeads can actually damage tooth enamel, and that some of the beads will be absorbed by the body.

Studies have already found that animals are ingesting these plastic beads, which can cause damage to their digestive systems. Plastics can also carry poisonous contaminants that are then transferred to the animals themselves. One study even suggests that 90 percent of seabirds will have plastic in their guts by 2050. It is believed that as many as 60 percent of seabirds already have plastic in their gut.

Given the gravity of the situation, it’s easy to understand why political pressure is growing. While progress is being made, the fight is far from over. Still, political pressure is forcing many companies, such as Colgate-Palmolive and Johnson & Johnson, to voluntarily agreed to remove the beads. If consumer pressure continues to mount, bills may become redundant. Regardless, activists likely won’t be giving up the fight until all soaps, toothpastes, and other products are completely plastic free.

Besides beads, plastic remains a huge threat to the world’s oceans and waterways. In 2010 an estimated 8 million metric tonnes of plastic made its way into the world’s oceans, and scientists expect the amount to keep rising. Worse yet, the ocean’s animals have proven prone to consuming the plastics.

Pollution is now a major issue for governments around the world. Often, governments and taxpayers are stuck footing the bill for cleaning up pollution. Still, increasing regulations to crack down on pollution has proven difficult as such regulations can restrict economic growth.

Friday, September 4, 2015

See the Whales Swimming in an Ocean of 70,000 Plastic Water Bottles

Published in TakePart.com by Liz Dwyer, Aug. 30, 2015
An art installation project in Bristol, England, is turning the spotlight on the problem of single-use containers.
'The Bristol Whales' art installation. (Photo: Instagram)
Running a road race—whether it’s a 5K, 10K, half marathon, or the grueling 26.2-mile distance of a full marathon—is certainly an accomplishment worth celebrating. But after the cheering crowds have dispersed and the athletes have gone home with their medals, there’s usually plenty of garbage left behind on the pavement, including tens of thousands of plastic water bottles.

Facing criticism that running events are an “environmental disaster,” races are increasingly touting their sustainability. But the folks at Cod Steaks, a Bristol, England–based design and model-making firm, decided to use the water bottles left behind after this year’s Bath Marathon and Bristol 10K to turn the spotlight on a broader issue: the amount of plastic marine life in the world’s oceans has to swim through.

With funding from Arts Council England and in collaboration with Artists Project Earth, Cod Steaks created “The Bristol Whales,” a life-size environmental art installation in Bristol’s city center. It depicts two of the massive mammals emerging out of an “ocean” of plastic.

The whale heads are nearly 30 feet long and weigh 2.5 tons each, while the tails are almost 50 feet long and weigh 3.5 tons each. They’re woven from biodegradable willow that grows in abundance in the area, But the waves of water are constructed from 70,000 plastic water bottles discarded by spectators and runners at the two road races. The bottles that make up the whale bodies were strung together on a steel frame, and the droplets of water are bottle caps. A bit of bubble wrap was added to the tops of the waves to resemble foam, and at night the installation is illuminated with LED lighting.

“Whales are intelligent, beautiful, charismatic animals and have become symbols of the world’s oceans,” Cod Steaks lead artist and managing director Sue Lipscombe said in a statement. “Our sea of recycled plastic bottles represents the detrimental effect of plastic pollution on the ocean, which is something that all of us can act on—today—by reducing our consumption of single use plastics.” 

Cod Steaks and its partners are inviting people who visit the display, which ends on Sept. 1, to pledge to ditch single-use plastic bottles.
(Photo: Flickr)
In 2014, U.S. residents are expected to consume 10.9 million gallons of bottled water. And if you’re wondering just how well companies have marketed their product over the years, consider this: In 1976, the average person only drank about a gallon of bottled water per year, but by 2017 each person will consume more than 300 gallons of it annually, according to the Pacific Institute. 

Peter Gleick, the president and founder of the institute, recently told The Washington Post that by his estimates, two-thirds of used water bottles end up in the trash.

“The bottled water industry says correctly, but misleadingly, that the plastic the water comes in is recyclable,” Gleick said. “It’s misleading, because ‘recyclable’ is not the same thing as ‘recycled.’ ”
Indeed, it takes 450 years for one single-use plastic bottle to degrade, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Meanwhile, data from the United Nations Environment Programme found that plastic waste causes approximately $13 billion in damage to beaches and marine life habitat.

