Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Trash Free Seas Alliance Takes Aim at Great Pacific Garbage Patch

• October 16, 2011 • 4:00 AM

Recognizing the problems of a plastic-choked ocean, the Trash Free Seas Alliance aims to rid the seas of its islands of flip-flops, soda bottles, and plastic bags.

Normandy’s windswept beaches have been quiet since the Allied invasion in 1944. Now the desolate coastline plays host to a different, more insidious attacker: plastic trash. Nestled in the coarse sand and tangled among pieces of driftwood lie the detritus of the industrialized world, an army of plastic bottles, discarded fishing lines and floats, crushed buckets, flip-flops, broken chairs, and bags.

The English Channel is not the world’s sole depositor of plastic debris. Lonely beaches all over the world — ones you’d expect to be devoid of human influence — teem with wildlife, but also with tons of trash deposited there by ocean currents. And the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, sometimes depicted as a man-made plastic island, has gained global attention, especially with outreach efforts like the sailing of the Plastiki and the JUNK raft.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that plastic is the No. 1 type of marine debris found today, with small plastic particles invisible to the naked eye making up much of it. Although the ocean’s size has made it impossible for NOAA to quantify the amount of floating trash, it has a wide range of impacts, from ingestion by fish, sea birds and marine mammals to polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCB, pollution up to 1 million times the ocean’s normal level.

[class name="dont_print_this"]

By the Way

BY THE WAY
When news breaks, this blog shows that Miller-McCune has the topic covered.

[/class]

The problem has been in the policy spotlight for some time, from statehouses to film houses (“Bag It”), but finding a solution has proven difficult. The ocean is vast, and much of the pollution occurs in areas also rich with marine life. NOAA says that skimming or netting trash isn’t an option. But last month at the Clinton Global Initiative annual conference, a group of corporations and environmental nonprofits led by the Ocean Conservancy — dubbed the Trash Free Seas Alliance — announced its intention to work collaboratively to solve the problem of nautical plastic debris.

“We’re trashing our ocean, but it’s too valuable to trash,” said Vikki Spruill, executive director of the Ocean Conservancy, adding that as a source of protein and a regulator of global climate, allowing debris to build up in the seas is adding to a host of other problems. “We want to build relationships between different organizations. Some of the ideas we come up with may not be new, but some of these groups haven’t been talking to one another.”

[youtube]-K-lGDRZOqc[/youtube]

The alliance’s founding members range from plastic packing manufacturers (Illinois Tool Works) and packaging users (the Coca-Cola Company) to organizations that study marine life (Marine Mammal Center) or advocate for clean coastlines (Surfrider Foundation). Other charter members include waste-to-energy firm Covanta Energy and an umbrella NGO, the Ocean Recovery Alliance; other organizations are being encouraged to join.

After conducting indexed, documented beach cleanups over the past 26 years, the Ocean Conservancy has data showing which types of trash occur most frequently, and in what amounts. The Marine Mammal Center can tell Illinois Tool which types of materials harm whales and seals. Spruill said that the alliance hopes to engage other packaging and disposable product manufacturers to come up with ways of using plastics that don’t cause as much harm and that capitalize on the value of this plastic waste.

“We need to re-purpose trash so that it doesn’t end up in the waste stream,” she said. “If we don’t do that, it’ll still end up in the ocean.”

Since 1985, Ocean Conservancy-backed volunteer beach cleaners have collected 53 million cigarette butts, 117, 356 appliances, 863,135 diapers, and enough paper plates and plastic cutlery to have a picnic for 2 million people. That’s just from one day per year in isolated spots around the globe.

In May, U.S. Senators Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawaii, Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, introduced legislation  to reauthorize the Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act of 2006, a Bush-era bill which allocated $10 million to NOAA to tackle the ocean trash problem. The bill hasn’t gone anywhere since its introduction, and in Washington’s current political climate, it may stay put for a while. In the meantime, Trash Free Seas Alliance members are gearing up to craft their own solutions — based upon the trash collection data compiled by the Ocean Conservancy — over the next 12 to 18 months.

Ben Preston
Ben Preston is a 2011 graduate of the masters in journalism program at Columbia University. Before that, he was a staff reporter for the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based news website, Noozhawk.com, and has covered Western water and forest issues as well as local and state politics. In 2009, he traveled to Iraq to cover the U.S. Army 425th Civil Affairs Battalion, which was running reconstruction programs in Baghdad.

