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Plastic Is Killing our Oceans – The Issues, Facts, and Possible Solutions

By Wendy Lipscomb @ itsafishthing.com

Approximately 40% of the world’s 7.6 billion people live within 62 miles (100km) of an ocean coast. For the other 60%, some of whom may never have even seen an ocean, the seas still play a vital role in their lives.

Oil and consumer goods are moved around the world on vast ships, keeping the wheels of commerce, and vehicles, turning. Most importantly, the ocean is vital to the food chain.

Unfortunately, we collectively treat the oceans worse than most of us treat the inside of our cars. Every year, anywhere from about 8 to 12 million US tons of plastic end up in the world’s oceans.

For perspective, that’s close to three times as heavy as all the elephants on Earth combined.

Close up of a ton of plastic floating in the oceanThe scale of the problem is enormous, but it’s not a lost cause. Just like when your dentist says you can avoid further problems with your gums if you brush better and floss often, a change in how we live could be the catalyst for cleaner oceans in the future.

Read on to learn about the true scope of the issue, why plastics in our oceans are such a problem, why we at itsafishthing.com are so concerned, and why you should be too.

We’ll finish by looking at some of the methods currently in use for ocean cleanup, what the future may hold, and what you and I can do to help put the brakes on plastic pollution.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE HERE

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Let’s Bag Plastic Bags

This op-ed piece was published on Mar. 3, 2018 in The New York Times:

All it had taken was a moment’s distraction. In a well-practiced sleight of hand, the cashier had double-bagged in plastic a dozen eggs, which were already encased in two protective layers of plastic. I briefly contemplated appealing for the liberation of my groceries but chose the path of least resistance. The deed was done, and the purveyors of plastic had been victorious on this occasion.

It was not always thus. In the late 1970s, single-use plastic bags were seldom available in grocery stores. Since then they have become an omnipresent part of the exchange of merchandise for money, a “free” offering to consecrate the ritual. An estimated one trillion bags are used each year globally, but they are so seamlessly ingrained into our daily routines that we hardly notice. It is difficult to imagine life without them.

The average American throws away about 10 single-use plastic bags per week, but New Yorkers use twice the national average. Some 23 billion are used across the state each year — more than enough, when tied together, to stretch to the moon and back 13 times. In the short trip from store to home the utility of these bags is spent, but the bags themselves can take millions of times longer to break down in landfill.

Yes, you are correct. This is crazy and entirely unnecessary. In Ireland, my home country, plastic bags were once an essential part of daily life. They were often found polluting waterways and littering the countryside, fluttering in trees and hedges. After a 15 euro cent fee was introduced in 2002, however, annual use dropped from an estimated 328 to 14 per person by 2014. Within a year of the fee’s imposition, a national survey found that 90 percent of shoppers were using reusable bagslitter had also been reduced significantly.

Other countries have followed suit, though in a trickle, not a flood. But now political momentum is gathering across the globe to address the problems that plastics pose for the planet. Last year, Kenya banned plastic bags, becoming the latest of more than two dozen countries to either prohibit them or impose a fee for their use.

In the United States, California is the only state to have imposed a comprehensive solution to the plastic bag problem, banning single-use plastic bags in stores in 2014, an action then endorsed by voters in a statewide referendum in 2016. Dozens of municipalities have banned plastic bags or imposed fees to discourage their use, including Austin, Tex.; Chicago; and Seattle. New York State and Massachusetts may well find themselves on the front lines of the plastic bag war this year.

In January, the European Union responded with its first Europe-wide strategy on plastics, which aims to clamp down on single-use plastic items and ensure that they are fully recyclable by 2030.

All of this is part of a growing realization that our feckless use of plastics is out of control. This has become particularly evident in what is happening to the world’s oceans. In December, an important milestone was reached when 193 countries signed a United Nations resolution to monitor plastics disposal in the oceans and 39 countries committed to reducing the quantity of plastics going into the sea.

The United Nations Environment Program estimates that some eight million tons of plastic waste end up in the oceans each year, while a 2016 World Economic Forum report projects that there will be more plastic than fish by weight in the oceans by 2050 if current trends continue. Plastic production and disposal also generates around 400 million tons of carbon dioxide a year globally, more than total annual emissions from Britain.

