Ocean Currents » trash http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 24 Aug 2016 18:22:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 The Problem of Ocean Trash http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/08/22/the-problem-of-ocean-trash/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/08/22/the-problem-of-ocean-trash/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 14:04:36 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12665

Written by Tori Glascock

Each year an estimated 8 million metric tons, or 17 billion pounds, of plastic flows into the ocean. Enough is enough.

First and foremost, an endless flow of trash into the ocean will affect the health of humans and wildlife alike as well as compromise the livelihoods that depend on a healthy ocean. Trash and debris such as fishing gear, straws, and plastic bags pose a deadly threat to marine life. Fishing gear can trap helpless sea turtles and cut through flesh of whales, while plastic bags are easily mistaken as food and consumed by animals. Straws can be hazardous in that they can get stuck in a nostril, a blowhole, an eye, or even a throat.

80% of ocean trash is a product of land based sources (trash coming from activities on land) including the items listed above—plastic bags, straws, bottles—plastics that are used once and then discarded can end up in the ocean. Marine based pollution (trash reaching the ocean by activities done in the ocean) accounts for 20% of ocean trash, coming from marine vessels, cruise ships, and ocean-based industry such as oil rigs. Not surprisingly, 75% of land based ocean plastic is from uncollected waste that makes its way to waterways eventually reaching the ocean. The other 25% comes from waste that was collected but escaped the system, suggesting that there is work to be done on our waste management system. A complete overview of these statistics can be found in our Stemming the Tide report. If we don’t change our lifestyles soon, there could be one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish in the ocean by 2025.

The idea of trash in the ocean is intrinsically associated with giant islands of trash floating in remote places, never reaching life-forms again. Contrary to popular belief this is entirely not the case. Not only does ocean plastic and debris span from the water’s surface all the way to the sea floor, but it fragments into small microplastics—plastic particles smaller than five mm in diameter. Think of microplastics like a posting to the web. Once you put something on the internet it is there forever, no matter how buried it may seem to get. Plastic that reaches the ocean is the same. Although it may seem to have disappeared, it has really only continued to breakdown into smaller and smaller pieces that will infiltrate the marine ecosystem for the foreseeable future.

Take a deep dive into the problem of ocean trash in the infographic below! It is interactive so click on something to learn more!

Tori Glascock is a 2016 Ocean Conservancy Summer Intern. 

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Fight Back Against Marine Debris http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/08/18/fight-back-against-marine-debris/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/08/18/fight-back-against-marine-debris/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 13:00:44 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12635

Written by Senator Cory Booker

Every 60 seconds, what amounts to roughly a garbage truck full of plastic makes its way into the ocean.  That means that over the next year about 8 million tons of plastic will enter the ocean, creating a massive amount of marine pollution.

It’s estimated that if we don’t do anything to address this source of pollution, there will be one pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish in the ocean by 2025.

Preventing further damage to our oceans will require a coordinated global effort, and the United States has a vital role to play in leading this charge.

Here at home, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, is responsible for the Marine Debris Program, which leads the government effort to address, research and prevent waste pollution in our oceans. But the congressional authorization for this program expired back in 2015, and it now faces uncertain prospects. What’s more, while marine debris is a global issue, current law doesn’t recognize the authority of the Marine Debris Program to work collaboratively with international partners. Empowering program staff to engage in international collaboration will allow the Marine Debris Program to share its expertise and further its impact here in the U.S. and around the world.

Recognizing the need for an updated law, I recently introduced the Marine Debris Act of 2016, a bill that if passed will extend the authorization of the Marine Debris Program until 2021. The bill also recognizes the authority of the program’s staff to work with a coalition of international partners, making it easier for the United States to help develop and lead a coordinated response to the global problem of marine debris.

Passing this bill won’t solve our global marine debris problem, but it will mark a renewed commitment by the United States to leading the effort to clean up our oceans.

When it comes to making our oceans cleaner and healthier, we don’t have a minute to waste.

Take Action: Join Senator Booker and show your support for the Marine Debris Act of 2016 today!

Cory Booker was elected to represent New Jersey in the United States Senate in 2013. 

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Taking on Plastic at the Met Gala http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/03/taking-on-plastic-at-the-met-gala/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/03/taking-on-plastic-at-the-met-gala/#comments Tue, 03 May 2016 19:54:46 +0000 Jackie Yeary http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12018

Photo: Emma Watson/Facebook

True confessions: I’m secretly a total Harry Potter nerd. Okay, maybe it’s not so secret… (#TeamHufflepuff anyone?) Which is why I did a literal happy dance in my living room when I saw Emma Watson’s gown for last night’s Met Gala.

Her look, designed by Calvin Klein with help from Eco-Age, incorporated recycled plastics into the body of the gown.  “Plastic is one of the biggest pollutants on the planet,” said Watson on Facebook. “Being able to repurpose this waste and incorporate it into my gown for the #MetGala proves the power that creativity, technology and fashion can have by working together.”

Emma’s point about the power of creativity is an important reminder. There are a lot of problems—big problems—facing our planet, and it’s going to require ingenuity and innovation to solve them. And if finding a sustainable way to create red carpet fashion brings more people to the table, then I say, “The more the merrier!”

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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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