Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Rise Above Plastics Blog Has Moved

The Surfrider Foundation has consolidated all of our issue-based blogs into one Coastal Blog.

Check it out at
and to view all of the Rise Above Plastics posts at once you can bookmark

Thursday, July 14, 2011

California Supreme Court Rules for Bag Bans!

Today, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of the City of Manhattan Beach’s single-use plastic bag ban, holding that state law does not require the City to complete a full Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”) in order to impose the ban. This decision undoubtedly will make it easier for cities to prohibit stores from distributing plastic grocery bags, ruling that state law didn't require Manhattan Beach to do an environmental impact report before imposing a plastic-bag ban in 2008. In the past, California cities have been especially deterred from acting to pass these local ordinances because there was the potential to be sued by the "Save Our Plastic Bag Coalition," a group comprised of plastic bag manufacturers and distributors.

The Plaintiff industry group claims the movement to ban plastic bags was based on misinformation and would increase the use of paper bags, with overall negative environmental consequences. However, the Supreme Court seemed to understand that the motive behind the ordinance was to replace single-use plastic bags with reusable ones, thereby making for a better coastal environment. Surely, the ordinance would have no significant negative effect on the environment. Justice Carol A. Corrigan, writing for a unanimous court and reversing the lower court opinion, said that “[s]ubstantial evidence and common sense support the city’s determination that its ordinance would have no significant effect. Therefore, a negative declaration was sufficient to comply with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act.”

Half of the opinion is spent discussing the standard for standing (or ability to sue). The Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, even though representing industry corporations, was allowed to bring this citizen suit because there was an actual controversy between parties with sufficient interests in the subject matter. The court also noted that under CEQA, strict rules of standing do not apply when there are broad environmental concerns involved in the case.

This is a win for Manhattan Beach who has spent the past three years wrapped up in this litigation at the Superior Court, Appeals Court and finally the California Supreme Court level. It started in July of 2008, when Surfrider Foundation South Bay Chapter activists worked with many other environmental organizations to spark Manhattan Beach City Council to prohibit carry-out plastic bags.

Importantly, this decision means that it is safe for cities (especially smaller cities) to proceed in enacting a local bag ban ordinance with merely an accompanying Negative Declaration rather than a full (and more expensive) Environmental Impact Report to fulfill their California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) requirement. The decision does focus on Manhattan Beach being a smaller city, with the population of 35,852 in the 2010 census, as one of the justifications for environmental impact being low.

One significant distinguishing factor between the Manhattan Beach case and the more recent bag bans that have been passed in California is the inclusion of a 5-cent fee on single-use paper bags. Because the popular approach to this issue is now deterring all single-use bags, there is even less of an argument that a restriction on plastic bags will increase the use of paper bags. The object of all cities that are trying to regulate bags in California is to encourage consumers to shop with reusable bags and to encourage the habit of bringing your own bag to the store. This type of ordinance regulating both paper and plastic, in turn, alleviates the impact on the environment, especially the marine environment, and stops a waste of natural resources used to make the single-use bags.

San Francisco, Malibu, Santa Monica, Long Beach, Calabasas, Marin County and unincorporated Los Angeles County have also enacted bans. Many other cities are chomping at the bit to do the same, but were waiting on the opinion of the Supreme Court in this case. This opinion will usher in a new round of local action on single-use plastic bag pollution.

Applause to the California Supreme Court for allowing Manhattan Beach to Rise Above Plastics!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Texas' Attempt to Ban Plastic Bag Bans Fails!

I am happy to announce with that the attempt by two Texas Legislators to limit local rule on plastic bag ordinances has failed in the Texas Legislature leaving local communities able to tackle plastic pollution on their own terms!  This was the result of a joint effort by all 5 Texas Chapters of the Surfrider Foundation and the Texas Campaign for the Environment.

This now leaves the door open for proposed plastic bag bans in Austin, Corpus Christi and Galveston to be passed and join South Padre Island, Brownsville and Fort Stockton as communities that have adopted plastic bag bans in an effort to reduce litter and plastics litter in their areas!  The passage of more plastic bag ordinances within the state of Texas is now imperative in the next 2 years so that Texas Legislators that supported the ban on plastic bag bans will be forced to defend actions that were taken in their districts to take care of their environment.

Ironically, Senator Troy Fraser who introduced the Senate version of the plastic bag ordinance ban was named as one of Texas Monthly's worst legislators for the 82nd Texas Legislative Session.  He actually introduced legislation that would give incentive to grow the states burgeoning solar energy industry but then failed to support the legislation himself.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Sea Turtle's Bag

For those of you that refuse to believe that plastic bags have a direct effect on marine life see below.  This turtle was rescued by Sea Turtle, Inc. on South Padre Island.  The volunteer is having to aid the animal in passing the bag.  Most turtles are not so lucky to have assistance and end up dying. 

Yes.  This is a REAL turtle attempting to pass a REAL plastic shopping bag it consumed
Thanks to the hospital at Sea Turtle, Inc. this Sea Turtle will survive its mistake.  Most aren't so lucky.

Pass on the bag so another Sea Turtle won't have to!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

BPA on Cash Register Receipts - D'OH!

Bisphenol-A, or "BPA", is a key component in plastics. It has been fingered by scientists as an endocrine disruptor and in studies has shown to mimic the effects of the female-centric hormone estrogen... And...scientists and biologists agree that when you mess with a person's hormones, you are asking for trouble, so bottom line: stop eating & drinking from items that leach this BPA (all plastics leach these chemicals). Fun Fact: plastic drink bottles contain and leach this BPA Chemical.

NEWS FLASH: Sadly, now BPA is a key component in cash register receipts! Hel-lo! Yep, it's that powdery-feeling stuff on the ubiquitous "thermal" cash register receipts - so pretty much ALL receipts that you get from any establishment nowadays is coated with waaaaay more BPA than is proven to be harmful to developing babies, in clinical studies. Experts claim that these receipts give off waaaaay more BPA than you can get from drinking from plastic bottles - so much so that several restaurant chains are banning the use of this type of "paper" receipt in their restaurants.

Taco Bell, KFC & Pizza Hut are all dumping the BPA receipts - and you thought that they didn't care about your health...tsk-tsk - THEY ARE MAVERICKS - BRAVO! Read one of the articles about it here. We here at RAP HQ have even heard that the ENTIRE COUNTRY of JAPAN has already banned this type of receipt paper-poison-stuff.

Watch out for stuff labeled "BPA Free" too - this nasty BPA is often being replaced in plastics with something called..."BPS"...we can only imagine what this yet-to-be-studied compound will do to our bodies - stay tuned for more on that as we get more info!