Millions of whales, birds, seals and turtles die because they mistake plastic bags for food or because they become ensnared in nets, packing bands and other items. Trillions of microplasticsend up in the ocean, with seafood eaters ingesting an estimated 11,000 tiny pieces annually. Plastic fibers have also been foundin tap water around the world; in one study, researchers found that 94 percent of water samples in the United Stateswere affected. The impact on human health from direct exposure to microplastics is unknown.

One of the most direct ways to begin to address this problem is by taking on the single-use plastic bag.

Following in the footsteps of California, Massachusetts may attempt this year to impose a statewide solution to the plastic bag problem. In December, Boston’s mayor, Martin Walsh, signed an ordinance banning single-use plastic bags in city stores. With around 60 other municipalities in the state restricting or imposing fees on these bags, the State Legislature is considering banning them.

New York is another potential battleground. Efforts by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and by Mayor Bill de Blasio to introduce a bag fee have been stymied in part by opposition from the “big plastic” lobby.

Last year Gov. Andrew Cuomo blocked a law that would have imposed a 5-cent fee on plastic bags in New York City and called instead for a statewide solution. The task force he established identified eight options in a report released in January, including voluntary initiatives, outright bans and fees. But it makes no specific recommendations.

In choosing a solution, it is important to understand the real cause of the plastic bag problem: the myth of free plastic. Retailers pay up to 5 cents per plastic bag, but the cost is hidden, passed on to shoppers through higher grocery prices. This is, no doubt, a brilliant business model for plastic manufacturers, but it has had a devastating impact on the planet.

Fees charged to consumers for each plastic bag undermine the foundation of this myth. They have a long track record of success, and not just across American cities. They have been effective in DenmarkHong KongSouth AfricaBritain and Botswana. The average Dane, for example, now uses just four single-use plastic bags a year, after the introduction of a fee in 1994.

Some see fees as a regressive tax on seniors, the sick or the poor, but these arguments do not hold water. It is unjust to charge more for staples like food so that discretionary plastic items can be offered free, especially when there are alternatives. In any case, reusable bags can be provided for those in need.

Fees set above 15 cents that flow to an environmental fund strike a good balance between flexibility and effectiveness. They can be more politically acceptable than outright bans. For example, a survey of Irish citizens revealed that a remarkable 91 percent welcomed the fee because they witnessed the drop in litter and found reusable bags more suitable for carrying groceries.

The cultural impact can be game changing. As was the case with smoking indoors, the use of plastic bags becomes less socially acceptable over time once the government moves to restrict them. Reusable bags become the norm quicker than one might imagine, and shoppers seamlessly adapt their daily routines to the new reality. Action aimed at plastic bags can pave the way for further measures to address free coffee cups, lids, stirrers, cutlery, straws and takeout packaging.

When achieved, these small changes to our daily routines can be surprisingly empowering.

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PEP Rally: Introducing Pelham Eliminates Plastics

Journalist Lauren Paige Kennedy and editor Tracey Minkin of Coastal Living magazine introduce a teen-led initiative to stop the use of throwaway plastics in Pelham.

We’d like to introduce you to PEP (Pelham Eliminates Plastics), which aims to school parents, teachers, neighbors, merchants, and friends about the FACTS on plastic waste and what it’s doing to our threatened oceans.

The group takes its inspiration, in part, from Melati and Isabel Wijsen, sisters from Bali who organized a kids’ crusade that shamed the governor into phasing out all plastic bags on the island by 2018.

Please take the #PEPpledge: Stop using SINGLE-USE PLASTICS, including plastic bags, water bottles, straws, and takeout coffee lids, TODAY. For our kids’ sakes, and their futures!

You’ll learn why in Lauren Paige Kennedy’s COASTAL LIVING Magazine feature, Meet 13 Ocean Heroes Fighting to Save our Seas. For this story she met with musician and ocean conservationist Jack Johnson and a global tribe of scientists, citizen activists, and sea legends, who together crunch the numbers on what plastic waste is doing to our planet—and who also share what we must together do: save our waters one person, one town, one state, one country, and one nation at a time.

 

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A New Definition of BYOB: “Bring Your Own Bag”

A NEW DEFINITION OF BYOB: “BRING YOUR OWN BAG” (A REUSABLE BAG RATHER THAN A PLASTIC BAG)

From The Pelhams – PLUS

PMHS senior Megan Ploch, head of PMHS Enviro Club, created the poster below emphasizing a new definition of BYOB—Bring Your Own Bag (A Reuseable Bag, Rather Than a Plastic Bag).

