For World Cleanup Day, Join a Brand Audit!

International Coastal Cleanup Day is Sept. 21 and Plastic Pollution Coalition encourages individuals and groups to sign up to join or host a brand audit near you.

What’s a brand audit?

The Break Free From Plastic movement is mobilizing people all over the world to participate in the 2019 Brand Audit to hold corporations accountable for their role in creating the plastic pollution crisis. We’re coming together at beaches, parks, streets, and beyond to calculate who exactly is responsible for plastic waste. We’ll then use this data to get to the root of the plastic pollution problem.

In 2018, 9,000 volunteers across 6 continents came together to organize 239 brand audit cleanups. They found 187,851 pieces of plastic pollution. Based on the audit results, the 2018 top polluters were Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestle. (Read the 2018 Brand Audit Report here.)

Here’s what you can do:

How to make your cleanup and brand audit plastic-free:

Inspire a wave of change at your local cleanup and brand audit by refusing single-use plastic! Plan ahead with these tips.

  • Before the event, send reminders to volunteers to bring their own water bottle.

  • Fill up a reusable container with water to refill volunteers’ water bottles as needed.

  • Encourage volunteers to bring reusable work gloves to protect hands.

  • Bring plastic-free snacks such as fruit for volunteers. You can be reimbursed for food via microfunds (instructions above).

Enjoy your event! Be sure to use #plasticpollutes #brandaudit2019 and #breakfreefromplastic on social media.

Join our global Coalition.

by Dr. Sandra Curtis

Cigarette butts continue to be the number one item collected in shoreline cleanups worldwide. The numbers are dramatic.

“. . . As in previous years, cigarette butts—which contain plastic filters—topped the list at approximately 2.4 million collected,” said Nicholas Mallos, director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas® program. “Over the years, we have seen plastics creeping into the top-ten list, displacing items like rope, beverage cans, and paper bags. But this is the first year that all ten of the top-ten items collected are made of plastic. Given that plastic production is rising, this could be the start of a long and troubling trend.”

Cigarette Butts Health Risk 3

The European Environment Agency (EEA) released new data about litter found specifically on Europe’s beaches. Based on nearly 700,000 collected items, disposable plastics are the biggest contributor to marine litter, with cigarette butts and filters being the most commonly found individual items.

Cigarette Butts Health Risk

Cigarette filters are made of non-biodegradable cellulose acetate from cutting, forming, and polishing sheets of plastic. Trillions of these add-ons to cigarettes (4.5 trillion) are discarded annually. The environmental toxicity of cigarette butts on fish has been demonstrated. The butts take up to 15 years to disintegrate. Similar to the fiberglass insulation used in attics, the filters keep fingers cool while smokers efficiently deliver nicotine to their brain and heart within three seconds.

Where did cigarette butts come from? Curiously, filters were invented by the tobacco industry as a ploy to improve the damning research on the hazardous health effects of smoking. Responding to evidence of a link between lung diseases and smoking in the 1950’s, the tobacco companies began promoting filtered cigarettes as a “safer” alternative.  

In 1952, the Kent Micronite cigarettes had a filter that sucked particles out of the smoke but the Micronite contained asbestos fibers that were far more dangerous than tobacco smoke. Philip Morris promised that an antifreeze chemical (diethylene glycol) in the mouthpiece would take “the FEAR out of smoking.” And DuPont scientists tried to trap harmful particles with new fabrics, including Dacron, the same polyester that allowed for wrinkle-free pantsuits.

By the 1960s, filtered cigarettes dominated the market, however, since the nicotine delivery of these filtered cigarettes was less, smokers began inhaling longer and deeper to get the same nicotine hit.  

An accompanying change in lung cancer diagnoses from smoking developed with the advent of filters. The incidence of adenocarcinoma (AC) increased much more rapidly than squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) in both men and women. The reason for this increase is due to the filter’s ventilation action by: 1) altering tobacco combustion, thereby increasing smoke toxicants; 2) allowing for elasticity of use so that smokers inhale more smoke to maintain their nicotine intake; and 3) causing a false perception of lower health risk from “lighter” smoke.

A similar marketing ploy has been used by the tobacco companies to promote e-cigarettes, publicizing them as a means to safer smoking.

A similar marketing ploy has been used by the tobacco companies to promote e-cigarettes, publicizing them as a means to safer smoking. This past Feb., the first study documenting the long-term health damage from e-cigarettes was released. The results showed that smoking these supposedly safer alternatives actually double the risk of heart attacks with daily use.  

“E-cigarettes are widely promoted as a smoking cessation aid, but for most people, they actually make it harder to quit smoking, so most people end up as so-called ‘dual users’ who keep smoking while using e-cigarettes,” said pioneering tobacco researcher, Dr. Stanton Glantz. “The new study shows that the risks compound. Someone who continues to smoke daily while using e-cigarettes daily has an increased risk of a heart attack by a factor of five.

