Archived entries for Pollution

Cost Per Plastic Bag To Cleanup: LA Case Study.

Today, I was tagged in a tweet from a fellow ocean lover mentioning Los Angeles’s latest effort to stop trash in the watershed from getting to the ocean. The story, which appears in The Los Angeles Times made my head spin a bit.  It details the problem of Southern California’s litter entering the ocean through drainages and how massive that outflow actually is.  Never mind the incredible amount of trash we’re talking about making its way to the sea, I’m more interested in the costs of preventing it from happening.  These costs are the real doozy. According the article, 16 different cities in Southern California hope is to install mesh screens and such to stop 840,000 pounds of garbage entering the ocean each year. How much does this cost?  A cool 10 million dollars in stimulus money—  now, let’s call the stimulus money tax revenue— (but we know it’s probably borrowed, so we, as taxpayers are paying interest on that amount, too)—  that is, to put it very simply, money that you and I pay to government for public works projects.

But what does this mean?

Let’s start breaking these numbers down into something meaningful:

$10,000,000 divided by 840,000 = $11.90 per one pound of trash to clean out of or prevent from going into a given watershed. Let’s call it $12/a pound for sake of argument.

A plastic bag weighs anywhere from 8 to 60 grams depending on its construction. As an exercise, let’s break this down further.  Again, for the sake of the argument (where we give the plastic bag itself the benefit of the doubt) we’ll keep our estimation of the plastic bag’s weight at the very low end of the scale, eight grams.  There are roughly 453 grams in a pound.  So, if we divide 453 grams by 8 grams (which represents the weight of one plastic bag) we get roughly 57 plastic bags per pound. So now, breaking this down even further, we’ll represent $12.00 as 1,200 pennies.  If it costs us 1,200 pennies to prevent or clean out one pound of garbage, and that garbage is plastic bags, it means per weight that plastic bags cost a significant amount of money to recover per bag.  Dividing 1,200 pennies by 57 (the amount of plastic bags in one pound of garbage) we get a whopping 21 cents per bag of taxpayer money!  Holy Moly!

Granted, there is certainly going to be other plastic and styrofoam products caught, but the intent here, clearly, is to prevent synthetics from entering the sea, not organic material such as wood and plants (or paper bags for that matter). What’s at the crux of this is simple: we’re paying, you and me, to clean up a mess that burdens the commons, made by companies that are not required by law to mitigate their impacts on the environment or our pocket books. That’s not right.

Stiv Wilson, Portland Chapter


The number one question at a bag ban outreach event is this: “What do I pick dog poop up with?”  First up, let’s break down where your dog’s business goes a bit.  As a dog owner myself, I feel your pain.  But let’s think about this philosophically for a minute.  First up, hermetically sealing organic waste material in a single use plastic bag to be place inside another plastic bag, then to be landfilled in a oxygen-less environment ain’t doing mom nature no favors.  Here’s an excerpt from Elizabeth Royte’s book, Garbage Land that illuminates what happens to your stuff in a landfill:

“Any organic compound in this top layer of the landfill–  or in the transfer station or the kitchen garbage pai— is fair game for digestion by bacteria, fungi, and insects, which us their enzymes t0 break the large organic compounds into fatty acids, water and carbon dioxide. In this phase of biodegradation, the landfill temperature rises, and weak acid forms within the water, dissolving some of the minerals. When the aerobic microbes die off and oxygen is depleted, the anaerobic team takes over. The first wave of anaerobic bacteria produces enzymes called cellulases, which break organic material into smaller molecules, like sugars and amino or fatty acids. Next actogenci bacteria ferment those products into alcohols and organic acids– including acetic, lactic, and formic acids. The third and final wave of bacteria, the methanogens, converts acetic acid and methanol into underground plumes of methane, carbon dioxide, and water. If the gases escape collection hoses and rise through layers of garbage, as they do in both old-style dumps and new, they feed potential fires an contribute to greenhouse warming.”

And all these byproducts leach out.  Even in new style landfills that are lined, eventually, they break a hole.  If you’re sealing your dog poop in a bag, it’s never going to be exposed to oxygen and thus, by the time the plastic bag is punctured, it’s probably already buried too far for any biodegradation to occur because of the lack of oxygen.

