Plastic Paradise

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

© Plastic Paradise

© Plastic Paradise

Thousands of miles away from civilization, Midway Atoll is in one of the most remote places on earth. And yet its become ground zero for The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, syphoning plastics from three distant continents. In this independent documentary film, journalist/filmmaker Angela Sun travels on a personal journey of discovery to uncover this mysterious phenomenon. Along the way she meets scientists, researchers, influencers, and volunteers whom shed light on the effects of our rabid plastic consumption and learns the problem is more insidious than we could have ever imagined.

“You See the Difference. A Turtle Does Not”

Imagine you are a hungry sea turtle that cannot tell the difference between a real jellyfish — a nutritious treat — and a floating plastic bag that very much resembles a jellyfish. Fooled by the illusion, you swallow the plastic bag — a deadly mistake. The plastic makes you feel so full that you unwittingly starve yourself to death!
The plastic in our seas kills hundreds of thousands of sea turtles and other marine life each year, as it is often mistaken for food.
Help protect marine biodiversity by adopting habits that minimise the use of plastic. Consider using a reusable shopping bag, avoiding single-use plastic items, looking for products and packaging made from renewable resources, choosing products with the least plastic packaging, and recycling what you can’t reuse!
This video was adapted from a viral MEDASSET poster that has been viewed by millions worldwide.
Animation by Thopis

Published on Jul 11, 2013
MEDASSET (Mediterranean Association to Save the Sea Turtles)

Marine Debris Prevention: it takes teamwork

By: Sherry Lippiatt, California Regional Coordinator

Saving Our Synthetic Seas, a traveling exhibition put together by The 5 Gyres Institute. Pictured from left to right is a Japanese vessel found floating in the North Pacific, masks cast from plastic, and the stomach contents of a camel that ingested rope and plastic bags.

Saving Our Synthetic Seas, a traveling exhibition put together by The 5 Gyres Institute. Pictured from left to right is a Japanese vessel found floating in the North Pacific, masks cast from plastic, and the stomach contents of a camel that ingested rope and plastic bags.

Hello from Long Beach, CA!

In mid-February, I was honored to participate in an event and panel discussion at the Aquarium of the Pacific highlighting plastics in the marine environment. The panel introduced the issue to the audience and talked about solutions, while the non-profit 5 Gyres Institute debuted a traveling exhibit on the impacts of ocean pollution.

Here are my take-aways from the evening:

It became clear that although marine debris seems like a relatively simple problem to solve – it’s visible, tangible, and comes directly from humans – the issue needs to be addressed at multiple levels. Meaning, to make great strides in preventing marine debris we need industry participation and innovation, effective policies grounded in sound science, and changes in consumer behavior.

It’s true that more research is needed to fully understand and measure the impacts of debris, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take action. While advances in science will help us identify better, more successful management strategies, there are easy changes we can make every day to make a huge difference. For example, reducing our consumption of single-use, disposable plastics is a great start. (See Ocean Conservancy’s Keep the Coast Clear website for more suggestions).

A big thank-you to the Aquarium of the Pacific, Algalita Marine Research Institute, 5 Gyres, and my fellow panelists from the NRDC and Packaging 2.0 for the inspiring discussion!

February 26, 2013
Marine Debris Blog

Marine Plastic Pollution Producer Responsibility Act Introduced by Assemblymembers Ben Hueso & Mark Stone

Leila Monroe’s Blog

Experience and scientific study both reveal that plastic now pollutes the farthest reaches of the world’s oceans.  From the deep seabed of the Arctic, to once-pristine coasts – from the local riverside parks to distant islands – globally, we produce far more plastic waste than is recovered or recycled.

While this is a global problem, we can accomplish a lot with leadership and action at the State level. We at NRDC are thrilled to be working with California Assemblymember Ben Hueso (D-San Diego), joined by Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay), who have introduced the Marine Plastic Pollution Producer Responsibility Act.

A 2012 study by the Convention on Biological Diversity found that 663 marine specieshave been impacted by marine litter through entanglement and ingestion—a two-thirds increase in species from a similar study in 1998.  And a 2012 report found that California’s coastal communities are spending more than $418 million each and every year to combat litter and curtail marine debris.