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Greatest Generation Had It Right. So What Happened?

We have a lot to learn from our Grandparents.  I find myself in awe with my Grandmother, Nana as I have known her my entire life.  She is the strongest and most opinionated woman I have ever met.  She isn't going to sugar coat anything when it comes to her beliefs.  Why not, she grew up in the Great Depression and watched all of her Brothers sail off to the Pacific in World War II.  She even tried to get certified to ferry B-17 bombers to Europe but luckily the war ended and ALL of her brothers came home to start their new lives.  The great life stories she tells only begin there!

To wrap her up in one sentence, my Dad used to say, "Nana can spit further and shoot straighter than any man alive and will prove it at the drop of a hat."  That being said, she is the essence of a truly radiant, polished and kind Texas woman.

That's a long intro for this post but it is important because Nana is strong willed.  The times she grew up in in South Texas made her that way.  She has never, to my knowledge, backed down from a challenge and rising above plastics is a huge challenge, especially to older people.  The irony is it shouldn't have ever happened that this campaign ever came about.  They already had it right!

Nana grew up in the Great Depression and World War II.  This time in America was all about living on very little and wasting nothing.  People were asked to collect scrap metal, tires, cans, to not drive, grow their own gardens.  Even cooking fat had value to be recycled for explosives.  Nana has told us multiple times of when they would get a stick of chewing gum as kids, it was such a big deal that they would stick it on their headboards when they went to sleep at night and chew it again the next day!

To use something once and throw it away was seen as not being a patriotic American and though times were very difficult, the people that came out were proud, not wasteful and saved everything!

My Grandmother now hates the fact that the City of San Antonio makes her recycle.  What?!  They even provide a large bin and sort it for her.  When you look back on the beginning of this post, you would think that recycling is at the core of her being. After all, she grew up doing it.  Do not get me wrong, this one aspect of her personality does not diminish her in my eyes at all.  I am just wanting to know what happened.  The woman still uses cloth napkins for crying out loud at just about every meal and then washes them! It doesn't jive.  

So what did happen to us in the few decades since the galvanizing of the "Greatest Generation". We got lazy and single use plastics led the way!  Why wash the dishes when you could use a paper plate or cup and throw it away?  Why have to use a soggy paper plate or cup when you could use the newer and stronger plastic ones?  Why go through the effort of taking that case of returnable glass bottles back to the store for that 5 cent refund when you could just get your soda in a convenient can or plastic bottle that can just be discarded when done?  Finally and the biggest one, why drink that "filthy" tap water out of the faucet or fountain when you can carry this "cleaner" and more stylish water around in a convenient SINGLE USE PLASTIC BOTTLE?

The "Rise Above Plastics" campaign is simple in concept and is one of the most challenging things you will ever do in life at the same time.  Breaking the habit of those plastic bottles and bags is hard and anyone who says any different is not being honest.  In fact, you have no real concept of just how much single use plastics have become a part of your life and our society until you decide to make that break.  It can be done though.

"Rise Above Plastics" is an attempt to get us back to where we were just 6 decades ago.  Our Grandparents and parents had it right.  It was good and patriotic to not produce so much waste and to reuse things.  Now through some twisted flip of the script businesses, lobbyists and politicians have convinced us that it is now oppressive and wrong to want our society to go back to the days before we threw away 215 plastic bottles per person in the United States a year.  That's 66 BILLION bottles annually There is something inherently wrong with that line of logic.

If you have not already started or tried, today is your day to go retro and emulate part of the greatness of the "Greatest Generation".  They did it.  My Grandmother still does it on some levels without even realizing it. Remember those cloth napkins?  I'm working with her on the other stuff but when I say strong willed, I am not kidding around.  It will be hard and you will stumble and forget your reusable bags or your reusable bottle or coffee cup but we all make mistakes AND we all become better as we move on from them.  Rehabilitate your life and feel good doing it.

Today is your day to start rising above plastics!!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Brownsville Bag Ban Eliminates 350,000 Plastic Bags Per Day!

It's amazing that with results like this, the Texas Legislature is attempting to ban plastic bag bans in Texas.

From May 7, 2011 New York Times.....

Mixed Reviews for Brownsville Ban on Plastic Bags

Ms. Orozco’s collection of tote bags stems from a recent ordinance in Brownsville, one of Texas’ poorest big cities: a ban on plastic checkout bags in virtually all businesses.The policy, which took effect in January, has eliminated more than 350,000 bags per day, according to Mayor Pat Ahumada, who said in an e-mail that it has “transformed our city from littered and dirty to a much cleaner city.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

'Share A Bag' at Your Local Farmers Market

There are lots of cool ways to Rise Above Plastics and we love this idea from the Mar Vista Farmers Market in California. The market has decided to ban the controversial bags, which pose a serious threat to marine life and contribute to our reliance on oil. Come Sept. 1, 2011, plastic grocery bags will no longer be given out by Mar Vista Farmers' Market vendors.

To wean shoppers off their reliance on the offending plastic bags, Mar Vista Farmers' Market management and the Mar Vista Community Council's Green Committee launched a "Share a Bag" program at the market on April 17. Five hundred free, reusable bags were distributed to kick off the program.

Click Here for the full story from

Monday, May 2, 2011

Real Reason Coke Is Not Ditching BPA.

As a side note to the below article, I would like to comment that to this day, you can go into Mexico and buy and exchange your Coca-Cola, Topo Chico and yes, beer bottles any day of the week.  Unfortunately for myself and them, I am no longer willing to risk being caught in the cross fire of a firefight between the Mexican Military and the Drug Cartels to do this.  Yes, a country that is in the midst of a turmoil that we hopefully will never know here, still has a returnable bottle program that spreads across international borders and works.

From the April 29th article, " The Real Reason Coca-Cola Isn't Ditching Bisphenol A" at Treehugger by Lloyd Alter
"The REAL reason that Coke isn't talking is that they know perfectly well what the real answer is to the issue of how to get rid of BPA in cans: bring back the returnable bottle system that they have spent fifty years trying to destroy. As I noted in my post Recycling is Bullshit, the switch to disposables has enabled Coke to centralize production, eliminate the independent bottlers that served each community or region, and ship the stuff around the country on the interstates paid for by the taxpayers.

They have become hugely profitable because they have shifted the cost of taking back and dealing with the container from the company to Ariel and me and everyone else who pays for the garbage pickup, the landfill and the recycling costs.

Right now, there is no proven, reliable replacement for Bispenol A epoxies for acidic products like tomatoes or Coke. If people want to stop being exposed to it, they should demand returnable, refillable glass bottles. The stuff tastes better in it anyways."

