Plastic Paradise

Heal the Bay's Kirsten James, left, and Sarah Sikich, right, enjoy a shave ice with their fellow eco-activist Leslie Tamminen. The group participated in the just concluded International Marine Debris Conference in Hawaii.

Today’s guest bloggers are Kirsten James, Heal the Bay’s Water Quality Director, and Sarah Sikich, Coastal Resources Director. Here they discuss their experience traveling to Hawaii last week and participating in the 5th International Marine Debris Conference.

Sarah: It’s unreal – spending a week in Hawaii for work! Not to mention meeting some of the leading researchers, government agencies, environmental organizations, and explorers working on marine debris and plastic pollution issues. Was there any research presented that you found particularly memorable?

Kirsten: It’s hard to pick just one presentation but one that stands out is the work being done by Dr. Jan A. van Franeker from the Netherlands.  He gave several revealing talks on his research with Northern Fulmars, a marine bird species. He found that in the North Sea, the “average” Northern Fulmar flies around with 0.3 grams of plastic in the stomach, rising to 0.6 grams in more polluted areas.  If you scale this bird up to the size of an average human, that would equal 30 grams of plastic, resembling a lunchbox full of plastic sheets, foams, threads and fragments!  How about you, did any of the presentations stand out?

Sarah: I’m glad to see how much research is being focused on endocrine disruptors and plastics. Many researchers in the field have raised concerns about whether chemicals associated with plastics are leaching into the tissues of wildlife and fish ingesting this trash. Previously little work had been done to determine whether this was actually occurring. Several scientists presented preliminary research at the conference showing that chemical plastic additives (like phthalates and Bisphenol A) and PCBs that stick to plastics are present in the tissues of animals that have ingested plastic materials. Potential hormone system disruption is also of concern. Pretty scary stuff.  But, at least we were learning about it in blissful, tropical Hawaii. How did the conference location influence your experience?

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L.A. County Blazes a Plastic Trail

The county's ban on plastic bags will help take tons of harmful trash out of local waterways like the L.A. River

In an interesting twist, Los Angeles County is the new statewide leader on breaking Californians’ 19-billion-a-year addiction to single-use shopping bags.  The Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 today to ban plastic and paper bags in unincorporated areas of the county and allow grocery stores, drug stores and convenience stores to charge a dime for green paper bags.  The ordinance is the farthest-reaching bag ban ordinance in California and should result in a 600 million-bag-a-year reduction in the county.

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Pay to Pollute

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Join Heal the Bay's phone bank to support Seattle’s plastic bag fee (click image to send e-mail).

Our good friends at the American Chemistry Council are at it again.  No, they aren’t spending a fortune fighting for babies’ rights to ingest carcinogens through leaching baby bottles and toxic toys.

This time the ACC is trying to buy an election in Seattle.

The petrochemical industry has dropped over $1million on a disinformation campaign to convince voters to oppose a 20-cent fee on plastic shopping bags when they visit the polls on August 18th. This is the most ever spent by an industry on an initiative in the city.

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Holy Trash

Israel is more like LA than I possibly imagined.

Both areas definitely suffer from the scourge of plastic pollution. From the iconic Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall in the old city of Jerusalem to the shores of Lake Kinneret, one can follow the histories of three great religions through trash. Important Muslim, Christian and Jewish historic sites were all tainted by plastic bags. Nothing was more disgusting than seeing the dirty diapers along the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

As a society, if we can’t protect and respect the holiest places on Earth, what does that say about humanity’s chances for providing effective environmental stewardship?

Note: This being the last of my Israel trip posts, you can read more at the Jewish Journal: No Easy Solution for Israel’s Water Problem.

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