San Diego Coastkeeper and the San Diego chapter of the Surfrider Foundation have been working together for years to organize twice-monthly beach cleanups. Plastic foam (expanded polystyrene, known by the trade name Styrofoam™) has been one of the major contributors to marine debris for as long as we have been counting. The problem is getting worse, too. In 2009, volunteers picked up 12,000 plastic foam pieces. In 2010, that number climbed to 25,000, more than doubling in just one year.
Currently, California uses 165,000 TONS of plastic foam food containers annually, none of which are recycled. SB 568 is a bill currently in committee that would ban the use of plastic foam containers to hold prepared food by January 1, 2016. School districts get until July 1, 2017 to comply. The ban applies only to containers for food or beverages that have been “served, packaged, cooked, chopped, sliced, mixed, brewed, frozen, squeezed, or otherwise prepared for consumption” – and excludes only raw meats, which can still be sold in plastic foam containers. There is also an option for a municipality or school district to continue using plastic foam containers so long as at least 60 percent are verifiably recycled.
SB 568 would go a long way toward reducing the amount of plastic foam found on our beaches
and the amount mistaken for food by wildlife. It would also reduce the risk of cancers associated with using containers made with styrene, a carcinogen that leaches into food when it comes into contact with oils, grease, or acids or is heated. When was the last time you had takeout that wasn’t greasy?
So what can you do to help? On a personal, immediate level, try to avoid using or buying products in plastic foam containers. This might mean eating takeout less often. Try to talk to local business owners to convince them to switch away from plastic foam to reusable, more easily recyclable or compostable alternatives. For a more long-term solution, help change policies by letting your representatives know that you support SB 568. Click here to send an editable form letter in support of the bill. You can always contact Coastkeeper if you want to get more involved in our advocacy and outreach efforts about plastic foam.
The Clean Beach Coalition prepared for last weekend’s Fourth of July madness by putting up 200 extra trash and recycling bins to manage the weekend’s waste as well as tried to get the word out to the community to encourage replacing plastic ware with reusables. Each member organization from the Clean Beach Coalition hosted a cleanup site afterwards as well to assess the trash situation and rid our beaches of the waste!
This “Morning After Mess” beach cleanup happened at 7 am yesterday morning, the fifth of July, to gather up all the discarded waste left over from four gorgeous summer days of care-free celebration. Coastkeeper hosted at Ocean Beach where the annual Fourth of July marshmallow fight had gone down bigger than ever before. This tradition has folks gather on the beach, parks, and streets of Ocean Beach and nail each other with delicious sweets. Apparently this year’s Mallow War was less than mellow as people were selling marshmallow guns and slingshots! We can’t wait for the Youtube videos.
It’s hard not to laugh at people pelting each other with fluffy sugar balls; especially since it originated innocently as a harmless battle between fun-loving neighbors. After our chuckle-fits, we are left to assess the environmental risks from beaches and streets thick with sugary melted goo. The 25 year old tradition lives on in OB with no real reason for the madness, simply for the fun of it! It seems like many people really love this annual fight, and would be sad to see it go. Unfortunately, as the folks who clean up the beach the next day, we see the marshmallows tempting wildlife and oozing into the fragile ocean.
We got out to the beach at 7 am, so the mallows had little time to melt in the rising sun before we got there, but there were literally MILLIONS of marshmallows. Our flipflops were caked with sticky mush and our trash bags sagged with melting sugary goop. One volunteer counted 526 marshmallows just in one hour. A Surfrider volunteer measured a 5 foot by 5 foot square of sand and collected 100 marshmallows on the surface layer, and another 100 in the sand below! The precise environmental impact is unknown, but we can be sure that marshmallows are unhealthy for wildlife and sea life to be ingesting, especially after all the bacteria that is surely growing on these mallows!
Of the 88 volunteers who participated this morning, 6 admitted to being a part of the marshmallow fight the night before. One participant said it was the most fun he’s had in YEARS! Another volunteer said she brought her son to the marshmallow event the night before, but vowed to bring him to the cleanup to “show him the other side” of the fight.
