The following article by David Suzuki (with contributions by Senior Editor Ian Hanington) is entitled We have to stop filling and killing the oceans with plastic. It has been circulated by email by the David Suzuki Foundation. “What we do to the oceans and the life therein, we do to ourselves” observes Suzuki. I’m pleased to publish it on BoomerWarrior. (Rolly Montpellier, Managing Editor).
Plastics are Killing the Oceans
Eight million tonnes. That’s how much plastic we’re tossing into the oceans every year! University of Georgia environmental engineer Jenna Jambeck says it’s enough to line up five grocery bags of trash on every foot of coastline in the world.
A study published by Jambeck and colleagues in the journal Science on February 12 examined how 192 coastal countries disposed of plastic waste in 2010. The report, “Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean”, estimates that of 275 million tonnes of plastic generated, about eight million (based on a midpoint estimate of 4.8 million to 12.7 million tonnes) ends up in the seas — blown from garbage dumps into rivers and estuaries, discarded on beaches or along coastlines and carried to the oceans.
China tops the list of 20 countries responsible for 83 per cent of “mismanaged plastic” in the oceans, sending between 1.32 and 3.53 million tonnes into the seas. The U.S., which has better waste-management systems, is number 20 on the list, responsible for 0.04 to 0.11 tonnes. Some countries in the top 20 don’t even have formal waste-management systems. The fear is that, as human populations grow, the amount of plastic going into the oceans will increase dramatically if countries don’t improve waste-management systems and practices — and reduce the amount of plastic they produce and use.
Scientists don’t know where most plastic ends up or what overall effect it’s having on marine life and food supplies. They do know that massive islands of plastic and other waste — some as large as Saskatchewan — swirl in five gyres in the north and south Pacific, north and south Atlantic and Indian oceans. But that’s only a small amount of the total.
Plastic is everywhere in our seas. It accumulates on the sea floor and in sediments, washes up on coastlines and is taken up by fish and other sea creatures. It affects birds, fish, mammals and other marine life. It eventually breaks down into smaller bits, which can look like fish eggs and get eaten by marine animals, but it never biodegrades. Those particles, or microplastics, just keep building up. They also absorb and concentrate toxic chemicals, poisoning the animals that consume them. Studies show that 44 per cent of all seabird species have plastic in and around their bodies, and fish, birds, turtles and whales often become fatally entangled in plastic waste.
Even the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which went down over the South China Sea in March 2014, was confounded when investigators looking for crash evidence kept finding plastic debris.
Humans depend on healthy oceans for food, water, air, recreation and transportation. Oceans contain more than 97 per cent of the planet’s water and produce more than half the oxygen we breathe. They also absorb carbon — important to reducing global warming. Half the world’s people live in coastal zones, and ocean-based businesses contribute more than $500 billion a year to the global economy.
What we do to the oceans and the life therein, we do to ourselves. So what can we do to keep them — and us — healthy?
The report’s authors say reducing “mismanaged” plastic waste, regulating the amount of plastics that enter the waste stream and improving waste-disposal methods in the top 20 offending countries are all essential. But, Jambeck notes, “It’s not just about improving the infrastructure in other countries. There are things we can do in our daily lives to reduce the amount of waste plastic we all produce.”
Canada’s relatively good waste-disposal and recycling systems keep us off the 20 worst offenders list — but we can still do better. Reducing the amount of plastic we use is the first step. For consumers, that means avoiding overpackaged goods and unnecessary plastic items, such as bottled water, single-serve K-cup coffee pods and disposable products. We must also get better at reusing and recycling. According to a report by the U.S. non-profit As You Sow, plastic is the fastest-growing form of packaging, and only about 14 per cent gets recycled.
Oceans and the life they support face numerous threats, from climate change to overfishing. Reducing the amount of plastic we dump into them is a challenge we can meet. Let’s get on it.
Rolly and any others interested in resolving the plastic pollution in oceans problem.
Ocean cleanup will not happen until and unless the polluting countries realize there is a way to clean them up that will work for them and in fact improve their economies as opposed to being a drain on their economies.
Would you like to know (or at least better understand) how the 3E innovation I’ve written to you about in the past can be a key technology for enabling many countries to begin cleaning up the oceans?
If so call 785-842-1943 for a phone conversation or email me at LBlevins@sunflower.com for a written explanation.
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Ocean plastic debris is not just blown willy nilly off landfill sites! That would be a much smaller percentage than what is present in the ocean.
