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!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Plastic mass found in stomach of whale

Published in News24, 10-26-15
An adult female orca, identified as L-91, eating a salmon as her newborn calf swims near the San Juan Islands in Washington state's Puget Sound. (NOAA Fisheries/Vancouver Aquarium via AP)
An adult female orca, identified as L-91, eating a salmon as her newborn calf swims near the San Juan Islands in Washington state's Puget Sound. (NOAA Fisheries/Vancouver Aquarium via AP)

Taipei - Taiwanese marine biologists have discovered a mass of plastic bags and fishing net in the stomach of a dead whale, underlying the dangers posed by floating ocean trash.

The 15m mature sperm whale was spotted stranded off the southern town of Tongshi on October 15.

Coastguards and scientists returned it to the ocean but three days later it was found dead around 20 kilometres away.

Marine biologists from a local university who conducted an autopsy over the weekend found a mass of plastic bags and fishing net sizeable enough to fill an excavator bucket.

Professor Wang Chien-ping, head of the whale research centre at National Cheng-Kung University, said the garbage was probably a major factor in the death.

Wang told AFP the whale could have suffered heart or lung disease and multiple infections.

"But... the large amount of man-made garbage in the stomach could reduce its appetite and cause malnutrition. It was likely a critical cause of death."

The Society of Wilderness said the case highlighted the growing threat from ocean trash.

"We frequently heard of marine animals killed after swallowing lots of garbage, but this one was the biggest in size for many years," said He Chih-ying, spokesperson for the conservation group.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Styrofoam-eating worms could be the answer to plastic waste crisis

Published in LiveMint, Oct. 5, 2015 by Preetha Banerjee
 
Study reveals how a species of mealworm can consume and also digest this plastic-like material

According to a 2012 report by Global Industry Analysts, plastic consumption is to reach 297.5 million tonnes by 2015. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
According to a 2012 report by Global Industry Analysts, plastic consumption is to reach 297.5 million tonnes by 2015. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint 
 
New Delhi: Remember the white, light-weight foam cups and plates you threw away after one use at the house-party? Mealworms, which are actually beetle larvae, were served the same styrofoam for dinner and they gorged on it!

Researchers at Stanford University have come up with a new study co-authored by Wei-Min Wu, a senior research engineer at the university that reveals how a species of mealworm can consume and also digest this plastic-like material, universally deemed as the necessary evil, bringing us very close to solving the global plastic waste problem.

And the problem is gargantuan in a country like India with its masses of plastic waste generated every day.

In 2012, the Supreme Court had said that plastic poses a threat more serious than the atom bomb for the next generation after two Andhra Pradesh-based NGOs reported that 30-60 kg of plastic bags had been recovered from the stomachs of cows who confuse plastic bags for food.

Though India had banned plastic bags below 20 ┬Ám in thickness, way back in 2002, to prevent them from clogging the drains and choking the rivers, according to a CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board) report released early this year, plastic waste generation in 60 cities of India is over 15,342 tonnes per day.

And there is literally nothing we can do with this waste.
Enter mealworms.

What happened in the lab:
100 mealworms ate between 34 and 39 milligrams of Styrofoam—about the weight of a small pill—every day and converted about half of it into carbon dioxide, as they would with any food source.

The best part is that within 24 hours, they excreted the remaining plastic after converting them into biodegraded fragments which appeared to be safe to be used as soil for crops.

The take away— mealworms can survive healthily on a diet of Styrofoam!

Is this a first?
No, waxworms have shown the way.

Earlier researches have shown the larvae of Indian mealmoths have microorganisms in their guts that can biodegrade polyethylene, a plastic used in products such as garbage bags.

But Styrofoam in particular was thought to be non-biodegradable and more hazardous for the environment and hence the new findings are valuable.

“There’s a possibility of really important research coming out of bizarre places,” said Craig Criddle, a professor of civil and environmental engineering who supervises plastics research by Wu and others at Stanford, as quoted in Stanford News Service that broke the news. “Sometimes, science surprises us. This is a shock.”

What’s next?
Another area of research could involve searching for a marine equivalent of the mealworm to digest plastics, Criddle said. Plastic waste is a particular concern in the ocean, where it fouls habitat and kills countless seabirds, fish, turtles and other marine life.