We so appreciate those people who participated in Marshmallow show-down also taking responsibility for their contribution and coming back early in the morning to scrape together the sticky madness that resulted from the fight. The world needs more folks like you!
Plastic pollution is a big problem for San Diego’s beaches – in fact, you might call it a whale of a problem. What better way to draw attention to it than with a whale made of plastic? L’il Gray, a life-size gray whale made from beach trash, will be installed in the hallway of the San Diego Coastkeeper office, and is the star of our show on July 1. San Diego Coastkeeper will team up with other local museums for one night only to showcase the nautical artwork of two unique local artists. While you’re here, you can explore the rest of Liberty Station’s museums and shops and enjoy entertainment and refreshment as part of the monthly Friday Night Liberty event.
Marine debris is a major concern for San Diego’s beaches. Plastic pollution is one of the more problematic kinds, because once plastic makes its way into the ocean, it does not biodegrade, but instead just breaks into smaller pieces that can be mistaken for food by aquatic creatures. They also make their way to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch , joining the other 3.5 million tons of plastic pieces in a soup out there. Help Coastkeeper raise awareness of the issue by attending our Coastal Pollution: A Whale of a Problem.
• Teresa Espaniola is the artist who coordinated L’il Gray. This artist collects trash from the beaches near her home and uses it in her gARTbage series. She also works with children to teach them about marine debris and plastic pollution through art.
• Myles McGuinness is a color photographer. His work has appeared in American Advertising Federation (AAF), California Surf Museum, National Geographic, The Surfer’s Journal, Surfing & Surfer magazines and most recently in the Communication Arts 2010 Photo Annual. He is also the creative mind behind San Diego Coastkeeper’s website and annual report.
Join us on July 1, 2011 from 5:00-8:00pm at the Coastkeeper office at 2825 Dewey Road Suite 200, San Diego CA 92106 to mingle with Coastkeeper art aficionados and beach activists alike. Enjoy light refreshments and music while meandering our hallway and perusing the art. Photo Credit: Nick Morris for North County Times
This is the sixth of a 10-part blog series examining the nature of ASBS, the threats they face and the actions we can take to protect these biological hotspots for future San Diegans.
Last Saturday, San Diego Coastkeeper joined forces with our friends at Surf Diva and 25 volunteers to cleanup La Jolla Shores. Staging on the street and not the beach helped volunteers focus on the gutters, parking lots, sidewalks, and bus stops heavy with foot traffic and litter. The volunteers collected 30 pounds of trash, counting top items such as cigarette butts, food wrappers, and plastic foam pieces.
Over the past four years, San Diego Coastkeeper has facilitated over 20 cleanups around La Jolla Shores to help reduce marine debris entering the water. Considering the importance of pollution prevention in Areas of Special Biological Significance (ASBS), our cleanup work is valuable in highlighting common pollutants (litter) and engaging community members in helping keep La Jolla clean. We do this by asking volunteers to work in teams and complete data cards while they collect trash – and our cleanup data tells an interesting story. Here are some highlights:
1. Balloon Gloom: Volunteers collected more than 800 balloons and strings from the La Jolla shores area since 2007. This value is many times higher than most other area beaches. Some of those washed up tangled with drifting kelp at the high tide line, and some were leftover or released from birthday parties and events at Kellogg Park.
2. Volunteerism has steadily dropped at La Jolla Shores cleanups over the past 4 years. Our 2007 cleanup boasted 283 volunteers, and last year’s event hosted only 59 people dedicated to cleaning up the area. Many volunteers worry about parking and transport, while others think the area is so clean that it doesn’t need the help (it does!).
3. La Jolla Shores is one of the “cleanest” beaches in San Diego County, based on the pounds of trash collected per volunteer. The average amount since 2007 is below a value of 1 pound per volunteer, which places it high amongst the ranks of other clean beaches such as Torrey Pines and Del Mar.
