News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy
About Nick Mallos
Nicholas Mallos is Director of the Trash Free Seas Program at Ocean Conservancy. His earliest memories are of waves and sandcastles on the Jersey shore and from an early age he longed to be a marine biologist. Nick has spent the past decade researching the ecological, economic and behavioral components associated with ocean plastic pollution. Nick is inspired by the ocean and by determined people around the globe who are working tirelessly to protect our blue planet. He is also an avid surfer and works hard to catch a wave wherever his travels take him. Follow him on Twitter @NickMallos.
By George H. Leonard, PhD and Nicholas J. Mallos MEM
Over the course of the 30-year history of the International Coastal Cleanup, volunteers have removed over 200 million items from beaches and waterways around the world. The top-ten list of items removed includes items like plastics bottles, plastic bottle caps, aluminum cans, cigarette butts, derelict fishing gear and a range of disposable plastic goods and food packaging. The scientific literature is replete with anecdotal information of marine wildlife impacted by these marine debris items. Indeed, over 690 species (from the smallest of plankton to the largest of whales) have been documented to be negatively impacted by marine debris.
2016 has barely started, and we can already share a huge win for our ocean. Thanks to the support of ocean advocates like you, Congress has backed a bill banning the use of microbeads in personal care products. And just this week, President Obama signed this bill into law.
I had the great fortune to head south of the equator last September for Ocean Conservancy’s 29th International Coastal Cleanup. VIDA Peru, Ocean Conservancy’s longtime Cleanup partner in Peru, invited me to participate in a weeklong series of events on ocean trash, culminating with one of their country’s signature Cleanup events at Marquez Beach. Having been my first time to Peru, and South America for that matter, I was uncertain of the beach and waterway conditions I’d find. Unfortunately, as I spoke more and more with folks from VIDA Peru in advance of the Cleanups, my expectations of clean beaches were quickly dispelled.
I asked Arturo Medina, President of VIDA Peru, what the major culprits were for ocean trash in Peru. He noted that “the waste infrastructure is drastically lacking in Peru to handle the increased waste flows. Ultimately, it all ends up in the rivers, on the beaches and flowing into the sea. Legal and illegal dumpsites located directly on the beaches are also a major issue, yielding steady streams of debris into the water.” I witnessed this first hand as one such site was visible on the beach as I sat on my surfboard offshore—dump truck after dump truck offloading rubbish onto the sand.
Another year, another incredible volunteer effort—I’m excited to share with you today the findings from last year’s International Coastal Cleanup. In 2014, more than 560,000 people picked up more than 16 million pounds of trash along nearly 13,000 miles of coastlines. Thank you to all the volunteers, Coordinators and partners who participated and devoted countless hours and resources!
Last year’s Cleanup had the largest weight of trash collected during any Ocean Conservancy Cleanup since its inception 29 years ago. Volunteers from 91 countries gathered detailed information from their Cleanups to provide a snapshot of the most persistent forms of trash found along the beaches and waterways that’s impacting our ocean.
This data represents what was found at the 29th Cleanup – each and every year hundreds of thousands of volunteers step up to meet the challenge and help clean up the beaches and waterways in their communities. There’s no doubt in my mind – as the Cleanup report will show you – the unparalleled effort of volunteers around the world results in cleaner beaches, rivers and lakes for all to enjoy.
Walk along a beach or waterway and you’re apt to see a food wrapper floating on the water or glimpse a beverage bottle made of plastic hovering near the shore. Read an article about the ocean gyres, the so-called “garbage patches,” and you’re likely to hear about the vast amounts of plastics that are polluting the seas.
Three years ago, researchers at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) set out to quantify – for the first time – the amount of plastic waste entering the ocean from land-based sources. Their research shows staggering results – with annual plastics inputs into the ocean exceeding 4.8 million tonnes and possibly as high as 12.7 million tonnes (approx. 11-26 billion pounds). Because the quantities are growing rapidly due to increases both in population and in plastics use, there may be as much as 250 million tons (550 billion pounds) of plastic in the ocean within another decade. These findings were published today in the February issue of Science and provide more in-depth information about what is happening with plastics in the ocean.
Once plastics enter the marine environment they disperse across our global ocean. There is no one single entry point for ocean plastic pollution. In fact, the global problem is comprised of a myriad of local inputs from beaches and waterways around the world. But the recent research shows that the largest amounts of plastic in the ocean come from a relatively small number of rapidly developing economies. In fact, 83 percent of the plastic waste that is available to enter the ocean comes from just 20 countries; chief among them are China, Indonesia, and the Philippines with the United States rounding out the top 20. The economies where plastic inputs are greatest are those where population growth and plastics consumption is severely outpacing waste management capacity. In many of these geographies waste collection is simply nonexistent.
Ocean trash. Marine debris. You’ve heard it’s a problem. An ever-increasing amount of plastic pollution is entering our ocean every day. Surprisingly, many countries around the world lack the most basic trash collection services. As incomes rise, people are able to afford more and more plastic goods. But in many countries, the ability to collect and manage waste isn’t growing at nearly the same rate. As a result more plastic is ending up on beaches, in rivers and eventually the ocean.
We’re lucky at Ocean Conservancy to have an incredible network of passionate and devoted coordinators and volunteers through our International Coastal Cleanup who work tirelessly to keep their local beaches and waterways free of harmful plastic debris. Just last week, I had the honor of interviewing our Bangladesh Country Coordinator, Muntasir Mamun, about the problems with marine debris and how the Cleanups in his country have been successfully recruiting more and more volunteers.
OC: Why are you so invested in our ocean’s health?
Muntasir: Bangladesh is the biggest delta on Earth and has one of the largest natural sandy sea beaches. Due to over population, Bangladesh is heavily threatened by the impact of trash. Moreover, thousands of rivers are going across my country and ending up being at the ocean. So, the trash being in the rivers (intentionally or unintentionally) are going to be in the ocean. Not only that, geographically Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries from the impact of climate change.
Frequently used for take-out containers, disposable drink cups and other single-use products, EPS is a hazard to our environment—not only because of its brittle nature and propensity to fragment into small pieces—but also because it can’t be recycled, economically. This is compounded by the fact that we use so much of it! Last year, the city of New York collected about 28,500 tons of polystyrene! (That’s a lot of take-out!)