Here are some shocking figures on plastic waste generation that will make us like these worms even more:

• In 2013, Americans generated about 254 million tonnes of trash and plastics comprise about 13% of that, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

• According to a 2012 report by Global Industry Analysts, plastic consumption is to reach 297.5 million tonnes by 2015. And why not? Plastic is almost unbreakable, lightweight, flexible, moisture resistant and doesn’t pinch your pocket.

• Plastic garbage accumulating in sea and choking marine life is a growing concern with eight million tonnes of plastic trash ending up in the ocean in 2010 as per a new study.

If these slimy worms can put a stop to this unmanageable trouble, we won’t cringe

Monday, October 12, 2015

California joins six other states in banning plastic microbeads

Published in BioTechin.Asia by Laxmi Iyer on  

California state has followed Illinois and five other states including Colorado, Indiana, Maine, Maryland and New Jersey in banning plastic microbeads. Illinois was the first to ban microbeads in June 2014. Governor Jerry Brown of California signed the legislation on Thursday that bans these tiny abrasives used in exfoliators and other personal care products.

(Read More: Water pollution due to microbeads: a major problem in today’s world)

“We’re obviously incredibly excited,” said Stiv Wilson, director of campaigns at the nonprofit group the Story of Stuff Project. “We just passed a very simple ban on plastic microbeads without any loopholes.”

The consumer products industry had objected to certain aspects of the bill, arguing that it was overly restrictive and did not allow companies to come up with environmentally friendly alternatives. The California rules include a prohibition against biodegradable microbeads, which other states with similar legislation allow.

Lisa Powers, a spokeswoman for the Personal Care Products Council, said in an email that the industry trade group had taken a neutral position on the bill.

Microbeads look like tiny dots suspended in cleansers and other toiletries. Manufacturers including Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble advertise their exfoliating power, particularly in face and body scrubs.

But when consumers rinse these products off, the microbeads gets flushed into sinks and sewage from where they enter the ocean and pollute them. Billions of microbeads have the same effect as grinding up plastic water bottles and dumping them into the ocean, environmentalists say.

These are harmful and are capable of affecting our aquatic ecosystems and human health. Microbeads look similar to fish eggs- especially their size, so aquatic organisms and birds mistake it for food and consume them. And when we consume these fishes and birds, they get passed onto us through the food chain.

Awareness on this issue is on the rise, and this is a step in the right direction.

Source: NewYork Times




5 ways China, ASEAN countries can stop plastic pollution – study

Published October 08, 2015 in Rappler.com by Pia Ranada

China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam are responsible for more than half of all plastic waste in the ocean

PLASTIC TIDE. A rubbish collector gathers floating plastic garbage in Manila Bay. Photo by EPA/Ritchie B. Tongo
PLASTIC TIDE. A rubbish collector gathers floating plastic garbage in Manila Bay. Photo by EPA/Ritchie B. Tongo 

MANILA, Philippines – China and 4 Southeast Asian countries – Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam – are responsible for more than half of all plastic waste that ends up in the world’s oceans.

A new study suggests 5 ways these 5 countries can significantly reduce their plastic leakage in the next 20 years.

The study by international group Ocean Conservancy, entitled “Stemming the Tide,” says that coordinated action in just these 5 countries alone can “reduce global plastic-waste leakage by approximately 45% over the next 10 years.”

If these countries do nothing, they will likely leak 300 million metric tons of plastic into the ocean over the next 20 years. That much trash means there would be one ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fin fish in the ocean by 2025, says the study. (INFOGRAPHIC: Plastic in our seas: Why you should care)

But the solution does not come cheap. If all recommendations, called “levers,” are implemented, countries would need to shell out $5 billion a year. But in most cases, it's a winning combination of certain levers that can get the job done, depending on the circumstances of each country. There is no “one size fits all” approach.