4. Single-use & plastic products dominate La Jolla Shores’ top ten. Coastkeeper and friends have been fighting hard to stop pollution from single-use plastics by helping the public switch to sustainable alternatives, such as reusable water bottles, bags, and Tupperware®. And even though smoking is banned on the beach, we still count a lot of cigarette butts right next to the beach – between 1200 and 2000 per cleanup each year.
After the cleanup, I met some friends for a beautiful SCUBA dive inside the marine reserve at La Jolla Cove. I tried not to get upset by the two abandoned lobster traps I saw (one with a big sheep crab traped inside), and instead focused on the beauty and peacefulness under the kelp forest. We saw two giant sea bass, a 4ft shovel nose guitarfish, and a stunning new-to-me nudibranch called Hopkins Rose, and it was a day well spent in our ASBS.
Every year on Memorial Day weekend, thousands of families go to the beach to celebrate. However, after a weekend of fun in the sun, our beautiful beaches are left with tons of waste that beachgoers could have easily removed themselves.
This weekend, start with yourself and take the initiative to be green. Be mindful and follow these easy tips to keep yourself in check:
- Say no to single-use products. Use resusable containers, cloth bags, refillable stainless steel bottles and spoons and forks from your set at home. You should especially avoid single-use plastic, which dominates the plastic pollution we find in our ocean and is a short-lived product made from oil. Worst yet, all of the plastic that finds its way into our ocean will never fully go away. By using reusable cups, silverware and bags, you reduce pollution and save money!
- Forget about expanded polystyrene foam products (commonly inaccurately classified as Styrofoam). These cafeteria-style plates, cups and to-go boxes pollute all of our public spaces. In 2010, our volunteers removed more than 25,000 pieces of plastic foam from our beaches and surrounding areas. Unfortunately, this plastic foam does not biodegrade and animals may accidentally ingest plastic debris in the ocean.
- Leave only footprints in the sand. Surprisingly, our volunteers remove plastic footwear from our beaches. The most environmentally friendly choice it to go to the beach barefoot. Remember things like bottle caps, food wrappers and lighters are made of plastic and often get left behind. Over time, these little things build up!
- Volunteer to reduce pollution. Bring some friends and join San Diego Coastkeeper at our Fiesta Island Cleanup in Mission Bay on Saturday from 9-11am. And don’t forget to bring your own bucket and reusable gloves to make even your volunteering sustainable.
Don’t forget that our ocean’s health depends on us. Among the celebrations and fun, pollution can happen. Just be aware, take charge and green up your Memorial Day weekend.
How do you give your friends from London a proper tour of San Diego while they’re here on holiday? Make sure they hit all the best beach spots, check. Show ’em a good time downtown, check. Don’t allow them to fly back across the pond without catching a Coastkeeper screening of the film Tapped, also check.
One night during their stay last year, Sunny, Anoop and I took the ride up to La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas to check out Tapped. It was the first time any of the three of us saw the documentary which depicts the vast array of negative impacts the bottled water industry has on our environment, as well as our wallets. To boot, the flick has a pretty decent soundtrack.
Sunny and Anoop returned recently for another stay in America’s Finest City. As we’re catching up, Anoop told me about the profound impact Tapped had made on him. “The movie incensed me. I had no idea about the unethical practices about taking free water from the ground and selling it back. Every one has a basic right to water, no one should pay for it, especially when millions are dying from dehydration around the world”. You said it man.
Anoop goes on “When we got home from our SD trip, we immediately bought metal containers for ourselves and all our immediate family. When people inevitably ask me about mine, I immediately tell them everything about plastic, the water industry and the Pacific Garbage Patch. In addition, I wrote to my local council asking them to stop buying bottled water, and start using filtered water, if anything for financial reasons.”
Sunny’s family just recently opened a boutique hotel in London. The place is chock full of reusable water bottles on the house, making it so simple for guests to abstain from plastic. They’re also registered members of an interactive UK database that directs all folks, not just hotel patrons, for a free water refill.
