Friday, May 30, 2008

Rising Above Plastics in Arkansas

The Northwest Arkansas Times writes about two local movie theaters who have decided to replace plastic popcorn bags with paper ones and a natural foods co-op that has stopped passing out plastic bags to customers.

We decided to quit using the plastic grocery bags by popular demand," said Roger Hill, marketing and owner services manager. "For years our owners and other patrons have been asking us to get rid of plastic bags. Now we have done it."

The co-op used plastic bags for several reasons: cost, storage space and convenience for customers, he said. However, with the "Trim Your Waste"campaign in place, the co-op is encouraging customers to bring in their own reusable tote bags.

"Your best choice is your own organic cotton canvas bag, which will last for years, can be recycled in many ways and, if it eventually ends up in a landfill, will biodegrade in just a few months," Hill said. "Your second best choice is any reusable tote bag, no matter what it is made of."

This story of three businesses and a strong popular demand to end use of plastic bags shows again how deep the desire to end the use of single-use plastics runs throughout America and indeed throughout the world.

Read the entire article here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Live Free or Die, Without a Plastic Bag

Out of New Hampshire, the Granite State, comes 16 year old Nicholas Birkbeck, a high school junior who was inspired by information he read on the internet to launch an initiative to pass a ban on plastic bags in the City of Portsmouth. His mother, Denise Martinez, spoke about her son's quest
"Young people know right from wrong ... when young people want to do something for the community and it is the right thing, (adults) should let it happen," Martinez said, adding she has been thrilled to see so much community support so far.
Read about Nicholas here and drop him a line using the e-mail at the end of the story.

No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn!

NY1, the 24 hour, New York, Newschannel, has a story about Broolkyn lawmakers passing out reusable bags

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz joined elected officials and environmentalists in Downtown Brooklyn Tuesday to hand out canvas bags to shoppers as part of the "My Green New York" campaign.

The event aimed to encourage people to put down the plastic bags and pick up more environmentally-friendly ones.

"We're lowering the amount of garbage in our landfills. And we're preserving energy because we're not using the plastic, all the energy it takes to make the plastic bags. And this is much more convenient and helpful," said Markowitz.

"Yeah, it will take a long time to get us out of using plastic bags. But I'm really trying. And I reuse my plastic bags when I do accept them," said shopper Jane Parkerton.
Read the rest of the piece, and watch the video here.

Groundbreaking Legislation Passed in California State Assembly

The California State Legislature today passed legislation aimed at greatly reducing the use of single-use plastic bags. The bill would require a 25 cent fee on single-use plastic and paper bags at large grocery stores and pharmacies statewide, if a 70% reduction in bag usage is not achieved by the end of 2010. Similar fees in other countries have had extreme success, reducing bag use by upwards of 90%. Paper bags have been included in the fee provisions of the bill, further encouraging the use of reusable bags by shoppers. Surfrider Foundation supports the strengthening of the bill to include biodegradable bags in the bill as these bags do not decompose in the ocean and present the same hazards as other bags to marine life. The groundbreaking legislation, which can set a national precedent, now moves onto the California State Senate. Check these pages for further updates on the bill which is entitled AB 2058, Recycling: plastic carryout bags:paper carryout bags.

High Schools rise above plastic

This message is catching on... here we see students at La Costa Canyon in north county San Diego taking the message and driving it into their culture.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Next 400 Years

The Economic Times in India features an article about "The Next 400 Years," with the 400 years being the amount of time it takes for a plastic bag to "degrade." A short outline of the global devastation and a call to arms, follows.
It is estimated that globally, a million plastic bags are consumed every minute. India is a major contributor to this staggering statistic. This is a disaster already in the making. Why? Unfortunately, the list is long – but here is a flavour:
• Choked Drains : Light poly-bags settle in drains. They cause backflow and water logging. Poly-bag induced water logging triggers off landslides in the mountains.
• Soil Degradation : Poly-bags are non-porous and non-biodegradable. They obstruct free flow of water and air, choking the soil and suffocating plant roots. Toxic chemical additives cause soil quality degradation.
• Animal Deaths : Cows eat poly-bags and die. National Geographic estimates that over 100,000 marine animal deaths per year are directly related to ingestion of plastic bags
• Food Hazards : Most plastics today come from petrochemicals. Laboratory studies show that some of these chemicals are linked to cancer and kidney damage and may interfere with the reproductive system.
• Mosquito Breeding : Stray poly-bags act as receptacles of water, sufficient enough for mosquito breeding.
• Polluting Industry : Manufacture of poly-bags, mainly in small moulding shops, with no environmental standards involve hazardous materials and emit obnoxious gases posing serious problems for workers and the environment.
• Disposal Hazards : If disposed through landfills, poly-bags continue to pollute soil for many years. If burnt they emit hazardous gases that pollute the air.
Read the entire article here.

