Rise Above Plastics Campaign
Click that link and check out the following video and write or contact your State Senator regarding AB1998, the ban of single use plastic bags in California.
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Despite growing awareness of the problem of plastic pollution in the world's oceans, little solid scientific information existed to illustrate the nature and scope of the issue. Now, a team of researchers from Sea Education Association (SEA), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), and the University of Hawaii (UH) published a study of plastic marine debris based on data collected over 22 years by undergraduate students in the latest issue of the journal Science.
A previously undefined expanse of the western North Atlantic has been found to contain high concentrations of plastic debris, comparable to those observed in the region of the Pacific commonly referred to as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.”
More than 64,000 individual plastic pieces were collected at 6100 locations that were sampled yearly over the course of the study. A surface plankton net was used to collect plastic debris as well as biological organisms at each station. The highest concentrations of plastic were observed in a region centered at 32°N (roughly the latitude of Atlanta, GA) and extending from 22-38°N latitude. Numerical model simulations by Nikolai Maximenko (UH) explain why surface currents cause the plastic to accumulate in this region.
Said SEA scientist Kara Lavender Law, the Science paper's lead author, “Not only does this important data set provide the first rigorous scientific estimate of the extent and amount of floating plastic at an ocean-basin scale, but the data also confirm that basic ocean physics explains why the plastic accumulates in this region so far from shore.”
One surprising finding is that the concentration of floating plastic debris has not increased during the 22-year period of the study, despite the fact that the plastic disposal has increased substantially. The whereabouts of the “missing plastic” is unknown.
Says SEA Dean Paul Joyce, “The analysis presented in this Science article provides a robust scientific description of the extent of plastic pollution to date, which can be used to make better management and policy decisions, and to inform popular perceptions of this issue.”
A companion study published in Marine Pollution Bulletin details the characteristics of the plastic debris collected in these tows. Most of the plastic is millimeters in size and consists of polyethylene or polypropylene, materials that float in seawater. There is evidence that biological growth may alter the physical characteristics of the plastic over time, perhaps causing it to sink.
“I think some of the big questions are colonization: who actually lives on these pieces of plastic?” said Chris Reddy of WHOI, who was co-author on both papers. “To what extent are ocean currents moving the small life on these plastic particles around the ocean?”
Data continue to be collected onboard SEA's sailing research vessels in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by undergraduate students in the SEA Semester program. A dedicated research cruise, Plastics at SEA: North Atlantic Expedition, recently investigated the eastern boundary of the Atlantic accumulation zone.
“The several thousand SEA Semester undergraduate students who helped collect and count plastic debris over the decades have been essential contributors to this work,” said SEA president John Bullard. “They have gained a much fuller understanding of the oceans and the role humans play both in the present and its future.”
San Francisco Moves to Expand the Plastic Bag Ban – California May Follow
Legislation before both the city and state are poised to reduce the amount of plastic in the waste stream.
By Rachel Cernansky | Tue Aug 10, 2010 10:49
San Francisco is considering expanding its ban on plastic bags from supermarkets and pharmacies to all retailers.
The way the law stands now, these stores are required to present customers with either compostable plastic bags, recyclable paper bags or reusable bags.
But Ross Mirkarimi, a city supervisor involved in passing the existing law in 2007, said that doesn't go far enough and presented the expanded measure to the Board of Supervisors last week.
If the new bill passes, it would extend to all retailers, including bookshops and clothing stores, adding significantly to the estimated 100 million plastic bags that have been avoided directly because of the 2007 law. (Exemptions exist, however, for produce and garment bags like the ones used in dry cleaning.)
Stores would be allowed to charge five cents for paper bags under the new law, which would go into effect next March.
But it's not just the always-green San Francisco that's making these changes. Governor Schwarzenegger has already expressed support of a bill that would ban disposable plastic bags statewide.
Environmental activists across California bemoaned the outcome of the state's last legislative session in which three key bills failed to pass. Activists had placed great hopes on AB 1998, a bill that would have banned single-use plastic carryout bags in grocery stories and pharmacies. For months, proponents of the bill had campaigned successfully in their communities and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had indicated his willingness to sign the bill which failed in the closing hour of the session with a vote of 21-14. Also failing to pass were SB 797 and SB 722-bills banning the inclusion of the chemical BPA in baby products and pushing for one-third of California's energy to come from non-polluting sources, respectively. Though many residents are disappointed, there's no doubt that those truly committed to the cause will continue to fight for a more environmentally friendly California.