Here are the 5 recommendations from the study:
1. Expand garbage collection
GARBAGE COLLECTION. Collection rates in the Philippines are relatively high at 80% on average while China's national average in collection rates is 40%. Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler
GARBAGE COLLECTION. Collection rates in the Philippines are relatively high at 80% on average while China's national average in collection rates is 40%. Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler 

One reason why a lot of plastic trash ends up in the ocean is because of poor waste collection in the 5 countries. The average waste collection rate is just over 40%. If the 5 countries all improve their waste collection to 80%, plastic trash leakage into the ocean could be reduced by 23%.

Waste collection is typically logistics-heavy involving door-to-door collection, hauling of garbage by trucks, and street sweeping. Often, local governments are in charge of collection but the job is outsourced to private companies or local groups.

Improving collection significantly would require a budget increase of 75% in these countries. 

2. Close leakage points within the garbage collection system
OPEN TO ELEMENTS. This is an open dump site in Olongapo, Zambales. Photo by Randy Datu/Rappler
OPEN TO ELEMENTS. This is an open dump site in Olongapo, Zambales. Photo by Randy Datu/Rappler 

Collecting trash doesn’t mean it will stay out of the ocean. The study found that almost 30 million metric tons of trash in the ocean from these 5 countries had actually been collected. In the Philippines, 74% of its plastic leakage is garbage that had already been collected by authorities.

How does this happen? Collection systems in these countries have two loopholes. The first is in the transportation phase. Some garbage truck companies don’t bother to bring the trash all the way to the designated disposal facilities. To cut cost, they just dump the trash at the roadside, in informal dump sites, or in waterways.

The second loophole is the wide use of open dump sites. Half of all waste collected end up in such sites. But open dump sites lack measures to keep the garbage from going to the ocean. Even worse, many of these sites are located right beside rivers. 

To plug these leak points, the study recommends that governments be stricter and more transparent when choosing companies they will contract to transport garbage. Garbage truck companies should be fined for illegal dumping and a monitoring system should be in place. 

Open dump sites should be closed and replaced with sanitary landfills. These are disposal sites which have facilities to ensure the trash is isolated from the environment. 

But because this is costly and may take time to accomplish, the study also suggested short-term solutions. This includes creating a perimeter fence around open dump sites to help limit its size. Bulldozers, excavators, or front-end loaders can also be used to compact the waste and regularly cover each new layer of waste with soil. 

3. Treat waste through gasification with energy recovery
AN OPTION. This is a gasification plant in Gussing, Austria. Photo from Wikipedia
AN OPTION. This is a gasification plant in Gussing, Austria. Photo from Wikipedia 

The study looked at different ways of treating plastic waste that would pose economic benefits. The belief is that by adding value to plastic waste, there would be an incentive to ensure efficient collection of the trash.

Gasification, or the partial oxidation of plastic waste, can produce a type of gas that can be used for electricity generation or fuel production. In the Philippines, this could generate around $50 (P2,300) of operating profit for every metric ton of treated mixed waste.

4. Treat waste through incineration with energy recovery
BURNING WASTE. This is a waste-to-energy incineration plant in Hesse, Germany. Photo by Norbert Nagel from Wikimedia Commons
BURNING WASTE. This is a waste-to-energy incineration plant in Hesse, Germany. Photo by Norbert Nagel from Wikimedia Commons 

Incineration was also seen as viable for countries like China, Thailand, and Vietnam. This involves the burning of plastic to generate electricity.

But this was also the most controversial option because countries like the Philippines have laws that ban incineration. The study recognized that while modern incinerating equipment can keep emissions within safe standards, older technology can still emit worrisome amounts of heavy metals and other toxins.

But whether incineration, gasification, or pyrolysis, waste treatment options are complex because they are in various stages of development and their viability would depend on national circumstances, says the study. 

5. Manually sort waste for recycling or conversion to refuse-derived fuel (RDF)
SORTING. This materials recovery facility in Pampanga sorts garbage for recycling. Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler
SORTING. This materials recovery facility in Pampanga sorts garbage for recycling. Photo by Pia Ranada/Rappler 

This method is recommended for rural areas where the amount of waste collected from households is not enough to fill gasification or incineration facilities. 

Here, the garbage can be sorted according to the value of the plastic waste. High-value plastic waste like PET bottles can be sold to recycling companies or reused in many ways. Low-value plastic waste can be shredded and pelletized to make industrial fuel for cement-kilns of cement-manufacturing companies. 

