Ocean Plastics – complied by Lynn Fitzpatrick
Most ocean pollution starts out on land and is carried by wind and rain to the sea. Once in the water, there is a near-continuous accumulation of waste. Plastic is so durable that the EPA reports “every bit of plastic ever made still exists.”
Due to its low density, plastic waste is readily transported long distances from source areas and concentrates in gyres, systems of rotating ocean currents. All five of the Earth’s major ocean gyres are inundated with plastic pollution. But it’s not limited to the gyres; studies estimate there are 15–51 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans — from the equator to the poles, from Arctic ice sheets to the sea floor.
The Clean Water Act is the nation’s strongest law protecting water quality, and we’re using the tools provided by this law to stop plastic pollution. Recognition of plastic pollution under the Clean Water Act will enable states to develop water-quality standards to finally begin curbing the amount of plastic trash dumped on our beaches and in our oceans.
In December 2017, the UN introduced a resolution to completely ban ocean plastic waste. Under the proposal, governments would establish an international taskforce to advise on combating what the UN’s oceans chief has described as a planetary crisis.
Single-Use Plastic Bags Facts (Source: biologicaldiversity.com)
- Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year, which require 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture.
- It only takes about 14 plastic bags for the equivalent of the gas required to drive one mile.
- Target gives away enough plastic bags a year to wrap around the Earth 7 times.
- The average American family takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year.
- According to Waste Management, only 1 % of plastic bags are returned for recycling. That means that the average family only recycles 15 bags a year; the rest ends up in landfills as litter.
- Up to 80% of ocean pollution enters the ocean from land.
- At least 267 different species have been affected by plastic pollution in the ocean.
- 100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic bags annually.
- One in three ocean leatherback turtles have been found with plastic in their stomachs.
- Plastic bags are used for an average of 12 minutes.
- It takes 500 (or more) years for a plastic bag to degrade in a landfill. Unfortunately the bags don’t break down completely but instead photo-degrade, becoming micro plastics that absorb toxins and continue to pollute the environment.
Single Use Plastic Bag Legislation in U.S.
In 2009, the District of Columbia enacted a law to ban the distribution of disposable, non-recyclable plastic carry-out bags and set a fee of five cents for distribution of all other disposable bags.
In August 2014, California became the first state to enact legislation imposing a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at large retail stores. The bill also required a 10-cent minimum charge for recycled paper bags, reusable plastic bags, and compostable bags at certain locations. The ban was supposed to take effect on July 1, 2015, but a referendum forced the issues onto the ballot for November 2016. Proposition 67 passed with 52 percent of the vote, meaning the plastic bag ban approved by the Legislature will remain.
Hawaii has a de facto statewide ban as all of its most populous counties prohibit non-biodegradable plastic bags at checkout, as well as paper bags containing less than 40 percent recycled material.
Between 2015 and 2016 at least 77 bills have been proposed by 23 states regarding the regulation of plastic bags in retail settings. Only three states—Arizona, Idaho, and Missouri—have enacted legislation this year, all of which preempt local governments from regulating the sale or use of plastic bags, including the imposition of any fees or taxes.
Maryland Plastic & Paper Bag Legislation (Source: Turque, Bill, “A Maryland County’s Nickel Tax for a Plastic Bag is Paying Off, but Not as Planned”, Washington Post, July 4, 2016 and BagLaws.com)
HB 31 & HB 1572 – Proposed in 2017 & Inactive – Prohibits stores from providing plastic bags to customers. Requires stores to charge fee of 10 cents for each paper bag provided to customers. Stores must give customers 5 cents credit for each carryout bag the customer provides. In Senate; First Reading Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs and Finance.
In 2007 Annapolis proposed a plastic bag ban, which did not pass, but a recycling bill did.
In 2014 an ordinance was introduced to introduce a $.05 per bag charge. A ban on plastic bags was passed.
In 2011 Chestertown placed an ordinance on the thickness of plastic bags and the quality and materials composition of paper bags provided by retail establishments.
Montgomery County placed a $.05 fee on plastic and paper bags in 2012. The revenues from this charge are deposited into the County’s Water Quality Protection Charge (WQPC) fund.
Maryland Bans Plastic Microbeads in personal care products in May 2015. HB 216, banning plastic microbeads as an ingredient in personal care products in Maryland, was signed by Governor Hogan in May 2015. The law requires manufacturers to phase out the use of plastic microbeads in 2018 and bans the sale of products containing them at the end of 2019. These changes effectively require manufacturers to use natural alternatives like oatmeal, apricot stones, salt, and rice.
Countries Banning Lightweight Plastic Bags (Source: study.com)
Africa – more than 15 countries on the continent have either banned them completely or charge a tax on them.
- South Africa
Near total bans
- Cote d’Ivoire
- Hong Kong
Australia (several states have bans)
Denmark was the first to place a tax on single use plastic bags.
The following countries have measures in place.
Mexico and some Canadian provinces and territories that have measure in place.
Communities with bans, taxes or special recycling measures:
- District of Columbia
- New York
- Rhode Island
- Puerto Rico
Certain areas in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Colombia have taken measures to reduce plastic bag use, such as using only biodegradable bags and implementing recycling programs.
Movement to Ban Plastic Straws
Straws are consistently on the top 10 lists for marine debris collected every year during the International Coastal Cleanup. It is estimated that Americans use a whopping 500 million straws per day – a number that, end-to-end, could circle the planet 2.5 times. While it seems simple, straws create a pressing threat to our oceans because they are made to be disposable, and on average are used for just 10 minutes. Plastic straws are rarely recyclable, requiring special facilities, and they almost always end up in a landfill, or worse the ocean. Over their lifespan the straw breaks down into smaller and smaller, even microscopic pieces. (Source: Sailors for the Sea)
Ocean Plastics Update – January 2018
The Bahamas’ Minister of Environment and Housing, recently announced a plan to ban plastic bags in The Bahamas. The goal is to see a reduction in plastic bag use and plastic bag litter in the country, however our ultimate goal is to have a complete ban on plastic bags and Styrofoam for the entire Bahamas by the year 2020. Announced January 22, 2018. (Source: PlasticPollutioncoalition.org)
Volvo Ocean Race
Volvo Ocean Race – Turn the Tide on Plastic boat carries instrumentation that measures CO2 and collects samples of micro plastics in the oceans. This can give us a better idea of how much plastic is polluting our seas.
The filters from the Mediterranean leg of the samples collected by Turn the Tide on Plastics found between 200 and 300 particles of micro plastic per cubic meter of seawater.
Over one million microplastic particles per square kilometer of ocean were found in the Southern Atlantic Ocean, west of Cape Town, South Africa. On the third leg of the race, one and a half million microplastic particles per square kilometer of ocean were discovered east of South Africa. In Australian waters, close to Melbourne, one million microplastic particles per square kilometer of ocean were found. Microplastic particles have been found in the oceans close to Antarctica, data collected during the Volvo Ocean Race has revealed.
See: www.APlasticPlanet.co.uk for A Plastic Free Aisle campaign in grocery stores in UK.
Ellen MacArthur Foundation (Source: newplasticseconomy.org)
On January 23, 2018 at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation will announce the winners of the $1 million Circular Materials Challenge. Combined with the necessary infrastructure, the winners’ innovations could prevent the equivalent of 100 garbage bags per second of plastic waste being created.
- On January 23, 2018 at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Ellen MacArthur Foundation announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos that the list of leading brands, retailers, and packaging companies working towards using 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 or earlier has grown to 11 –
- The Coca-Cola Company,
- Walmart, and
- Werner & Mertz
– together representing more than 6 million tons of plastic packaging per year.