The problem is not the plastic bags and containers that we use (although that could be considerably less than we currently have).
The problem is the human attitude to waste products.
In first world countries, we have been trying to educate people on proper disposal, through concentrated recycling programs. Many people try to do just that, but the local receptacles for collection must be in convenient locations. The recycling programs must be effective.
Many Western countries are now charging for plastic grocery bags. While this helps to reduce waste and help to fund recycling programs, it does not eliminate our reliance on plastic for storage or packaging.
Third world countries that have come into contact with ‘plastics’ in recent times, really have no idea how to dispose of them properly. They treat them exactly as they did with their natural forerunners.
Case in point: In South East Asia, food sold as ready snacks from street vendors, was traditionally wrapped in banana leaves and tied with a rafia type of string. Once the snack was eaten, the banana leaves and twine were tossed into the undergrowth to decompose naturally. Nowadays, snacks are always served in plastic bags and it is the plastic that ends up thrown into the undergrowth or into a river (from a boat). It is not an isolated problem, I see it everywhere because there are no litter bins in public spaces and no-one to maintain them. The elderly are actually the worst offenders.
The problem of safe plastic disposal can be resolved with education and public spending on recycle programs.
The problem of plastic on beaches can be solved with community clean-uo programs.
Larger plastics and fishing line can be retrieved from the sea with special gathering methods http://www.seadocsociety.org/california-lost-fishing-gear-removal-project/
The problem of plastic already disintigrating in the sea is a bigger problem. Plastic breaks down into minute particles as small as plankton. Sea creatures mistake these tiny bits of plastic as food. Ingesting them results in their deaths. We desperately need to find a solution for this… Any suggestions?
Plastics in the oceans are particularly alarming as you point out in your last paragraph. You are certainly well positioned to speak about the plastic problem because of your extensive travelling. You’re seeing it first hand. Plastic is everywhere and it’s now reaching previously unaffected areas in third world countries. Just another facet of the menacing environmental degradation we now face.
But as you point out, there are solutions.
Thank you for your comments Colette.
The solution I propose (and offer a means to implement) would allow countries who are most responsible for the pollution to pay citizens to collect plastic and turn it in at collection centers and pay those with fishing boats to go out and collect plastic debris from the open ocean and bring it back to shore and be paid for doing so. This is the most efficient way to clean up such pollution and change peoples attitudes about discarding plastic wastes at the same time.
Putting a price on retrievable plastic does help of course, and people do respond somewhat to that aspect. However, it doesn’t cure the problem of plastics entirely.
I have seen people collect up plastic bottles in Thailand. They do get money from the recycling centres ( there are a few, but they are very low tech places where all sortingis done by hand). It doesn’t solve the problem of collection of the tiny bits of plastic that are ignored (too small to be bothered picking it up).
In California, http://plasticbank.org/ is an organisation that can turn waste plastic into useable material for 3D printers. This I think, is an admirable project with a useful (and environmentally cleaner) end product.
Les, no offense, but turning plastic into biofuel (as you menton in your 3E solution), doesn’t really meet my criteria of changing to cleaner technologies. While many plastics have biological chemistry in their make-up, the majority of them are petroleum based and as such, turning them back into fuel sounds counter productive in a world that needs to cut carbon emissions.
Long-term, we need to find a fully biodegradable alternative to plastic – a sort of edible product that turns back into a sustainable food source for bacteria present in the soil.
Colette, no offense, but I wasn’t really trying to meet your criteria of changing over to cleaner technologies as much as offer a viable solution. And your arguments against my proposal fall apart upon close examination. For example the argument that my proposed solution “doesn’t solve the problem of collection of the tiny bits of plastic that are ignored (they being too small to be bothered picking it up)” when you understand that all larger pieces of plastic disintegrate over time into tiny bits and if the bigger pieces are collected it soon stops the supply of the tiny pieces. Also you mentioned the sorting issue but again my solution solves that problem as no sorting is required. If a means of making it feasible to collect the plastics from the beaches and the open ocean is what is needed and my solution provides that I need not worry about doubts of anyone.
