By Pete Stauffer
Plastic pollution is suffocating the ocean and the animals that call it home. Researchers estimate there are now more than 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean and the number grows every day. This pollution is ravaging our marine ecosystems, entangling and choking wildlife such as seabirds, dolphins, fish and turtles. Plastic never biodegrades, it only spreads and it's now polluting every part of the ocean—from beaches, reefs and deep ocean trenches to the frigid waters of the Arctic.
Solving a problem of this magnitude will be neither easy nor simple. A variety of approaches are needed to address the threat, including public education, product innovation and industry leadership. While recycling is important, less than 10 percent of plastic consumed since 1950 has actually been recycled. As recycling delays the final disposal of the material, it is ultimately useful for reducing the amount of new plastic that is produced. The solution to the plastics crisis depends on tackling the problem at the source: We must stop consuming plastics at current rates.
Humans Have Created 9 Billion Tons of Plastic in the last 67 Years https://t.co/kpe3CEC7PQ @foeeurope @globalactplan @Green_Europe— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1500982508.0
The grassroots movement to stop plastic pollution is working to advance laws and policies to discourage consumption. Hundreds of U.S. cities have already taken action to curb the use of commonly littered items such as plastic checkout bags, polystyrene foam containers, plastic bottles and straws. Taking the form of either bans or fees, such policies are shifting consumer habits to keep these damaging products out of landfills, watersheds and the ocean.
Over the past decade, the number of groups working to stop plastic pollution has grown by leaps and bounds. Last year, the movement reached an important milestone with the formation of #Breakfreefromplastics, an international group of hundreds of organizations, including the Surfrider Foundation, working to stop plastic pollution for good.
"Our chapters organize hundreds of beach cleanups every year, so they see the scale of the problem first hand," said Surfrider CEO Chad Nelsen. "We know cleaning beaches isn't a long-term solution so it motivates our coastal defenders to advocate for practical source reduction solutions."
In the U.S., much of the advocacy to address plastic pollution has focused on grocery checkout bags—those ubiquitous items often seen clogging storm drains or hanging from tree branches. It is estimated that Americans go through about 100 billion plastic bags a year or 360 bags for every man, woman and child in the country. Curbing the consumption of single-use plastic bags is a first step to shift consumer habits towards a more sustainable lifestyle. Even among plastic products, they are uniquely damaging. They disperse easily, choke streams and rivers, entangle wildlife, clog recycling equipment and cost significant amounts of money to clean up.
Fueled by grassroots advocacy and growing public awareness, more than 200 municipalities in the U.S. have now passed bans or fees on single-use plastic bags. These laws keep billions of plastic bags out of circulation annually and represent an important step in a broader paradigm shift towards reusables.
Unfortunately, the plastics industry is fighting back as communities increasingly reject harmful plastic products. After the nation's first statewide plastic bag ban in California was signed into law in 2014, an industry-fueled effort to overturn it led to a referendum for voters, who voted to uphold the statewide bag ban. Meanwhile, the bag policy in New York City was recently overturned by the New York State Legislature, part of a disturbing national trend of states preempting local government efforts to address plastic pollution. Industry groups spend millions to defeat anti-bag laws through lobbying legislators, filing lawsuits and hiring additional firms. Their efforts are gaining traction as more than ten states, including Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin have now passed "preemption policies" to prohibit local governments from passing ordinances to address plastic bags.
This is an alarming development, given the growing crisis of plastic pollution in the ocean. Strong leadership from local, state and federal governments is critical for the U.S. to make real progress on the issue. That's why public education and citizen advocacy is needed more than ever. Ask your legislators to take action on the issue of plastic pollution and oppose laws that prevent local municipalities from passing local laws to improve their communities. Get involved through your local Surfrider chapter and stay connected to the plastic-free movement through @Surfrider and #BreakFreeFromPlastics. The future of the ocean may depend on it.
Pete Stauffer is environmental director for the Surfrider Foundation and manages the organization's campaigns and programs to address the protection of our ocean, waves and beaches. Based in San Clemente, California, Pete supports Surfrider chapters and staff across the U.S. to advance local, state and national priorities.
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Monday that 64 high-income nations have joined an effort to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine fairly, prioritizing the most vulnerable citizens, as Science reported. The program is called the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, or Covax, and it is a joint effort led by the WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Gloria Oladipo
In the face of dangerous heat waves this summer, Americans have taken shelter in air conditioned cooling centers. Normally, that would be a wise choice, but during a pandemic, indoor shelters present new risks. The same air conditioning systems that keep us cool recirculate air around us, potentially spreading the coronavirus.
Toxins in water produced by cyanobacteria was likely responsible for more than 300 elephant deaths in Botswana this year, the country's wildlife department announced on Monday.
How Did Cyanobacteria Poison the Elephants?<p>Cyanobacteria are microscopic organisms common in water and sometimes found in soil. Some cyanobacteria produce neurotoxins.</p><p>The cyanobacteria "was growing in pans" or watering holes, the principal veterinary officer of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Mmadi Reuben, told reporters.</p><p>Reuben said the deaths had "stopped towards the end of June 2020, coinciding with the drying of pans."</p><p>"However we have many questions still to be answered such as why the elephants only and why that area only? We have a number of hypotheses we are investigating," added Reuben.</p><p>Similar elephant deaths have also been recorded in neighboring Zimbabwe.</p>
Climate Change to Blame?<p>Not all cyanobacteria are toxic but scientists say varieties dangerous to humans and animals are occurring more frequently as climate change drives up global temperatures.</p><p>Southern Africa's temperatures are rising at twice the global average, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.</p>
Elephant Paradise?<p>Africa's overall elephant population is declining due to poaching. But Botswana, home to almost a third of the continent's elephants, has seen numbers grow to around 130,000.</p><p>Botswana's government said it was continuing studies into the occurrence of the deadly bacteria. In the winter, elephants hydrate themselves mainly by eating roots and bark, especially of the baobab tree.</p>
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By Alexandra Villarreal
As West coast wildfires color the skies dystopian red and orange and an aggressive hurricane season batters the U.S. Gulf coast, college students are demanding their schools take bold action to address the climate crisis.
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The National Hurricane Center has run out of names for tropical storms this year and has now moved on to the Greek alphabet during an extremely active hurricane season. Late Monday night, Tropical Storm Beta became the ninth named storm to make landfall. That's the first time so many named storms have made landfall since 1916, when Woodrow Wilson was president, according to NBC News.
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