– Rappler.com

Technology has hurt our oceans, but we can also harness it to reverse the damage

Published in The Guardian, Friday 9 October 2015 by Catherine A Novelli

The ocean is being depleted of critical fish stocks, choked with discarded plastic and made increasingly acidic, and it’s our fault – but we can find the solution
The ocean is being depleted of critical fish stocks, choked with discarded plastic and made increasingly acidic from increased carbon emissions absorbed from the air. If things continue as they are, experts estimate that by 2025 there will be a ton of plastic in the ocean for every three tons of fish.

It doesn’t have to be like that. We can stop the flow of plastic into the ocean and move away from disposable plastics altogether using a variety of technological and scientific innovations.

One example is the Marine Debris Tracker, a free app developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Georgia. It allows people to report when they see litter in waterways or coastlines. The crowd sourced data is then plotted on maps to show areas most in need of clean up.

As for the plastic itself, companies are finding profitable ways to reuse it or replace it entirely. For example, US-based MHG uses microbial bacteria and canola oil to make safe, biodegradable products like food containers, bottles and fishing line.

It’s harder to visualize ocean acidification from carbon absorption – though its effects may become increasingly apparent. The ocean is 30% more acidic than it was before the Industrial Revolution, which has dramatic implications for marine ecosystems that we are only just beginning to understand.
 
We need more data to understand the impacts of acidification, especially in vulnerable habitats, so much of the focus of research on this problem has been on monitoring. The XPRIZE Foundation, which has spurred technological leaps in space exploration and healthcare, in July awarded grants to developers of affordable and accurate pH sensors. These sensors can be deployed in a variety of marine environments and are particularly needed in developing countries that currently lack monitoring capabilities.

To get the most out of these technological tools, we need strong global partnerships that can put them to use. This past week Secretary of State John Kerry and I joined hundreds of policymakers, scientists and business leaders in Chile for the second Our Ocean conference. There, we committed to expanding marine protected areas and to forming international partnerships to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. (Vessels doing this are often the same ships that traffic in arms and people.)

The challenge now is to establish shared protocols and integrated data systems to catch rule breakers and, in the end, reward the honest fishing industry.

One example in the works is the mFish initiative, a partnership between governments, NGOs and the private sector. This project puts GPS and smartphone technology in the hands of fishermen in developing nations. The devices are loaded with software that can report on catches, forecast the weather and track navigation.

Scientists and regulators get data on what’s being caught and where, while boat captains get tools to plan their expeditions and bring their fish to market. A pilot project of mFish this year in the Philippines will connect 13 coastal communities and 20,000 fishermen by the end of the year, expanding to 200 communities and 100,000 people in 2016.

The threats facing our ocean are profound, but it’s far from a lost cause. As the Our Ocean conferences have demonstrated over the past two years, the global community has woken up to the problem and is ready to take action to preserve our shared marine resources. Working together and harnessing new technological tools, we can undo the damage and protect our ocean.

Catherine A Novelli is the US Under Secretary of State for economic growth, energy and the environment

Friday, October 9, 2015

Published in Peninsula Daily News by Charlie Bermant on Sept. 27, 2015

Click here to zoom...
Port Townsend Marine Science Center
Volunteer Chloe Dawson, shown during a 2009 survey, prepares a sample plot on Fort Worden beach in Port Townsend before she tests it for microplastics. 
 
PORT TOWNSEND — Research gathered under the auspices of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center is being used to call attention to the effects of microplastic debris in ocean.

“There is a lot of plastic that you can't even see,” said Ann Murphy, the center's former executive director.

“Much of it is smaller than your pinky, and a size that animals can easily ingest.”

The research was in the Salish Sea, which refers to an ecosystem that includes Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the San Juan Islands as well as British Columbia's Gulf Islands and the Strait of Georgia.

Murphy and retired biologist and statistician Wally Davis have published an article in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, “Plastic in surface waters of the Inside Passage and beaches of the Salish Sea in Washington State.”

The article is available at http://tinyurl.com/PDN-Plastic.

The paper combined two studies.

