New Research Shows The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is 3 Times the Size of France

New research published yesterday shows The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is growing exponentially and now covers 618,000 square miles of deep ocean, making it 3 times the size of France. This is four to 16 times larger than previous estimates. 

Leading the research was a team of scientists from The Ocean Cleanup, a PPC member organization, whose aim is to conduct a large-scale cleanup of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

“It is important to quantify it, to understand it and to monitor it to see how it has moved over time,” Laurent Lebreton, a French scientist and lead author of the study, told The San Francisco Chronicle. “Marine life is eating that, so all of this is going up the food chain … and ending up on our plates in some aspect.”

Founder of The Ocean Cleanup, Boyan Slat, has said the solution to the global plastic pollution problem cannot only be cleanup: “We’re pleased to see how many initiatives have been taken in the past few years to raise awareness of the ocean pollution problem. However, for our work in the deep ocean to succeed in the long run, it’s crucial that governments and other organizations speed up their efforts to mitigate the sources of the problem we aim to resolve.”

Dianna Cohen, co-founder and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition said: “We commend The Ocean Cleanup for the work they are doing to quantify and measure plastic pollution in The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Cleanup alone cannot solve the problem, but cleanup coupled with source reduction, stopping the flow of plastic into our environment, can and will lead us to a world free of plastic pollution.”

Photo: Some of plastic collected in The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Photo by The Ocean Cleanup. 

Take Action to stop plastic pollution.

Join our global Coalition. 

by Sandra Curtis, PPC’s Director of Innovative Projects

What’s that giant sucking sound emanating from Safe Harbor Marinas around the world?

CNN revived 1992 third party presidential candidate Ross Perot’s phrase, “the giant sucking sound?” in reference to the influx of college graduates returning to city centers and being a factor in the 2016 election.  But for this fortunate PPC staffer, that “giant sucking sound” signals one of the innovative arsenal of tools coming on the market to address plastic pollution in our nation’s waterways.

I had the good fortune to attend a demonstration of Seabin’s clean up technology at the Emeryville marina, across the bay from San Francisco, on a recent sunny afternoon. Pete Ceglinski, Seabin’s Co-Founder and Managing Director was demonstrating how the Seabin operates.

Once he lifted the catch bag to dump it over, Pete sorted through the debris and pulled out a few pieces of plastic, included a plastic nurdle. The Seabin can capture debris down to 2mm in size.

The brainchild of Australian surfers, Pete and his Co-founder & Director, Andrew “Turtle” Turton, the company was initially crowdfunded. Affixed to a dock, the unit’s pump runs on shore power creating a flow of water which sucks all floating rubbish and debris into a fiber bag before pumping the water back out. It catches everything floating from plastic bottles to paper, oils, fuel, and detergent. The Seabin can capture an estimated 1.5 Kgs of floating debris per day (depending on weather and debris volumes) including micro plastics like that small nurdle.

“It essentially works as a similar concept to a skimmer box from your pool filter,” said Seabin’s spokesman Richard Talmage. “But it’s designed on a scale to work and essentially attract all that rubbish within a location within a marine harbor.”

Seabins are currently installed in the following global locations:

  1. La Grande Motte, France
  2. Porto Montenegro, Montenegro
  3. Port Adriano, Spain
  4. Wartsila Corporation – Helsinki, Finland
  5. Butterfield Group – Hamilton Princess Marina, Bermuda
  6. Safe Harbor Marinas – Cabrillo Isle Marina San Diego, USA

With 64 marinas owned and counting, the plan is to install Seabin’s technology in all of Safe Harbor’s locations across America and also to implement the educational program in all locations with local schools.

The real solution:  Education

The Seabin Project has understood from the beginning that the Seabins are not the solution -education is. Consequently, they developed an open source education program based on interaction with and without the Seabin technology.

Seabin operates on a business motto of planned obsolescence – “To live in a world where we do not need Seabins.”

Working toward a world free of plastic pollution is something we ALL can support.