“Basically, the technology for disposing of waste hasn’t caught up with the technology of producing it.” ~ Senator Al Gore 1992 ‘Earth In The Balance’ pg. 148
“The country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable
energy will lead the 21st century.” ~ President Barack Obama
“A fundamental rule in technology says that whatever can be done
will be done” ~ Andy Grove, Co-founder of Intel
The first sentences of the article says; “Eight million tonnes. That’s how much plastic we’re tossing into the oceans every year! University of Georgia environmental engineer Jenna Jambeck says it’s enough to line up five grocery bags of trash on every foot of coastline in the world.” My proposal would result in people having the monetary incentive to fill those plastic bags with plastic litter and take it to a nearby mobile plastic processing unit where the plastic would be weighed and the person handing it over would be paid a few pesos and the plastic would be converted to pyro-oil and when the tank is filled it would be taken to a central plant for further processing it into any one of several higher value end products that can be derived from petroleum oil.
what a sad picture, but it is only a start of showing the destruction that humanity has done to the whole world
Thank you Dad 4 the Future. Indeed very sad to see what humanity is doing.
It’s the Age of Stupid everyday.
Of all the creatures on this planet, the human species is the most destructive and dangerous of all animals. Clearly, I’m stating the obvious. If we humans did not know any better, then I suppose I could somehow rationalize this shameful behavior. But for the most part, we do know better and yet we keep on doing it. We continue to dump garbage and litter our road sides and country lanes.
We continue to dump crap of all kinds in the oceans. One does not need a college degree to know that is wrong. Intuitively or instinctively, all humans – educated or uneducated, in developed or undeveloped countries, young or old, male or female – know that dumping a plastic container in the ocean or any waterway is wrong.
What is wrong with us?
Rolly: I agree with what you are saying but I still have this question for you; are we just going to continue lamenting the situation or shall we put in place a fix? If you prefer the former I’m through here, or if you prefer the latter lets resolve to proceed and focus on following through with that.
Les – Of course I don’t prefer the former. And yes it’s much easier to lament a situation than to do something about it. The magnitude of the problem humanity faces is such that many fixes are needed to “put in place a fix” as you say. Your solution may very well be part of the bigger puzzle.
I support what you’re doing but I do not personally have the kind of capital to invest is such a project. In my view, this needs private sector as well as strong government support in order to succeed. I’m sure you’ve already pursued those avenues. Perhaps you would like to share that with us.
Last night I attended and participated in a consultation by the Ontario government (where I live in Canada) which is leading up to the announcement of a Climate Action plan in the next couple of months. Ontario will be implementing a carbon pricing plan as well as other climate action measures. I say this to show that we do need to tackle climate change from many different angles.
Thanks Les for continuing to share your experience.
Led, I know your question wasn’t to me, but it sounds very confrontational to me, and I for one, am offended by that.
I have looked at your web site… As far as I can see, you are just offering a big “firebox” that claims to burn anything combustible (presumably cleanly -although there is scant evidence of that on your website.
Paying people to collect plastic so I can heat my home (the theory of that, I understand, has potential for larger projects), doesn’t sound solution oriented to me.
Most people here ( well me, I can’t speak for everyone), are here to ponder the questionsof how to change social
thinking so we are not producing the ppollution problems in the first place.
If you want to sell your fledgling product, you might do well to contact municipal and town councils who are in the business of garbage collection.
If you have the perfect solution to waste plastic, as you say, the town councils should be clambouring at your door.
Sorry everyone, if I’m out of line… I just don’t like to be bullied with “put-up or shut-up” sorts of arguments.
It’s all part of a healthy and vigorous debate Colette. You are not out of line by expressing your opinion. Nor is Les out of line for being persistent with his project.
I would like to offer a different solution to Les Blevins “solution.” So far, many governments (especially in Europe) are putting a charge on grocery bags (roughly 10¢ Can) so that people cut dowm. That works somewhat. In stores that already do this, about half of clientele buy the bags, the other half bring reuseable cotton, or nylon bags. I made ours out of a durable woven fabric, triple-sewing the seams. They carry a huge amount of weight and give us quite a bit of weight bearing excersise in walking home. They have lasted for six years of continuous use.
Moving on…all plastic containers for all food stuffs, should have returnable deposits at the issuing stores. Could be done by grade of plastic and weight …this would work in third world countries where locals do not travel far from home or store. Given how bag use works, about half of people would take advantage of “getting their money back). In third world countries, it might be more…really poor people will gather up other peoples rubbish to take to their local store on their next visit. The money back could also be value-added with a points system or in-house bargains for every $’s worth of plastic.
In some Asian countries, the American ” 7/11″ store chain, and the British ” Tesco” chain have little convenience stores everywhere. Very easy access for locals without transportation, so no need to burden poor municipalities. The stores could send the plastic directly to companies they contract with to produce new plastic products.
