Ocean Protection, Plastic Pollution, Bag Bans, Expanded Polystyrene Foam
December 11 2014

The Oceans are Full of Plastic - What Now?

by Rick Wilson

Surfrider is very concerned about the problem of plastics in the ocean.  Plastics kill or injure large numbers of seabirds, fish and marine mammals through entanglement and ingestion. That's why we developed our Rise Above Plastics program to reduce the use of single-use plastics that end up in the ocean.  A recent report was released by scientists at 5 Gyres that estimated 5.25 trillion plastic particles weighing 268,940 tons are currently floating at sea. (Also see this article.) This unfortunately confirms what we already knew - that the amount of plastic debris (everything from large fishing nets to very small pieces of plastic bottles, cups, bags and other plastic materials) in the ocean is so great that we can't clean it up.  We have to address the problem at the source by using less plastics (Reduce or Refuse), then Reuse any remaining plastic materials as many times as possible, and Recycle the rest. The four R's.

Image courtesy Surfrider Foundation Europe and Young & Rubicam, Paris, France.

Surfrider staff and chapter activists around the country, aided by other environmental groups and numerous concerned citizens, have been working for several years to help "turn the tide" on the scourge of plastic ocean pollution.  Our Rise Above Plastics program seeks to reduce plastic in the ocean using a 3-pronged approach: public education, local and state actions to ban or discourage use of single use items like plastic bags, plastic bottles and polystyrene take-out food containers, and federal actions to reduce single-use plastics.

Education can and has worked to change behavior to replace single use bags and bottles with reusable containers and to reduce unnecessary plastic packaging.  The Rise Above Plastics program description has a list of ten ways all of us can Rise Above Plastics.

Surfrider has been successful in advocating for plastic bag bans or fees in several locations.  This includes a recent plastic bag ban in California and a "defacto" (all four counties) state ban in Hawaii.  Bans on polystyrene take-out food containers are also being pursued.  Polystyrene is a particularly worrisome form of plastic, since it easily crumbles into small particles that don't degrade but look like food to fish and sea birds.  

At the federal level, Surfrider staff has worked with staff at UCLA’s Frank G. Wells Environmental Law Clinic to develop recommendations for potential federal policy, programs, and guidelines regarding plastic bags, beverage containers and implementing extended producer responsibility to reduce plastic waste.

Plastic in the ocean is a huge problem that has been growing since the introduction and widespread use of plastics after World War II.  It is critical that we work at all levels (personal, local, state and federal) to reduce single-use plastics and the associated impacts on the ocean.

Don't let the following nightmare become a reality! Thanks to Surfrider Europe for the video.