How's Your Aspen?

The Aspen Times has a piece about a healthy competition between Aspen and Telluride, Colorado.
But starting this weekend, a plastic bag contest aims to up those numbers. Sponsored by the Community Office of Resource Efficiency (CORE) in Aspen and Sheep Mountain Alliance (SMA) in Telluride, the contest pits the two towns against each other. But it pits everyone against the plastic bag.

In both towns, grocers have promised to donate 5 cents to a green fund for each purchase or use of a reusable bag. The fund will finance a yet-to-be-determined environmental project within each community. The community that raises the most money, per capita, between Memorial Day weekend and the Fourth of July wins.

The loser must purchase two solar monitor sets for the winning municipality’s public school system.

“Seriously, I think we can make a good start on bag blight with this project,” said Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland.

Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser thought locals would buy into the friendly competition between the two towns — “both touted as green mountain communities.”
Nothing like a healthy competition to get community inspired and informed!

Please Come to Boston

Dave Loggins had a 1974 hit with the above-titled song. City Councilor John R. Connolly has hit upon examining the health risks posed by bisphenol A. A hearing will be held at Boston City Hall this Thursday, May 29 at 3:00 PM, EDT. In 1776, Boston rose against tyranny when the Declaration of Independence was read from the balcony of the old state house. In 2oo8, will Boston help the rest of the nation Rise above Plastics?

Treehuggers International

SurfriderSD Clean Water Award recipient Tommy Hough recently featured Elizabeth Willes and the Rise Above Plastics campaign on his weekly FM 94/9 radio show Treehuggers International.

Click here to listen to the show and if you have a chance, thank Tommy for featuring this important issue on his program.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Using Oranges to Break Down Polystyrene?

Is breaking down polystyrene (more commonly known under the brand name "styrofoam") as easy as leaving your fresh squeezed cup of orange juice from Jamba in the hot sun? Well not exactly and perhaps we can for now file this story in "don't believe everything you read on 'the internets,' " but the Jakarta Post reports that high school students have discovered a way to break down polystyrene into a non-toxic safe to dispose of solution that "can be decomposed by microorganisms in the air and soil." Apparently orange peels contain limonene, a substance that is used an an industrial degreaser and is found in those "orange cleaners" that have become all the rage. This "breakthrough" bears further investigation, the result of which will be reported here.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

We're being watched... (good)

I was cruising around the blogosphere and found "" It's "A weblog about the global plastics industry news, businesses trends and markets". 

Soooo, it's an industry blog. It's a "Please don't rise above plastics" blog.

The post that caught my eye was "Some blogs to watch" where they list this blog.

We're being watched. 

Um... excellent.

We want the "global plastics industry news, business trends and markets" to know that we are collectively NOT satisfied with the state of affairs. In fact we demand alternative practices, products and use. We are not anti-plastic per se we are anti-single use plastic. We do not accept that a person should go to the store and buy something... like a bottle of water in single-use plastic (that will be used for 15 minutes but last forever) and then have the cashier put the bottle into a... plastic bag (that will get used for 4 minutes but last forever). 

This is not acceptable. 

It's not acceptable because we don't want our collective legacy to our children to be that of single-use plastics landfills and plastic soup islands. 

Please keep watching us. Listen to what we're saying. I'm guessing your children will be, if they aren't already, saying the same thing. This isn't an "us versus them" mentality as we all use plastics at some level... but it is an "us versus them" mentality when we're fed silly marketing campaigns like the Poland Spring water one above.

We're talking about the earth here... we're not just talking about "industry news, business trends and markets".

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Earthrace Visits the "California Rubbish Dump"

Earthrace, the effort to circumnavigate the world in a 100% biodiesel powerboat and educate on renewable fuels, recently visited what they called the "California Rubbish Dump," in the Pacific. This from the Captain's log, Day 23,
" 'There’s a lot of crap in the water here', Adam says, as we dodge around another plastic bottle in the water. Our course is more like a drunken student weaving his way home after a bender, rather than a race boat in a straight line. It seems every hundred metres or so there’s another bit of crap in the water, and anything resembling a buoy (like a plastic bottle), we need to skirt around.

