Ocean Currents » Trash Free Seas http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 19 Jun 2015 18:06:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 In Peru, A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Pounds (of Trash) http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/22/in-peru-a-pictures-worth-a-thousand-pounds-of-trash/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/22/in-peru-a-pictures-worth-a-thousand-pounds-of-trash/#comments Fri, 22 May 2015 12:00:50 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10213

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.

And while I thought I got a taste of the debris conditions on the beaches in downtown Lima, I was not prepared for what I encountered at the Marquez Beach Cleanup Beach. 50,000 residents live amongst the unacceptable conditions in Marquez, dealing with both debris flowing down the town’s river and the massive accumulations of trash on their beach. Ursula Carrascal, VIDA’s Cleanup Coordinator, explained to me that 30 years ago Marquez residents could clean their clothes and fish in the river. Today, no one would even think of doing such activities.

When the time finally came to roll up our sleeves and clean Marquez, the local community came out in force. Over the course of two hours, 300 volunteers under the direction of VIDA Peru, removed 26,000 pounds of trash from a half-mile stretch of beach. As on other beaches, plastics dominate the rocky shore but truly anything you can imagine can be found on Marquez:  syringes, toy soldiers and vials of blood were all among the items I picked up. In 2013, volunteers found an undetonated grenade on the same stretch where the children of Marquez play daily. And Marquez is just a microcosm of Peru’s countrywide Cleanup effort—in total, more than 18,000 volunteers removed 540,000 pounds of trash from their country’s beaches and waterways during the one-day effort

As I congratulated Ursula on a tremendous event, she tells me in a forlorn voice, “Thanks…but it will all be back in two weeks.” I turn my gaze to the ocean and see exactly what she’s referring to—with each crashing wave new accumulations of trash wash onto the rocky shore. And beyond the physical challenges presented by continuous debris accumulation, Ursula shares with me her frustration and concern for future generations in Peru:

“I’m just frustrated. Most of our children here in Lima have never seen a clean beach. How can we get children to care when a trashed beach is all they know. We need 2,000 people on every beach just to make a dent.”

The situation is not hopeless though. Through the tireless efforts of organizations like VIDA Peru, conditions are changing—slowly, but changing nevertheless. Over the past several years, businesses and residents in Lima have increasingly become aware of the importance of waste management and new recycling systems has yielded a significant reduction in the number of bottles and other recyclable plastics found in Lima and on nearby beaches.

As evident from my time in Peru, the problem in Marquez, and places like it around the world, isn’t as simple as people littering on the beach. It’s about the rivers and streams filled with trash that all funnel into our ocean.

The only way we can stop this vicious global cycle is to stop trash at its source. If we provide the means to establish locally appropriate waste management solutions in the places that need it most, we can stem the flow of plastics into the ocean, ensuring healthier communities and more resilient marine ecosystems.

And whether in Peru, the Philippines, or Pennsylvania, every kid deserves the right to play on clean beach.

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Saving the Oceans from Plastic: A Field Report from Belize http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/20/saving-the-oceans-from-plastic-a-field-report-from-belize/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/05/20/saving-the-oceans-from-plastic-a-field-report-from-belize/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 12:30:52 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10224

Some people would call Belize paradise.  Having recently returned, I can’t say I disagree, but I also saw threats to the beauty on the surface. I spent a week in Belize researching the connection between waste management, plastic pollution and ocean health in this Central American country. As Chief Scientist, I’m working closely with our Trash Free Seas® team to build on our 30-year history of protecting our ocean from the growing threat of ocean trash.

I toured much of the country with independent consultant Ted Siegler from DSM Environmental Services, gaining a firsthand perspective on how recent investments in waste management systems in Belize are improving ocean health but learning how much farther the country needs to go. A former British colony, Belize is frequented by tourists for its beautiful beaches and tropical breezes. But Ted and I visited many sights never seen by these outsiders. The upshot? Trash is a major problem in Belize, as it is in many developing countries.  And it is increasingly clear that this has big consequences for the health of the ocean.

