Great news from the west coast! Last week, the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a ban on the sale of polystyrene foam. Foam packing, cups and mooring buoys will be prohibited starting January 1, 2017. This is a major win for the health of our ocean and marine life!
As you may already know, the problems associated with expanded polystyrene (foam) products is that they often fragment into small pieces once in the ocean, where fish, sea turtles or seabirds can mistakenly eat the tiny plastic bits. Nearly 425,000 foam cups, plates and food containers were removed from beaches by volunteers during the 2015 International Coastal Cleanup alone. And even more astounding are the more than 950,000 pieces of foam volunteers found on beaches around the globe during the 2015 Cleanup.
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!)
November 1 was a cold, dreary morning in Boston and when I arrived at Wollaston Beach to take part in a beach cleanup, the rain and wind grew more intense. I questioned whether we could even have a cleanup, but all doubt was swiftly wiped away when I met the staff and students from Park School.
I should have known that these fourth, fifth and now sixth graders, who successfully campaigned for Dunkin’ Donuts to stop using Styrofoam cups, weren’t going to let the weather get them down. As part of their school’s Green Club, these kids are seriously passionate about the environment. When they learned that expanded polystyrene (EPS)—the material used in foam-style cups—virtually never breaks down in the environment and often winds up in our oceans, they decided to act.
Their petition on change.org landed them a meeting at Dunkin’ Donuts’ Corporate Headquarters where they expressed their concerns about the 1.7 billion coffees served a year in disposable EPS cups, which could have major consequences for the ocean. As a result of this and the 280,000-plus signatures the campaign has garnered, Dunkin’ agreed to switch to more environmentally-friendly alternatives to serve their tasty beverages.
The coast of southeast Alaska is renowned for its stunning beauty, and the pocket beach outside the town of Sitka was no exception: dark sand piled with tangles of storm-tossed logs and fringed with emerald grass. From a distance, the beach looked pristine.
But as our boat pulled closer, we began to see what we had come for: trash. Chunks of polystyrene foam, plastic bottles, lengths of line, bits of faded blue tarp and pieces of netting were wedged in the piles of driftwood and strewn in the beach grass. It was time to get to work.
I was in Sitka to take part in a series of beach cleanups that brought together staff from Ocean Conservancy, the Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation and the Sitka Sound Science Center, along with volunteers from Allen Marine and Holland America Line. Together, we set out to find and remove marine debris that had washed up on the shores of nearby islands.