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Report: Plastics Associations Make Progress on Ocean Cleanup

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Elizabeth M
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A good start
Elizabeth M   2/22/2013 5:49:43 AM
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Ann, I can't thank you enough for reporting on this. It is a subject very close to my heart and I have been working locally with friends here (particularly one clean-ocean, anti-plastic waste advocate friend) to try to clean up the beaches and the ocean. This is a good start but there is still a LONG WAY to go...and as single-use plastic is still being used and tossed away...and there is already so much plastic waste out there...it seems almost like an insurmountable problem. But efforts like this and design efforts to replace plastic with more organic materials are on the right track. I look forward to seeing more real progress from these efforts. And sometimes just educating people helps, because I really don't think people even know the impact plastic has had on the marine world. But they are learning.

a.saji
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Re: A good start
a.saji   2/22/2013 10:25:58 AM
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@Elizabeth:

Its very encouraging to see such social work has been started but it should remain that way for a longer period. Here in my country too you get certain voluntarily acts but they only last for couple of days.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: A good start
Ann R. Thryft   2/22/2013 11:36:22 AM
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a.saji, I'm sorry to hear that in your country efforts to improve the environment are so evanescent. The desire to solve the plastics pollution problem is pretty strong in Europe and the US, as well as the other countries involved in this study. Let's hope that yours gets involved, as well.



TJ McDermott
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Re: A good start
TJ McDermott   2/22/2013 11:12:39 AM
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Elizabeth, does this stagnation zone lie on shipping lanes?  If it does, then a very small tax incentive to maritime companies would be incentive for them to collect some of the trash as they pass through.  If the trash-to-fuel technology is modular enough, then maritime companies could use this to fuel auxiliary generators and cut operating costs.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: A good start
Ann R. Thryft   2/22/2013 4:23:41 PM
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TJ, were you directing your comment to Elizabeth, or to me (I wrote the story)? And what do you mean by a "stagnation zone"?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: A good start
Ann R. Thryft   2/22/2013 4:28:39 PM
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TJ, were you directing your comment to Elizabeth, or to me (I wrote the story)? And what do you mean by a "stagnation zone"?

NadineJ
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Re: A good start
NadineJ   2/22/2013 5:56:21 PM
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Maybe he's referring to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  It's twice the size of Texas.  20% of the plastics there come from marine sources.

Because it's within an ocean gyre (rotating current), it stays still or stagnant. 

It's horrific.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: A good start
Ann R. Thryft   2/25/2013 12:46:00 PM
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Thanks, Nadine: horrific is a good word for describing the Patch. BTW, that this is not the only one, since there are four other known gyres in the world's oceans, and it's not easy to detect a plastic patch using visual means alone. At least one more has been found, that one in the North Atlantic:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Atlantic_Garbage_Patch

Elizabeth M
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Re: A good start
Elizabeth M   2/26/2013 6:20:09 AM
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You're right Ann, I think there are about five known was...was just speaking to my anti-plastic advocate friend yesterday and she informed me about this. Really awful to think about, and anything that can be done to clean up this mess is not just welcome, it is sorely needed and long overdue!

Elizabeth M
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Re: A good start
Elizabeth M   2/26/2013 6:35:00 AM
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I meant to say there are five known "gyres"...I mistyped in my previous comment!

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: A good start
Ann R. Thryft   2/26/2013 12:27:32 PM
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I think the first time I really got the magnitude of the problem wasn't after finding out about the gyres. That was bad enough, but much of what's there isn't visible since it's collecting sub-surface. But what got me was seeing a scene in a movie that showed vast amounts of plastic waste collecting around the mouth of a river in India, before eventually getting washed out to sea. This, of course, is one of the sources of ocean waste mentioned in the report: runoff through streams. I instantly thought of how many such streams there are in the now mostly industrialized world and realized the amount of plastic collecting in all of them was staggering.

