The Plastic We Threw Away Didn’t Go Away
Story by Justin “Scrappers” Morrison // @scrappers
Beachcombers like us know the delight of finding colorful and curvy seashells. Shells are the ghostly remains of a humble mollusk’s life. Once having protected the fragile feelings, hopes, and dreams of sea snails, they’re now empty and scavenged by hermit crabs and beachcombers like us. It makes me wonder: If beachcombers like us made shells, would they be the ocean plastic washing up at our feet?
Looking at all this plastic in the ocean as human-made shells has helped me take responsibility for picking it up. I don’t make a big deal about it, I simply fill my pockets with plastics while beachcombing. It’s fun, easy, and way more rewarding than stealing mollusk shells from hermit crabs.
Right now, there are people working around the world doing similar things on a bigger scale. Read on and learn more about people in Hawaii, New York, Vancouver B.C., and beyond who are working to reduce the plastic footprint we leave behind.
Lilly Woodbury of Surfrider Pacific Rim // Pacificrim.surfrider.org
What parts of Vancouver Island in Brithish Columbia, Canada does the Pacific Rim cover?
The Pacific Rim runs between Tofino and Ucluelet, and the central western coast of Vancouver Island! Truly one of the most magnificent spots you’ll ever visit.
What’s the goal of your remote beach cleanups?
Our goal for remote beach cleanups is to restore coastal ecosystems that are not easily accessed by people, as there is a high amount of marine debris to remove, and removing debris from these locations requires special machinery like barges. Through remote beach cleanups, we collect data on what we are finding and use this data to influence policy, businesses, industry, and schools—as well as informing our programs and campaigns that are working to address the root of the plastic pollution problem.
Where does the trash go after a beach cleanup?
All of the marine debris we collect is sorted and sent to the Ocean Legacy Foundation in Vancouver, who recycles marine debris into new resources for companies including Lush Cosmetics North America. Diverting material from landfills into resources is paramount for the creation of a circular economy, and we are so grateful that Ocean Legacy offers this service for coastal cleanup groups. We hope to see marine debris recycling spread around the world, so we can capture the value of this material, not just move it to another environment where it cannot be used or breakdown.
When you say, “REFUSE REDUCE REUSE RECYCLE REDESIGN,” what’s an example of what that looks like in a daily settling?
All of these actions can take place in one day, over one week, or a month! First and foremost, “Refuse” is the first “R” because we need to lower the amount we consume and eliminate products from our life that contain plastic. So, in one day, you may refuse a plastic bottle of shampoo and then opt for a naked shampoo bar, and you may reduce the amount of waste and plastic you are creating by bringing your own reusable fruit and veggie bag when you go to the supermarket. Following this, if you’re going for a coffee, you have your reusable mug, again, to say no to a single use plastic takeaway mug. Then, let’s say you absolutely have to buy something—it is a necessity and there is no non-plastic alternative (yet)—ensure you recycle the packaging and/or the product itself once it is used. The last part to this is redesigning items that do not have a plastic-free option, like the naked lipstick that was just created by Lush Cosmetics. There are infinite zero waste innovations waiting to be discovered and implemented, and we must do our part to be a part of these solutions and seek them out. We can’t recycle our way out of our waste/plastics crisis; we must refuse, reduce and reuse—and then redesign our systems.
Rebecca Mattos of Hawaii’s Sustainable Coastlines // sustainablecoastlineshawaii.org
What is endangered about the Hawaiian coastlines?
Hawaii is the most isolated island chain on the planet, yet we’re on the frontlines of a large oil spill—in the form of plastics washing onto our beaches. Our coastlines are getting hammered with microplastic, as well as hundreds of thousands of pounds of larger debris (ghost nets, buoys, and crates) discarded into the ocean every year. Being home to many endangered species, we want to work to stop the influx of plastic pollution for their survival, too. In addition, we see the impacts of sea level rise and erosion happening across our islands.
How can picking up trash help when every minute more washes up?
Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii’s biggest goal through beach cleanups is to inspire people to be mindful of how much plastic is being thrown “away,” where it ends up, and reflecting on what we use in our everyday lives. Through taking action together at a cleanup, we want people to ask questions about what they are finding, how it got there, and what we can all do together to stop producing and using so much plastic in the first place.
Personally, doing beach cleanups led me to take inventory of what I was purchasing for need, convenience, or temporary satisfaction. I didn’t always connect to the origin or afterlife of what I’d bought. The more we get out there and clean up, even if it’s not trash you started, will begin helping everyone realize we can make larger changes critical to survival. It’s also a way to realize the power we have as a community and have fun all at once!
What are some of the most interesting things you’ve found during a cleanup?
I was fortunate to help Greenpeace, KIRC, and PKO this past October with a two-day cleanup on Kaho’olawe. We found bowling balls, microwaves, vintage kids’ toys, and a San Francisco Giants’ batting helmet that had washed ashore. At our Earth Day cleanup last year, we found several Smart FAD’s (Fish Aggregating Devices), which look like tiny UFOs, as well as a credit card from ‘79.
