TEDx Tackles Plastics

Last weekend the Plastic Pollution Coalition hosted a TEDx event in Santa Monica on the Not So Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  The gathering was well attended by celebrities (Jackson Browne, Ben Lear, Daphne Zuniga and Ed Begley Jr.), explorers (Dr. Sylvia Earle, Charlie Moore, Fabien Cousteau and David De Rothschild) and numerous other environmental leaders fighting against the scourge of plastic pollution.

The well-produced evening beamed via webcast globally and included a blend of dramatic footage from plastic contaminated gyres (including a short film from the 5 Gyres expeditions from Marcus Ericsen and Anna Cummins), performances from Lear, Browne and others, and solutions-oriented talks from such Heal the Bay friends as Long Beach Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal, Lisa Boyle and Leslie Tamminen.

Attendees also saw the unveiling of an ad campaign from Leo Burnett that asks people to become citizens of the Crapola Islands (also known as the Pacific Garbage Patch) – the only nation we want to disappear.

Two speakers presented potential solutions that won’t have a positive impact on the global marine debris crisis.  Patrick Kenney of Green Harvest Technologies spoke about a green future with bioplastics.  Although there are many eco-advantages to bioplastics, especially in areas with effective composting programs, solving the plastic pollution problems in our oceans is not one of them.

Bioplastics do not degrade quickly in the ocean due to low temperatures and low densities of degrading bacteria. They are part of the problem, not a solution.  Ferris Thompson attempted to wow the audience by announcing a new $10M X-Prize for the team that develops a degradable, non-toxic and environmentally safe plastic that meets degradability standards for oceans and freshwater.  This prize misses the point.  Unless the winning plastic is water soluble (that would limit its use pretty dramatically), littered eco-plastics will still cause major environmental blight and wreak havoc on marine life.

The program was depressing because it underscored that the rate of plasticizing our ocean is certainly not decreasing, yet it was uplifting too with success stories being brought to us from the Director General of the Environmental Management Authority in Rwanda, Dr. Rose Mukankomeje.  Two young environmental advocates — Jordan Howard from Lawndale’s Environmental Charter High School and JD Russo, the junior member of the Plastic Pollution Coalition’s Advisory Council — also provided optimistic testimony.

The most inspirational speaker (with apologies to the always inspiring Van Jones and Her Deepness, Dr. Earle) was Beth Terry, an accountant that has gone to the Herculean and often humorous effort to make her life plastic free.

After the TEDx event, I felt pretty good about the work people are doing to stop plastic pollution in our oceans.  That ended this week, with the Sacramento Bee running an article about the political lobbying expenditures of the American Chemistry Council and the Hilex Poly Corporation to defeat California’s bag ban bill, AB 1998.

The ACC (membership is a lot more than Dow, Monsanto and Exxonmobil) dropped $942K and Hilex spent a cool $1.08 million from July 1 to Sept. 30 to kill the bill.  Hilex, the South Carolina-based $500-million-a-year plastic bag manufacturer and recycler, runs 10 factories, none of them in California.  I guess company president and CEO Stan Bikulege wasn’t too worried about losing California jobs after all.  I’m sure Hilex dropped a few more hundred grand on trying to elect plastic bag loving state senators.

It’s nice to see that South Carolina petro-plastic producers have taken such an interest in California civics.

Although Texas oil companies didn’t succeed in obliterating California’s climate change law, Chevron was successful in emasculating AB 32 through underwriting Prop. 26. And the plastic industry continues to buy state legislature support to preserve our right to pollute the environment and threaten the lives of infants and toddlers in the name of convenience and more rigid, yet pliable baby bottles.

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One Response

  1. Gotta love the ACC — they even took the time to issue a Press Release on #TedxGP2.

    Here’s an excerpt I found particularly amusing:

    “There is much to be done to prevent plastics from becoming marine debris in the first place…Effective solutions will require cooperation on community-based, regional and international partnerships. That’s why plastic makers are working diligently with elected officials, community leaders, nonprofit groups, and corporate decision makers to tailor and expand recycling programs and bolster anti-litter education. ”

    Yes, much to be done — other than cut down on the plastic itself.

    I wonder how the amount of money they spend fighting effective legislation like AB 1998 compares with their spend on education. But more importantly, how do those dollars compare in terms of effectiveness. In one bucket, they have only to influence a few legislators — in the other, they have to change the minds of 250+ million consumers, tens of thousands of cash-strapped municipalities and our entire industrial production life-cycle system from cradle to grave.

    The entire release can be read here for laughs and giggles:

    American Chemistry Council

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