One conducted by the marine science center from 2008 to 2011 evaluated the abundance of plastic debris on 37 beaches.

The other, conducted by Davis, characterized plastic debris in surface waters of the Puget Sound area, Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Inside Passage to Skagway, Alaska.

Davis' study sought to quantify plastics on the surface of the water by dragging a net through various regions.

Murphy said the studies complemented each other.

“With the combination of the studies we were able to determine how much of the plastic floating on the water ends up on the beach.”

Murphy said the marine science center study relied on volunteers to gather data, estimating that more than 600 “citizen scientists” contributed more than 4,313 hours to the cause.

Both studies found that plastic foam, primarily expanded polystyrene, was the dominant pollutant.

Plastic found in surface waters was concentrated near harbors.

The studies say that an average square meter of Washington's 1,180 kilometers — which is 733 miles — of sandy beaches in the Salish Sea had 61 pieces of microplastic debris, each weighing about 5 grams, which is 4/25 of a pound.

The total load for the entire region is estimated to be 72 million pieces or 5.8 metric tons — which is nearly 13,000 pounds.

Murphy said a complete cleanup is not possible because of the small size of the plastic particles.

The only solution, she said, is for people to change their habits and be aware of the situation.

“There is not one single large polluter in this case,” Murphy said.

“The problem originates from everyday people who are careless with their waste who may not be aware of what they are doing.”

One example, Murphy said, is microplastics in the beds of pickup trucks which enters the atmosphere and makes its way onto the beach.

Murphy hopes that the paper will prompt people to change their habits.

“We need to generate more awareness through education,” she said.

“Kids might learn about it in school. They come home and tell their parents who may not have been aware of the issue.”

________

Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Ocean Conservancy Releases Global Report Outlining Solutions to Critical Problem of Plastic Waste in Oceans

New report outlines a path forward to reducing ocean plastic waste by 45 percent by 2025

NEW YORK, Sept. 30, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- Ocean Conservancy today announced the global launch of Stemming the Tide: Land-based strategies for a plastic-free ocean – a first-of-its-kind, solutions-oriented report in partnership with the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment that outlines specific land-based solutions for plastic waste in the ocean, starting with the elimination of plastic waste leakage in five priority countries (China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand). 

"Today's report, for the first time, outlines a specific path forward for the reduction, and ultimate elimination, of plastic waste in the oceans," said Andreas Merkl, CEO of Ocean Conservancy. "The report's findings confirm what many have long thought – that ocean plastic solutions actually begin on land. It will take a coordinated effort of industry, NGOs and government to solve this growing economic and environmental problem."

Eight million metric tonnes of plastic leak into the world's ocean every year and the amounts continue to grow. Without concerted global action, there could be one ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish by 2025, leading to massive environmental, economic and health issues. 

With at least 80 percent of ocean plastic originating from land-based sources, the report's findings propose a four-point solution to cutting leakage by 45 percent in the next 10 years, dramatically reducing ocean plastic waste by 2025 with the ultimate goal of eradicating the issue by 2035. The report estimates that total costs for implementing these solutions could be contained at $5 billion a year, with significant returns to the global economy. 

"Considering this is a global environmental challenge impacting sanitation and health, land values, important sources of global protein, and the growth of the consumer goods and packaging industries, an estimated $5 billion scale of intervention makes this one of the most solvable of the environmental challenges we collectively face," said Dr. Martin Stuchtey, director of the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment.

Stemming the Tide specifically underscores the important role of industry in driving the solutions and catalyzing public and private investment to solve the problem of ocean plastic leakage.

"We're committed to working toward a future of a plastic-free ocean," said Jeff Wooster, global sustainability director, Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics, a partner on the report. "Companies don't make plastic with the intent of it ending up in the ocean, and we acknowledge the strong role industry must play in order to help eliminate ocean plastic waste by 2035."

In the short and medium term, the report calls for accelerated development of waste collection and plugging of post-collection leakage, followed by the development and rollout of commercially viable treatment options. In the long term, the report identifies the critical need for innovations in recovery and treatment technologies, development of new materials and product designs that better facilitate reuse or recycling.

