Tag Archive: debris

Trying to Solve the Marine Debris Problem

A variety of plastics ends up in the Gulf. Each is a potential problem for marine life. Photo: Rick O’Connor

Since the early 1970’s, when Chief Iron Eyes Cody shed a tear on a television commercial, we have been trying to reduce the amount of solid waste found along our beaches and within our waters.   Though numerous agencies and civic groups, led by the Ocean Conservancy, have held beach and underwater clean ups over the last few decades, the problem still exist.

 

However, we can say this – the problems have changed. Many groups collect data while they collect the debris to determine what, and how much, has been collected.  This information can give folks an idea of what the major issues are.  Because of this data, aluminum can pull-tabs and glass bottles are not as common as they once were.  Communities saw they were a large problem and either removed them from the market or developed ordinances that banned them from beaches – this is certainly a success story.  There are agencies and researchers who compile solid waste data to let people know what they are throwing away.  Once we know this, we can be more effective at reducing marine debris.

 

Solid waste is not just a problem for coastal beaches; it is problem throughout society. Landfills will fill up, and communities will then need another location, or a new method, to dispose of it.  Though the human growth rate has declined from 1.23% to 1.11% in the last decade, we are still growing and are currently at 7.5 billion humans on the planet.  Each human will require resources to survive and, thus, will generate waste that will need to be disposed of.  According to a paper published in 1990, humans were generating about 550 pounds of solid waste/person/year, which generated 1.3 billion tons of solid waste each year.  In 2009 that increased to 2.3 billion tons.

 

So how much of this solid waste is being recycled?

 

According to the U.S. EPA, 258 million tons of municipal solid waste was generated in the United States in 2014. 89 million tons (34%) was recycled.  This is an increase from the 30% reported in many environmental science textbooks 10 years ago and <20% 20 years ago.  Some states are doing much better than the national average, Washington reports they are now recycling 51.4% of their solid waste, and some nations are recycling more than 90% – so things are improving but there is room for improvement.

Recycling trends in the United States.
Source: U.S. EPA

What is the situation in the Pensacola Bay area?

 

A non-profit organization called Ocean Hour cleans selected beaches for one hour every weekend.  The team coordinates volunteers to help collect the debris by providing buckets, tongs, and gloves; they also dispose of the waste.  Part of their mission is to provide data on what they are collecting so that the community is aware of what their largest problems are.  Based on their data the top three items reported by volunteers for each year were:

 

Year #1 Item #2 Item #3 Item
2015

 

Cigarette butts Food wrappers Plastic bottles
2016 Plastic bottles Aluminum cans Cigarette butts

Foam

2017 (to date)

 

Cigarette butts Food wrappers Plastic and foam pieces

 

The graph produced from Ocean Hour’s data by Escambia County Division of Marine Resource Intern Ethan Barker, shows all of the items they have collected this year but the bulk of it is associated with smoking and eating. Marine biologist and artist Shelly Marshall used 1200 cigarette butts collected by the Ocean Hour team to create a 3-foot sea turtle she calls CIG.  She then used plastic bottles and plastic bottle caps, again collected by Ocean Hour, to create a 5-foot “bottle”nose dolphin called CAP.  Both of these pieces of marine debris art are displayed at different locations in the community, and at community events, to educate the public about our marine debris problems.

Marine debris collected by Ocean Hour during the first half of 2017.
Image: Ethan Barker

So what do we do about it?

 

That is really up to us. Again, agencies, researchers, and non-profits have been reporting on the problem for almost five decades now.  We will continue to produce waste, not much can be done there, but the question is what we will do with it.  The obvious answer is dispose of properly and recycle when we can.

 

Cigarette Butts

  • If you are a smoker, please dispose of your cigarette butt properly. There are “pocket ash trays” some folks use to keep the butt with them until they can find a place to dispose of it.

Food Wrappers – Foam

Much of the debris is related to eating – wrappers, plastic film, foam cups, straws, etc. Much of what we find is associated with this activity.

  • You can use your own cup and not the foam cups provided by food establishments
  • You can bring your own container to take leftovers home
  • If you have to purchase food and drink with all of the wrappers and foam, and I understand that there are times you must, then do your best to dispose of properly.

Ocean Hour will continue their efforts to remove the debris from area beaches. If you can, volunteer to help now and then.  You can find their schedule at https://www.oceanhourfl.com/.

 

If Ocean Hour is not conducting a clean up in your area, consider having your own. The Ocean Hour team can assist with the logistics of how to conduct one.

 

Again, we are not going to stop waste production – but maybe we can do better with waste disposal.

 

CIG is a sea turtle created by artist Shelly Marshall using 1200 cigarette butts collected by Ocean Hour in a 40 minute period on Pensacola Beach.
Photo: Cathy Holmes

CAP is a 4-5′ bottlenose dolphin created by artist Shelly Marshall from plastic bottles and bottle caps collected by Ocean Hour on Pensacola Beach.
Photo: Shelly Marshall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resources:

 

Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures. 2017. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/smm/advancing-sustainable-materials-management-facts-and-figures.