Prof Sharma in Scotland had warned us about this area. Actually so had Bob McDavitt, our forecaster back in New Zealand. It is a giant rubbish dump of plastic and polystyrene, that unbelievably, is the size of Texas, and we’re currently on the southern tip of it.

What actually happens is the current that passes down the West Coast of America picks up rubbish and debris along the Californian coast, and then drags them all the way out here, some thousand odd nautical miles away. The current here then drops under the surface, leaving behind all the rubbish. It joins the giant Californian rubbish dump that remains here year after year, and gradually increases in density as more crap drifts in."
As we have learned recently, the garbage patch (or both of them) is much larger than originally thought. As a Californian who's trying to make a difference and reduce our plastics use, I'm not sure how great I feel about the name "California Rubbish Dump," however it's a shoe that fits squarely on all of our feet as the majority polluters on this side of the Pacific.

Pilgrim's Progress: Sustainable Plymouth Pushes Bag Ban

Plymouth Rock

Sustainable Plymouth, an environmental organization in Plymouth, MA, the historic town that was the landing spot for Pilgrims escaping religious persecution in England, is working on a plastic shopping bag ban. The Boston Globe reports on the proposed ban in "America's Hometown." Plymouth banning plastic bags would set a great example for this author's home area of New England and could provide innumerable gains in public education through outreach to the thousands of families and children who visit Plymouth yearly to tour it's historic sites.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Enormity of the Garbage Patches

At tonight's meeting of Surfrider Foundation San Diego County Chapter, I showed a copy of the graphic from the Toronto Globe and Mail depicting the garbage patches in the Pacific Ocean. At least one person asked "Isn't there some way we can clean this up?" And, later during our break and discussion period, I was asked why I thought it the trash could not be picked up. I replied "Because of the enormity of it all," explaining that these patches were so large and plastics of varying sizes are spread throughout the patches at depths up to 10 meters. Anna Cummins, Eduction Advisor of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, had a guest blog post in the LA Times just the other day and wrote,
" • The garbage does indeed exist. HOWEVER it is not a "patch" of garbage, nor a trash island. It's more like a huge bowl of dilute plastic soup, from California to Japan.

• We can't clean it up, net it away, or sieve it out. It's an area twice the size of the United States, and the debris is too spread out. Imagine a handful of plastic cornflakes sprinkled over a football field. Now imagine 9 million football fields in the Pacific Ocean."
Possible the devastation to the marine environment has gotten even worse than before, Cummins writes, "What we found this year: the problem has gotten much, much worse. Though our samples are still being processed, Captain Moore guesstimates a fivefold increase in 10 years, bumping plastic to plankton ratios up to 30:1."

In order to raise awareness, Cummins and two others are sailing Junkraft, a raft made out of 15,000 plastic bottles, an old airplane and other junk materials from Long Beach to Hawaii. One June 1, they set sail from Long Beach Aquarium and will be carrying hundreds of messages about plastics debris to be delivered to Congress in Washington DC. You can write your own message here.

A Sea of Synthetic Trash

The Toronto Globe and Mail's Unnati Gandhi wrote an excellent piece about plastics in the oceans and essentially a long awaited updated to some of the groundbreaking work done by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation on the North Central Pacific Gyre, also known as the Eastern Garbage Patch. One of the best graphic representations I've ever seen is below. Read the entire piece here and click "Yes" to recommend the article so more folks are educated about this problem.

Do You Know the Way to San Jose?

Dionne Warwick wasn't sure she wanted to record the eventual hit song "Do You Know the Way to San Jose," written specifically for her by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. The San Jose City Council isn't sure that they want to ban plastic bags but took steps to study doing so.

The council agreed to work with grocers to study the effects of a plastic bag ban. City staff also will explore charging fees to grocery customers who use plastic bags, as well as a city citywide program to encourage reusable cloth bags.

"We need to eliminate plastic bags, but paper is not the answer," said councilwoman Nora Campos.

The city plans to analyze the options over the next few months, and changes could come as soon as January.

Hopefully by January, San Jose will find itself ready to join the growing list of cities all over the world who are rising above plastic. Read the entire article here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


A Food and Drug Administration official told Congress that
[A] large body of available evidence indicates that food contact materials containing BPA currently on the market are safe, and that exposure levels to BPA from these materials, including exposure to infants and children, are below those that may cause health effects.
FDA's stance runs counter to the National Toxicology Program, Health Canada and scientists including David Feldman, of Stanford University, who published findings as long ago as 1993 regarding the effects of Bisphenol A.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Swimming in an Ocean of Plastic

From Orillia, Ontario, Canada comes this piece wherein the author reveals a revelation he's had regarding plastics.

