Marine Debris

Trying to go “plastic free”

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Greetings from New England!

Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

By Robin Johnson

Like most people, I use a lot of plastic. Virtually all of my food comes wrapped in it; it houses my toiletries; and some even sneaks in as cups, straws and bags despite my efforts to choose alternatives. Let’s not even mention the plastic in my appliances and gadgets.

Hearing about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a huge flotilla of garbage floating in the ocean – and albatross chicks dying from ingesting plastic reminded me that the environment pays the ultimate price for our love of disposable plastic.

When I heard about a campaign to use less single-use plastic, I was intrigued. Could I eliminate it from my life for a month? Only one way to find out!

So far, it’s been a mixed bag. Most plastic can be avoided by carrying a water bottle and reusable shopping bag. My bag can be packed into its own pocket, so it doesn’t take up room in my purse. Morning coffee is more challenging. I have to make my coffee at home, or stop in the office to pick up my travel mug.

At home, I’ve come a long way, but it hasn’t been easy. I switched to milk sold in reusable bottles. I bring “empties” to the store and get the $2 deposit back, but I have to recycle the plastic lid. From the milk, I make yogurt, which is pretty easy. Finally, I’ve started making my own almond milk and protein bars.

I may be green, but I still love pizza, Thai, falafel, and other foods. Getting takeout without disposable plastic usually means getting it in my own container. I purchased a reusable plastic clamshell container that I take to my favorite restaurants. Most restaurants are happy to fill my container, and some even give me extra food or a discount. After all, I’m saving them money.

Personal care products may be the biggest hurdle. Few shampoos and sunscreens are available without plastic packaging, and those that exist are online. I’m going to use what I already have, while looking for better options.

I’m keeping a “dilemma bag” filled with plastic garbage I couldn’t avoid. At the end of the month, I’ll continue to look for alternatives.

Could you go without single- use plastics for even a week? What would be the biggest stumbling block for you?

More info on plastic marine debris from EPA

About the author: Robin Johnson writes wastewater discharge permits under the Clean Water Act.  She lives in the Boston area with her husband and two cats.  She spends her time vegetable gardening, swimming, and knitting.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Pick Up Your Trash!

By Lina Younes

On the first day of my trip to the beach, I was getting ready to unwind and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

There was hardly anybody in the area we had selected. The setting was idyllic. The powder-like sand, the warm sea breeze, the rhythmic ebb and flow of the waves were setting the right ambiance for a relaxing vacation. As I looked out at the water, however, something caught my attention.
Was it a jellyfish? Was it some other small fish? It wasn’t a bird, so what was it? Well, although the actual sand was very clean, there were some things floating in the water. I got closer and I saw some snack wrappers, candy wrappers, plastic bags and other objects. In other words, marine debris. I guess they might have floated into the water from the nearby public beach or had been left behind by previous vacationers. So what did I do? Well, I proceeded to pick up the floating objects. I even enlisted the help of my youngest daughter and nephew. We filled two small trash cans! On day two of our trip, I hardly saw anything in the floating in the water. At the end of our vacation, we left the beach cleaner than when we first got there.

Did you know that you can make a difference by disposing of your trash properly and preventing it from being carried by rain into a body of water? Did you know that marine debris, especially plastics, is harmful to wildlife and the environment as a whole. Seabirds, marine mammals and sea turtles often ingest floating plastic bags and debris with lethal consequences.

Here’s an EPA video that will shed some light on the adverse effects of marine debris. Even if you don’t go to the beach or live by the coast, there are many things you can do to protect our waterways in your own home. Following the three R’s, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, is a good place to start.

So, next time you go to the beach or park, please pick up after yourself. Don’t leave trash behind. Do you have any tips you would like to share with us? We love to hear from you.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

 

 

 

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Around the Water Cooler: Perpetual Plastics

By Dustin Renwick

Image courtesy State of Hawaii

Hawaii has become synonymous with tropical sunsets and legendary surfing. And trash. Ocean currents annually deliver 20 tons of refuse, much of it plastics, to the Big Island from the swirling mess called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Now, scientists expect added debris from Japan’s 2011 tsunami.

I wish I could have learned about this firsthand, maybe when surfing, but instead, I watched a video as I ate dinner 5,000 miles from the 5oth state.

We rely on plastics for diverse products such as packaging, pipes and car parts. These strong, all-purpose materials are designed as stable substances – you don’t want your water bottle to disintegrate.

Because they’re so durable, plastics can outlive their creators.

EPA scientist Richard Zepp is working on this problem as part of the Pathfinder Innovation Projects that I’ve blogged about previously. He’s researching ways to shorten the material lifecycle of common plastic items.

Water, sunlight, and microbes dissolve a newspaper or a discarded banana peel, but plastics, such as polyethylene, have tightly packed molecule chains that are nearly impervious to forces that might return them to the natural ecosystem.

“We don’t know how long polyethylene will last in the environment,” Zepp said. “They use polyethylene as liners in landfills” because it’s so tough.

In his research, Zepp incorporates an additive, something called a pro-oxidant, that helps natural forces disrupt the molecule chains so a plastic will break down more quickly. Parts of the UV spectrum of sunlight interact with the pro-oxidants and “put a chink in the armor of the plastic,” he said, “even with polyethylene.”

This plastic then becomes brittle and more susceptible to natural abrasion.

“If you’re out in the environment, that’s a key to the breakdown of plastic – it becomes more readily attacked by bacteria, which will degrade it completely.”

Researching the whole lifecycle for plastics means we’re thinking about the reality that all garbage isn’t created (or destroyed) equally.

About the author: Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Packing for the Beach

As with any trip, a day at the beach should involve some planning and preparation. While a bathing suit is a given, there are some things that we should or should not take to the beach. What should appear on the checklist of the do’s and don’ts you may ask? Well, the number one thing NOT to take to the beach is…plastics, especially plastic bags. While plastics are commonly used in many aspects of our lives, they have become a major component of marine debris. From water and soda bottles, to cups, utensils, containers, packaging, these plastics have adverse effects on our beaches and marine life. Plastic bags are often swallowed by marine mammals, sea turtles, and seabirds with tragic consequences.

So what should you do when packing for the beach? Well, take reusable bags, bottles, and containers. While at the beach, make sure you dispose of trash properly.

On the must-haves at the beach? First and foremost, make sure you are SunWise and not sun-foolish. Make sure you take some sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15—even on cloudy days. Also, wear sunglasses and protective clothing like a wide-brimmed hat, for example. And in this day and age of modern mobile technology, EPA has a new mobile application that you can use on smartphones which allows you to check the UV index on the go! Just some simple tips to protect yourself, your family, and our environment.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force.  Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.