My trip came at a key time. Just recently, a groundbreaking study was published in the prestigious journal Science which, for the first time, quantified the amount of plastic flowing into the ocean. A staggering 8 million metric tons of plastic (~ 17 billion lbs) enter the ocean each year, mostly from rapidly industrializing countries where plastic production and consumption is outpacing the ability of local entities to handle the waste. This problem is predicted to double in the next decade unless something is done to stem the tide. These research findings are the result of a working group initiated 3 years ago by Ocean Conservancy at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The findings of the Science paper were brought into sharp focus in Belize.  We learned that the country’s waste management system is similar to that of the United States back in the 1950’s.  Across the country we find open pit, burning dumps. Some are associated with towns like Belize City, Belmopan, Placencia, and Hopkins but smaller, informal dumps also mar the landscape, each a smoldering mass of burning plastics and other materials. Many of these dumps are in low-lying coastal mangroves which are flooded during the rainy season, from king tides, or from storm surge. The most striking example we saw was on the outskirts of Placencia where a vast array of plastics was literally spilling into the coastal lagoon.

The good news is change is coming.  After a massive fire at the Belize City dump in 2009, the government took notice. The fire burned out of control for months, covering the city in dense, acrid smoke and forcing a partial evacuation of the city because of severe air pollution. In response, the International Development Bank (IDB), in collaboration with the central government, co-funded a $14 million US dollar project to develop a formal collection and disposal system throughout the central corridor of the country, where some 50% of the population lives.

Our research expedition to Belize yielded a number of important insights.  It is clear that international collaboration can drive needed infrastructure improvements in developing countries, especially with a strong commitment by the host government and sufficient international financial aid. However, instituting a long-term economic model that makes the system financially self-sufficient is a major challenge. Governments have very limited resources to bring to the table and are buffeted by competing public service demands. Most plastics have limited economic value at present, further complicating the economic calculus. In Belize, as in many developing countries, an informal waste collection community (sometimes called ‘waste pickers’) has formed at the dump sites. Plastic containers for which there is a deposit fee (e.g. some plastic beverage bottles) have the most inherent value and thus are often efficiently recaptured and reused. But large volumes of other plastics, including massive amounts of film plastic (bags, sheeting, wrappers, etc) with little to no value at present is largely ignored by the waste pickers and thus lost to the landfill or disposed in the ocean.

At Ocean Conservancy, we believe we must implement a mechanism to put a larger value on plastics so these materials are recovered and not lost to the ocean. We conclude that the private sector – those that produce and profit from plastics – has a responsibility to help solve the end-of-life problems that we witnessed in Belize. A collection and recycling system that captures all the plastic and is economically sustainable in the long run needs the plastic industry’s ideas, know-how and financial resources.

Government can’t do this on its own. But it is clear that the health of the ocean depends on it.

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(E)PS, We Don’t Love You http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/12/eps-we-dont-love-you/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/12/eps-we-dont-love-you/#comments Mon, 12 Jan 2015 18:11:08 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9685

New York City officially became the largest U.S. city to ban expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam last week! The momentum for EPS bans has been steadily increasing, and more than 70 cities have made the cut!

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!)

After the announcement was made official, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “These products cause real environmental harm and have no place in New York City.” Or the ocean, if you ask us!

Each year during Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, volunteers pick up millions of EPS products and pieces. During the 2013 Cleanup alone, 1.2 million items made of EPS were removed from beaches and waterways!

New York City’s ban on polystyrene foam is a huge step for our ocean. Not only will it eliminate the possibility of harmful waste from entering our environment, it also sets the precedent for other cities to follow suit. Bans and taxes on single-use products, like EPS food and beverage packaging, are key steps in preventing trash from entering our ocean.

Mayor de Blasio stated “…today’s announcement is a major step towards our goal of a greener, greater New York City.” And on an island where all streets lead to the sea, the Big Apple’s decision to say farewell to foam will lead to a healthier and more resilient Hudson River, New York Harbor, and Atlantic Ocean.

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Overflowing Trash Cans Lead to an Overwhelmed Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/05/overflowing-trash-cans-lead-to-an-overwhelmed-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/05/overflowing-trash-cans-lead-to-an-overwhelmed-ocean/#comments Mon, 05 Jan 2015 13:45:27 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9676

Los Angeles is a city overflowing:  with culture, with movies and music, with people—and with trash. A recent internal report shed light on a big problem. Los Angeles has more trash than it can handle. Despite its size (nearly 500 square miles), the city only has approximately 700 public trash cans.

