Surfrider launches a local campaign to reduce non-biodegradable marine debris.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Floating translucent, shape-shifting with the currents, a plastic bag can look a lot like a jellyfish to a hungry turtle. And a bottle cap can seem like a snack to an adult albatross, likely to fly home and regurgitate the trash into its chick’s delicate gut.
With the exception of the small amount that’s been burned, every piece of petroleum-based plastic manufactured since the 1950s—billions of disposable drinking cups, toothbrushes and lighters, packages for toys and snacks—still exists. Less than 5 percent of it has been recycled; much more sits in landfills. And an incalculable amount that washes down storm drains or litters beaches ends up in the sea, forever.
Not only is plastic debris an eyesore and a threat to wildlife, it also poses a health threat to people and pets: Plastics leach chemicals, such as bisphenol-A and phthalates, that have been linked to reproductive and developmental disorders. Recently, pets that have eaten food contaminated by melamine, an ingredient in plastic kitchenware, have died.
During Surfrider Foundation’s monthly beach cleanups, volunteers pick up plastic trash along the county’s coastline. In an effort to reduce the amount that ends up on beaches and in the ocean, the nonprofit’s new “Plankton, Not Plastics” campaign encourages a shift toward biodegradable materials through public outreach, education, and government lobbying.
In one case, the effort may be as simple as enforcing a long-forgotten policy. In 1989, the City of Pacific Grove adopted a resolution discouraging the use of Styrofoam, a type of plastic, for municipal purposes. But City Manager Jim Colangelo doubts that the city follows through today. “I think that it was done so long ago that it got lost in the shuffle,” he says. “Certainly we should make sure that we follow that policy.”
Another local institution has been more proactive. Several years ago, in response to a student petition, CSUMB’s food service company, Sodexho, switched the campus’ cafeteria plasticware to “bio-packaging” made from sugar, bamboo, corn, potato starch and soy. The biodegradable products cost 5 to 7 percent more than those made from paper and waxed plastic, but the company absorbed the extra cost without raising prices.
Even better is not throwing biodegradables away at all. Surfrider encourages people to bring their own re-usable mugs to coffee shops, canvas bags to grocery stores, and Tupperware to restaurants. As local Surfrider chair Ximena Waissbluth notes, the “Bring Your Own” movement is gaining legislative traction: San Francisco recently banned plastic grocery bags, and the state Assembly is poised to consider four bills aimed at keeping plastic pollution out of the sea.
Sitting on a bench at Asilomar State Park, Waissbluth says she’s made marine debris reduction her personal crusade. “I walk the dog, pick up his poop and pick up plastic pollution,” she says, holding up a blue bottle cap that she plucked from the sand minutes earlier. “This could be eaten by an albatross in seven years, but now it’s not. I look at this and say, ‘One less piece.’”
SURFRIDER DISCUSSES MARINE DEBRIS AND BIO-PACKAGEING 7-9pm Thursday, April 26, at the Monterey Senior Center, 280 Dickman Ave., Monterey. FREE. 644-6110.