“Plastic does enormous damage to the marine environment: killing animals, poisoning the food chain, and smothering the sea bed,” said Herbie Girardet, the director of Artists Project Earth. 

“The Great Pacific Garbage Patch covers an area six times the size of the U.K. Located in the Pacific Ocean, between Hawaii and California, this floating island of plastic sits on the migration route for populations of humpback whales. These whales are literally swimming through a sea of plastic and eating the waste that we discard because they are filter feeders.”  

The whales and their waves of plastic have been a hit on social media since they were first installed in July, with people posting hundreds of images of them.
(Photo: Instagram)
Close-up of plastic bottle "waves." (Photo: Instagram)
(Photo: Instagram)

Our Plastic Seas: Climate Change And Pollution Will Make Oceans More Hostile By 2050

published in IBT Pulse by
Ocean Plastic
A boy collects plastic materials near a polluted coastline to sell in Manila, the Philippines. Reuters/Cheryl Ravelo 
Trillions of pieces of plastic trash and ever-rising carbon emissions are making the oceans a hostile place for marine life. Birds and shellfish are dying off and coral reefs are vanishing, threatening to drastically change the ocean landscape in the next few decades unless we put the brakes on pollution, scientists warn.

In the latest sign of this threat, 99 percent of the world’s seabird species -- including penguins and albatrosses -- are expected to suffer from plastic ingestion by 2050, according to a study published this week in the journal PNAS. Already 60 percent of seabird species have some kind of plastic in their gut, such as bags, bottle caps and fibers from synthetic clothes. That’s up from just a tiny fraction of seabirds in the 1960s, before single-use items and plastic packaging came to dominate the consumer landscape.

“For the first time, we have a global prediction of how wide-reaching plastic impacts may be on marine species, and the results are striking,” said Chris Wilcox, who led the study and is a senior research scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia. “This is a huge amount, and really points to the ubiquity of plastic pollution.”
A heron walks amid trash on the shores of Guanabara Bay, state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  AFP/Vanderlei Almeida 
Nearly 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic garbage, weighing roughly 269,000 tons, may be floating in the world’s oceans, scientists from the 5 Gyres Institute found in December. Seabirds can help researchers monitor the scope of the plastic problem, since they travel across wide swaths of water and forage for food to bring back to their young.

By ingesting plastic, birds can not only suffocate or get infections but also absorb the toxic chemicals into their bloodstream, which they can pass on to their offspring, leading to a sicklier generation of birds.

The same goes for turtles, seals, fish -- and ultimately people, who risk ingesting toxic plastic particles that rise through the food chain.

As plastic piles up in the oceans, greenhouse gas emissions are building in the atmosphere and oceans, causing the planet’s air and water temperatures to warm and turning oceans more acidic.

Since 1901, global average surface temperatures have risen at an average rate of 0.15 degrees Fahrenheit per decade, with the largest jumps seen in the past three decades. Worldwide, 2014 was the warmest year on record, and the 2005-2014 period was the warmest decade since record-keeping began. Sea surface temperatures have gained an average rate of 0.13 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since 1901.
SST Climate Change  
This map shows how average sea surface temperatures around the world changed between 1901 and 2012.  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
As a result, the Arctic sea ice is rapidly melting, threatening to shrink the populations of walruses and other ice-bound mammals. By 2050, summers in the Arctic may be completely ice-free, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have projected.

Walruses typically ride on ice sheets in the shallow feeding areas of Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, where they hunt for shellfish and raise their young. Last fall, record-low ice levels forced more than 35,000 walruses to “haul-out” on beaches in northwestern Alaska -- the largest gathering of walruses ever recorded. With even less ice in their future, stranded walruses will have a harder time finding food and will face deadly stampedes due to crowding, which could spur a significant population decline in coming decades.