The PMHS Enviro Club was among the sponsors of a free screening of “A Plastic Ocean” at The Picture House on Earth Day (April 22). More than 100 people of all ages attended the screening of the documentary which chronicles the effects of plastic in the ocean. The film showed animals mistaking plastic for food and dying as a result or eaten by sea animals that make their way into the food chain—and into humans. From beautiful images of blue whales swimming to devastating stories of oceanfront communities living in washed-up plastic waste to natural ways to clean plastic from waterways, the documentary informed as well as tugged on the audience’s emotions.

EcoPel, in conjunction with Meridian Risk, Joan Solimine Real Estate, and the PMHS Enviro Club, handed out free reusable totes to highlight the simple way that Pelhamites can make a difference by shunning single use plastic bags and replacing them with reusable ones. EcoPel thanks The Picture House, The PMHS Enviro Club, and ConEd for co-sponsoring the screening.

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Ice Hockey’s Natty Heintz Talks Up EcoPel as Con Edison Athlete of the Week

He reflects back and thanks mentors like coach Ed Witz and his dad for getting him where he is today.

Name: Nathaniel Heintz

School: Pelham High School

Class: Senior

Sport: Hockey

Athletic accomplishment: Heintz had 30 goals and 30 assists for 63 points in 26 games to help the Pelicans lead to the programs first ever state championship. During the final four weekend, Heintz had two goals and an assist in the state semifinals 6-0 win. He garnered second team all-state and was named to the final four all tournament team. He also garnered all-league and all section honors. He was the tournament MVP of the Beektown tournament earlier in the season. He was the USPHL (US Premier Hockey League) player of the week during the season. Heintz was the captain of the hockey team this past season. He’s been a member of the lacrosse team for the last three years.

Academic accomplishment: Heintz has a 95.06 GPA. He’s undecided as to where he’s going to school next year and what he’ll study. He’s a member of the National, Math, Italian, Science and English honor societies, and Rho Kappa Honor Society. After school, Heintz is a member of the Italian Club and the EcoPel Program (Environmental Safety Club). In the community, Heintz has volunteered his time with Room to Read, a USA Hokey Level 2 Referee, Coast to Coast, and Relay for Life. Heintz has a summer internship at Rockefeller University. In his spare time, Heintz kayaks, plays golf and tennis, does Yoga, and reads.

Getting to know Nathaniel Heintz

The Journal News: A few weeks removed now has it sunk in yet that you and your teammates won the first state title in program history?

Nathaniel Heintz: It started to sink in a little more over the past few days you know once we got back to Pelham and everybody said congrats. Now we’re getting into lacrosse season, we’re working towards hopefully winning a section title this year. It’s awesome, we’ve been talking with coach and there’s been a lot of talk amongst ourselves and it’s starting to sink in a little more, I’m not sure if it’s fully sunk in yet though.

TJN: Is there anything you can take from your experience during the hockey season and transfer it into the upcoming lacrosse season?

NH: A lot of the dedication that goes into it is the same. Both of them are team sports and there are a lot of guys who play both so it’s important for both teams that we got to be close knit and that was a big part of our success — the way everyone backed each other up.

TJN: Describe the moment you knew the team was going to win and the moment when the horn blew and the win became official.

NH: I think once Stef (Stefan Miklakos) scored that second goal and we sort of got out in front, that was a pretty big one to get but once we got that fourth goal, with like 10 minutes to go, I think that’s when I thought we had it. When the buzzer sounded, it was unbelievable. All the hard work we put in our whole lives is incredible to do it especially for coach Witz. He dedicated most of his life to the program, building it up. All the fans came up – there were probably 100 kids up in Buffalo, our families, and all our teammates that worked so hard together to get where we were and no matter how much anyone played, they gave it their all. It was awesome to see everyone’s hard work mean something.

TJN: How long have you been playing hockey?

NH: My dad was a big hockey player so I think I was always around it. I started skating when I was three but I didn’t start playing till I was five. I started doing the clinic and we built a rink in my backyard. He taught me to skate and shoot out there.

TJN: When you get to college, are you going to continue playing either sport?

NH: I want to play club hockey in college because I was thinking about taking a gap year because that’s what you have to do to play college hockey but I decided I wanted to go to college and focus on my academic career. Club hockey is still pretty competitive for a lot of guys who like me take academics seriously.

TJN: Do you know where you’re going next year?

NH: No, I haven’t decided yet. I’m still waiting to hear from 10 schools. That should happen within the next nine days or so it’s going to be a pretty packed next few days. Then I’ll have the next month to decide. Wherever I’ll end up, I’ll be happy.