For local coverage, see this story in the local Emeryville Eye.

Take Action to stop plastic pollution.

Join our global Coalition. 

Meet Lilly, age 9, who moved from London, England, to the Netherlands a few years ago. An animal lover, Lilly is on a mission to stop plastic pollution from harming animals and the environment.

Lilly picks up discarded plastic and other waste all over her community and encourages her friends and neighbors to do the same. She explains: “When I was learning to count in Dutch, I counted 91 pieces of plastic [that I picked up] and I thought should I be happy or mad or sad about this?” 

To people who litter or don’t understand the problem of plastic pollution, Lilly says:  “Have they ever seen the way animals suffer when they eat this plastic?”

Lilly and her family recently founded Lilly’s Plastic Pickup to raise awareness about the problem. She’s already organized cleanups in her neighborhood, asked her local McDonalds to switch to paper tops and paper straws for their cups, and even stopped balloon releases. 

“One time we saw a picture of a baby puffin wrapped around in balloons and it made me very cross,” Lilly says. Lilly and her mother spoke to the local car company and convinced them to stop releasing balloons.

“Balloons are bad for birds and turtles too,” she explains. “Once they go up, they have to go down!”

Lilly has organized several cleanups in her community where she recruits her friends. “I’m trying to do something to convince my friends to save the entire planet!” 

“My real inspiration is grandpa because he loves the environment and does nature lessons at my school,” says Lilly. “I love my family because they support what I do. A little thing like picking up plastic can make a big difference!”

Cheers, Lilly!

Take Action to stop plastic pollution.

Join our global Coalition. 

By Elizabeth Glazner

Environmental advocacy groups looking for answers to the growing problem of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans have sparked a dialogue in recent months over variant strategies in how to deal with it.

Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and dozens of other groups, including Plastic Pollution Coalition, promote source reduction as the only viable long-term solution, questioning the efficacy of incineration and other land-based strategies. Yet in September 2015, Ocean Conservancy (OC) published a 48-page report, “Stemming the Tide: Land-Based Strategies for a Plastic-Free Ocean,” which heavily touted incineration for controlling plastic pollution.

Both GAIA and OC are keen on bull-horning the urgency of ocean plastic pollution as a major global threat. But there’s a massive inventory of plastic waste already on the planet that could quadruple by 2050, a consequence GAIA intends us all to avoid by stressing source reduction over cleanup and conversion, the options OC prefers.

In a summary of short, medium and long-term solutions outlined in their report, OC characterizes plastic pollution mitigation in terms of “waste-leakage measures,” while GAIA stresses the need for a “materials-efficient economy.”

In other words, OC is largely focusing on the effect, while GAIA is focusing on the cause, of ocean plastic pollution.

In a June 23 letter to supporters, GAIA’s International Coordinator Christie Keith wrote: “We have remained firm in our values and our conviction that incineration is not a solution to plastics pollution, and that it would in fact exacerbate the many problems that plastics cause to our health and environment.” She pointed out that, since the OC report “Stemming the Tide” came out, GAIA’s members, staff, partners, and friends have engaged in activities aimed at putting forth solutions “as the real pathway to reducing plastic pollution.” Some of those activities have included strategy meetings in Manila, Philippines and Washington D.C., and two meetings with OC that included leading zero waste, public health, and environmental justice community organizations in some of the countries targeted by the OC report (Philippines, Indonesia, and China, among others).

These are not companies that will support the kinds of solutions we really need, and they have a track record of making decisions with disastrous consequences for human rights, public health, and the climate.”

“We called for a reduction in plastic use and production rather than an approach that focuses purely on ‘waste management,’” Keith wrote. “We also shared the work that many communities and organizations are doing in their cities and countries on waste reduction, product redesign, recycling, and policy change.”

Keith also reported that in meetings with OC, “we expressed deep concern about these solutions being undermined by investments in incineration.” GAIA is skeptical that OC is faithful to the cause to which both organizations pledge an affinity — namely source reduction — given the corporate makeup of the steering committee that commissioned the report, which was drawn up by the McKinsey Center for Business and the Environment.