Read the entire story here.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Texas Lege Attempts To Ban Plastic Bag Bans!

There are two bills in the Texas Legislature right now that represent what is wrong with our political "discourse" as of late.  They also do a hell of a job pointing out the hypocrisy that political parties regularly generate.

Senator Troy Fraser
Rep. Kelly Hancock
Everyone in Texas (Conservative, Liberal, Tea Party, Independent) should immediately contact their Texas State Senators and Representatives and ask them to strike out the last line of SB908 and HB1913.  These bills are 95% good (encouraging the recycling of plastic shopping bags and offering of reusable bags), but the two lawmakers that are sponsoring them, District 24 Senator Troy Fraser and  District 91 Representative Kelly Hancock, have decided to slide in a restrictive clause in the bill that would limit local community rights by not allowing them to enact any local ordinances that would conflict with these bills.  Some,myself among them, interpret this to mean that  Texas towns and counties will not be able to draft and implement plastic bag bans, fees or other ordinances that would aid in the reduction of litter in their area.

The reason that an environmental conscious person should object to the restrictions on their local governments is obvious.  Encouraging the recycling of plastic bags is nice but is really almost completely ineffectual and almost non existent.  These bags end up in our streets and gutters; clogging them up.  Those that get through the gutters move on to our lakes, rivers and oceans to finally end up being consumed by marine animals and birds that mistake them for food.

Only 1%-9% of plastic bags are recycled annually.  In addition the recyclables commodity market does not exactly encourage the recycling of plastic bags by private industry and is a huge loss for anyone who attempts it.  According to the Clean Air Council, it costs $1,000 to recycle one ton of plastic bags which can be turned around and sold for $32.  Not really a great cost benefit ratio there, huh?  Therefor it is obvious that we should reduce the amount and usage of these bags through bans on these bags being distributed at stores or by implementing fees that will discourage the use of the bags encourage reusable bags but still provide funding for those cities and towns to clean up the current plastic litter problem they are facing.

What if you think, despite the above information, that plastic bag bans, fees and other ordinances are not the answer and consumers should have the option of plastic bags and then recycle and reuse them?  Well, these bills seek to usurp local community's rights to enact laws and regulations that they feel would address their plastic and other litter issues.  Whether these laws end up being a ban, a fee or even an expanded recycling program- shouldn't those communities have THAT choice to tackle their problem?  After all the solution will be debated on the local level and not dictated by a lawmaker in Austin.

Isn't this what many of the Conservatives ran on to ride the wave of conservative change into the Texas Legislature in 2010?  They told their constituents that they, like them, were tired of being told what to do by the ever expanding state and federal government and they would protect the rights of their constituents to make their own choices for their communities and themselves.  The very fact that HB1913 and SB908 seek to limit these local powers is a slap in the face to these principles that conservative candidates  like Representative Hancock and Senator Fraser expounded on to get into office.  As a Conservative or Tea Party member, you should be outraged and send a message to them and your own local Legislators to leave your community alone and  let you decide these issues at the local level!

I urge you to please contact your local Texas State Representative and Senator and tell them to oppose HB1913 and SB908 and stop this attempt by the Texas Legislature to take away your local rights to enact laws that would benefit your communities!  Click on the link below to utilize a resource created by the Surfrider Foundation that will direct you to your Law Maker and help you send a letter to them today!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

ACTION (polystyrene ban), REaction (paper bottles)

Happy Tuesday - the day of the week in which all get productive!

First off - ACTION: California is shootin' for a state-wide polysytrene (StyroFoam) take-out food-container ban - go here to sling an email to your "elected" that encourages them to support the ban. All ya gotta do is enter your California zip code, and the application will figure out your designated State Senator, and even write the email to them, supporting the ban - EEEEAZY - go now!

Secondly, REaction: sick of plastic bottles (side bar: one attendee called the grounds of SoCal's annual & recently-held and once-eco-friendly-music-fest Coachella 2011, "a sea of empty plastic water bottles" - YUK!)?? - so are the people at BrandImage - they have come up with a paper water bottle. Clever yes, but is it reusable - well, yeah, kinda...better than not. A step in the right direction, fer sher...hopefully, tho, someday we can force ourselves to be reverse-weaned from our disposable water bottle ("bah-bah", as we called it in infancy) addiction...? Start now!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Colby College Dumps Bottled Water!

Colby College in Maine said hello to Earth Day on Friday. And goodbye to bottled water!

A three-year student-led campaign against the ubiquitous clear plastic containers culminates when remaining bottles are removed Friday from the shelves at the Colby Bookstore and the Spa, Colby’s on-campus snack bar. Sarah Sorenson ’11, who led the campaign called “Take Back the Tap,” announced that Colby’s athletic teams also agreed this week to forgo purchasing cases of bottled water for games and road trips beginning next semester.

Sorenson, president of the Colby Environmental Coalition (Enviroco), reported that the student organization already persuaded officials to virtually eliminate bottled water from catered events on campus, including meals, lectures, and meetings, and from campus-wide events such as commencement, reunion weekend, and orientation.

All together the efforts will have removed more than 10,000 bottles a year from the waste stream and will save thousands of dollars in purchase costs. “This is a great example where a student, working with faculty, staff, and the administration, can effect real change,” said Douglas Terp, Colby’s vice president for administration and chair of the College’s Environmental Advisory Group.

Alternatives introduced to replace bottled water on campus include pitchers of tap water at events, bulk containers, and reusable water bottles. The College has installed several new water stations, including fountains with spigots designed for filling water bottles.

Cheers to Colby for helping to lead the way and take back the tap! What a great way to Rise Above Plastics, Click Here for the full story.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Great Day For Some Greenwashing!

No Glee from Environmentalists for Coca-Cola “Plant Bottle”. We got this info recently from our friends at the Earth Resource Foundation after a last-minute invite for an Earth Day dog and pony show to launch Coke's new plastic bottle. (Photo Courtesy of Beth Terry - Hawaii)

"Some California environmental groups got a last minute invite to an unusual spectacle taking place on Earth Day to launch Coke’s new “plant bottle” packaging for Coca-Cola brand “Dasani” bottled water. The invitation cheers the “exciting packaging advancement” that will allow Coca-Cola to bottle its plain old municipal water without the coke syrup in a bottle that is “made with up to 30 percent plants – and up to 30 percent less petroleum.”

“Although our event is taking place this Friday – and we apologize for the short notice – we really would love to see you there. The event is a fashion show featuring models clad in garments made from plants that cover up to 30 percent of their bodies. The show will be hosted by actor and singer Matthew Morrison from FOX TV’s “Glee.”

