Plastic Pollution, Bag Bans, Expanded Polystyrene Foam
July 12 2017

Fighting for a Plastic-Free Ocean, One Campaign (actually 28) at a Time

by Pete Stauffer

It’s no secret that plastic pollution is suffocating the ocean and the many animals that call it home. Researchers estimate there are now over 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean with the number continuing to grow every day. This pollution is ravaging our marine ecosystems, entangling and choking wildlife such as seabirds, dolphins, fish, and turtles, while plastic fragments displace plankton at the base of the food chain.

So, what’s the best way to combat this global epidemic facing our ocean? It’s simple: we need to stop the problem at its source!

For over a decade, Surfrider Foundation chapters have worked to reduce plastic pollution through campaigns at the local, state, and federal levels. Our advocacy tackles some of the biggest litter items – plastic checkout bags, cigarette butts, polystyrene foam containers, plastic bottles, and straws. The goal: to stop consumption of single-use plastics and keep these products out of landfills, watersheds and the ocean.

Since 2006, Surfrider has won 132 victories in 16 different states to address plastic pollution. Many of these campaigns have targeted that ubiquitous scourge – the single-use plastic bag. Surfrider has now helped pass over 50 plastic bag policies alone, which have kept 17.5 billion plastic bags out of circulation annually. Among our most notable wins are passing plastic bag policies in California and New York City as the movement has flourished from coast to coast. We also worked with partners in 2015 to pass the Microbead-Free Waters Act, a federal law to phase out small plastic microbeads in products such as facial scrubs and toothpaste, which goes into effect this year.     

Alas, the plastics industry is not standing pat as communities increasingly reject their harmful products. Surfrider and our partners actually had to pass the California bag ban twice after an industry fueled effort put the policy on the ballot for voters in 2016. Meanwhile, the New York City bag policy was subsequently overturned by the New York State Assembly, part of disturbing national trend of states preempting local government efforts to address plastic pollution. But rest assured, Surfrider chapters are not wilting in the face of industry foul play and will continue to fight to rid our beaches and ocean of these wasteful products.

Meanwhile, Surfrider chapters have expanded advocacy efforts to focus on other types of plastic pollution, such as expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam which is typically used for cheap, disposable foodware. Similar to other forms of plastic, EPS foam does not biodegrade and wreaks harm on animals and our environment. This year, Surfrider has already passed local policies to limit foam in the states of Florida, California, and Hawaii, and we’ve got six other ongoing campaigns on the issue. With this advocacy designed to complement business outreach through our Ocean Friendly Restaurants program, we believe we can fundamentally shift our nation’s habits away from these harmful foodware products.

Finally, Surfrider is succeeding on other fronts to tackle sources of plastic pollution. From passing a smoke–free beaches policy in Hawaii to banning balloon releases in communities in New Jersey, we continue to expand our advocacy efforts to keep harmful plastic products out of the environment. We are also seeing cities increasingly consider policies that address multiple types of plastic pollution (a trend we do like!) such as plastic bags, foam containers, and bottles within a single law. This is an encouraging sign that grassroots education and advocacy efforts are indeed gaining traction!

Are you concerned about plastic pollution in the ocean? Then please join our efforts to address this critical issue! Our chapter network is always looking for passionate volunteers to advocate on behalf of our ocean, waves, and beaches. Surfrider currently has 28 active campaigns to address plastic pollution in the U.S. and we could use your support. Together we can make a difference in stemming the flow of plastics into the ocean!

See links below to learn more and get involved!

Visit Surfrider’s plastic pollution webpage

Access Surfrider’s plastic advocacy toolkit

Find a Surfrider chapter near you click here