TJN: Do you know what you want to major in?

NH: I’m not exactly sure yet. It depends on which college I get into I guess. I was thinking engineering either mechanical or biomedical because I’ve always liked to build things for the mechanical aspect. Then I think biomedical because I’ve spent the last couple of summers working at a neuro-molecular biology lab researching Parkinson’s and that was interesting.

TJN: What was the one piece of community service work you’ve done that left you with a lasting impact?

NH: I think the EcoPel work I’ve done. My friend’s mom started it and pretty much what it’s doing is promoting a healthy lifestyle and promoting ways to create a more sustainable environment around Pelham. EcoPel stands for Environmental Coalition of the Pelhams so, we do a lot of town cleanups and yoga solstices on the summer solstice. That’s the one that affected me the most because of how important it is nowadays with all the pollution and what not to do to have a healthy environment and healthy lifestyle.

TJN: How cool is it to know you get to follow in Ben Hurd’s footsteps in winning the Con Ed award?

NH: It’s awesome that we’ve got two guys in one year. It shows how special our team was I guess. Not say we’re the two best players, we’ve got 10 guys who were huge on the team even more really. To have two winners in the same year is remarkable.

CON EDISON ATHLETE OF THE WEEK: PELHAM’S BENJAMIN HURD

The Con Edison Athlete of the Week recognizes students in Westchester and Putnam schools who excel athletically. Academic achievements, leadership, citizenship, and school and community activities are also factors. The winner is selected each week by a panel of athletic directors and coaches who review ballots submitted by each athlete’s athletic director or coach.

Debbie Schechter; Twitter: @LoHud_Debbie

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It Falls on Deaf Ears, by Rachel Brewer

The following poem was written by Pelham Memorial High School 10th grader Rachel Brewer for her English Honors class and read by Rachel at the Pelham March for America on Mar. 5, 2017.

It Falls on Deaf Ears
By Rachel Brewer

You poison her blood, dig into her flesh

Tear her hair, slash her skin.

You’ve put a bounty on her bounty,

Drilled and dumped and fracked and dug.

She’s given warning after warning,

Warming, warming

Her blood is boiling and her skin is burning,

Her breath is hot and her eyes are aflame.

Eve bites back.

40 foot waves, islands disappearing

Mountains spitting fire and continents trembling.

You’re waist deep in waste,

Deep and deeper wells, well

It’s not the end of the world! You say

And she answers you, cackling in delirium: But it is.

When the oceans are up to your eyeballs,

And the carbon is blackening your mouth,

Maybe then you will be able to hear her.

 

Rachel’s Notes:

In my poem I covered the issue of environmental damage caused by humans. I find it completely nonsensical that we are so consciously and continuously destroying our home planet. Exponentially increased human activity in the past 50 years or so has had an unimaginably large effect on the environment, and not only in regards to global warming: decreased biodiversity, rising ocean levels, changes in oceanic pH, changes in weather patterns, erosion, water and air pollution, carcinogenic chemical exposure, deforestation — there is an endless laundry list of the problems human activity have caused. Unfortunately, not only is this issue low priority in the minds of many Americans, but some do not even believe an issue exists. My goal with this poem was to force my reader to think about and recognize the damage human activities do to the planet, how they contribute to these problems, and how the destruction of our planet might affect them. Fear is often a catalyst for change, and this quality can be used rightly or wrongly. I hope to capture it in a positive and constructive manner because when it comes to environmental problems of the 21st century, frankly, there is much to fear.

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Pelham Teens Make Film on Food Rescue Organization County Harvest

Documentary Intensive 2016 – County Harvest from The Picture House on Vimeo.

EcoPel salutes the work of five Pelham high school students who produced a short film on the local food recycling organization County Harvest as part of a week-long documentary intensive workshop offered by The Picture House in July.

The student production team included George Fuss, Zoe Landless, Jonah Kraftowitz, Jared Morel, and Jack Silverman.

The class was taught by Emily Dombroff, film production teacher and art department chair at Mamaroneck High School.

County Harvest is an all-volunteer organization that gathers surplus food from dozens of top supermarkets, restaurants, and other venues, and distributes it to soup kitchens, food pantries, and homeless shelters.

Founded in October 2009 by Pelhamite Missy Palmisciano, it serves a growing population of families, seniors, veterans, and children in our area who are not sure where their next meal will come from.