This Act will create benefits not only for our oceans, but also for tax payers and local governments that currently pay millions of dollars every year to manage excessive plastic packaging that often pollutes our environment.  The bill also encourages industry to use their power of innovation by making design changes that can eliminate the problem in the first place.

For decades, much of the effort toward solving the problem of “marine debris”–the general term for solid waste found in the ocean – has been in trying to educate people not to litter and to clean up the beaches.  But plastics production worldwide is increasing, and half of all plastic items are designed to be used once and then thrown away.  Our recycling infrastructure has not kept pace with the amount of disposable plastic packaging that is being produced, and this packaging often ends up as blight in the environment because it is lightweight, blows away, and is shipped all around the world to places where it is not being disposed of properly.

Because 60-80% of marine plastic pollution comes from land sources, resulting from inadequate waste management and inappropriate disposal, NRDC is helping to tackle this problem by uniting the expertise of both our ocean and our waste management experts.  The goal of AB 521 is to require that producers of plastic take their fair share of responsibility for infrastructure — such as recycling plants, full capture devices on stormdrains — needed to properly recycle materials or prevent them from reaching the marine environment.   This will then incentivize business to make better products – durable, reusable and truly recyclable products – rather than the disposable polluting plastics that are now so ubiquitous.

We are excited and very grateful to Assemblymembers Hueso and Stone for their leadership in launching a comprehensive solution to the problem of marine plastic pollution that threatens the California’s communities, economy, and environment.

February 21, 2013
Switchboard, from NRDC

Plasticized – An Oceanic Catastrophe



PLASTICIZED is a film that places the viewer aboard a transatlantic expedition, as if one of the crew, revealing the unembellished evidence that the human footprint has reached every corner of the earth, even if we have not been there.

Despite rumors of massive garbage islands, an immeasurable amount of plastic pollution of all sizes is floating throughout every major ocean in the world. With the numerous ghost nets of trash or larger windrows of rubbish dominating the the occasional headlines, tiny bits of plastic particulate from frail chunks is the overwhelming contaminant that is secretly infiltrating all levels of sea life like a cancer.

Every day the disposable single use items that we take for granted, such as bags, bottles and straws, just to name the tip of the plastic iceberg, find their way through mismanagement into the waterways and eventually the oceans, becoming part of the food chain. A cycle that inevitably comes round insidiously to our plates or worse, leaves our plates empty.

When conservative estimates are made in regard to the actual volume, the amount of plastic collecting in the sea is astounding. PLASTICIZED conveys a clear understanding of the issue through seeing the arduous mission cross an entire ocean from Brazil to South Africa.

With every nation, rich or poor, reaching further for dwindling resources at any cost, it is perplexing to see how we neglect one of our most precious and vital assets, the Ocean.

The South Atlantic Crew was comprised of lead scientist Dr. Marcus Eriksen, 5 Gyre researcher and education advisor Anna Cummins, Stiv J. Wilson 5 Gyres communications director, Chelsea Rochman studying the trophic effects of persistent organic contaminants’ adsorption to plastic debris in the marine environment, research scientist Bonnie Monteleone, Captain Clive Cosby and first mate Dale Selvam, Environmental Cleanup Coalition founder Richard “Sundance” Owen, ocean activist Mary Maxwell, with professional surfers James Pribram and Mary Osborne, and filmmaker Michael J. Lutman.

The crew spent 31 days at sea after leaving the beautiful port of Ilha Grande in Brazil in able to cross the South Atlantic Gyre on their way to Cape Town, South Africa. Their objective was to sample the seas with a trawling net every 60 nautical miles to document the amount and dispersal of plastic fragments throughout the ocean.


To find out more about the film, head to:

Go to to learn more about the topic of oceanic plastic pollution where you can also become part of the solution.

Contact to find out about the use of the film PLASTICIZED for education. It is available with English closed captioning as well as Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.

To Go: Plastic-Foam Containers, if the Mayor Gets His Way


It is the most humble of vessels for New York City foodstuffs, ubiquitous at Chinese takeout joints and halal street carts. In pre-Starbucks days, coffee came packaged in its puffy embrace.

But the plastic-foam container may soon be going the way of trans fats, 32-ounce Pepsis, and cigarettes in Central Park.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, whose regulatory lance has slain fatty foods, supersize sodas, and smoking in parks, is now targeting plastic foam, the much-derided polymer that environmentalists have long tried to restrict.

