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September 25, 2009

Project Kaisei’s Messages from the Plastic Sea: Products Must Be “Benign by Design”

 

Inspired by Captain Charles Moore’s tireless efforts to bring attention to the issue of plastic in the ocean, several new organizations and projects have sprung up recently to investigate the Pacific Garbage Patch and to try and find solutions. One of these is Project Kaisei, which conducted an expedition to the North Pacific Gyre last month and has returned to not only report on the problem but help us find solutions.

At a press conference in Sausalito Tuesday morning, Project Kaisei founder Mary Crowley joined with representatives from the State of California as well as nonprofit groups to announce a partnership dedicated to addressing the problems of ocean plastic pollution. No longer satisfied with blaming individuals for the litter problem, this group is committed to pushing for Extended Producer Responsibility, the philosophy that companies that create products must take responsibility for the full life cycle of those products, products that are “benign by design.”

I wanted to stand up and cheer. Yes! Why should communities and governments be responsible for figuring out what to do with the waste from products that were not designed with recycling or reuse in mind? When companies design with a cradle to cradle mentality, they can not only protect our ecosystems from harm but quite often save money by using fewer materials and chemicals in the first place.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Because before talking about solutions, Mary Crowley told us a bit about the expedition and what it found. Speaking with conviction and quiet passion, Mary related how excited the crew members were before beginning the voyage, and how once they had entered the gyre and began seeing such high concentrations of plastic in every sample, the mood on the ship turned from excitement to deep sadness.

A lifetime sailer, snorkeler, and diver, and director of the Ocean Voyages Insitute in Sausalito, Mary Crowley has loved the ocean for many years and is committed to not only addressing the source of ocean pollution on land, but also finding ways to clean up the plastic that is out there now. Working with a team of scientists and engineers, Project Kaisei hopes to develop a system for collecting plastic garbage from the sea and turning it into fuel.

Here’s a sample of plastic collected in one of Project Kaisei’s surface trawls:


And here are some of the larger items they picked up along the way:


Cleanup may be a long way off. I asked Mary Crowley what she would like to say to Fake Plastic Fish readers about what we can do. Here is her response. Click the link if you can’t see the embedded video below. A written transcript of her short message is included on the YouTube page.

Let’s reduce the source of this pollution by not only choosing healthy, plastic-free products ourselves, but also urging our legislators to pass Extended Producer Responsibility legislation. In fact, such a bill is currently on the table in the state of California. AB283, the California Product Stewardship Act is an important step in this process. Please, if you live in California, take a moment to send a letter, email, or fax to the governor asking him to support this legislation. Here is a sample letter provided by the California Product Stewardship Council.

Month/Day, 2009

The Honorable Arnold Schwarzenegger
Governor of California
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814

Re: AB 283 (Chesbro), California Product Stewardship Act –Support

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger:

As resident of California and the County of _______, I write in support of AB 283, the California Product Stewardship Act, and require the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB) to adopt regulations that encourage producers to consider end-of-life impacts of products during the design phase to foster cradle-to-cradle producer responsibility.

AB 283 builds on the CIWMB’s “Extended Producer Responsibility Framework” policy document of 2008 that provides guidelines for state and producer efforts to reduce “end-of-life” environmental impacts and was developed by a public stakeholder process. This bill will provide future policy framework and harmonization as contrasted with the state’s current product-by-product legislation for “end-of-life” management. AB 283 will provide consistency that businesses want, assure a transparent public process, and allow for flexibility to address the uniqueness of each product by letting producers design the systems.

I have long been discouraged at how over-packaged many products have become, and how many are designed to become obsolete and can no longer be repaired, and that we lack good recycling options for many toxic products sold in California like fluorescent lamps. California has long been a leader on many environmental issues and I think its time to get the designers of products engaged in the solution for waste. AB 283 will protect the environment and public health. We urge your support of AB 283.

Sincerely,

NAME/TITLE

C.c. Assembly Speaker Karen Bass at Fax # 916-319-2147
Local Assembly Member (s)
Assembly member Wesley Chesbro at fax #916-319-2101

Please also consider sending the letter to your own assembly member. You can find contact information for them here.



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5 comments
Laura
Laura

I agree that we need companies to be responsible for the products that they produce, but we as consumers also need to be responsible for the products we buy. If you have the option of buying a product in a container that can be recycled or reused or one that can't, buy the one that can be recycled/reused (and then recycle/reuse the container!). Obviously, consumers don't always have this choice, especially for more difficult products like electronics, clothing, etc. When we can make that choice though, consumers can influence producers by their purchases and writing letters to companies asking them to switch to better product packaging and more environmentally-friendly ingredients.

John Costigane
John Costigane

Hi Beth,Mary has done wellto keep the issue in the public eye. Producer Responsibility will help promote sustainable design.Consumers can play their part by purchasing such alternatives. Business wil adapt quicker when their finances are impacted.

Andrew Bird
Andrew Bird

This bill stalled in committee this year because of heavy industry opposition. The California Chamber of Commerce put it on its "job killer" list. It is now a two-year bill. What we need is for California residents to contact their legislators - State Senators and Assemblymembers - urging them to support this bill. Thank you.- Andrew Birdpress spokesman for Assemblymember Chesbro

Linda
Linda

Great post. It makes me happy to know that someone is pushing for product responsibility. Several countries in Europe have laws that require companies to take all used products/waste back. Everytime I go for a walk and see beer and water bottles littering the road, I want to pick them up and mail them back to the manufacturers. They made the product and reaped the profit. The consumer enjoyed drinking the product. The leftover litter is left on the public's door step to pick up or tolerate as an eye sore. We should all push our legislators to pass this type of law.

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