The report further emphasizes the need for all approaches and solutions to be tailored at the regional level, specifically in the five priority countries identified, which account for half of all plastic leakage globally. While countries have made major improvements in curbing plastic leakage, greater global support is needed to scale impact swiftly in these priority regions.  

"The issue of plastic waste in our oceans is having drastic consequences on the livelihoods and health of the people of Dagupan," said Belen Fernandez, Mayor of the city of Dagupan, a coastal community in the Philippines. "Our town has had a dump site on our beach for over 50 years. We're working hard to close the dump, and increase the capacity of waste management in Dagupan. Addressing the problem of ocean plastic will have real benefits for not just the environment, but for our citizens - by improving their quality of life. I hope our city and our work will become a model for what's possible around the world." 

The report underscores that the next 10 years will be critical to effectively solve the problem of ocean plastic– a problem that is not just local, but global in nature. To achieve success, the report calls for a concerted global response driven by an international coalition of companies, governments and NGOs that will catalyze commitments from political leadership, provide local "proofs of concept," provide waste management technology support and prioritize the ocean plastic waste issue as part of the global policy agenda on the ocean and the environment.

The report is a signature initiative of the Trash Free Seas Alliance, an effort of Ocean Conservancy to unite industry, science and conservation leaders who share a common goal for a healthy ocean free of trash. The report was made possible through the support of numerous partners, including The Dow Chemical Company, The Coca-Cola Company, the American Chemistry Council, REDISA and World Wildlife Fund, as well as the following funders: Adessium Foundation, 11th Hour Racing, Hollomon Price Foundation, Forrest C. & Frances H. Lattner Foundation and Mariposa Foundation.

To download the full version of the report as well as additional assets for the launch, visit the report's landing page here.

Contact
Julia Roberson
jroberson@oceanconservancy.org
1.202.351.0476

The Stemming the Tide report is a signature initiative of the Trash Free Seas Alliance®, a unique forum launched by Ocean Conservancy in 2012 that brings together industry, science, and conservation leaders. The Alliance focuses on identifying opportunities for cross-sector solutions that drive action and foster innovation towards a healthy ocean free of trash.

About Ocean Conservancy
Ocean Conservancy is working with you to protect the ocean from today's greatest global challenges. Together, we create science-based solutions for a healthy ocean and the wildlife and communities that depend on it. www.oceanconservancy.org

About The McKinsey Center for Business and Environment
The McKinsey Center for Business and Environment works with businesses, governments, and nonprofits to tackle some the world's most pressing and important natural resource issues in ways that improve both economic growth and resource use. www.mckinsey.com/client_service/sustainability/mckinsey_center_for_business_and_environment
 
SOURCE Ocean Conservancy


RELATED LINKS
http://www.oceanconservancy.org

We Can Solve the Ocean Plastic Problem

 Published in the Huffington Post by Andreas Merkel - Oct. 1, 2015

Today, Ocean Conservancy released a major report: Stemming the Tide-Land-based strategies for a plastic-free ocean. We think it's a big deal. It squarely addresses one of our biggest worries: the avalanche of plastic that cascades into the ocean every year.

It's getting really bad. Practically every kind of animal, from plankton to whales, is now contaminated by plastic. It's in the birds, in the turtles, in the fish. At the current rate, we could have 1 ton of plastics for every 3 tons of fish by 2025.

This is nobody's plan. It's not the plan of the plastics industry, it's not the plan of the consumer goods industry and it's certainly not the plan for those of us who love and need the ocean. Nobody wants this.

The problem is born on land. Most of the plastic originates in rapidly industrializing countries whose waste management infrastructure is lagging behind. This is a typical phase of development that all countries go through. The problem is simply that the enormous utility of plastic, combined with the explosive economic growth of Asia and Africa, combine to yield an enormous flow of unmanaged plastic waste into the ocean.

The majority of plastic waste ending up in dumps and in waterways is composed of thin films used in grocery bags and food packaging. This type of material is very low value after it is discarded and there is little economic incentive to pick it up. Blown or washed into the ocean, it breaks apart, and becomes the "microplastic" that is so easily mistaken by animals for tasty zooplankton. These microplastics are ubiquitous, found everywhere from the equator to the poles, and it is a real and rapidly growing problem.