On Thursday, Mr. Bloomberg, in his 12th and final State of the City address, will propose a citywide ban on plastic-foam food packaging, including takeout boxes, cups and trays. Public schools would be instructed to remove plastic-foam trays from their cafeterias. Many restaurants and bodegas would be forced to restock.

In excerpts from his speech released on Wednesday, Mr. Bloomberg rails against plastic foam, even comparing it to lead paint. “We can live without it, we may live longer without it, and the doggie bag will survive just fine,” the mayor plans to say.

Call it the era of clamshell prohibition.

To become law, the ban would require approval by the City Council. The Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, suggested in an interview that she was open to a ban on plastic foam as part of a larger effort to increase recycling.

“It lives forever,” Ms. Quinn said. “It’s worse than cockroaches.”

The plastic foam used in food packaging is not actually Styrofoam, according to Dow Chemical, the company that makes Styrofoam. The company says its product is widely used as insulation, but not “in the manufacture of disposable foam products, such as cups, coolers, meat trays and packing peanuts.”

Officials at City Hall said a plastic-foam ban could save millions of dollars a year. Plastic foam, which is not biodegradable, can add up to $20 per ton in recycling costs when the city processes recyclable materials. The city handles about 1.2 million tons of food waste each year; the mayor’s office estimated that the city’s annual waste stream included about 20,000 tons of plastic foam.

New York led the nation in restricting smoking and sugary drinks, but the city is a relative latecomer to the antifoam trend: measures against the material are already in place in Los Angeles; Portland, Ore.; San Francisco and Seattle. Mr. Bloomberg has been only a sometime-ally of recycling advocates; early in his tenure, he called for the suspension of some recycling to save the city money.

Eric A. Goldstein, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York, hailed the foam plan as “an important step forward,” saying it would bring environmental and quality-of-life benefits to the city.

Plastic foam, Mr. Goldstein said, “is so brittle.” He added: “It breaks into these tiny pieces, and it’s not easy to clean up. Getting rid of it means our parks, our streets, our waterways, will all be cleaner.”

The restaurant industry, which has complained about overregulation by City Hall, offered a more measured response on Wednesday.

“We have to consider what the costs will be for both government and the business owners who make the city run,” said Andrew Moesel, a spokesman for the New York State Restaurant Association. He noted that containers made of paper can often be more expensive than their foam counterparts.

Mr. Bloomberg is not the first mayor of New York City to propose a crackdown on foam. In 1987, Mayor Edward I. Koch joined a campaign to encourage fast-food restaurants to reduce their use of the product. McDonald’s later phased out foam boxes from its restaurants.

Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal is one element of a larger environmental protection effort he plans to pursue during his final year in office. In his speech, he will also pledge to install 1,000 recycling containers on sidewalks, doubling the current number.

The percentage of waste that is recycled by the city has fallen during the Bloomberg administration, to 15 percent today, from 23 percent in 2001. Mr. Bloomberg, in his speech, will call for the city to achieve a 30 percent recycling rate by 2017.

He will also propose taking the first steps toward city collection of food waste for composting, starting with a pilot program on Staten Island.

A version of this article appeared in print on February 14, 2013, on page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: To Go: Plastic-Foam Containers in New York, if the Mayor Gets His Way.

February 13, 2013

Invisible Plastic: What happens when your garbage ends up in the ocean

Plastic is ubiquitous in our modern lives – a $17.6 billion industry in Canada alone that makes everything from shopping bags to packaging to clothing. It’s made our lives much more convenient and until recently we haven’t thought much about the fact that we throw a lot of it away after just one use, let alone what happens to the plastic that finds its way into the world’s oceans.

In Invisible Plastic, award-winning science writer Alanna Mitchell sets out on a quest to find out just what happens to plastic on the high seas. Her story is riveting, and essential reading for every concerned Canadian.

To get the full story, simply go to and subscribe for $1/week. “Invisible Plastic” is also available for single-copy purchase at or for $2.99.

Invisible Plastic

Invisible Plastic

On board the SSV Corwith Cramer, north of Bequia, Caribbean Sea

In the old-fashioned sense of the word, plastic means something that can change into something else. It’s pliable, transformative, maybe metaphoric, certainly shifty. In the modern sense, plastic is a substance made from crude petroleum engineered into chains of molecules so freakishly long that they are both supple and unbreakable.