More From Ben Preston

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 21 • 2:00 AM

Cheating Demographic Doom: Pittsburgh Exceptionalism and Japan’s Surprising Economic Resilience

Don’t judge a metro or a nation-state by its population numbers.


October 20 • 4:00 PM

The Bird Hat Craze That Sparked a Preservation Movement

How a fashion statement at the turn of the 19th century led to the creation of the first Audubon societies.


October 20 • 2:00 PM

The Risk of Getting Killed by the Police If You Are White, and If You Are Black

An analysis of killings by police shows outsize risk for young black males.


October 20 • 12:00 PM

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they’re motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.


October 20 • 11:00 AM

My Dog Comes First: The Importance of Pets to Homeless Youth

Dogs and cats have both advantages and disadvantages for street-involved youth.


October 20 • 10:00 AM

Homophobia Is Not a Thing of the Past

Despite growing support for LGBT rights and recent decisions from the Supreme Court regarding the legality of same-sex marriage, the battle for acceptance has not yet been decided.


October 20 • 8:00 AM

Big Boobs Matter Most

Medical mnemonics are often scandalous and sexist, but they help the student to both remember important facts and cope with challenging new experiences.


October 20 • 6:00 AM

When Disease Becomes Political: The Likely Electoral Fallout From Ebola

Will voters blame President Obama—and punish Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections—for a climate of fear?


October 20 • 4:00 AM

Coming Soon: The Anatomy of Ignorance


October 17 • 4:00 PM

What All Military Families Need to Know About High-Cost Lenders

Lessons from over a year on the beat.


October 17 • 2:00 PM

The Majority of Languages Do Not Have Gendered Pronouns

A world without “he.” Or “she.”


October 17 • 11:01 AM

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.


October 17 • 10:00 AM

Can Science Fiction Spur Science Innovation?

Without proper funding, the answer might not even matter.


October 17 • 8:00 AM

Seattle, the Incredible Shrinking City

Seattle is leading the way in the micro-housing movement as an affordable alternative to high-cost city living.


October 17 • 6:00 AM

‘Voodoo Death’ and How the Mind Harms the Body

Can an intense belief that you’re about to die actually kill you? Researchers are learning more about “voodoo death” and how it isn’t limited to superstitious, foreign cultures.


October 17 • 4:00 AM

That Arts Degree Is Paying Off

A survey of people who have earned degrees in the arts find they are doing relatively well, although their education didn’t provide much guidance on managing a career.


October 16 • 4:00 PM

How (Some) Economists Are Like Doomsday Cult Members

Cognitive dissonance and clinging to paradigms even in the face of accumulated anomalous facts.


October 16 • 2:00 PM

The Latest—and Most Mysterious—Player in the Nasty Battle Over Net Neutrality

As the FCC considers how to regulate Internet providers, the telecom industry’s stealth campaign for hearts and minds encompasses everything from art installations to LOLcats.


October 16 • 12:00 PM

How Many Ads Is Too Many Ads?

The conundrum of online video advertising.


October 16 • 11:00 AM

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.


October 16 • 10:00 AM

The False Promises of Higher Education

Danielle Henderson spent six years and $60,000 on college and beyond. The effects of that education? Not as advertised.


October 16 • 8:00 AM

Faster Justice, Closer to Home: The Power of Community Courts

Community courts across the country are fighting judicial backlog and lowering re-arrest rates.


October 16 • 6:00 AM

Killing Your Husband to Save Yourself

Without proper legal instruments, women with abusive partners are often forced to make a difficult choice: kill or be killed.


October 16 • 4:00 AM

Personality Traits Linked to Specific Diseases

New research finds neurotic people are more likely to suffer a serious health problem.


October 16 • 2:00 AM

Comparing Apples to the Big Apple: Yes, Washington, D.C., Is More Expensive Than New York City

Why shouldn’t distant locales tied to jobs in the urban core count in a housing expenditure study?


Follow us


Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

Unlocking Consciousness

A study of vegetative patients closes in on the nature of consciousness.

Advice for Emergency Alert Systems: Don’t Cry Wolf

A survey finds college students don't always take alerts seriously.

Brain’s Reward Center Does More Than Manage Rewards

Nucleus accumbens tracks many different connections in the world, a new rat study suggests.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.