Again, we apologize for the short notice, and we sincerely hope you can fit it into your busy schedule. Please RSVP… “

On behalf of environmentalists in the know about plastic packaging and bottled water, we send our regrets, as follows:

1. We Regret that while many areas of America face drought, your bottling of municipal water uses three times as much water in the process of bottling it as the amount of water that came from the tap to fill the bottle.

2. We Regret that despite your green leaf logo, your “plant bottle” is still just a PET plastic bottle and is not biodegradable or compostable on land or at sea.

3. We Regret that Coca-Cola will not be collecting and recycling their own PET “plant bottles,” and that only approximately 20.9% percent of PET bottles are “recycled” (mostly into lower grade material that is not used in bottles again) in America. The remainder, at over 20 billion bottles, last forever in our landfills or in our environment, including our oceans. We also regret that Coca-Cola failed to achieve it’s own pledge of using at least 10% recycled content in PET bottles and has just announced the shut down of its PET recycling joint venture in South Carolina.

4. We Regret that Coca-Cola is substituting its chemical-laden petroleum plastic bottle with a chemical-laden petroleum and plant plastic bottle.

5. We Regret that estrogenic compounds in your PET “plant bottle” may leach into the water and impair human health and reproduction.

6. We Regret that advertising has tricked people into believing that bottled water is safer when in fact your product has been recalled for contamination and gets a grade of “D” on Environmental Working Group’s evaluation of bottled waters.

7. We Regret that Coca-Cola Corporation has been so slow to properly label the source of the tap water that it bottles.

8. We Regret that single servings of water are sold in disposable packaging that will last longer than any of us will be on this planet, and that future generations will have to deal with our waste.

9. We Regret that you aren’t screening the documentaries Tapped and Bag It! at your event.

10. We Regret that Matthew Morrison, a beloved singer and actor, is involved with such a green washing sham. We wish he talked with us first.

And although we appreciate the promise of 30% clad models, we believe it would be more appropriate for your models to be nude, as in “the emperor has no clothes” because this kind of green washing doesn’t fool us at all."

Well put!! Click Here and take a moment to sign the petition yourself.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

'Bag It' Webcast with Jeb!

Earth Day has blown up and turned into Earth Month as everyone is trying to ride the green wave. Hopefully they are not just posers and are the real-deal soul surfers that will truly make a positive impact.

The folks from the award-winning documentary film 'Bag It' are the real deal and are putting on a cool webcast tomorrow in honor of Earth Day. Sure, you have probably seen the movie already but this is your chance to check it out again, this time with an interactive Q&A with Bag It director Suzan Beraza, film star Jeb Berrier and special guests!

Point your browser to at 9:15 pm EDT on Thursday, April 21 and join the fun!

Monday, April 18, 2011

What Is The #1 Single-Use Plastic Item?

If you said cigarette butts, you are correct! Only 15-20% of the US population smokes but the cigarette butt waste seems overwhelming. Since butts are made from cellulose acetate, a type of synthetic plastic, they can be considered a single-use plastic. No one wants to reuse those toxic butts, but our friends at Ripple Life are looking for ways to recycle them.

Data from the Ocean Conservancy show that in 2009, over three million (3,216,991) cigarettes or cigarette filters were removed internationally from beaches and inland waterways as part of the annual International Coastal Cleanup (ICC), including 1,362,741 collected from the U.S. This represents 28% and 35% of total debris items collected worldwide and in the U.S., respectively, making it by far the most prevalent item found.

Surfrider started our Hold On To Your Butts program in 1992 as local surfers were fed up from cigarette waste at the beach. The idea that Gary Sirota and Oscar Gonzales started blossomed into a successful awareness program that helped to spur smoke-free beaches in San Diego, outdoor ashcans in local communities and the super-fun annual Hold On To Your Butt day each year.

But, it's not enough. While the beaches are cleaner, there is increased butt waste on the streets and sidewalks that the additional outdoor ashcans are not catching. What else can be done? Maybe stricter litter enforcement from police or greatly increased producer responsibility programs from the cigarette manufacturers?

Tune in tomorrow (Tuesday April 19th at noon Eastern) for a special webcast in observance of Earth Day 2011 focusing on how public health experts, policy leaders, environmental activists and even the tobacco industry can help prevent and put an end to this type of toxic waste. Point your browser to and join in on the discussion.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Hawaii RAP Ads (...and my foot)

Why all the recent buzz about Hawaii on the RAP blog? NOAA recently hosted it's sorta-semi-annual "Marine Debris" (not our choice of title) Conference, so, of course, ya gotta pack the sunscreen and check it out! What we have here today is a small collection of advertising "collateral" that the Hawaii Surfrider chapters (Kaua'i, Maui, O'ahu, Big'Island) have been using to get the Rise Above Plastics word out there and IN YO FACE!

The first two (top left and Barbie, on the right) have already appeared in Green Magazine Hawaii and the third one (bottom left) is actually a photograph of two 4'x 5' art pieces made by artist Susan Scott which are made of plastic items found in the ocean (lotsa lighters and bottle caps in their "native" colors) - and they are the most intricate I've seen of that genre - take a closer look!

The last shot is of my pudgy foot on Oahu's Kahuku beach, over on the north east side of the island...4 days after a beach cleanup was conducted there. We were told that, for Oahu, it is THE beach that gets the brunt of the plastic-trash spin-out from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Pretty plasticy if you ask me...and coming to a beach near you, if we don't start whoopin'-*ss on the problem NOW.

Click on any of the images for a more detailed view! ...and as always have an ONO ("tasty") weekend!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bag Bans Work - Maui Style

Just look at these photos from Maui and decide for yourself. It seems they are having a little trouble getting 100% compliance from all of the local stores but the impact has been immediate. Plastic bags were phased out on January 11th and bag litter seems to have decreased dramatically.

I was fortunate to be there on vacation a few weeks back and stoked to see the new ordinance. But, I was a bit bummed to see how many people simply switched to paper bags. I always travel with a couple of reusable bags and had them ready at the check out stand but why were there so many people plowing through the paper bags? The store have big signs reminding customers to 'BYO' but increased awareness is needed. Or maybe a 5-10 cent fee on paper bags? It still gives people options, and a little more incentive to remember their reusable bag.

Click Here for the full story from The Maui News.

Monday, April 11, 2011


That's what Greener Upon Thames in the U.K. is proposing and it sounds good to us! They are trying to persuade London Mayor Boris Johnson and Olympic organizers to host a plastic-bag-free Olympics in 2012 and calling for a total ban on all outlets at the Olympics from issuing plastic bags. Click Here to help out by signing their petition.