By comparison, the famous ocean gyres, or "garbage patches", which are considered to be the most concentrated areas of plastic in the ocean, contain only a small percentage (< 3 percent) of all plastics entering the ocean.

So what to do? We are fortunate, in a sense, that the plastic flow into the ocean is quite concentrated. Only five Asian countries account for the majority of the flow. Within these countries, there are a limited number of cities, rivers and watershed that really matter. We know where we need to go.

In these places, we need to first concentrate on the basics: the safe collection, transportation and storage of plastic waste. By optimizing the waste hauling system, increasing collection rates to 80 percent and advancing waste treatment and conversion technologies in these five countries alone, we could cut the flow of plastic into the ocean by 45% by 2025.

Stemming the Tide lays out in detail how the various elements of the solution have to come together, what they cost and who needs to be involved. This is clearly a solvable problem, but it will require the cooperation of many groups: industry, cities, national governments, multi-lateral organizations, banks, NGOs.

Together, we need to create the conditions that make it possible for investors and entrepreneurs to invest in integrated waste management solutions.

This is a classic example of a global problem with local solutions. The good news is that the global community is becoming very concerned about the ocean plastic problem. We can concentrate global expertise and resources on local problems, greatly accelerating the rate at which the fundamental waste management infrastructure is built.

Ocean Conservancy created the Trash Free Seas Alliance® (Alliance) specifically to focus these global resources on the right local problems. It consists of NGOs, corporations and scientists that have come together to create pragmatic, real-world solutions focused on the measurable reduction of ocean plastics.

Stemming the Tide is a signature initiative of the Alliance with support from the American Chemistry Council, The Coca-Cola Company, the Dow Chemical Company, REDISA and WWF, and was advised by a broad set of experts from the industrial, finance and waste management realms.

For the Alliance, this report is only the end of the beginning: it is the start of a global effort to turbo-charge the development of ocean-smart waste management infrastructure in the places that really matter.

See Haunting Art Made From Plastic Trash in the Ocean


Published in Ryot.org by Veronica An - Sept. 30, 2015
Indra's Cloud
Indra's Cloud (Anne Percoco, 2009/Creative Commons)

If you’ve ever wondered where the plastic trash you tossed ends up, look no further than your local gyre. These slow moving patches of ocean water are created by wind patterns and the Earth’s rotation and act as catch-all’s for ocean debris. Gyres are indicators for global pollution and paint a startling picture about how our consumption habits impact the planet.

The North Pacific Gyre is about twice the size of the United States and contains thousands of tons of plastic and microplastic waste. Not only does this unsightly floating landfill impact the marine ecosystem, but microplastics often end up in the bellies of marine animals who mistake the colorful bits of indigestible material for food.

According to World Watch, 10–20 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans each year. But with numbers that large, it can be hard to fathom what that really means. A group of artists at the Anchorage Museum in Alaska set out to explore the complex relationship between humans and the oceans. Gyre: The Plastic Ocean is shows the visual impact of consumerism and the haunting legacy of plastic.

The exhibition is no on view at the USC Fisher Museum of Art from September 2 through November 21, 2015. These beautiful and slightly disturbing art works provide a haunting portrait of consumption habits.
Given the ongoing drought in Los Angeles, Gyre takes on a slightly ironic tone.

In a parched city, the exhibition is intent on starting a discussion about the ocean. Ariadni Liokatis, the curator at the USC Fisher Museum of Art, describes the exhibition as timely and relevant to the state’s current situation. “It fits into the larger discussion of environmental issues in Los Angeles. In recent years, we have developed a greater consciousness of environmental degradation and have launched citywide clean up initiatives and the ban on plastic bags,” she told Ryot.org in an interview.

From photographs to mixed media sculptures, each work in the exhibition showcases the artist’s unique strengths. Artists from across the world added their voice to the discussion on pollution; some works whispered and others shouted but everyone had some thing important to say.

The artists used found plastic objects and ample stores of ingenuity to create something beautiful and through provoking. “I love the way everyone’s personal stories, creativity and expertise have been entwined to present such a distressing topic in a most informative, concise and visually appealing way,” Sue Ryan told Ryot.org in an interview.