DaveWR
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Re: A good start
DaveWR   6/14/2013 9:57:40 AM
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I just read your article in the latest magazine I received. There has been some research by the Oregon State University  on The Pacific Garbage patch. It is available here:

http://oregonstate.edu/ua/ncs/archives/2011/jan/oceanic-%E2%80%9Cgarbage-patch%E2%80%9D-not-nearly-big-portrayed-media

It is worth reading the article but the first few paragraphs give the gist:
01/04/2011

CORVALLIS, Ore. – There is a lot of plastic trash floating in the Pacific Ocean, but claims that the "Great Garbage Patch" between California and Japan is twice the size of Texas are grossly exaggerated, according to an analysis by an Oregon State University scientist.

Further claims that the oceans are filled with more plastic than plankton, and that the patch has been growing tenfold each decade since the 1950s are equally misleading, pointed out Angelicque "Angel" White, an assistant professor of oceanography at Oregon State.

"There is no doubt that the amount of plastic in the world's oceans is troubling, but this kind of exaggeration undermines the credibility of scientists," White said. "We have data that allow us to make reasonable estimates; we don't need the hyperbole. Given the observed concentration of plastic in the North Pacific, it is simply inaccurate to state that plastic outweighs plankton, or that we have observed an exponential increase in plastic."

White has pored over published literature and participated in one of the few expeditions solely aimed at understanding the abundance of plastic debris and the associated impact of plastic on microbial communities. That expedition was part of research funded by the National Science Foundation through C-MORE, the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education.

The studies have shown is that if you look at the actual area of the plastic itself, rather than the entire North Pacific subtropical gyre, the hypothetically "cohesive" plastic patch is actually less than 1 percent of the geographic size of Texas.

"The amount of plastic out there isn't trivial," White said. "But using the highest concentrations ever reported by scientists produces a patch that is a small fraction of the state of Texas, not twice the size."

 

Hopefully people here are more interested in facts than hype.

Cheers!

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: A good start
Ann R. Thryft   6/14/2013 12:27:34 PM
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Thanks for the info on the Oregon study. Yes, the mass media tends to exaggerate things, such as claiming there's more plastic than plankton. But we're not the mass media, and we were reporting what the actual plastics makers and processors are doing.

Regarding extent, that's been a tough one to estimate. One of the biggest problems in studying the prevalence of ocean plastic is the fact that most of a patch is not visible above the surface of the water: most of it is submerged. Aerial surveys are therefore not useful, or only about as useful as estimating the size of the proverbial iceberg by the part that sticks out of the water. So it would be interesting to know how the Oregon researchers "observed" or "looked at" the patches to reach these conclusions.

DaveWR
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Re: A good start
DaveWR   6/14/2013 1:12:58 PM
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Ann:

It is a good question you ask. Maybe it would be worthwhile to ask Dr White to write a short article on the exact nature of the problem.  ( http://ceoas.oregonstate.edu/profile/white/ ) I am sure she would love some consulting time with plastics manufacturers and would be a valuable resource to them. ;-)

I thought the article worth noting on the basis that many times I have been asked to solve a problem -- when "the problem" is actually quite a different beast than described.

As someone who ran a small ocean going (coastal) vessel on the west coast for a few years I never observed the amount of pollution that I heard claimed anywhere -- scientifc or media publications. There are a few well know exceptions -- like Pirates Cove on Galiano Island (a popular destination for weekend boaters) -- which many claim has a "glass bottom" from remains of old bottles.

If you don't understand the nature of the problem -- it's difficult to provide a solution of any efficacy.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: A good start
Ann R. Thryft   6/14/2013 3:03:18 PM
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Dave, I agree about defining the problem. That's one of the first and most basic research principles I learned, along with how to evaluate sources. Regarding the amount of plastic pollution in coastal areas, it's not nearly as bad on the west coast of North America as it is on the other side of the Pacific, or in other areas of the world. And those gyres, of course, are nowhere near the coasts but out in remote areas of the ocean rarely visited by humans. That said, the amount of trash, plastic and non-plastic, picked up on Santa Cruz, California beaches and creeks each year by local volunteers is staggering.

DaveWR
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Re: A good start
DaveWR   6/14/2013 3:00:18 PM
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This part is also worthy of note since you mentioned "patch visibility":

 

The hyperbole about plastic patches saturating the media rankles White, who says such exaggeration can drive a wedge between the public and the scientific community. One recent claim that the garbage patch is as deep as the Golden Gate Bridge is tall is completely unfounded, she said.