Cigarette Butts Health Risk 2

Instead of getting smokers to switch from conventional cigarettes to e-cigarettes or quitting altogether as had been the hope of some scientists and policymakers, e-cigarettes have been reducing the likelihood that people will quit smoking, while expanding the nicotine market by attracting more youth to start.

Use by high school and middle-school students is on the rise.  “Vaping” is now the most popular form of tobacco use among teenagers in the U.S. E-cigarette use rose by 900 percent among high school students from 2011 to 2015. In 2016, over 2 million middle and high school students had tried e-cigarettes. For those aged 18 to 24 years, 40 percent of vapers had not been smokers before using the device. The U. S. Surgeon General issued a specific report on youth and e-cigarettes in 2016.

From an environmental perspective, e-cigarettes are not yet showing up in quantities like cigarette butts during beach cleanups.  Last year Ocean Conservancy showed 4 data points in their annual survey – 2 from the U. S. and 2 from the U.K.  Nick Mallos, Director, Trash Free Seas® Program recently shared his opinion that “we’ll see more and more of these devices in years to come as folk’s transition from traditional cigarettes to e-distribution.” He noted they can track them during this year’s Cleanup and preliminary data would be available later in Nov./Dec.

Several components of e-cigarettes are plastic and designed to be disposable, like the cartomizer that comes preloaded with e-liquid. The cartomizer consists of a metal or plastic casing which houses a single of dual coil atomizer wrapped in a generous roll of polyfill (more plastic) material that absorbs the e-liquid. Cartomizers were originally designed as disposables but can be refilled and used several times. For financial reasons, most companies discourage refilling. Other parts to the e-cigarette are either plastic, glass, or metal which will eventually end up in the waste stream.

Recent research warns that e-cigarettes are a potential source of exposure to toxic metals like Chromium (Cr), Nickel (Ni) and Lead (Pb) as well as other metals that are toxic when inhaled – Magnesium (Mn) and Zinc (Zn).   

Given the statistics of increased use, and more research studies being conducted, it is highly likely that growing health challenges and environmental impacts from e-cigarettes will surface.

Read the facts on plastic pollution.

Join our global Coalition.

As part of the #breakfreefromplastic global movement, organizations are launching a series of coastal cleanup activities in Asia, Europe, and North America and calling for corporate accountability in conjunction with International Coastal Cleanup Day on Sept. 16.

In a press release, GAIA announced:

Philippines-based member organizations under the #breakfreefromplastic movement begin a 2 week-long coastal cleanup in Manila Bay this week, particularly in the Freedom Island (Las Pinas Paranaque Critical Habitat Ecosystem Area or LPPCHEA). An estimated two-hundred participants will work for 10 days to conduct a massive cleanup of this stretch with the aim of pushing for greater accountability for corporations who are mainly responsible for single-use plastics ending up in oceans, roads, and waterways.

“Through the series of beach cleanup activities on Freedom Island and in other parts of the world, we hope to highlight the role of corporations responsible for the manufacture, distribution, and proliferation of low-value, non-recyclable packaging and the single-use, disposable plastic products that often end up on the beaches and in the oceans. Whether they like it or not, the companies and brands associated with these products are already being associated with plastic pollution,” said  Von Hernandez, Global Coordinator of the #breakfreefromplastic movement.

Fishing communities who live near and around Freedom Island also report that their fishing livelihoods have been dramatically impacted by plastic pollution. Sonny Malubag, once a fisherman and now a director of a local cooperative in the area, decries how plastic pollution has hurt their fishing livelihoods. “I have been a fisherman since 1992. Back then, the garbage problem in our seas was not yet rampant. Now, whenever fishermen cast their nets in Manila Bay, more than half of what they catch are plastic cutleries and wrappers,” he said.

In North America, three #breakfreefromplastic member organizations are collaborating to raise awareness about the problem of beach pollution on Venice Beach, Los Angeles, California on September 16. McDonald’s has been reported to be continuously using polystyrene and expanded polystyrene foam, a highly polluting form of plastic. To shine a spotlight on styrofoam, collected polystyrene will be sent to California state legislators with a call to ban polystyrene and expanded polystyrene for good.

In Europe, groups in France, Germany, Bulgaria, Croatia, Italy, and Macedonia are also preparing for a series of cleanup activities in the region also with the aim of influencing the outcome of the Our Oceans conference slated in Malta on October 5-6.

And #breakfreefromplastic makes its debut In the Russian Arctic with a cleanup event organized by the Slava Foundation on September 27 in the Murmansk Sea.

Learn more about the coastal cleanup in Venice Beach, CA. 

#breakfreefromplastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in September 2016, over 900 non-governmental organizations from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. These organizations share the common values of environmental protection and social justice, which guide their work at the community level and represent a global, unified vision.