Dang, talk about San Diego Coastkeeper making a global impact!
How should this effect us living here in San Diego? Simple, our backyard is the Pacific Ocean. It’s got enough plastic already swimming in it. Let’s do our part to not perpetuate this awful trend. Continue to use your aluminum water bottles. If you don’t have one become a Coastkeeper member. We’ll gladly hook you up as a thank you.
Furthermore, we each have a voice. Let’s use it! Tell your friends, family and local politicians. Shout it out loud I BOTTLE MY OWN.
San Diego suffers from Plastic Foam Syndrome. With more than 25,000 pieces of plastic foam littering our beaches each year, Coastkeeper is taking an active stance against the most unsustainable take-out material known to man: plastic foam Our advocacy work in the City of San Diego and Sacramento is supporting policy change to get to the root problems of our litter and marine debris woes in San Diego County. With 48 California cities taking a stand against plastic foam via ordinances, its shocking to note that NONE of those foam-free cities are in San Diego County. Hopefully Coastkeeper’s work can pave the way for us to catch up with the rest of the state, and perhaps reduce cleanup costs at the same time.
On a local level, we have been working with the City of San Diego’s Mayors office and Environmental Services Department to limit internal purchases of and permissions to distribute plastic foam at City permitted events. This will likely come in the format of changes to the requirements of the City’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program (EP3), as well as changes to the permit applications for events through Special Events, Parks & Recreation, the Water Department, and Qualcomm Stadium. Making this move will be a huge step in the direction of sustainability, and help San Diego fulfill its obligations as a Green City of California . Download our Letter to the Mayor’s office and City Councilmembers for more details about our position, and contact me if you want to become more involved in this process.
On a statewide level, we are actively supporting SB 568 , a bill that would ban the distribution of polystyrene foam by all food vendors across California. The bill should hit the Senate Floor around mid-May 2011, and it will be a close vote to get it to the Assembly committees. Senator Kehoe has expressed her support, but we have not had confirmation that Senator Vargas is in favor of reducing litter in this way. We need champions in Vargas’ district (Chula Vista, Imperial Beach, and parts of Riverside/Imperial counties) – from individuals to restaurants to community groups – to speak up to him. You can call his Chula Vista Office ((619) 409-7690) use the contact form on his website, or contact Coastkeeper for draft email/fax/snail mail language or if you want to help organize in this area.
Supporting Coastkeeper’s work on plastic pollution reduction is more important now than ever. Your membership and donations help us put more time to working on these issues and reducing litter throughout San Diego County. Plus you get a cool reusable water bottle to do your part to stop Plastic Foam Syndrome.
 Coastkeeper is no longer using the term StyrofoamTM to refer to single-use take out products such as cups, clamshells, and plates because of this clarification by its maker Dow Chemical. Other groups refer to it as extruded polystyrene or expanded polystyrene (EPS), but Coastkeeper is keeping it simple at plastic foam. No matter what we call it, its bad for our beaches.
Every year, California’s leading environmental organizations join forces in the State Capitol building to lobby for policies that will benefit the health of our oceans and coasts. Ocean Day 2011, organized by Environment California , brought together 54 participants from 37 different organizations to visit 73 legislative offices on April 4. While many of the organizations represented work on a statewide or national level (i.e. the Surfrider Foundation, Ocean Conservancy and Natural Resources Defense Council, local groups like San Diego Coastkeeper end up being crucial to the success of our environmental lobbying efforts.
First, most legislators want to meet with someone from their district. Since I live in the City of San Diego and represent our Coastkeeper members from all over the county, I am a more direct link to the pulse of their citizenry than someone working for a larger organization with an office in San Francisco or Sacramento.