Whales may not have it much better. Warming water temperatures are causing toxic algae blooms to form in the ocean, which whales are prone to ingest during the summer feeding season. U.S. ocean experts suspect the recent die-off of 30 large whales in the Gulf of Alaska -- an unusually high amount for a narrow time frame -- may be linked to a “blob” of warm water and algae blooms lingering in the North Pacific, although NOAA has not yet formally investigated the deaths.
Walruses Climate Change  
Part of a "haul-out" of 35,000 walruses is spotted on Sept. 27, 2014, near Point Lay in northwestern Alaska. Wildlife experts say the record-size gathering is due to the shrinking of Arctic sea ice, caused in part by climate change.  Corey Accardo/NOAA/NMFS/AFSC/NMML
Yet coral reefs may suffer worst of all. Already 75 percent of the underwater ecosystems are threatened by overfishing, coastal development, local pollution and “coral bleaching,” which happens when warmer water stresses the coral and turns it into lifeless skeletons. Add to that the rising effects of climate change, and nearly all the world’s coral reefs will be at risk by 2050, NOAA scientists found.

Oceans with fewer birds, walruses and reefs is more than a grim outlook for the planet’s ecosystems. Coastal economies also will suffer. Commercial fisheries will dry up, oyster farms could disappear, shorelines will lose natural protection against deadly storm surges, and tourism will plummet.

President Barack Obama warned of such threats at a State Department climate conference in Anchorage, Alaska, Monday. “Few things can have as negative an impact on our economy as climate change,” he said in his speech.

Plastics in seabirds: A pervasive and growing problem that requires global action

published in National Geogrpahic, by George Leonard on August 31, 2015
While we were standing admiring the view a waved albatross walked right past and leapt off the cliff. Magnificent!

You have likely seen the pictures of albatross chicks choking on plastics. These images are tough to look at and the death these birds suffer from ingesting plastics is gruesome and painful. Albatross consume a whole range of plastics that float in the ocean, from cigarette lighters, to toothbrushes to shards of plastics from a huge variety of other plastic products.

As a conservation organization, Ocean Conservancy is deeply troubled by the impact of plastics on these magnificent birds. But how pervasive is this problem, really? A new paper in the peer-reviewed journal PNAS gives us a disturbing answer. It turns out plastics in seabirds is a very big deal. It is global, pervasive and increasing. And it has to be stopped.

The research published today was done by Drs. Chris Wilcox and Denise Hardesty from CSIRO in Australia and Dr. Erik van Sebille from Imperial College in London. It is the result of an independent scientific Working Group convened by Ocean Conservancy at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California, Santa Barbara. This is the same group that recently demonstrated that 8 million tons (17 billion pounds) of plastics enters the ocean each year, much of it from Asia.

This week’s publication shows the consequences of this plastic avalanche. Using global historical data from publications over the last few decades on the presence of plastics in the stomachs of 135 species of seabirds from all around the world, the authors show that plastic contamination is increasing and they predict that 99% of all seabird species will be eating plastic by 2050 unless something is done to stem the tide. Surprisingly, seabirds that may be most at risk of plastics are those that live at the Southern Ocean boundary in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand, far from the well-known “garbage patches at the center of the ocean’s gyres.

While plastics are less abundant there compared to the gyres, this is where seabirds are most common – and thus at greatest risk of exposure to plastics. Contamination rates have increased from about 26% historically to approximately 65% today; if the trend continues, nearly all species of seabird – and almost 95% of all individuals – will be exposed to plastics by 2050. So this isn’t just about albatross; it’s about ALL seabirds including penguins, fulmars, auklets, prions, storm petrels and the many other species that spend the majority of their lives living over the ocean.

At Ocean Conservancy, we conclude it is time to move from debating about whether plastics in the ocean is a problem to aggressively advancing solutions to stop it. This important new paper by Wilcox and colleagues is just the latest in a growing list of publications that show that large amounts of plastics are 1) leaking into the ocean from land, 2) distributed to all corners of the ocean, 3) contaminating much of the food web, and 4) negatively impacting the health of many of these species, including the fish we eat.

Now we know that plastics will contaminate all the world’s seabirds too in a matter of decades if we don’t act decisively. Ocean Conservancy is fully committed to advancing solutions that work at a scale needed to actually solve this problem.

Our Trash Free Seas Alliance® – a group of industry leaders, conservationists, and independent scientists – is working together to determine how to improve basic waste management infrastructure to stem the tide of plastics coming from the half dozen developing world economies that alone account for over half of the ocean plastics problem.

The TFS Alliance is also working with global consulting firm McKinsey & Company to uncover the fundamental economic constraints to financing these needed solutions. Armed with this new knowledge, Ocean Conservancy is bringing industry and government around the table to ensure they embrace their shared responsibility to solve this problem.