A few statistics from the piece, courtesy of Algalita Marine Research Foundation via Time Magazine:

  • 46,000 pieces of plastic are floating per every square mile of ocean.
  • The North Central Pacific Gyre (that floating patch of debris) contains an estimated 100 million tons of trash.
  • The gyre area is now said to be maybe twice the size of the Continental United States.
These stats and the realization that he was making a difference has turned the author. What can they do to turn that skeptical friend or relative of yours? Any decent person who learns of the research of Algalita and others can't help but want to make a difference. Read the entire article here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Haven & Havoc

Ocean Debris: Habitat for Some, Havoc for Environment, Experts Say

John Roach - National Geographic News

Look under a chunk of plastic afloat in the ocean and you're likely to spot a fish or two. But look inside the stomach of a dead albatross or sea turtle and you're likely to find chunks of plastic. So goes the paradoxical legacy of plastic debris in the ocean.

Carl Safina is a marine conservationist who has traveled the world's oceans and documented the effects of plastic on marine life. This past fall, on a research cruise in the remote Pacific Ocean off the coast of Central America, he and his colleagues encountered floating trash serving as habitat for small fish and other marine organisms.

Read the rest of it here.

Frankenplastic? New Enzyme Coated Plastics: How Will They Affect Our Oceans?

Don't look now, but scientists are working on a plastic that is coated with enzymes to kill bacteria with the idea that eventually this will lead to self-cleaning fabrics. I wonder if the scientist proponents have considered the effects that this material could have once it enters the waste stream and our oceans. In case they haven't, I asked them. Read the article here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Keeping the Ocean Clean

From one Surfrider Member, helping keep the ocean clean:

I went to Home Depot and bought some strips of velcro. I put the
velcro around my upper calf and when I see a bag I grab it, roll it
up and put it between my leg and the velcro. I can still surf and
when I come in I just through it in the trash. It's my little part
to keep the ocean clean.

Malibu Bans Plastic

Malibu proved to be a leader in local ordinances by banning both regular and biodegradable bags in all retail stores. Ordinance 323 was passed unanimously by the Malibu City Council members after a presentation by the local Boys and Girls Club and Heal the Bay. Malibu EC Member Andrea Boccaletti presented testimony on behalf of the Chapter describing the prevalence of plastic bags at the beach clean up in Zuma Beach last weekend. Angela Howe spoke on behalf of Surfrider to tell about our Rise Above Plastics campaign efforts and the need for local leadership on a municipal level, especially in Malibu where Surfrider began in 1984.

This is an important win in the fight against plastics. Several members of the West LA Malibu Chapter of Surfrider were on hand to support the plastic bag ban, and residents thanked Surfrider for our testimony.

For more information, see

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Plastics and Packaging Concerns By and For All

Proving that concerns for our environment crosses party lines and oceans, Conservative Member of Parliament John Hayes has come out against over packaging.
Mr Hayes, MP for South Holland and The Deepings, raised the issue during a House of Commons debate last week and is urging the Government to take action sooner rather than later to help save the environment.

He said: "When my young children have their toys they come packaged in paper, metal, plastic, wood and every other kind of thing that one can imagine.

"When we bought toys or when they were bought for us as children, they came very simply packaged."

Mr Hayes added that there are many other examples of ways that excess packaging is getting "out of control"....He added: "Not too long ago fish and chips used to be wrapped in paper, not polystyrene boxes, and milk and pop came in returnable glass bottles.

"We need to look again at the benefits that returnable glass bottles and other forms of packaging can deliver compared to their plastic and polystyrene alternatives."

Read the entire article here. Right on, MP Hayes. Rock the UK!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Recycling Can Fix This, Right? Wrong.


Recycling Can Fix This, Right? Wrong.

Recycling has its place -- in fact, we offer bags made of recycled PET because we support sustainable paths for the world's overabundance of plastic.

However, it's not the complete solution.

Recycling rates for plastic bags are extremely low. Only 1 to 3% of plastic bags end up getting recycled.

In addition, economics of recycling plastic bags are not appealing. From the process of sorting, to the contamination of inks and the overall low quality of the plastic used in plastics bags, recyclers would much rather focus on recycling the vast quantities of more viable materials such as soda and milk bottles that can be recycled far more efficiently. If the economics don't work, recycling efforts don't work. more