I smell collectible reusable bags! I doubt that they will be as stylish as this retro bag from the 1960's but hopefully it happens and they make the most of this opportunity. Up next: getting all athletes to utilize reusable water bottles and finding alternatives to the single-use gooey gel packs.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Jackson Browne on TEDx

We've reported about TEDx Great Pacific Garbage Patch presentations on this blog before, but this one may surprise you - Jackson Browne performing a new song about plastics in the ocean. It's certainly not the stuff he used to sing about in the old days...before we found ourselves awash in single-use plastics.

You may be wondering what Jackson has been doing since the peak of his pop music popularity in the 1970s - he is still touring and performing AND over the last couple of years, has been bit by the news about what plastics are doing to our environment and now has a new song, in his own signature style (same hair too!), describing how he feels about it. Check it out, I think you'll be sUrPrIsEd!!

NICE!! I love that line, "Trying to see the world through the junk we produce everyday." - well put JB! "If I could be anywhere in time and change the outcome, it would have to be now.", indeed! You can read more about how the song came about here.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Gordon's Pick

I had the pleasure of finally meeting Dr. Gordon Labedz a couple of weeks ago at the Surfrider Hawaii Chapter Conference. The man is a legend in my eyes as he helped shape Surfrider early on in Long Beach as the idea of chapters was developed and is now one of the top activists for the Kauai Chapter. Here's a fun Friday video he recently shared on facebook that I thought was worthy of sharing here...

(Does it really take that long for someone to pick up a bottle near a recycle bin?)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Middle School Students Say 'No More Styrofoam!'

Kids can seem to cut right through the point with clear thoughts and emotional appeal. Students from Thomas Starr King Middle School in Los Angeles prove that with their passion against plastic, in this case polystyrene, aka styrofoam.

The good folks at recently featured their story of disposable lunch trays that are used at alarming rates. Large school districts can go through millions of them in one school year. Small steps can lead to big change. Check out the full story for their school project to raise awareness.

Friday, April 1, 2011

More Jack Johnson Action!

Honolulu hosted the NOAA Marine Debris Conference last week and you can imagine the interactions going on there between the anti-single-use plastics activists (us!) and the single-goal (money, Money and more MONEY!) plastics producers (the ACC!) - well, I have a couple of nice zingers on that front: one from the conference closing ceremony ("Exhibit A") and one that was coughed up ("Exhibit B") in response to Exhibit A after the conference.

Exhibit A: Oahu local Jack Johnson, long supporter of cleaner oceans, and BIG advocate of rethink, reduce, reuse, and well, stapling things, got the coveted closing minutes of the conference to sing a new song about aliens, pyramids and plastics (sorry about the FB link...shot by Wayne Sentman, this one is not yet available for embedding):

Facebook link to Jack Johnson's NOAA conference-closing tune (:41).

Exhibit B: Also, seizing on the super-mod, hip & trendy Twitter application, the super-mod, hip & trendy American Chemistry Council, which had a strong presence at the NOAA conference (and whom apparently now own computers...?), up-chucked this gem of a tweet (as reported by RAP superstar Nicole Parisi-Smith):

Jack Johnson must not have a dog. Lol. 90% of people reuse their plastic bags. They're not "bad" just recycle what you don't use. #5IMDC (link)

Oh gawd, whatevahhhz...Still not gettin' it, ACC - but for future reference, guys, you may not get that Mid-East-revolution style surge from Twitter that you may be expecting if the best you can do is bad-mouth one of the most popular global performing stars of the last ~10 years..."lol" (do people still use that?) indeed!

It's pau hana, so a hui hou malama pono everybody!!!

PS - below is a different vid of Jack from the same ceremony - just missing the part where the Kokua kids shout, "BE FANTASTIC, DON'T USE PLASTIC!", ahem, lol.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The 5th International Marine Debris Conference: 5IMDC

This week, Surfrider Foundation participated in the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. The conference brought together over 440 participants from 35 countries to discuss the most pressing issues surrounding plastic pollution in our oceans and waterways. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and NOAA were the co-organizers of the conference, and it brought in strange bedfellows in terms of sponsorship, including Coca-Cola and the American Chemistry Council (ACC). The ACC has also been pouring money into campaigns against single-use bag bans popping up in progressive cities, regions and countries across the world as a means to prevent marine debris. On the other hand, the UNEP has issued this statement:

"Some of the litter, like thin-film single-use plastic bags, which choke marine life, should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere," UNEP director Achim Steiner said in a report overview. "There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere.”

Here is an interview with one notable conference keynote speaker, Roz Savage, ocean rower and amazing individual engaged in the issue of plastic pollution. Roz was also recently interviewed by Newsweek.

Since the conference brought together NGO's, government, scientists and industry, it was difficult for conference attendees to all agree on all solutions to plastic pollution issues, such as bans or fees on easily littered items (recommended by Surfrider Foundation and many other NGOs) or just the recycling of products (recommended by industry). Due to the less than 9% recycling rate from the latest EPA data and the increasing rate of generation of these products, Surfrider and many others argued that there cannot be more of the same policies. We want to take a step forward to stop the increasing amount of trash found in our oceans.

The conference organizers strived to formulate a Honolulu Commitment and Honolulu Strategy. The Commitment references target reductions and bases it's action items on the Strategy, which has yet to reach final form. Conference Participants will have the next two weeks to enter comments on the Strategy and decide whether to sign on. For Surfrider Foundation, this decision will hinge on whether the Strategy document truly calls us to effectively stem the tide of plastic pollution.

One thing everyone could agree on was the excitement of seeing Hawaii's own Jack Johnson, noted supporter of organizations like Surfrider Foundation and Kokua Foundation, play at the final session of the conference. Jack's opening number, "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" illustrated his commitment to reducing plastic pollution in his hometown of North Shore, Hawaii and across the globe.

Monday, March 21, 2011

What Inspires?

This one kinda surprised me – reading a recent interview with Nick Denton, known for his family of irreverent and often snotty blogs (gawker, gizmodo, wonkette, fleshbot, etc), I found some inspiring words that neatly lend themselves to environmental activism.

In commenting on an “inflexibly idealistic” colleague of his, he was quoted with, “[people like that] never succeed. And you don’t need to indoctrinate a whole other generation of people to lead frustrated lives.” He finishes the thought with, “I don’t see what the point is [for any pursuit] unless you succeed at what you’re doing. I don’t have a huge amount of time for noble failure.”

