Menus Subscribe Search

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

August 1 • 2:22 PM

Warmer Parenting Makes Antisocial Toddlers More Empathetic

Loving care may be the best antidote to callous behavior in young children.


August 1 • 2:00 PM

The Federal Health Insurance Exchange Remains Surprisingly Active

New federal data, obtained by ProPublica under the Freedom of Information Act, shows nearly one million insurance transactions since mid-April.



August 1 • 6:00 AM

The Idea of Racial Hierarchy Remains Entrenched in Americans’ Psyches

New research finds white faces are most closely associated with positive thoughts and feelings.


August 1 • 4:00 AM

How and Why Does the Social Become Biological?

To get closer to an answer, it’s helpful to look at two things we’ve taught ourselves over time: reading and math.



July 31 • 4:00 PM

Thank You for Your Service: How One Company Sues Soldiers Worldwide

With stores near military bases across the country, the retailer USA Discounters offers easy credit to service members. But when those loans go bad, the company uses the local courts near its Virginia headquarters to file suits by the thousands.


July 31 • 2:00 PM

A New York State of Fracking

Court cases. A governor’s moratorium. Pending health study. A quick guide to the state of fracking in New York.


July 31 • 11:17 AM

How California Could Power Itself Using Nothing but Renewables

We don’t need fossil fuels.


July 31 • 8:00 AM

Should Athletes Train Their Memories?

Sure, but it probably won’t help.


July 31 • 6:00 AM

Universal Basic Income: Something We Can All Agree on?

According to Almaz Zelleke, it’s not a crazy thought.


July 31 • 4:00 AM

Medical Dramas Produce Misinformed, Fatalistic Viewers

New research suggests TV doctor dramas leave viewers with skewed impressions of important health-related topics.


July 30 • 4:00 PM

Still the World’s Top Military Spender

Although declining in real terms, the United States’ military budget remains substantial and a huge drain on our public resources.



July 30 • 2:04 PM

The Rise of the Nuisance Flood

Minor floods are afflicting parts of Maryland nearly 10 times more often than was the case in the 1960s.


July 30 • 2:00 PM

The (Mostly Awful) Things You Learn After Investigating Unpaid Internships for a Year

Though the intern economy remains opaque, dialogue about the role of interns in the labor force—and protections they deserve—is beginning to take shape.


July 30 • 12:00 PM

Why Coffee Shortages Won’t Change the Price of Your Frappuccino

You’re so loyal to Starbucks—and the company knows it—that your daily serving of caffeine is already marked up beyond the reach of any fluctuations in supply.



July 30 • 10:00 AM

Having Difficult Conversations With Your Children

Why it’s necessary, and how to do it.


July 30 • 8:00 AM

How to Make a Convincing Sci-Fi Movie on a Tight Budget

Coherence is a good movie, and its initial shoot cost about the same amount of money as a used Prius.


July 30 • 6:00 AM

Are You Really as Happy as You Say You Are?

Researchers find a universal positivity bias in the way we talk, tweet, and write.


July 30 • 4:00 AM

The Declining Wage Gap for Gay Men

New research finds gay men in America are rapidly catching up with straight married men in terms of wages.


July 30 • 2:00 AM

LeBron James Migration: Big Chef Seeking Small Pond

The King’s return to Cleveland is a symbol for the dramatic shift in domestic as well as international migration.


July 29 • 4:00 PM

Are Children Seeking Refuge Turning More Americans Against Undocumented Immigrants?

A look at Pew Research Center survey data collected in February and July of this year.


July 29 • 2:00 PM

Under Water: The EPA’s Ongoing Struggle to Combat Pollution

Frustration and inaction color efforts to enforce the Clean Water Act.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

Warmer Parenting Makes Antisocial Toddlers More Empathetic

Loving care may be the best antidote to callous behavior in young children.

The Rise of the Nuisance Flood

Minor floods are afflicting parts of Maryland nearly 10 times more often than was the case in the 1960s.

America’s Streams Are Awash With Pesticides Banned in Europe

You may have never heard of clothianidin, but it's probably in your local river.

How Textbooks Have Changed the Face of War

War is more personal, less glorious, and more hellish in modern textbooks than in the past. But there’s still room for improvement.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014

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