Volunteers mark the data card while throwing away trash at the International Coastal Cleanup at James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge in Kahuku, Hawaii. credit — Elyse Butler
Take your pick: 41 blue whales, 10 Boeing 747 jumbo jets, 5,000 tons or 10 million pounds. Whichever one you prefer, that’s roughly the weight of trash that was collected by volunteers during Ocean Conservancy’s 2012 International Coastal Cleanup (Cleanup). More than 10 million pounds of trash – that’s an astounding amount.
Each year in September, citizen scientists around the world mobilize during the Cleanup to remove plastic trash and other debris from the world’s shorelines, waterways and underwater habitats. Tallies of trash recorded by the more than 550,000 volunteers who participated in the 2012 Cleanup are a snapshot of the persistent and proliferating problem of trash on our beaches and in our ocean.
Artist Chris Jordan is best known for his large-scale images that deconstruct huge numbers while making a statement about our mass consumption habits. For example, the tiny pieces of plastic in “Gyre” represent the pounds of plastic that enter the world’s ocean.
The trailer includes some disturbing images of dead and dying birds, but as the narrator says, “Do we have the courage to face the realities of our time and allow ourselves to feel deeply enough that it transforms us and our future?” We can only hope the answer is “yes.”
This was our top tweet of the week and it’s no wonder why–finding out that over one third of a given sample of fish have plastic in their bellies is downright creepy. This study by Plymouth University and the UK Marine Biological Association illustrates the tangible effects that trash has on our ocean. If you’re looking for ways to lessen your impact and to keep the ocean healthy, try downloading our mobile app, Rippl. You’ll get weekly ocean-friendly tips and be able to track your progress!
Wherever my travels take me, my coffee order always remains the same; but the local coffee shop “dialect” always varies: red eye, shot in the dark, dark roast with a shot, etc. Fortunately there is one standard that has trickled its way through coffee shops and that’s the discount java heads get for bringing in their own mug. And just this week, Starbucks took the reusable mug concept to another level when they introduced their $1 reusable cup.
It’s yet another step Starbucks is taking toward making its brand more sustainable and “eco-friendly”—neither terms of which I’m particularly fond. Along with the new cup, the iconic coffee brand seems keen on advertising the 10 cent discount consumers have been able to cash in on for years. Although 34 million Starbucks beverages were served in reusable mugs in 2011, that represents only 2% of Starbucks total sales.
The new cup, combined with an increased awareness of the existing 10-cent discount is a savvy move in terms of both business and sustainability.
How do scientists choose their life’s work? For avid surfer Nick Mallos, a love of the ocean made marine biology an easy choice. But it was a black-and-white bird with a 6-foot wingspan that inspired him to focus his research on marine debris and clean up as many beaches as he can.
Nick first encountered the Laysan albatross during a grad school research trip to Midway Atoll in the North Pacific. With over 450,000 nesting pairs, Midway Atoll is home to the largest Laysan population in the world. The birds cover the 2.4 square-mile area, nesting in every available nook, from abandoned WWII gun turrets to grassy cracks in the pavement.
But once you look beyond those birds, “you realize there’s this scattering of plastic over the entire island,” Nick says. “It’s impossible to not see plastic – it’s just everywhere. The most perverse part of it is that it’s most heavily concentrated around every nest.”
It’s there before you know it—in your cup, staring at you: the ubiquitous plastic straw. The bendy piece of plastic that has been accompanying beverages for decades.
A disposable plastic straw is used on average for a whopping 20 minutes. It’s longer than the four-second lifespan of the plastic stirrer you may use to swizzle your coffee or tea, but 20 minutes is still just a tiny fraction of the several hundred years it could spend in a landfill. One straw may seem insignificant, but consider this: someone who uses one straw a day for the next decade will toss 3,650 pieces of plastic into the landfill—and there’s a chance that plastic may get lost along the way and end up in the ocean.
Over the past quarter century, straws have routinely been one of the top ten items found on beaches around the world during the International Coastal Cleanup. How many? Ocean Conservancy volunteers have picked up so many straws from beaches and waterways that when laid end-to-end; they would span a distance equal to California’s 840 miles of coastline. And last year alone, enough disposable plastic straws were found to pop one into your beverage every day for the next 1,250 years. Don’t think it’s a problem? Some communities have actually banned straws entirely to reduce trash on the nearby beaches.
Still, good news for straw lovers: There are plenty of options for trash-free sipping. We all have a drawer of reusable silverware at home, so why not toss in a few reusable straws. Glass, stainless steel, bamboo and BPA-free plastic are all trash free options and the best part is they often come in packs of four, which means you can slurp trash-free at home, at the office and on the go. Whether you bring your own straw or decide to go straw-free the next time you dine out, remember to ask your server to hold the straw. If enough people ask for drinks without straws, servers could decide to ask customers first before automatically handing them out.
Although most disposable straws can be recycled (#2 and #5 plastics), most straws do not get recycled. For that reason, request a straw-less beverage or get a reusable straw so that we keep disposable straws out of the landfill and keep our beaches trash-free.