Noble Failure
, indeed. Who's got time for that? Let’s keep that to a minimum in our single-use plastics abatement schema! How do we boost our success rate at Surfrider?? We use a campaign planning worksheet to plot our moves to counter “urban tumbleweeds”, plastics in our oceans and that nasty, ubiquitous Styrofoam Scourge. The worksheet focuses us to identify our campaign adversaries, allies, short/mid/long-term goals, costs, etc, etc – it’s the magic pill in staunching off them Noble Failures.

Above all, remain flexible in your idealism – and - If you are involved with Surfrider, ask your local chapter leaders about obtaining the campaign planning worksheet – and FILL IT OUT to plan your attack! If you are not yet involved with Surfrider, hitch your wagon to this foundation (now celebrating 150 Victories!), get active and start your Noble Successes here & now! BOOM!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Roamin' RAPster

5Gyres employee and Surfrider Rise Above Plastics volunteer-activist (and I emphasize "active") Stiv Wilson was written-up in an Oregon weekly recently. In this blog we've given you updates on his work with 5Gyres founders and anti-plastic-pollution superstars Marcus Eriksen and (wife) Anna Cummins, as they sail the globe exploring the world's ocean gyres to pull eyes toward and raise awareness of the extent of plastic pollution littering our seas.

Sailing the globe! Outing the bad guys (us)! Check out the in-depth Willamette Weekly article about Stiv and Oregon's Ban The Bag effort here, check out 5gyres & plan your ride-along on one of their expeditions here and HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND with dreams of sailing the bounding mane!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Is BPA Free Plastic Safe? Do You Want to Take the Chance?

Out of the UK comes an article wondering if BPA free plastic is safe. Well, we do know that it isn't safe for our oceans and other water bodies but is it safe for our bodies? The article points to a US report published on March 2 that tested BPA free plastic items and still found them to release harmful chemicals. And yeah, plastics industry this is a National Institutes of Health report not something someone did in their garage.

Read the study here.
And the article here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Forked Tongues... and =======> GO OREGON!

A couple of recent articles in finds the plastics industry’s fork-ed tongue flashing with great agitation and directionless floppery. One article tells of the sorry state of recycling for plastic bags, sheeting and “films”, while another has “stupid plastics” (my quotes) single-use-plastic-bag-producer Hilex Poly telling us, via their vapid bag-the-ban “campaign”, that we can easily recycle our way out of the worldwide plastic bag trash problem.


You may remember Hilex as a source of much of the cash that was dumped into the wide-open, money-stained, overfed jowls of California and Seattle politicians in successful efforts to stop recent bag ban efforts in those places. Seems that the only thing successfully being recycled is the $$$ that orbits back and forth between lobbyists and ‘electeds’ when grassroots movements aimed at improving American and international life need a good quashing in favor of “jobs”. Our Oregonian Surfrider brethren (and sistren) are battling these nimrods right now over the proposed state-wide bag ban. Do what you can to help ‘em beat down whack plastics, check in on these chapter sites – they are each calling out for RAP volunteers: Newport, Portland & Siuslaw. GO NOW!! [Read the heinous article & get fired-up about Oregon's proposed STATEWIDE BAG BAN.]

Disclaimer: Though recycling is one of our few current tools to stem the flood of single-use plastics into our unsuspecting world, I, for one, feel that if I have gotten to the point where I need to recycle a single-use plastic item, I have failed by acquiring that item in the first place. The plastics industry hypes recycling as the “solution” to the disposal problem that they have neatly assigned to us – it has somehow become our problem to dispose of the waste of their manufacturing process. It’s flat bass-ackwards…and it fails to address the root problem (the long life of single-use plastics), while instead only directing attention to easing just the symptom (trash on our beaches, plastics in our ocean, dead sea life and jacked-up food chains) – the very thing that makes junkies junkies.

I know, kinda heavy, but DANG – it’s a war out there...


Thursday, March 10, 2011

What is 'Rise Above Plastics' by Angela Howe.

Surfrider Foundation's Legal Manager Angela Howe talking about the "Rise Above Plastics" Campaign, it's far reaching battles and victories and how you can plug in on a local level!

Monday, March 7, 2011

New RAP Czar!

He was once crowned “Lifeguard of the Year” in Rehoboth Beach Delaware. Enviable!

He has been an activist, professional environmentalist, and more officially, the Chapter Coordinator for the San Diego chapter of Surfrider, the largest Surfrider Foundation chapter in the known universe. BOSS!

He was in the room the day that Rise Above Plastics was conceived six (or so) years ago. (Along with Stefanie Sekich, Alan Honadle, Belinda Smith AND Julia Chunn, among other heavy hitters.) He’s got the bug!

Every wave comes to him when he’s out surfing, even the cr@ppy ones – and he catches ‘em all, rides ‘em all, somehow w/o snatching any of yours. Nicely bizarre…or bizarrely nice!

I THINK I heard him cuss…twice, in the seven years we’ve been friends. RARE!

He got married on my birthday (odd, but true). I’ll probably remember his anniversary better than he will!

He calls “PLASTIC FANTASTIC!” on me when he catches me with some item of unavoidable plastic trash (the kind you can only avoid if you live in a cave – and never leave). Punk!

His hair is SUPER surfy! He could make a pillow from the spoils his annual haircut (but not a pillow that you’d actually want)!

I think he owes me $10. PUNK!

He is my friend.

Now…he is the new RAP Czar (I’m not sure HQ has named the role yet), taking over for Surfrider Legal Maven/Temptress/Oracle Angela Howe, Esq., who’s now got room on her plate for all of that other stuff stacking up on her desk that her boss has been yelling at her about. CONGRATZ!

His name is Bill Hickman.

Expect Surfrider’s Global Rise Above Plastics campaign to RAMP UP -->to-the-max<-- from here on out. So, join us as we continue to “kick @ss and take initials” – we don’t have time for names!

Watch this space for future blog entries from the very dewd himself – OK!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Simple Step by Staples

I just got a few coupons in the mail from Staples since I am one of their Rewards Members. To my surprise and delight, the coupons were printed on cardboard, not plastic as they previously were. The cardboard is real sturdy, just a little thicker than a cereal box.

I was so psyched. I always hated getting plastic cards in the mail, either coupons, sample credit cards, or whatever. I called Staples immediately to register my approval.

It is just a simple step. No one pushed them to do this to my knowledge, and if I don't want the coupons I can recycle them!

I'd say Staples arose above plastic cards in the mail.

John Weber

Friday, January 28, 2011

Don't Eat Lead Bags!

Do you know that heavy feeling you get after eating a giant plate of pasta with plenty of wine and fresh bread on the side?? Yeah, well the feeling is worse if you eat a plateful of lead. Hopefully you already know that anecdotally VS from first hand experience...