In an Open Letter to Ocean Conservancy issued shortly after “Stemming the Tide” was published, GAIA officials wrote: “This report asks us to manage an ever-increasing supply of plastics rather than shift the underlying economic problems with our ‘dig, burn, dump’ economy, as the corporations on the steering committee of this report (including Dow Chemical, the American Chemistry Council, and Coca Cola) all benefit from our current system. These are not companies that will support the kinds of solutions we really need, and they have a track record of making decisions with disastrous consequences for human rights, public health, and the climate.”

OC’s arsenal, as explained in their report, includes burning waste plastics in the regions where research indicates more than half comes from: Asia and Southeast Asia. Quoting the report, mitigation efforts include:

  • Short term — Accelerated development of collection infrastructure and plugging of post-collection leakage to create an almost 50 percent annual leakage reduction by 2020, which would also help ensure availability of sufficient waste feedstock to support waste treatment at scale;
  • Medium term — Development and rollout of commercially viable treatment options to convert over 60 percent of plastic waste to material or energy, using technologies that are already viable or can be developed at an accelerated pace. This would reduce leakage by nearly 16 percent by 2025, for a total reduction of 65 percent by that year;
  • Long term — Innovations in recovery and treatment technologies, development of new materials, product designs that better facilitate reuse or recycling, adoption of alternative food- and beverage-dispensing concepts, and adherence to the broader principles of circularity to ensure a more sustainable plastic life cycle.

OC estimates the initiatives combined “have the potential to essentially eliminate plastic-waste leakage from the priority countries by 2035.”

Reframing the problem

According to the report “The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics,” published January 2016 by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and presented at this year’s World Economic Forum, only about 5 percent of waste plastics are effectively recycled. Forty percent is landfilled, about a third may end up in the world’s oceans, and the rest is often incinerated.

GAIA’s Keith invited other environmental NGOs to sign on to the open letter her organization was generating that called out OC for their proposed plan that GAIA says “ends up promoting incineration in Asia as a supposed ‘solution’ to the problem of ocean plastics.

“[Their] ‘solutions’ are not solutions at all,” Keith wrote. “As our colleagues and friends in Asia have said, this mindset will certainly allow for more creation of waste.”  

The Story of Stuff Project Campaigns Director Stiv Wilson agreed. “The Story of Stuff Project as well as GAIA are deeply concerned about this approach to marine litter mitigation. The [Ocean Conservancy] report doesn’t address upstream solutions or source reductions, and is essentially calling for a massive expansion in burning trash,” he wrote in an email.

Surfrider Foundation’s Legal Director Angela Howe added this to the discussion: “While we appreciate Ocean Conservancy’s efforts on coastal clean up and other conservation issues, we do recognize the philosophical divide of our plastic pollution reduction program (focused on reduction of consumer use/less production) and the approach advocated for in OC’s report (post-consumer measures/incineration).”

“Stemming the Tide: Land-Based Strategies for a Plastic-Free Ocean,”  |  Open Letter to Ocean Conservancy regarding deep concerns about the “Stemming the Tide” report  |  Technical critique of ‘Stemming the Tide’

The open letter had 218 organizations and individual leaders, including Plastic Pollution Coalition, as signatories, when it was forwarded to Ocean Conservancy in October. It included a technical critique of the report that addressed its cost analysis, unproven technology solutions, and perceived disavowal of the impact of its recommendations on the climate, public health, and the health of oceans and marine life.  