That’s correct:  700. One public trash can for every 5,548 people. That math simply does not work.

We often assume items we throw away end up properly discarded in landfills—and they often do.  But overflowing trash cans, insufficient recycling systems, or a simple lack of basic waste collection in many countries, including our own, results in plastics and other forms of trash “escaping” into the environment, ultimately ending up in rivers, lakes and the ocean.

Los Angeles is simply one example of the growing plastics pollution problem threatening our global ocean.

The explosive growth of plastics consumption over the next decade will largely take place in rapidly industrializing countries, which also have some of the lowest waste collection rates on the planet. This consumption/waste collection mismatch results in massive inputs of plastic into the ocean. Just last month, a study in PLOS ONE revealed that more than 5 trillion pieces of plastics litter the ocean surface, while a subsequent publication in Royal Society Open Science shows that an equal, if not greater amount, of tiny plastic fragments are littering the deep sea.

A new solution of scale is required. There are many excellent initiatives such as local bag bans, local bottle deposit laws, and Ocean Conservancy’s own International Coastal Cleanup; however, these efforts alone will not stop the global onslaught of plastics entering the ocean.  Industry simply cannot afford to push more plastic down the pipe without a solution. The escalation of this challenge, if left unaddressed, may create massive liabilities, challenge food security, and waste huge amounts of valuable material.

Ocean Conservancy has developed a plan—and industries are getting on board.

Through our Trash Free Seas Alliance®, we are working with industry, economists, waste experts, and other NGOs  to identify ways for communities to profitably gather, separate, sell and store plastic waste streams, thus reversing the tide of plastics entering the ocean—and also advance the health, economies and well-being of the communities served.

Plastics have done, and continue to do, much good for the world, but plastic producers and consumer goods companies have to be held responsible for the end of life impact plastics impart on our ocean. An economically viable and equitable solution can and must be crafted to confront this global problem.

Ocean Conservancy is committed to getting the job done. It is big, bold and ambitious, but absolutely imperative if we wish, someday, to truly celebrate trash free seas.

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What’s Haunting Our Ocean? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/27/whats-haunting-our-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/27/whats-haunting-our-ocean/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 21:08:43 +0000 Allison Schutes http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9405

Photo: Ocean Conservancy

What’s haunting our ocean? Ghost crabs or witch flounder? What about devil rays or goblin sharks? Sure, there are tons of monsters and ghouls hidden beneath the waves, but like in any scary movie, the most dangerous villains may be the least obvious.

Let’s take cigarette butts for example. When you think of the ocean, they’re probably not the first thing or even among the top ten things you think of. Yet, they’re the most common specter we find on our beaches year after year. In 2013, volunteers collected over 2 million cigarette butts.

Food wrappers are other trolls lurking around our beaches. International Coastal Cleanup volunteers removed more than 1.6 million of them last year alone.

Plastic beverage bottles are also regular beach phantoms. In 2013, we found more than 940,000 plastic bottles on local beaches and shorelines. You can put them to rest by drinking out of a reusable water bottle.

Don’t think the litter caused by the 940,000 plastic bottles is the end of their terror. Volunteers found more than 847,000 bottle caps that were beheaded from their bottles still on the beach. This is even scarier because bottles without their caps can be doomed to sink to the bottom of the sea where they’ll spend all eternity.

If you wanted a scarecrow on the beach, you’d be able to build him just with the plastic straws you find there. More than 555,000 were found on beaches and shorelines last year. We don’t need sage to banish straws from the beach though. If you skipped the straw every time you were at a sit down restaurant, you can help remove their presence from your beach.

Plastic grocery bags are common ghosts on the beach with more than 440,000 exorcised by International Coastal Cleanup volunteers last year. Once they enter the ocean, they can trick sea turtles into thinking they’re jellyfish, the sea turtle’s favorite meal. Sea turtles who swallow plastic bags can suffer from digestive problems or even death.

Ghoulish glass beverage bottles are big problems for beaches. More than 394,00 were collected last year alone.