Second, I was the only person at Ocean Day advocating for coastal environment protection specifically with San Diego County in mind. We are the third most populous county in California, and our coastline makes up about 10% of California’s coast. Yet Coastkeeper was the only local organization that made the trip to Sacramento to fight for what’s important to San Diego’s coastline and water quality! The ability to tell our area Senators and Assemblymembers about our San Diego beach cleanup data in the context of the upcoming Styrofoam bill (SB 568) was an important local link to push for their support for foam reduction legislation.
Third, many legislators and staffers from both parties simply need a regular reminder of why ocean protection needs to be a priority. We talked about marine debris reduction, support for implementing the Marine Life Protection Act , the plight of sharks and the need to ban shark fin soup, planning for oil spills and climate change and much more. Who else brings that stuff up in their offices in Sacramento, when there are so many issues to consider on a day to day basis?
Finally, we have a few big battles ahead of us. Intense opposition from big budget industries often gets in the way of our environmental
goals – we need to be in the offices of our legislators just as much as they are. For example, lobbying from the plastics industry with millions of dollars and campaign contributions beat out our grassroots efforts and the voices of thousands for last year’s statewide plastic bag ban, AB 1998. Let’s not let that happen again with upcoming bills for copper reduction, shark finning and marine debris.
Ocean Day ends with a sustainable seafood reception where important connections are made between legislators, environmental leaders, agency representatives, and funders. The event is always an excellent way to end a full day of ocean advocacy – by planning future collaborative efforts, celebrating accomplishments, and supporting California businesses that see the value in sustainable fisheries and oceans. Plus, the Drakes Bay Oysters are truly delicious…..
At the end of March 2011, I was fortunate to spend five days immersed in plastic pollution and marine debris at the 5th International Marine Debris Conference in Honolulu, Hawai’i. Hosted by NOAA and the United Nations Environment Program , 450 truly dedicated researchers, educators, policy folk, industry, agencies, and artists who are actively working to highlight the problem of trash in the ocean all came together for the first time in ten years. In addition to putting smiling faces to big names in the field of marine debris , I presented about Coastkeeper’s beach cleanup data , our leadership in waste reduction at cleanups, and our education efforts including Signs of the Tide and Project SWELL .
I learned a lot, and am highlighting some key points for you below:
1. There is a LOT of trash and plastic out there. As the Ocean Conservancy released their 25-year report on Coastal Cleanup Day highlighting the removal of millions of pounds of trash, other operations were reporting tons of fishing gear washing up on remote islands in the Bering Sea, and sea turtles pooping plastic bags for a month . Perhaps marine microbes burrowing into plastic are contributing to the breakdown of floating debris, but it’s still a massive problem deserving our attention and action.
2. Science is the key to marine debris solutions. While there are many excellent scientists studying marine debris and its impacts, there are many gaps in research and needs for information to better inform policy change. Even citizen science is going to be essential – and collecting data at our beach cleanups is an important piece of the puzzle for identifying problem items and reducing debris at sea.
3. The plastics industry MUST be at the table, but we can’t let them put their fingers in everything. While they may tout their commitment to reducing marine debris , representatives of single-use plastic makers will again and again state that recycling and education are the solutions to reducing marine debris. We all know that these things are a part of the effort, but source reduction and better pollution policies will get us to zero discharge a heck of a lot faster. Unfortunately, with a lot of money on the line, they can also pay to hire biased people to write the reports about marine debris and even sway the focus of government agencies and large organizations towards undertaking only activities that will not harm the bottom line of their member industries. Even if that means continued plastic pollution .
4. Even plastic pollution can be reused – as a piece of art. Dozens of marine debris artists converged at the conference to showcase their unique way of reaching the public: art. We are supporting this work locally by collecting funky trash for local artist Teresa Espaniola , who hosted a workshop at the conference. Stay tuned for more art projects in our future.
One of the outcomes of the conference is still currently under construction: a Honolulu Strategy for the reduction of marine debris. An international framework for action, this document is taking input from all conference attendees and creating guidelines for future action. With all the energy in the room when Jack Johnson closed out the conference with a live performance of his Reduce Reuse Recycle Song, there is hope that the marine debris community will continue to collaborate for solutions and strive for zero input of plastics to the ocean. There is hope.