Carolyn Munaco of Surfrider’s Eastern Long Island Chapter // easternli.surfrider.org
What environmental challenges does Eastern Long Island face?
On the east end, I believe a lot of plastic debris that washes up from fall to early spring is from the North Atlantic Drift, The Gulf Stream, rivers from Connecticut, and spin-off from the Atlantic Gyre. I’m certain New York City runoff is an issue, but I don’t think we really see much of it on the east end.
I feel like we have two separate seasons of trash: The storms from October to April drive a lot of trash in, and careless summertime visitors leave lots of garbage behind between May and September.
We have a huge summer population increase and inadequate waste management. I feel like much of the trash and plastic found during summer is from beachgoers leaving trash in unfit or already-overflowing receptacles. Local municipalities don’t have enough employees or funding to keep up. Trash cans are abused during off hours by people refusing to adhere to WM policies.
What’s the goal of the Surfrider Rise Above Plastics campaign?
In my opinion, our number-one goal is to educate people about the harmful effects of plastics in the environment and steps towards change.
What steps do you suggest people take to Rise Above Plastics?
I hope to make people aware of consumer choices to avoid single-use plastic. Even beyond what’s recyclable—since a majority of plastic is not recycled. Stop buying liquids in plastic bottles or waxed cartons with plastic spouts and caps. Buy a water filter and a reusable bottle. Eastern Long Island Surfrider volunteers picked up 8,051 plastic bottle caps at a single cleanup. Makes you wonder where all the bottles to those caps are. “Away” doesn’t exist!
Cyrill Gutsch, Founder of Parley for the Oceans // parley.tv
What’s the problem Parley wants people to understand?
It’s very simple: The oceans give us life–we give back plastic and other toxic substances. The oceans generate the air we breathe: Every second breath we take is created by phytoplankton. They make it possible for us to live on this planet. Our responsibility is to protect them–and it’s a survival imperative. If we destroy the oceans, we’re destroying life’s very support system.
What’s the solution?
The Parley AIR Strategy addresses the fast-growing, global threat of plastic pollution based on a belief that plastic is a design failure, one that can only be solved by reinventing the material itself. We all have a role to play in the solution.
A = Avoid plastic.
“Avoid” includes initiatives to educate people on the importance of reducing plastic use, how to avoid unnecessary plastics, and the value of replacing virgin plastic with recycled materials. Through Parley Talks, ocean experts educate creators, thinkers, and leaders on the ocean, inspiring action. This education phase is the first step to ushering in change.
I = Intercept plastic waste.
“Intercept” is a comprehensive approach to minimizing the amount of plastic entering the ocean through a variety of tactics to retrieve and recycle plastic along its journey to the ocean. This approach stops the issue at its core by working with local communities to keep plastic in a closed loop, where it can be recycled and reused. The implementation includes removing plastic from affected areas through community interception and microplastic trawl, along with beach, reef, and seabed cleanups.
R = Redesign plastic materials and products.
“Redesign” is an effort to transform the plastic economy. During the Parley x Biofabricate conference held in New York on December 7, 2017, Parley for the Oceans announced a partnership with the Biofabricate summit and launched the “Material Revolution” to boost development of new materials to replace current plastic, driving the success of the third pillar of Parley AIR: Redesign.
Can the common shopper support the Material Revolution?
It’s up to everyone to make this movement happen, and all are welcome. We need creators to reinvent humanity’s current materials, and create new ones that work in harmony with natural systems.
Learn more and take the Parley AIR pledge // parley.tv
12 Things You Need to Know About Plastic in Our Oceans.
1. About 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced in the last 60 years.
2. Only about 9 percent of this plastic has been recycled, 12 percent has been burned, and the remaining 79 percent has ended up in landfills, roadsides, and waterways.
3. Up to 12.7 million tons of plastic enters the oceans every year. That’s the equivalent of a truckload of plastic every minute.
4. There are five trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans—enough to circle the Earth over 400 times.
5. Places like Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom export plastic waste to various countries in Asia and Africa, offloading our trash problem to other communities.
6. Low-income people living along rivers and coastlines in China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam face more health impacts from the greater exposure to plastic toxins.
7. Don’t forget about the animals! Up to nine of 10 seabirds, one in three sea turtles, 50 percent of whale and dolphin species, and over 700 marine species have been endangered by ocean plastic.
8. There is no such thing as “away” when you live on the same planet. We are all impacted, just some of us get hurt earlier than others.
9. We are the leading cause of this problem because we buy what’s being sold.
10. Drink companies produce over 500 billion single-use plastic bottles, and tens of billions of bags of chips are sold annually: This is just a small piece of the disposable pie.
11. Government regulations have been passed; Morocco has banned plastic bags, Seattle has banned plastic straws, Vancouver B.C. has proposed a ban on coffee cups and styrofoam containers.
12. Government and commercial industry regulations won’t stop the problem as long as it makes money. Just because single-use items are sold doesn’t mean we need to buy them. As conforming consumers, we are the cause of the problem—but we can be the solution. Let’s rise above plastic.