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.


New DC Bag Fee Numbers

The latest post-bag-ban/fee numbers are in on Washington DC's year-old legislated bag-reduction effort. This report is from Julie Lawson, one of the local DC Surfrider Superstars there:

"Good article out today from the AP about the sustained reduction in bag use in DC since our 5-cent fee was implemented a year ago. Through the end of November, the city has collected $1.9 million from the fees, meaning about 55 million bags were distributed in our city of 600,000.

Compare to 270 million bags used each year before the fee. That's a 78 percent decrease.

Sessions in Maryland and Virginia start next week. We have a lot of momentum in Maryland with our Trash Free Maryland campaign. Virginia has two bag fee proposals up for consideration--5 cents and 20 cents

Work it! Work it!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Why Plastic Bags Suck

[ addition to all of the other obvious reasons, that is!)

Everyone asks, "Why don't we just recycle the single-use plastic shopping bags (or plastic wrap, or six-pack holders, etc) instead of banning them?"

San Diego, California, the 8th most populous city in the USofA, has a robust recycling program (72,000 TONS/year!!), and has recently upped the variety of plastics that they will accept - they even take plastic toys and lawn furniture now - but they refuse to accept single-use plastic bags. Why? Let's ask the expert...

Ken Prue, San Diego's recycling program manager, as quoted in a recent Voice of San Diego article, gave this solid list (and, I quote):

1) It is cost prohibitive to recycle plastic bags or other types of plastic film or plastic wrap in the curbside program.

2) The recycled bags have little value, and when collected get badly contaminated, decreasing their value further.

3) There are virtually no markets in the U.S. for curbside-recovered plastic bags, and international markets are not much better.

4) A bigger problem with collecting plastic bags curbside is that they get wound up in collection and processing equipment, requiring maintenance that costs money and time, and creates inefficiencies for processing all the recyclables.

Tell your friends! 'nuff said!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Italy: Ciao Plastic Bags

Boom. The whole dang country. Done. CIAO-CIAO!

A grand measure more extensive than them banning plastic water bottles from the world famous Cinque Terre region last fall, this ban is against single-use plastic shopping bags and covers the Whole. Dang. Country.

AND - It takes effect immediately - like, NOW! Un altro morde la polvere...!

Bravo Italy - molto bene!

[bag image snatched from CafePress - no affiliation to Surfrider]

Thursday, January 6, 2011

South Padre Island, TX Bans The Bag!!

 I have waited a very long time to post something like this. Very stoked....

Last night, January 5th, the South Padre Island City Council unanimously voted yes on a proposed plastic bag ban making South Padre Island the second city in Texas to pass such an ordinance!  The ordinance which prohibits the point of sale distribution of non-compostable plastic bags and allows for the use of reusable bags, recyclable paper bags that are not made from old growth trees and are composed of at least 40% post consumer recycled content and compostable plastic bags will go into effect as a voluntary ban on February 1, 2011 and would become mandatory on January 1, 2012.

The City Council Board Room was filled with individuals that supported the ban and many made comments including the Surfrider Foundation South Texas Chapter and Sea Turtle, Inc.  All City Councilpersons made comments that the feedback that they had received had been overwhelmingly positive.  However, some concerns were brought up.  The first and foremost was the impact on businesses and the expense of changing over from the old bags.  The Council resolved this by directing city staff to explore ways to aid these businesses in the conversion over the next year which included possibly having the city purchase a large amount of reusable bags with Hotel Occupancy Tax funds that would be branded with the SPI logo and then sold at little cost to interested businesses.  Another concern was a possible future suit against the city by the American Chemistry Council on the ban.  Councilman Sam Listi was heard saying, "Bring it on!" at the raising of this concern!

I would like to personally thank Councilwoman Alita Bagley, Environmental Health Director Victor Baldovinos for all of their hard work in getting this ordinance to the city council and especially thank everyone who spoke and emailed the council in favor of the ban!


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Dude Does Not Abide Plastic Water Bottles

At about 2:20 into this clip, hear Jeff Bridges rant about "those little plastic water bottles"...and then Jimmy jumps in too. Definitely not abiding...NICE!

Monday, January 3, 2011

More Califonia Bans!

San Clemente (the home of Surfrider Headquarters), Marin County (near San Fran) AND Arcata (waaaaay north) have "jubilantly" and "enthusiastically" adopted various plastics bans over the last month. I hate to say "I told ya so!" Sacramento, but...

Marin voted 4-0 (that's right, four-to-ZERO) to ban plastic bags and charge for paper ones. Boom! Done! Read about it here.

Arcata is going forward with work on an EIR (environmental impact report...a fallout requirement of the plastic's industry's "environmental" lawsuit to stop plastic bag bans), and they are doing this within a strict timeline to ensure that the a plastic bag ban is instituted quickly and efficiently. The city is making this determined move in reaction to the failure of AB 1998 (Statewide ban effort)...ya see, it's really happening. Great quote from Jim Test of Humboldt Waste Management Authority, "”It will be a lot of fun tweaking the plastic industry's nose". Bravo to the Humboldt Surfrider Chapter!! Read about it here.

"It's everywhere!" says Surfrider's trend-setting South Orange County chapter's chairman Rick Erkeneff, speaking of the polystyrene sprawl in San Clemente. It can only help your cause when one of your city council people has discovered styrofoam pieces in a fish that he personally caught - sad, but true. "What was the vote tally there?" you ask ==> 5-0 thankyouverymuch (yes, again, five-to-ZERO). BOOM! DONE! Read about it here.

The beat goes on!