"Most plastics either sink or float," White pointed out. "Plastic isn't likely to be evenly distributed through the top 100 feet of the water column."

White says there is growing interest in removing plastic from the ocean, but such efforts will be costly, inefficient, and may have unforeseen consequences. It would be difficult, for example, to "corral" and remove plastic particles from ocean waters without inadvertently removing phytoplankton, zooplankton, and small surface-dwelling aquatic creatures.

Among other findings, which White believes should be part of the public dialogue on ocean trash:

  • Calculations show that the amount of energy it would take to remove plastics from the ocean is roughly 250 times the mass of the plastic itself.

I really do think it would be worth asking her to provide additional information. She seems to have a very measured response and recognizes that there is a serious issue -- but that it needs to be quantified correctly.

 

 

TJ McDermott
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Re: A good start
TJ McDermott   2/22/2013 9:47:10 PM
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Ann, please excuse me - my mistake, my comments were directed to you.

And yes, I'm talking about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  NadineJ's comment describes it accurately.

 

Elizabeth M
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Re: A good start
Elizabeth M   2/25/2013 4:00:23 AM
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I'm glad to see so many people are aware of the garbage patch of plastic out there in the middle of the Pacific. You'd be surprised how many people have no clue the damage plastic is doing. It is truly horrific, yes, and I actually just saw quite another horrific video of birds that live on an island in the middle of the ocean miles from no other land and where no humans are that are dying with large amounts of plastic in their stomachs. It's unimaginable, but this is happening right now.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: A good start
Ann R. Thryft   2/25/2013 12:45:21 PM
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Thanks for the clarification. No, this plastic pollution is by no means limited to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch , which is located within the  North Pacific Gyre, or to shipping lanes. Plastic is everywhere in the world's oceans and beaches. My local Santa Cruz beaches would look unbelievable--and scare away tourists--if it weren't for periodic volunteer cleanups. Here's a photo of marine debris on the Hawaiian coast:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marine_debris

This article also mentions the various sources: lost shipping containers, windblown from landfills, runoff through streams.

" Marine litter is even found on the floor of the Arctic ocean".

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: A good start
Ann R. Thryft   2/22/2013 11:35:35 AM
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Thanks, Elizabeth. I thought it was important to report that the often-maligned plastics industry is in fact trying to do something about the problem. One of the first things to do when approaching a huge complex problem is measure and classify--those are the two things done at the birth of a field of study, for example. Anyway, this is initial research, but it goes beyond that to specific action.

Elizabeth M
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Re: A good start
Elizabeth M   2/25/2013 4:11:07 AM
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Yes, Ann, it's definitely good to see the plastics industry taking initiative here. Plastic has its positive aspects as well, and I guess when it was invented it was hard to foresee the problem it would cause. If anyone can put a dent in this problem, it's the people in the inudstry themselves. I definitely look forward to hearing more about specific actions that are taken in the future. Great reporting.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: A good start
Ann R. Thryft   2/25/2013 5:53:29 PM
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Elizabeth, thanks for the positive support. I agree, the industry itself is best positioned to deal with many of the problems caused by its products. It hasn't always done so, especially with cancer-causing chemistries, but when it comes to recycling efforts and ocean cleanup, I think it's doing pretty well.

Dave Palmer
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Re: A good start
Dave Palmer   2/22/2013 2:05:50 PM
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Anyone who is interested in the problem of plastic waste in the ocean should read Moby Duck, by Donovan Hohn.  It's a great read, and covers many different aspects of the problem in an entertaining way.

Elizabeth M
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Re: A good start
Elizabeth M   2/25/2013 4:03:40 AM
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Thank you for the suggestion, Dave. I will definitely check that out and also tell all my anti-plastic advocate friends.

jonnk
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Associations Make Progress on Ocean Cleanup
jonnk   2/25/2013 9:54:39 AM
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Progress would be actually cleaning it up.   Discussion and agreements do not actually remove the waste from the water.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Associations Make Progress on Ocean Cleanup
Ann R. Thryft   3/1/2013 3:44:45 PM
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jonnk, I agree that the proof is in the pudding. But there's more than just a recipe here. As the article mentions, and the report details, several cleanup projects have already occurred and many others are in progress or planned.

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