Unknown at the beginning of the last century, uncommon until after the Second World War, plastics now permeate everyday life in ways we barely keep track of. We use these man-made molecules to wrap and carry food, mass produce juice and water containers, fashion intravenous bags and syringes and polar fleeces, insulate homes, make car parts and air bags and baby carriers, record music and even create artificial human hearts. It’s been said, with only a touch of exaggeration, that plastics make modern life possible.

And while some of these plastics are made to be useful for years, many are one-use wonders designed to be tossed away. The problem is that the very characteristics that make plastics versatile also make them immortal. While other materials eventually get broken down by bacteria or other processes into the minerals that made them, plastics don’t. They live on, breaking down only into smaller and smaller pieces of themselves.

Much of that plastic ends up in landfills, and scientists are increasingly worried about its effects on groundwater, human health and wildlife. But a vast amount also ends up in the ocean, making ever larger tracts of indestructible plastic trash in the great, living basins of the sea. The most famous, but not the only one or even necessarily the biggest, is the Pacific garbage patch north of Hawaii that news outlets have focused on in recent years. But scientists have found plastic litter in every single part of the ocean no matter how far from human civilization, from the floor of the Arctic Ocean to the surface of the waters surrounding Antarctica to the deepest reaches of the abyss, where it acts like a sponge soaking up toxic chemicals we have also dumped in the sea.

Plastics Makers: Litter and Marine Debris Are Solid Waste Management Problems

Contact: Jennifer Killinger (202) 249-6619

Plastic debris, washed off the city streets of Los Angeles, gathers at the mouth of the Los Angeles River. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Plastic debris, washed off the city streets of Los Angeles, gathers at the mouth of the Los Angeles River. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

WASHINGTON (February 15, 2013) – On February 14, 2013, the journal “Nature” published a commentary calling for plastic waste to be classified as hazardous. The American Chemistry Council (ACC) issued the following statement, which may be attributed to Steve Russell, vice president of plastics:

“America’s plastics makers agree that litter doesn’t belong in our oceans, waterways or any part of our natural environment. And, the global plastics industry has organized to combat the problem, sponsoring research and working in public-private partnerships. But the suggestions by the commenters in the journal Nature are neither justified nor helpful.

We agree that marine debris deserves serious attention; but it also deserves serious debate. The suggestion to classify plastic as hazardous waste does not reach that mark. The plastic products we use every day—from milk jugs, to food packaging and medical devices—are composed of stable, long-chain polymers. Plastics used in food contact and medical device applications are evaluated for safety by governments around the world. And the plastics identified by the authors as ‘higher priorities’ are used in durable applications (pipes, siding, roofing, refrigerators) which are not generally littered or found in the ocean.

Scientists have long understood that persistent organic pollutants (POPs) can bind to organic compounds, such as plastics; what is currently not known is whether pollutants bound to plastics are then bioavailable or a significant route for exposure to marine life. For example, NOAA has stated that ‘POPs have a high affinity for plastic in seawater. This is the basis for several POP sampling techniques, including passive sampling. While this high affinity results in elevated POP concentrations on microplastic particles, these POPs may not be readily bioavailable.

America’s plastics makers agree more research is needed on this subject, and we are supporting a comprehensive scientific review of this issue by the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP)2 working with international agencies and NOAA.

Moreover, in December the world’s leading plastics associations issued a Progress Report on the Global Declarationoriginally announced in March 2011 at the 5th International Marine Debris Conference. The Progress Report identifies more than 140 projects to prevent marine litter that are completed, underway or planned around the globe.”

For more information on efforts on marine litter please visit

1 NOAA Key Finding #5

2 Proceedings of the GESAMP International Workshop on Microplastic particles as a vector in transporting persistent, bio-accumulating and toxic substances in the ocean (June 2010)

February 15, 2013 ACC News Releases

Some plastics should be classified as hazardous, scientists say

By Kenneth R. Weiss

Plastic debris, washed off the city streets of Los Angeles, gathers at the mouth of the Los Angeles River. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Plastic debris, washed off the city streets of Los Angeles, gathers at the mouth of the Los Angeles River. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Less than half of the 280 million metric tons of plastic produced each year ends up in the landfill.  A fair bit of the rest ends up littering the landscape, blown by the wind or washed down streams and rivers into the sea.

