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Dylan Gasperik’s Blog

Marine Debris Pollution: Five Lessons Learned This Year

Dylan Gasperik

Posted September 26, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Reviving the World's Oceans

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Give me a piece of what you've got
I'll make it new with much less thought
it's symbolic and full of trash
Lofty endearments whispered under your breath

Five lessons remembered from yesterday 
Easing my mind and seizing each new day 
Beyond and back I’m still the same 
Kicked over some old trash but I still waste

            -Swingin’ Utters, from Five Lessons Learned 

This past Saturday was California Coastal Cleanup Day, and so I joined a small group from my outrigger canoe club to pick up around our home beach in Marina Del Rey before going out for a paddle. In about an hour, I managed to fill a 5-gallon bucket with a varied assortment of butts, bottles, wrappers, and bags. Inspired by that unholy potpourri, here are some assorted thoughts on marine debris and plastics, along with five important lessons I learned this year.

Cleaning up the beach with friends is a great way to spend a little time paying attention to where our waste ends up. This is not a new lesson, but important to realize the importance of events like CCD. I have noticed that my own awareness of the things I use and where I dispose of them is heightened after I have spent time collecting waste from the beach. Last year on Coastal Cleanup Day, 65,544 volunteers prevented 769,607 pounds of debris from reaching the sea and that’s no small number! But everyone knows that next week there will be more trash on the beaches and this problem isn’t going to be solved in a day.

Trash Barrel

(Image Credit: Zak Noyle/ AFrame)

1.  Political action can make a difference on a large scale. This year, Los Angeles became the largest major city to ban plastic bags. This single action is a huge step towards changing our throwaway culture of single-use plastics that provide momentary convenience but cause lifetimes of destruction. We should expect other major cities to follow suit.

2. Personal, political, and nonprofit pressure can influence corporate behavior. This week, McDonald’s announced that their hot beverages will no longer be served in Polystyrene cups, after a shareholder resolution introduced by As You Sow received popular support.

3.  The throwaway culture is backed by industry money and they will fight to the death for status quo. This year a bill was introduced in the California legislature to hold businesses responsible for the waste that they produce. This kind of common sense law is as universal as one of my mother’s favorite phrases that I learned as a young boy, “Pick up after yourself, I’m not your maid!” However, the bill died on the floor due to opposition from the industry lobby. Producer responsibility will become law in California, it’s just a matter of clearing political obstacles and bringing the issue to the attention of the ocean-loving public. As with many other environmental issues, California has the chance to lead the way with progressive environmental law that the rest of the country can follow.

4.  Personal action is how we change the throwaway culture for good. People  I know make a dent in marine pollution every day by asking for their drink with “No straw, please,” by taking a couple pieces of trash off the beach with them after a surf, and by remembering to bring along their reusable bags and water bottles. When they remember, it helps me remember, and simple actions are multiplied.

5. Meanwhile, cleaning up trash headed for the ocean is costing California taxpayers $500M a year.

The issue is local, regional and global. Marine debris pollution is an issue in beautiful Bali, in Midway Island in the middle of the Pacific, and everywhere on the 71% of the planet covered by water. Animals and ecosystems are dying, and beautiful places are being destroyed. Humans are capable of such beauty and creativity, but certain parts of our culture are ugly and harmful. Let’s toss that.

This Ocean Conservancy Graphic lists the top ten types of trash found at the 2012 Coastal Cleanup Day

(This Ocean Conservancy graphic shows the top ten types of trash collected last year on Coastal Cleanup Day 2012.)

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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