Plastic grocery bags aren’t the only plastic bags haunting the beach. We found more than 368,000 other kinds of plastic bags creeping their away along the shoreline.

If you’re walking the beach, there’s a good chance a paper bag maybe stalking you. Howling winds can blow paper bags from far off and onto shorelines. Try to use a trashcan with a lid when throwing away easily blown away items.

Hundreds of thousands of beverage cans prowl beaches all over the world.

The sea monsters of folklore or even sharks with rows and rows of serrated teeth can’t make us scream in fright like these 10 things haunting our ocean and endangering marine life. Good thing we all have the power to stop these ocean threats.

Below is a map that shows which monsters are most commonly found on US beaches:

Take a deeper look into the cauldron and see which monsters haunt your local beach:

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Will We See You Tomorrow at the 29th Annual International Coastal Cleanup http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/09/19/will-we-see-you-tomorrow-at-the-29th-annual-international-coastal-cleanup/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/09/19/will-we-see-you-tomorrow-at-the-29th-annual-international-coastal-cleanup/#comments Fri, 19 Sep 2014 14:00:44 +0000 Allison Schutes http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9248

Photo: Ocean Conservancy

The 29th annual International Coastal Cleanup is tomorrow! I’m extremely excited to see the amazing impact volunteers will have – and I can only image all the weird items we’ll find on our beaches.

Marine debris isn’t an ocean problem – it’s a people problem. That means people are the solution. More than 648,000 volunteers cleaned almost 13,000 miles of beaches and shorelines last year alone. That massive effort collectively removed 12.3 million pounds of trash worldwide!

You can be part of this marine debris solution by joining us tomorrow! A great way to turn the tide on trash is to sign up to clean up your local beach, shoreline or park as part of this year’s International Coastal Cleanup. Preventing the trash we find on beaches and shorelines from ever entering the ocean isn’t the only way of making our seas trash free. However, it’s an important step to protecting endangered animals that are threatened by marine debris.

You can also join the 25,000 people taking the Last Straw Challenge. Every time you’re at a sit down restaurant, tell your waiter to hold the straw. You can help prevent 5 million plastic straws from entering our ocean and landfills by not using a straw when you go out to eat.

Plastic pollution poses a significant threat. Plastics fragment in the ocean and become bite-sized pieces that marine life can accidentally consume. This can cause digestive problems for ocean animals and even death. Spending some time cleaning your beach can have an amazing impact on marine life like sea turtles and seals.

If you can’t join us tomorrow, it’s okay. Cleaning up beaches and shorelines isn’t just a one-day affair. The most important thing you can do when you go to the beach is to leave it just as you found it – or leave it in an even better condition for your next trip. Cigarette butts, food wrappers, plastic bottle caps and straws all make the top 10 most collected items of trash we find during the International Coastal Cleanup. You can be an ocean champion every day by collecting any trash you find out of place.

If you’re at a Cleanup site tomorrow, we want to hear from you! Tweet us your ICC experience by using #2014CleanUp. If you find something weird, tweet or Instagram a picture of it using #WeirdFinds.

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Two Days Until the International Coastal Cleanup http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/09/18/two-more-days-until-the-international-coastal-cleanup/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/09/18/two-more-days-until-the-international-coastal-cleanup/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 15:31:37 +0000 Jackie Yeary http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9242

The International Coastal Cleanup is only two days away! We can’t wait to see all of you at your local beaches and waterways this weekend! You can check out our map to find the cleanup location nearest you, if you haven’t already.

If you’re planning on coming to the cleanup, we recommend that you wear closed-toe shoes, sunscreen and a hat. If you have work gloves or a bucket, feel free to bring them along, but our Cleanup Coordinators will provide any other supplies you may need.

If you’re on Instagram or Twitter, be sure to tag your posts with #2014Cleanup so we can see all of the great work you’re doing! And if you find anything cool or unusual, send us a photo tagged #WeirdFind. We’ll be sharing some of our favorites on our social media channels!

We’re so grateful that you’ll be joining us for the 29th annual International Coastal Cleanup! It’s an important part of solving our ocean trash problem. Thank you again for signing up– and we’ll see you at the beach on Saturday!

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