Her piece, Ghost Dog, is her first life-sized dog sculpture that she created from discarded fishing nets. The sculpture invites wonder but leaves the viewer with a sense of unease.

Many works in the exhibition had hidden surprises. At first glance, Karen Larsen’s Preservations look like quaint mason jars filled with seashells and sand. But, on closer examination, the piece takes on a more sinister feel. Instead of holding seashells from a memorable day at the beach, the jars contain bits of plastic sorted by color and size.

Following in this ironic tone is Max Liboiron’s Seaglobe. This meticulously crafted snow globe contains a distopic ocean seascape create from plastics collected in New York City.

Cynthia Minet’s Beasts of Burden makes a strong environmental statement in the form of life-sized mixed media animal sculptures. Minet assembles recognizable pieces of plastic into animal sculptures, illuminated by colored LED lights from the inside. These beasts illuminated an entire room with their multihued glow. Minet’s plastic animals posed a silent but very real question about the legacy plastic leaves behind.

Artist, Diana Cohen, described plastic as an ambiguous material. “At this point, I have a love/hate relationship with my primary material,” she told Ryot.org in an interview. Plastic represents all the wonderful innovations of mankind…plastic represents the future! But what kind of future?”

Gyre is a though-provoking exhibition that gives new life to a persistent, plastic problem and implores us to rethink out habits. Art has the amazing power to draw viewers in and give them a new lens through which they can view the world.

“You look at these deceptively beautiful artworks and, upon taking a closer look, you realize how challenging the material is, how serious and critical of a subject matter is being addressed in the exhibition,” Liokatis told Ryot.org in an interview.

Now the only question is how we can change the devastating state of our oceans.

Hey waiter, this fish tastes like plastic!


A significant amount of synthetic clothing fibers have been found inside fish caught off the Northern California coast and ending up on local dinner plates, according to a new study by environmental scientists at UC Davis.

About a quarter of the 64 fish purchased at fish markets in Half Moon Bay and Princeton and analyzed for the study turned out to have bits of synthetic clothing in their guts, said lead researcher Chelsea Rochman, of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

The study, published Thursday in the journal of Scientific Reports, came on the heels of research by the San Francisco Estuary Institute that found the surface of San Francisco Bay to be heavily contaminated with plastic microbeads from cosmetics and plastic fibers from clothing.

In the UC Davis study, scientists randomly bought locally-caught fish at markets and dissected their guts at a laboratory in Davis. Plastic clothing fibers were found in the guts of about one-fourth of the smelt, anchovy, rockfish, bass, salmon, sanddab, cod and oysters.

Inadequate filtering by home laundry users and sewage treatment plants is suspected of being the source of the contamination, Rochman said.

“This shows we have a waste management problem that is coming back to haunt us,” Rochman said.
Plastic fibers, Rochman said, were only one of many contaminants that get inside fish and were probably less hazardous than mercury, PCBs and other known fish contaminants.

“This study doesn’t make me afraid of eating fish,” said Rochman, a fish fan who dined on oysters twice last week. “The health benefits outweigh the hazards of my being contaminated with microplastics.”

The scientists also analyzed fish purchased at a market in Indonesia and found that they were contaminated with plasic debris fragments but not with synthetic fibers.

A study released Wednesday by the San Francisco Estuary Insitute found that the San Francisco Bay is hundreds of times more contaminated than the Great Lakes with small plastic particles from cosmetics and synthetic clothing.

The report also found the small microbeads and other pollutants are gobbled up by fish, whose guts contain far more of the toxic stuff than their fellow Great Lakes fish.

In January, researchers took water samples from different spots in San Francisco Bay and analyzed the results. They found that the waters of the South Bay contained 2.6 million microplastic particles of 5 millimeters or smaller per square mile, compared with 285,000 in Lake Erie, 13,000 in Lake Superior and 7,800 in Lake Huron.

The two studies were released shortly after the California legislature passed a bill to regulate microplastics in cosmetics. That bill is awaiting action by the governor.

Steve Rubenstein is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: SRubenstein@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @SteveRubeSF