As mentioned in yesterday’s blog post about the Ocean Conservancy’s 25-year report, the data extracted from beach cleanups can influence political, industrial and social change. Take a long walk on this beach with me…
GOVERNMENT and POLICY
Cigarette butts have long since been the number one item found by Coastkeeper on San Diego’s beaches. This is the same the world over, and has held its number one spot for the past 25 years. Because of this statistic, garnished from our data collection, this hard evidence was used to support a smoking ban on our beaches and parks which passed in 2006. Our cleanup data allows us to identify problems, track their the source, design solutions and take action by advocating for the solution.
So, what are the sources? Nine out of the top ten items of the past 25 years were disposable consumer items. These items clearly do not belong in the environment. They are threats to local and global eco-systems as they entangle wildlife, infiltrate the food chain and photodegrade into microplastics that can never be cleaned up. We try to eliminate the source of these items, but we as consumers create the demand for them. Fortunately, they are not a necessity. We can easily bring our own bag, bottle or to-go ware; it is simply that we are so comfortable with the convenience of these disposable plastics, we can’t be bothered to remember. In order to help us along, we must influence the supply to lessen the demand, thus eliminating these one-time-use, wasteful items as an option. Policy change in response to single-use plastic has been happening all over the globe to reduce the land waste and hazards to the ocean. This is a solution to eliminate the “source” of marine debris.
- As of 2008, it is illegal to give away single-use plastic bags in China—previously the TOP consumer of single-use plastic bags.
- A 2002 bag levy in Ireland led to usage drop of 90%.
- Washington, D.C., implemented a 5 cent bag fee and a saw usage drop significantly from 22.5 million bags in 2009 to 3 million bags in 2010.
- Italy became the first country to outright BAN the single-use plastic bag on January 1, 2011.
- San Francisco was the first U.S. city to ban the single-use plastic bag in 2007.
- In 1990, Virginia volunteers picked up 30 pounds of balloons; by 1991 a law was passed to prohibit mass balloon releases.
Another way to track the source even further back is by working directly with the industries that manufacture these items. Decreasing landfill space in Europe sparked a trendy tactic called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), designed to promote the integration of environmental costs associated with goods throughout their life cycles into the market price of the products. Basically necessitating that the manufacturer covers the costs of recycling or proper disposal, and makes sure it happens.
Innovative Industry changes we have seen:
- Coca Cola created a 30% plant-based soda bottle in 2009.
- Pepsi launched their 100% plant-based soda bottle in March.
- Electrolux is making vacuum cleaners out of photo-degraded plastic bits from the Eastern Pacific Gyre.
- Nike gave their 2010 World Cup soccer teams jerseys made from 100% recycled polyester. They collected 13 million plastic bottles from Japanese and Taiwanese landfills, melted to produce yarn, converted to fabric for about 8 bottles per shirt.
- Jack Johnson displaced 55,000 plastic water bottles on his 2010 US summer tour by providing water stations with filtered water.
Locally, businesses can get involved in being a part of the solution and data collection effort by sponsoring a beach cleanup through Coastkeeper. In April, Earth Month, seven of our 11 cleanups are with local organizations or corporations (Pepsi, Peregrine Semiconductors, Cox Communications, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Source 44, 31st Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation, as well as partnering on an event with Whole Foods.
All marine initiatives depend on residents who understand why the ocean needs to be protected and preserved in order to build the connection and motivation for how. The Ocean Conservancy’s report is a wonderful resource to help inform communities and it is available to be shared. Coastkeeper makes cutting edge ocean and water-related information readily available both online as well as through our quarterly Signs of the Tide outreach events. Fortunately, because of our data from inland and coastal beach cleanups, coupled with the geographically broad data supplied by the International Coastal Cleanup Day, our approach to tackling marine debris has become much more sophisticated. As long as the volunteers keep coming to help collect this essential data, we can continue protecting and preserving our waterways.