 

Al-Salem, S.M., P. Lettieri, J. Baeyens. 2009. Recycling and Recovery Routes of Plastic Solid Waste (PSW): A Review. Waste Management. Vol 29 (10). Pp. 2625-2643. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956053X09002190.

 

Miller, G.T., S.E. Spoolman. 2011. Living in the Environment; Concepts, Connections, and Solutions. Brooks/Cole Publishing. Belmont CA. 16th edition.  Pp. 674.

 

Solid Waste Recycling. 2016. Department of Ecology. State of Washington. http://www.ecy.wa.gov/beyondwaste/bwprog_swDiverted.html.

 

Sullivan, C. 2017. Human Population Growth Creeps Back Up. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/human-population-growth-creeps-back-up/.

 

WorldoMeters. 2017. http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/.

PG

Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2017/08/12/trying-to-solve-the-marine-debris-problem/

The International Coastal Clean Up is Coming in September – how are we doing with marine debris in our area?

The International Coastal Clean Up is Coming in September – how are we doing with marine debris in our area?

People have been trying to do something about marine debris, and solid waste in general, since we saw the commercial of the crying Indian in the early ‘70’s. Have we made any improvement?

A variety of plastics ends up in the Gulf. Each is a potential problem for marine life. Photo: Rick O'Connor

A variety of plastics ends up in the Gulf. Each is a potential problem for marine life. Photo: Rick O’Connor

Yes… but there are still problems to deal with.

 

Literally millions of tons of solid waste are produced and disposed of each year. According to the 16th edition of Living in the Environment by G. Tyler Miller and Scott Spoolman (2011), Americans generate 2.5 million tons of solid waste each year.  This total could fill enough garbage trucks to circle the earth 8 times – bumper to bumper.  Though we only make up 4.6% of the world’s population we generate 33% of world’s solid waste.  Scientists have been recommending that we reduce the amount of solid waste we produce for some time… but we are not.

 

So what are we going to do about the problem?

 

Well, if you are not going to reduce the amount generated you have basically three choices

  1. Bury it
  2. Burn it
  3. Recycle it

Currently Americans are burying about 54% of their solid waste, 25% is recycled, 14% is incinerated, 7% is composted. Comparing our recycling efforts to other nations we are not doing too bad, but there is room for improvement – there is actually a need to improve.  The majority of the solid waste we throw away actually ends up in the environment.  It has been determined that 80% of the plastics in the ocean come from land – and much of this was thrown in the trash by people who were doing the right thing.

 

To reduce waste, we need to know what it is we are throwing away. According to Miller and Spoolman the top five items we throw away are:

  1. Paper/cardboard – 37%
  2. Yard waste – 12%
  3. Food – 11%
  4. Plastics – 11%
  5. Metal – 8%

Most of these can be recycled or composted – should be easy – but we are not doing it as often as we should.

 

What about local marine debris?

 

I have been working with the local group OCEAN HOUR.  Ocean Hour cleans a shoreline somewhere in the Escambia / Santa Rosa area every weekend (check out their Facebook page or the Escambia County Extension website to know where).  Volunteers come out to help remove the waste and Ocean Hour provides buckets, tongs, and gloves for them to do so.  Sea Grant, Escambia County, and students from local schools help to gather data from what they are collecting.

 

TOP FIVE ITEMS 2015 2016

 

1 Cigarette butts Cigarette butts

 

2 Food wrappers Foam

 

3 Plastic bottles Plastic bottles

 

4 Plastic pieces Glass bottles

 

5 Foam Food wrappers

 

 

Plastics

There has been a lot of concern about plastics in the environment. Paper, food, and yard waste are oxygen demanding waste, and need to be reduced, but their life span in the ocean is much shorter than plastic.  Plastics are made using large polymers produced while refining oil and natural gas.  There are about 46 different types and many products are a mix of different polymers.  This actually makes some forms difficult, and costly, to recycle.  Most counties can recycle #1 and #2 forms of plastic.  Water bottles are made from a form of plastic called polyethylene terephthalate (PET).  These are easier and less costly to recycle than some other forms but they must be disposed of separately.  One PVC bottle in a truck load of plastic water bottles will keep the entire truck load from being recycled.

Trash 1

Another issue, which you will be hearing more about this month, are microplastics.  Much of the plastic that reaches the ocean will break down due the sun and the ocean elements.  These bring on their own problems – read more about microplastics on this website or the link above.

 

We certainly encourage all folks who live in the panhandle, or who are visiting, to reduce the amount of solid waste they generate – recycle or compost what you can – and participate in community cleans ups – such as those put on by Ocean Hour.  The International Coastal Clean Up will be September 17.  Check the Escambia County website for locations.  We can do this!

PG

Author: Rick O’Connor – roc1@ufl.edu

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

Rick O’Connor

Permanent link to this article: http://franklin.ifas.ufl.edu/newsletters/2016/09/02/the-international-coastal-clean-up-is-coming-in-september-how-are-we-doing-with-marine-debris-in-our-area/