While our TFS Alliance works to advance a global solution, individuals still have a huge role to play. Choices consumers make to minimize the use of disposable plastics (like using refillable water bottles or bringing reusable shopping bags to the market) make a big difference – and importantly send a strong signal to the plastics industry that they must play a leading role in dealing with the end-of-life of the products from which they profit.

We invite you to participate in the upcoming 30th anniversary of the International Coastal Cleanup – the world’s largest volunteer effort on behalf of clean beaches and healthy oceans. Click here to get more information about a cleanup near you. And be sure to bring your friends and family, knowing that you will be one of hundreds of thousands of volunteers keeping beaches and waterways around the world free of plastics on Saturday, September 19.

Today’s publication by Dr. Wilcox and other members of the NCEAS Working Group clearly highlights just how bad the ocean plastic pollution problem has become. But we must not sit idly by as the world’s seabirds slowly and inexorably become overwhelmed by society’s reliance on plastics. Scientists, the private sector and global citizens must work together to fight the growing onslaught of plastic pollution in the ocean and help ensure a healthy ocean upon which all of us – including the world’s seabirds – depend.

Ocean Plastic Could Be Found in 99 Percent of Seabird Species by 2050

Published: September 2nd, 2015  By Karen Laird in Plastics Today
In the latest study on marine debris and seabirds, conducted by researchers from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Imperial College London, nearly 60% of all seabird species were found to have plastic in their gut. As if that weren’t worrying enough, they also predict that plastic ingestion will affect 99% of the world’s seabird species by 2050, based on current trends. Some 90% of all seabirds alive today are estimated to have eaten plastic of some kind.

The study was led by Dr. Chris Wilcox, Senior Research Scientist at CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, with co-authors Dr. Denise Hardesty and Dr. Erik van Sebille, and published recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, aimed to assess how widespread the threat of plastic is for the world’s seabirds, including albatrosses, shearwaters and penguins.

The researchers analyzed the studies published since  the early 1960s and discovered, unsurprisingly, that the problem is rapidly growing. In 1960, plastic was found in the stomach of less than 5% of individual seabirds, rising to 80% by 2010, including bags, bottle caps, and plastic fibres from synthetic clothes, which have washed out into the ocean from urban rivers, sewers and waste deposits.

According to the researchers, birds mistake the brightly colored items for food, or swallow them by accident, and this causes gut impaction, weight loss and sometimes even death. To predict the risk of plastic ingestion to 186 seabird species globally, they used a mixture of literature surveys, oceanographic modeling and ecological models.

“For the first time, we have a global prediction of how wide-reaching plastic impacts may be on marine species—and the results are striking,” Dr. Wilcox said. “We predict, using historical observations, that 90% of individual seabirds have eaten plastic. This is a huge amount and really points to the ubiquity of plastic pollution.”

Dr. Denise Hardesty from CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere said seabirds were excellent indicators of ecosystem health. “Finding such widespread estimates of plastic in seabirds is borne out by some of the fieldwork we’ve carried out where I’ve found nearly 200 pieces of plastic in a single seabird,” said Dr. Hardesty.

The researchers found that plastics will have the greatest impact on wildlife where they gather in the Southern Ocean, in a band around the southern edges of Australia, South Africa and South America. These are also the areas where the greatest diversity of species can be found. The researchers expressed concern about species such as penguins and giant albatrosses, which live in these areas.

“While the infamous garbage patches in the middle of the oceans have strikingly high densities of plastic, very few animals live here,” explained Dr. van Sebille, from the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London. “We are very concerned.”

According to Dr. Hardesty, there was still the opportunity to change the impact plastic had on seabirds. Simple waste management measures, such as such as reducing packaging, banning single-use plastic items or charging an extra fee to use them, and introducing deposits for recyclable items like drink containers could make a difference, she said.

“Efforts to reduce plastics losses into the environment in Europe resulted in measureable changes in plastic in seabird stomachs within less than a decade, which suggests that improvements in basic waste management can reduce plastic in the environment in a really short time.”

The work was carried out as part of a national marine debris project supported by CSIRO and Shell’s Social investment program as well as the marine debris working group at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, University of California, Santa Barbara, with support from Ocean Conservancy.