There is still the problem that some people will not reuse or return plastic (Human Nature being what it is!). This is where governments must step in and penalise heavily. It can be done, either by choice or through heavy fines (for lack of compliance).
The problem (as Rolly states), is not that there aren’t solutions. There problem is only lack of will by average people to be “bothered.” Laziness is killing the planet.
What is wrong with us? We are Selfish!
I have based the above comments on the fact that we do not yet have cost-effective replacements for “plastic.” Glass is not practical for everything ( and energy dependent to make). Paper will take too much forest which we can no longer afford.
I believe the plastic we have, should be recycled into more plastic, eliminating the need for so much virgin product. I do not believe that recycling it into fuel for cars, home furnaces and so on, is what we should do. I think it creates even more demand for virgin
Plastic , a bit like our need for biofuels has only created even more forest destruction and species extinction just to grow biofuel crops (monoculture is bad for biodiversity).
We have to start looking at all the impacts of what we do. It is not just about profiting everyone in the chain…we must look at the life of this planet as a whole ecosystem and stop being selfish!
While this isn’t talking about plastics, the principles of collectionand reuse are the same.
A circular economy could work, if we all participated in the principles. If you never actually own something, (we certainly don’t own planet earth), but pay for the use of something and then return it for recycling when its useful life is over, our economies can stop the waste! The cost savings are enormous both financially and biologically for the planet. All users are required to return product – the would be in violation of any contract, if they decided just to discard their product and stop paying for its use.
Watch the video…the idea is very simple!
I agree; “A circular economy could work, if we all participated” but when it comes to reusing mixed plastic waste like is shown on the beach in this blog it simply is not realistic and it isn’t going to happen without the sort of technology based solutions my firm is offering. The reason is no other fuels processing technology can be mobile and taken to the resource and operated as a pyrolysis reactor. When polluting nations avail themselves of this novel technology it will have the effect of bringing all the people to participation in the process of enabling a closed loop society and unless and until all the people are on board none will be on board. I further am quite convinced that dirty contaminated mixed plastic is not reusable in any other fashion because it would all need to sorted as to plastic types and cleaned before it could be reused again as plastic, but it would not have to be sorted nor cleaned to be used as feedstock in a mixed plastic waste to pyro-oil reactor based on my furnace technology which can be taken to the resource as it is being gathered and processed and then this mobile reactor can be taken to yet another location miles away.
Certain people here I believe are idealistic but definitely very naïve when it comes to fuels conversion tech but it they will take the time to research the issues they might be able to get up to speed. As for me I’ve been doing R&D&D work in fuels conversion science since the mid 1970s.
Les, Does your technology convert plastic waste to fuel without polluting the air?
I may be naive, but if you have been developing your project since the 1970’s, surely you’d have found a market for your technology by now? Your website shows no indication of having done so! Perhaps you should update it (your website) with details about successful installations.
If you are looking for investment, perhaps a crowd funding website is an option?
I will not bre able to comment here for the next few weeks ( to the relief of some, I’m sure 🙂
I will be without internet access while travelling along the Thai/Burma border.
Colette – how will you live without internet access for a few weeks? We will miss your online presence. Come back when you can.
Oh,before I disappear for a while, here is an article by James Greyson (someone intimately more qualified than I an definitely not naive).
To see James Greyson’s work, visit http://blindspot.org.uk/
And follow on twitter @blindspotting
James Greyson is Founder and Head of BlindSpot Think Tank. With over 20 years as a sustainability and security professional, James advances global system change to address otherwise intractable problems. James is a Research Fellow at Earth System Governance and Associate at MIT’s Climate CoLab. He advises Katerva‘s Impact Panel, the Resource Revolution Steering Group, Worthwild Crowdfunding platform and the International Biochar Initiative. Connect with James on Linkedin and twitter @blindspotting & @climate_rescue.
Thanks for all these links. I’m running for time right at this moment (what else is new??)but will get back to these and following James Greyson on social media.
The developed countries with “working waste management systems” send their (plastic) waste to developing countries with bad or no waste management, because they are “recyclable and reusable”. And after that we say that everything is under control and other countries have to take responsibility for their polluted oceans!
Thank you Brooke for your comments and welcome to BoomerWarrior.
Countries that are managing their plastic waste in a responsible manner are to be commended, as you say. But it doesn’t stop there. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other sound environmental practices which humanity needs to incorporate in its day-to-day activities to guarantee a future for the next generations.