The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

October 16, 2008

Report from the North Pacific Gyre. Join the Posse!

Monday night, researchers Dr. Marcus Ericksen and Anna Cummins from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation brought their presentation to the Marin Humane Society to share with us their findings from several trips out to the North Pacific Gyre, aka the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. To the left is a photo of actual objects removed from the carcasses of dead Laysan albatrosses. How a bird eats a toothbrush, I don’t know. But it truly saddens me.

Green Sangha’s Stuart Moody wrote up a terrific summary of the information presented, which I share with you here:

Waste & Recycling
Half of the plastic made every year goes to landfill. One quarter of it is “unaccounted for” (litter, blow-away, and otherwise lost). What about the 5% that gets recycled ? At Puente Hills, the nation’s largest landfill, located in LA County, all of the baled plastic gets sent to China for recycling.

Plastic soup
Algalita estimates 2.5 million tons of plastic are circulating in the North Pacific Gyre. This gyre is one of 9 such systems on the earth’s oceans. In 1999, Algalita discovered a ratio of 6:1 plastic to zooplankton in the gyre. This year, they found 46:1. This measure, though, is an imperfect one, as zooplankton populations can vary greatly, with bloom-bust fluctuations. Surface density of plastics is a more accurate count. From 2000 to 2008 the concentration has doubled, from .002 g/m2 to .004.

Not a small matter
Particulate pollution is a special concern because although particles become invisible they still affect the ecosystem. The second most observed form of marine plastic litter is plastic sheeting, from bags or other plastic film. This suggests that plastic bags and wrappers degrading in the ocean could be one of the chief sources of plastic pollution in the food chain, as filter feeders will ingest these particles in their processing of sea water.

Networks of trash
Not all marine debris has been degraded to dust, filament, and fiber. On Hawaii’s Kamilo Beach, probably the dirtiest beach in the world, the plastic litter can be waist-high. Out on the ocean, Algalita researchers find “net boluses” — great tangles of lost or discarded fishing net sometimes as big as a van. These can weigh up to 2 tons, and entrap many creatures (as well as providing a living space!).

Marine impacts
On the Junk’s summer voyage to Hawaii, 1/3 of 500 lantern fish sampled had plastic pieces in their bodies, averaging about 13/specimen. The record holder had 84 pieces. The lantern fish is prey for swordfish, salmon, and tuna, meaning that plastics are getting into our food supply. In total, over 267 marine animal species have been documented ingesting or getting entangled in plastic debris.

Making a clean sweep
Can’t we just trawl the ocean and pick up all the litter? The affected area, in the No. Pacific Gyre alone, is twice the size of the United States — the equivalent of about 9 million football fields. How practical can it be to drag nets across such a vast territory? Tankers, for example, get about 60 feet/gallon of fuel. Do we want to burn more fuels trying to make up for the mis-spending of fuels in the production of waste? And what would happen to all the biomass captured in such a massive sweep of the ocean’s surface? Clearly other ideas are needed.

I say, how a Plastic-free Posse?

Let’s grow a group of bloggers who care about the issue of plastics and are willing to write about it on their blogs. As I said two days ago, we need more plastic-free voices. How about starting with the folks who came to the presentation Monday night?

Katrina from Kale For Sale was there, and she has become the first member of the Plastic-free Posse. (See my right sidebar.)

Ian, aka Nolij was there too, despite a fractured foot, requiring him to get around on this ingenious scooter. What do you say, Nolij? Want to join the Posse?

So this is how it can work. You don’t have to blog about plastic all the time. If plastic is simply one part of your blogging universe, then be willing to label or tag your plastic-related posts with one word: Plastic. Check out Kale For Sale to see how it’s done. Then, let me know, and I’ll link to your plastic-labeled posts on my sidebar. That way, many more voices can be heard from folks who aren’t as singly-focused as I am.

Simply creating Plastic labels and tags can create ripples in the blogosphere which, I hope, will then make their way out into the real world. Who’s on board?

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14 years ago

Does anyone know who will be working to clean this up? Please list links – and let’s start donation time and money to this project. This looks like a new group trying to get started – list some others!

greeen sheeep
15 years ago

Plastic awareness is a fairly recent phenomenon to me. Now that I am more mindful, it is driving me crazy. It is everywhere and in everything!

I started by reducing the plastic our household was consuming, but now have expanded to speaking out, writing letters, and urging others to be more mindful.

FPF is an inspiration and driving force in my plastic-free life pursuit. I would love to join the Plastic-free Posse!

15 years ago

Just wanted to add– to assure you… despite the fact that I have 7 children, we use very little plastic. I do purchase milk in #1 containers (until such time as I can wean my family off milk) because I can’t find anyone to accept the waxed paper cartons of milk (despite the “please recycle” on the Horizons Organic milk carton). I purchase foods in bulk using cloth bags I made from the kids’ old teeshirts. We stopped purchasing meat because of its plastic content- not to mention its expense to my wallet and the environment.

15 years ago

Here in Austin, TX, Cycled Plastics takes plastics and remanufactures them into little plastic pellets that are then sold as raw material. Nothing to China. The plastic is right there, made into little pellets that resemble split peas. I have been on a campaign to eliminate plastic around here, and part of my campaign is that I collect, wash, sort, and then carry plastics over to the Cycled Plastics facility which is only a few miles from my home. I can tell you that almost 100% of the plastics that come into my home, and more than 50% of the plastics that get into my church, are taken to Cycled Plastics.

15 years ago

Yeah, that’s me, slowpoke. Of COURSE I’ll join yer posse m’am! I’m going back in my blog entries and adding “plastic” to my plastic related posts. Beth, it was wonderful to finally meet you at the Humane Society event: I posted the audio that I recorded that night online (I forgot my camera)

First File.mp3

Second File.mp3

Beth Terry
15 years ago

Citizen Green — you are one of the Plastic-free Bloggers since your blog is 100% plastic-free! I added your link yesterday. Your site rocks!


Citizen Green
15 years ago

Count me in as a member of the plastic-free posse. What a gret idea. My blog is about reducing the use of plastic in our lives.

Joel, the 3rd member of Junk’s crew is here in Indiana for a month. He gave a presentation to 250 high school kids today and I have him booked for 9 more presentations in the nest few weeks. We are spreading the word about plastic debris.

Beth Terry
15 years ago

Kellie and Ciboulette — you’re up! Maya, I sent you an email with instructions.


15 years ago

Yes! I would love to join the posse. Here‘s my link to all of my plastic-related posts (so far only 3).

Thanks so much!

15 years ago

Beth, I want to join the plastic posse…should I send you an email or can you send me one?

You’ve changed my life with your blog and I want to continue that with mine. We’ve got to reach as many people as possible to fix the mess we’re in.

15 years ago

Who’s down with PFP? Yeah you know me!

I mean…count me in. :)