Some of the problematic messages in “Stemming the Tide,” according to the critique, include:

  • 80 percent of waste in coastal areas of Asia should be incinerated;
  • the massive growth of plastic use is inevitable and in fact not a problem, as long as we can burn it all and recover some for recycling;

  • public subsidies are needed and laws should be changed to make incineration easier, profitable, and “risk free” for the companies involved;
  • redesign of plastics and reduction of use is important, but it’s not a short or mid-term priority, but rather something that we can focus on in 10 or 20 years

The OC report’s foreword states: “We believe this is the best solution to the problem of plastic waste leaking into the ocean — stopping leakage in the first place, rather than treating it after pollution has already occurred.” In the open letter retort, GAIA commented on the remark: “This is puzzling to us, because this statement misses what seems to be glaringly obvious: the best solution to reducing plastics going into oceans is to reduce the generation of so much plastic and disposable products in the first place, and to create systems and implement solutions that work toward that goal, not against it.”

OC’s CEO Andreas Merkl issued a belated, official response June 20, 2016 to GAIA’s open letter, stating: “We strongly believe the concerns of public health and ocean health are not at odds.” Well-managed post-consumer waste is the apparent palliative, as outlined (quoting the letter):

  1. [Solutions must] benefit both the planet and people. What is good for the ocean should be good for the local population, and vice versa;
  2. be environmentally and socially responsible. We do not support substandard waste treatment facilities, and we believe any such facility must be:
    1. designed to reliably prevent harmful emissions
    2. subject to international health and safety regulation standards

    3. reliably monitored to ensure proper and consistent operational standards

    4. adaptable to changing waste conditions and technologies, i.e. minimize lock-in.

    5. include waste prevention and reduction

  3. emphasize principles of circularity, e.g. recycling, waste repurpose, etc.
  4. be politically viable and locally appropriate, working within existing structures, whenever possible, in a respectful and supportive way;
  5. address geographic areas where inputs of plastic waste into the ocean are greatest, based on the best available science.

Merkl also made the point that national and local policies on waste, and specifically on incineration, “should reflect and respect the priorities and values of denizens and communities.” But, he cautioned, “extreme scrutiny” is needed to carry out work on the ground in targeted areas to address “the potential negative impacts on public health, the climate, local economies and budgets from poorly designed and implemented projects.”

As GAIA and OC continue to grapple, the solution to whether plastic pollution is ultimately going to be a plastics management issue or a plastics reduction issue — or both — depends on keeping the dialogue going.

Join our Global Coalition!

Take the pledge! Refuse single-use plastics.

Freedom Island (above), an artificial island in Manila Bay, Philippines, is a mangrove protected area and an example of the global plastics waste problem in our oceans.
Photo: Dianna Cohen

ADDENDUM: The expedition returned Aug. 23, 2015 to the San Francisco Bay. Researchers report that much of the plastic collected on the expedition was dumped in the 1950s and ’60s.

The Ocean Cleanup project’s Mega Expedition, billed as “the largest expedition in history,” has about 30 vessels sailing from Hawaii to Los Angeles. In the end, researchers hope to cover 3,500,000 km2 in an effort to collect more measurements of the mass of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Visit The Ocean Cleanup project’s website for live updates.

By Dianna Cohen

Ever since I was young, I’ve loved the ocean. I grew up in Southern California near the Pacific Ocean. Any excuse to jump in the water was good enough for me. In the course of my life, I’ve noticed increasing amounts of plastic pollution in the sea. Initially, I would gather what I was able to collect, tie it to my bikini, bring it out and find a garbage can on land. The problem is that I started seeing more and more.

In 2007, I heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and my first response was, “Oh my gosh! We have got to go out there and clean this thing up!,” which I described in a TEDx Talk on Mission Blue in 2010.

We now know that the entire ocean has become a “plastic soup” and filled with particles so tiny that some describe it as “plastic smog.”

With more than 5 trillion plastic pieces weighing more than 250,000 tons afloat at sea, we have a disaster on our hands.

Plastic pollution is an urgent problem, and unless we intend to live in a garbage dump, constantly exposing ourselves to the chemicals (which leach from plastics) and to eat seafood (which has also ingested these plastics), the time has arrived to address this issue.

Read more on Huffington Post…

Dianna Cohen is CEO and Co-Founder of Plastic Pollution Coalition.