Why this tidbit of info now? Oh, because of the big pseudo-scare about reusable plastic shopping bags being tested for lead this last week. I have some good follow-up advice from John Weber, Surfrider's Northeast (US) Regional Manager.

He reminds us that, "lead has been used in plastic for a long time, as a hardener (or a softener I can't remember). But that would not be the case with anything made in the USA. Stuff from China is much more likely to have lead, especially vinyl products." He provides an article from the New York Times on the subject.

Building on that info, John recommends, "If you buy a reusable bag, buy American, don't buy vinyl, buy polypropylene or PET or buy cotton." Here are some recycled-cotton bags, made in USA, from EnviroTote (no affiliation with Surfrider). Sweet!

Johns final advice, is not just for the weekend, it's for everyday: "Oh and don't eat your reusable bag or put it in your mouth."

Sage advice! Pass it on!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Santa Monica Enables Bag Ban - MD & VA In the Hunt!

This just in...

I have good news and I have GREAT NEWS - the good news is that we (okay, I) are having trouble keeping up with all of the news of municipalities banning single-use plastic bags (gotta call my contacts at the ACC to stay dialed in!), the GREAT NEWS is:

LA coastal burgh Santa Monica debated a ban and decided to actively look into it just about two years ago, and on Tuesday they voted to now (after a hitch caused by lawsuits threatened by the plastics industry) go through with it - to take effect in September of this year. NYCE!

California's patchwork of bag bans continue to sweep the state with Calabasas (think Topanga North) considering the option next week. Local environmental groups led by Surfrider ally in the anti-bag movement, Heal the Bay, are now drawing a bead on the Cit of Los Angeles. INCOMING!

The LA Times article quotes Mark Gold of HTB, "... local governments are going to address this critical issue despite threats from industry and state inaction. The plastics industry knows the writing is on the wall." ...Ya know, I think I've seen that wall - and I believe that the first word written there starts with "F"? ...or maybe it was a "B" (as in "Ban!") - those letter can look similar when scrawled... ;)

On the opposite coast and on the same day as Santa Monica's doin's, the Washington Post Op/Ed told Maryland and Virginia to push forth on placing fees (that have worked so well in DC) on their ubiquitously trashy "urban tumbleweeds". Most excellent.

This is shaping up to be a verrrry niiiice new year!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lead in Bags? BPA in Receipts...

Death-spiral in action: The ACC is grasping at any-dang-thing to stop the tidal wave of bag bans sweeping the entire planet (we are having trouble keeping up in order to report them all in this blog). This month's panic du jour brings us the news that [some] reusable shopping bags contain lead. Search deeply and single-mindedly enough and you may find trolls under bridges too. Expect a new study soon proving that reusable bags are now causing a resurgence in ACID RAIN!!! Time to bust out the tin-foil hats to protect ourselves.

Lead in reusable bags, eh? Maybe that's how all of those people unlucky enough to have gone through life in the days before the life-saving single-use plastic shopping bags came along had died...they all got lead-poisoning - or ya think maybe it was old age? Oh, where is a spurious ACC "study" when you reeeeally need it?

Okay...back to reality. Whew - welcome back! This last item is a tad stale, but worth a mention in regards to the current LEAD-IN-BAGS scare... Last November it was reported that cash register receipts not only contain Bisphenol-A (BPA - you know, the sex-change chemical used in plastics to enhance pliability), but are AWASH in about it here, and don't forget to wear your gloves to the grocery store - it's a dangerous place!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Anatomy of a Bag Ban

Okay, a bag FEE – anything to get the job done! I’m talking again about the wildly-successful, single-use plastic bag fee put into place in our nation’s capital, Washington DC, just one year ago.

You’ve seen blog entries here detailing the progress and the resultant pollution-reduction numbers, but how did it all happen to begin with? How did the advocates of the ban/fee beat out the usual lobby-money torrent from the ACC, right there in DC – the home of the universe's “greatest” (term used verrrrry loosely) lobbyists? This one-page article details it all. Time to bust out the pencils and take some notes!

…and there is plenty to detail! The usual-suspect tools of Youtube, facebook, twitter, combine with a badly plastic-polluted river, a Methodist minister, greaseball plastics lobbyists, a former Google exec and even…Marion Barry to make it all happen! For as short as it is, the article is quite a read that takes you through the process that it calls “a lesson in old-fashioned politicking and new-fangled social networking”.

Surfrider DC had a major role in it all and to be sure, the process wasn’t a Sunday stroll in the park – it also involved “feet on the street” gathering signatures, speaking at city council meetings and flooding online article comment sections with the good word. Good things come to those who bust their butts fighting for justice, yes?

Something nice to start the weekend with – have a GOOD’UN!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Shift

Surfrider is working hard. We are all working hard.
We know the problems. We know the solutions.

Our job is to overcome the obstacles to the solutions. Figuring out the problem is the easiest part. Figuring out the solution isn’t much more difficult. The obstacles? Ah…now we’re on to something. Something nebulous and nasty…and not too sensible.

The obstacle to EVERY environmental problem solution is societal - based in politics and economics, rather than, well, common sense. What happened to common sense? It fell by the wayside, kicked to the curb by convenience and greed. You can also factor in strident media and belief manipulation…complicated by selfish litigation to force the wasteful status quo.

The Shift. How do we do it? How do we push society back to the sunny, sensible side? Uhmmm…strident media-and-belief manipulation, along with selfless litigation to force a shift in the status quo? Sounds good, though lacking in creativity? The envious bottom line is that our arguments and goals are based in reality and common sense. We want the world to work the way that makes sense - and that means that we want the world to work in ways in which it originally presented itself to us VS the way we have made it fit and feed our inconsiderate society.

Sounds like a lot to ask? Nope –

Friday, January 14, 2011

Hooey, Hokum & Hogwash

Oregon State U published an article about 10 days ago detailing their study on plastics in the ocean had determined that the North Pacific Garbage Patch (NPGP) ain't "nearly as big as portrayed in the media". Apparently forgotten at OSU is the Nike shoe incident that 1) besmirched Oregon beaches in 1990 and 2) gave us an early indication that the Pacific Ocean had a growing problem trying to accommodate our land-based infusion of garbage...? Who knew? ;)

One person that can speak with authority in rebuttal is a man that has traveled (and is currently traveling) through all of the world's ocean gyres to survey the extent of plastic pollution worldwide (while academics debate garbage patch sizes back home...?). Marcus Eriksen, PhD, co-founded (with his wife, activist & Stanford graduate, Anna Cummins) the 5Gyres Institute to go beyond the research in this field that they were doing while working with Algalita Marine Research Foundation. You may know Algalita as the group that "discovered" and initially drew our attention to the NPGP, and you may know Marcus from his adventure "sailing" to Hawaii from the US mainland in a "JunkRaft" made of trash, again bringing attention to the problem of the NPGP. Here is his word on the matter of debating the NPGP's size/existence, the media AND how we can help fight the plastic pollution problem:

Beyond the absurdity of a “Texas-sized Garbage Patch” lies a larger menace of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans

Media is sometimes the tail that wags the dog of science. One oceanographer described finding plastic in his relatively tiny Texas-size study area of the North Pacific Ocean, while another began describing these areas of concentration as “garbage patches”. A mis-information frenzie birthed a mis-conception of an island of trash. Hurry, someone plant a flag - sell real estate! Disappointing to the entrepreneurial spirit that aimed to fix it for a fee, there are no such islands. They do not exist. Having traveled 20,000 miles across 4 of the 5 subtropical gyres, returning from crossing the South Atlantic Gyre in December 2010, I assure you that reality is much worse.