So far Americans spend $520 million a year to clean up plastic litter washing up on West Coast beaches and shorelines. Efforts to clean up the oceans’ enormous swirling gyres of garbage has an incalculable cost. Thus, much of the focus has been on how to stop the river of trash from entering the ocean.

A team of 10 scientists has come up with an idea of how to make that happen: reclassify the most harmful plastic waste as hazardous material.  That simple adjustment, the scientists write in the journal Nature, could trigger sweeping changes in how environmental agencies clean up plastic waste, spur innovation in polymer research and replace problematic plastics with safer ones.

The United States, Europe, Japan and other nations classified plastic as solid waste, treating their disposal much like food scraps or grass clippings, said Mark Anthony Browne, a coauthor of the article. It’s an outdated view that plastics are inert, he said, ignoring scientific evidence in recent years including work of coauthor and doctoral student Chelsea M. Rochman that plastic debris is laden with highly toxic pollutants.

As plastic breaks down into microscopic fibers and specks, it can be inhaled or ingested by humans and wildlife. One study found that such microscopic fibers were present in human lung cancers. Seabirds that have consumed plastic waste have 300% greater concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in their tissues than other birds.

Governments have struggled to reduce plastic marine debris, with 134 nations banning the dumping of plastics by international convention in 1988. Yet it seems to have made little difference.

So the authors modeled their proposal after what has been arguably the most successful international environmental agreement in history: The classification of refrigerants called chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, as hazardous under the Montreal Protocol in 1989. Production of CFCs, which were burning a hole in the atmosphere’s protective ozone layer, stopped within seven years, and nearly 200 countries replaced 30 dangerous chemical groups with safer ones.

Rochman believes the same thing can happen if major plastic-producing nations were to take the first step of going after four types of plastics that are made of the most potentially toxic materials and are particularly difficult to recycle.

On the short list are: polyvinylchloride, or PVC, used in making plastic pipes; polystyrene, often known as Styrofoam and used in cups and clam-shell food containers; polyurethane, used in making furniture and car seats; and polycarbonate, a hard plastic used in making baby bottles, electronics and appliances.

Once that is done, the authors say, governments might look at other types of plastic that are not made of particularly hazardous materials, but act like sponges absorbing toxic pollutants once unleashed in the oceans.

“We feel,” the scientists write, “that the physical dangers of plastic debris are well enough established, and the suggestions of chemical dangers sufficiently worrying, that the biggest producers of plastic waste — the United States, Europe and China — must act now.”

February 13, 2013, 10:00 a.m.
Los Angeles Times

Plastics “Unwrapped” at University of Washington’s Burke Museum

By: Courtney Arthur, Marine Debris Research Coordinator

Marine debris

Marine debris

If you are visiting Seattle before the end of May, consider a trip to the University of Washington’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. The museum recently unveiled a new exhibit called– “Plastics Unwrapped,” which takes a look at the cultural changes that have led to the increasing use of plastics in the last 50 years.

The exhibit begins with our “life before plastics,” which looks at how we met challenges before plastics became commonplace before progressing onto the “science of plastics,” where it explores the manufacturing and insights into the future of plastics engineering.

Next, is the intersection of “health and plastics” in medical advances. The medical field has used plastics for life-saving endeavors over the past 50 years; however, medical supplies are also a large source of plastic waste. The exhibit presents this information with an almost sterile viewpoint which forces viewers to absorb the information without bias.

The exhibit then takes a turn to “waste and plastics,” which occupies a large portion of the space. An entire wall is covered with thousands of discarded, single-use plastic shopping bags – this definitely packs an emotional punch.

A wall filled with hundreds of single-use plastic bags

A wall filled with hundreds of single-use plastic bags

This kid-friendly exhibit, also features a creative and interactive “studio lab,” where museum-goers can combine science and art to produce something imaginative for reusing plastics.

The last theme of the exhibit is “rethink plastics,” which guides viewers through options for reducing our personal consumables, reusing, recycling, and advocacy resources.

This is definitely food for thought… even for those of us who have done a lot of thinking about plastics. It is refreshing to see a new take on the issue of plastics and society!

To learn more about the exhibit, check out the Burke Museum online:

February 15, 2013
Marine Debris Blog