It’s a patchy patch. In 1999 Captain Charles Moore, founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation based in Long Beach, CA, published an observed 6:1 weight ratio of plastic to plankton in the swirling center of the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. I joined him in 2005 and 2008 to the same region. In this decade of research, the foundation was heavily criticized by other oceanographers for quantifying plastic this way. What was hidden in this criticism was the fact that the science of Oceanography was caught off guard. No one knew of this plastic plague on the world’s oceans, until a Long Beach surfer/sailor turned scientist made it known. It is true that plankton is extremely variable, and can bloom and dissipate with the season, temperature, moonlight, and a dozen other variables, therefore the margin of error is huge. But the plastic/plankton ratio serves a good anecdote for relative abundance of plastic to available food for scavenging fish and filter feeders, like from jellies to baleen whales. So, it’s important to describe plastic to plankton ratios as an anecdote, but not worth quantifying.

1999 was not the first time scientist studied plastic pollution in the ocean. Thor Heyerdal observed plastic in 1969 crossing the North Atlantic on Ra I. Two years later Edward Carpenter, from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, netted pellets and fragments of plastic pollution between the east coast and Bermuda. Plastic pollution in the North Pacific Gyre was first described by Robert Day in 1989 near the coast of Japan, and in the South Atlantic Gyre near Cape Town, South Africa in 1980 by Robert Morris of the Institute of Oceanographic Science in the UK. It was a quiet, poorly-understood menace that palled in significance and interest to oceanographers. Then the story broke about an island of plastic, with sensationalized accounts beyond science, mythological masses of synthetic detritus, an illusive terra aqua.

“Somebody do something,” cried the ocean advocates, artists, celebrities and politicians. And the scientists followed. Media called them to action. But not before the industrialists. A problem precedes a solution ready to sell. Groups with little or no experience at sea rose to the occasion with fanciful technofixes, contraptions of grandeur, robotic vagabonds to sieve the sea in solitude and bring the trash back to land, or parachutes that spin sickle-shaped islands that net plastic pollution in their path. All have failed, realizing that going to the ocean to remove floating plastic particles is like standing on the top of a skyscraper with a vacuum cleaner to remove air pollution. It’s not impossible, just impractical. There is no island to retrieve. We have run expeditions across the North Pacific Gyre, North Atlantic Gyre, Indian Ocean Gyre, and in December 2010 we crossed the South Atlantic Gyre. We found plastic in every surface trawl, in varying concentrations. Imagine a handful of degraded plastic confetti spread across a football field of the ocean surface. That’s as thick as it gets, but it’s everywhere. It’s a think plastic soup over 2/3rds of the earth’s surface. So far the 5 Gyres Institute has traveled to 4 of the 5 subtropical gyres in the world, conducting over 400 surface trawls, with plastic in every one. That is the menace of plastic pollution. It’s everywhere, thinly distributed, and extremely impractical to clean up at sea.

But if no one cleans it up, will the garbage patches keep growing? No. Studies in the North Atlantic Gyre and North Pacific Gyre have been repeated with interesting results. There’s no massive trend in plastic accumulation over time. Kara Lavender Law, of Sea Education, compiled data from 22 years of data from the North Atlantic Gyre, the same area that Carpenter studied 3 ½ decades earlier. “We observed no strong temporal trends in plastic concentration…” Last week we returned from 31 days crossing the South Atlantic Gyre. As we sailed into Cape Town we revisited half of the locations that Morris studied 3 decades ago and repeated his exact methods. Though our samples have not been analyzed yet, I can anecdotally report that the samples do not appear to show a tremendous trend in plastic accumulation over this time. Sure, there’s more, but the increase does not parallel the rapid increase in plastic production and consumption on land. So where does it go? We believe some sinks as absorbed chemicals, like PCBs, PAHs and other persistent pollutants, and biofouling make smaller and smaller particles more dense than seawater. Much of it washes ashore on islands in the gyres, like Hawaii and Bermuda, or is kicked out of the gyres onto mainland beaches as the gyre’s center wobbles east and west. Then there’s still room for unknown answers. What we now know is that if we stop adding more plastic to the ocean, in time the gyres will kick out the plastic pollution they currently hold. If you want to clean the gyre, clean your beach.

We want to know a few things. How much plastic is out there, what is the fate of plastic in the ocean, what is the impact of plastic pollution on fish, including fisheries we harvest to feed the world, and how do we end the plague of plastic in the ocean? The 5 Gyres Institute will sail across the South Pacific Gyre in the Spring of 2011 from Valdivia, Chile to Easter Island. You can follow this expedition on In January and February 2011, at the moment I’m writing this paper, we are crossing the South Atlantic Gyre again. The South Pacific will be our 5th gyre, and provide a snapshot of the global distribution of plastic pollution. We will also be freezing fish to look for toxins in tissues, which we are currently doing with fish collected from South Atlantic Expedition. Other expeditions conducted by SCRIPPS, NOAA and Sea Education, are contributing answers to these questions with rigorous science. All of this will be shared by colleagues in March 2011 in Hawaii during the 5th International Marine Debris Conference.

In the recent decade of rogue-science, media spun mis-information, a new revitalized science of synthetic pollution at sea has emerged, replacing confusion with clarity and commitment by many to solve the problem. The idea of cleanup at sea is no longer a sensible option, knowing that an island twice the size of Texas is actually a thin soup 2/3rds the surface of the planet. Sensible solutions now focus on preventing the flow of waste to waves in the first place.


Oh yessss - one other item of interest: an article from French and Belgian scientists about the growing problem of plastic "micro-debris" in the Mediterranean. Synopsis: "The only solution is to stop micro-debris at the sources," said Expedition MED's Bruno Dumontet.