Never mind the whole host of implications landfills raise— dog poop sealed in a plastic bag is probably going to last longer than you, or your dog.  FYI, those ‘biodegradable poop bags’ you bought, aren’t going to biodegrade in this environment, either.  So what’s best?  First up, try for something that isn’t sealed.  Wax paper works well, and believe it or not, so does newspaper— remember, you protect your hand from your own poop with only a layer of paper between you and the offensive surface and most of the time, at least in my experience, I’m successful.  If I walk my dog from my house, I actually pick up after him with a paper product, then flush the ‘up’ down my toilet and compost the paper in my compost bin.

But if you’re on the go?  Easy!  Humans really don’t have a problem being wasteful and almost any park garbage can is likely to have a coffee cup and lid in the top layer– something that isn’t too gross to retrieve (yes, I understand I’m going to be callled a dirty hippie here)—  the coffee cup comes replete with a plastic lid scoop and a receptacle.  Now, if you HAVE to have plastic, seriously, isn’t there ten million things around your house wrapped in some sort of film that you could utilize?  Humans adapted from monkeys, which took time.  So will this.  It’s a brave new world, so, be brave.

We’re Winning: And Industry Is Getting Desperate.

I’ve been in Los Angeles for the past three weeks, often overwhelmed by how polluted this city really is.  Everywhere, there’s garbage which often seems to be a symptom of all large population centers.  On my last day in LA, the fall rains started to come.  One of the most iconic images of the anti-plastic pollution movement is of Los Angeles’s Ballona Creek (pictured below) where much of the city’s garbage flows out to sea when the fall rains come.  In an attempt to mitigate the flow, the city attempts to deploy boom and pull garbage out with a crane. Why not prevent it going in the first place?

That’s the meat of the argument precisely.  As a society, we often look to clean up our mess, rather than prevent the mess from happening in the first place. There’s an old parable that environmentalists often use to describe this point exactly.  Here’s how it goes—  One day, a man by the side of river sees a baby floating down the river and jumps in to save it.  As soon as he gets the baby to safety, he notices another floating down, and another.  He enlists help from the village and together, they form a human chain across the river to catch multiple babies floating down.  But soon, the man breaks the chain, much to the astonishment of the other villagers and starts running up river.  They ask, ‘what are you doing?  We’re not catching all the babies now!’  He says calmly, realizing that some babies will perish as the result of him breaking the chain, ‘I’m going upriver to stop whomever is throwing the babies in the river in the first place.’

This is the philosophy of banning the bag (or placing a fee on bags).  It’s strategy to eliminate waste before it starts. Yes, it’s not going to solve the problem entirely, but The Ban The Bag movement is growing, eliminating more and more and more unnecessary waste from our commons.  It’s low hanging fruit and it shows industry that no matter how much they spend trying to buy lawmakers or spin the issue, the grassroots movement can and will prevail.  Ballona is proof that one of the most sophisticated cities in the entire world can’t manage the amount of waste of it produces, especially synthetic waste. That’s why we want to eliminate waste before it becomes it.

Knowing this iconic picture of the crane and boom and feeling the rain beat down on my car, I knew I had to go see this place for myself.  I drove over to Marina Del Rey, an affluent neighborhood in Los Angeles while listening to NPR.  The story was about Hilex Poly, a plastic bag manufacturer/recycler is suing the city of Los Angeles’s unincorporated areas over their plastic bag ban with a 10 cent fee attached to paper.  They’re calling the fee an ‘illegal tax’.  By definition, a tax is something that goes into state coffers.  The fee does not.  End of story.

Once at Ballona, to my astonishment, there were no cranes pulling garbage out, and the picture at the lead here is downriver from the boom meant to catch it all.  I took that photo about 200 yards from the open basic ocean.  That’s the surface of the water which you can barely see–  it’s horrendous– oh and a submerged plastic bag.  It’s sad.  But it’s also a call to YOU, the change agents of society–  the WE in WE THE PEOPLE–  just remember this–  you can win, and the only way you will win is if you get involved.

Everyday we scan the news to see where this little BanTheBag logo has ended up in the world.  The Portland Chapter of The Surfrider Foundation worked with a local creative agency to develop that symbol. It’s gone viral.  It’s not trademarked, it’s all over the world now.  It’s in Boulder, Colorado right now, pushing city council to ban the bag there.  It’s in the UK.  It’s Africa.  In short, it’s our activist ICON, a picture meant to not just symbolize the movement, but symbolize the progress that we as citizens of this earth all over the world are making.  We’re winning.  Keep it up.

Portland Bans the Bag

Portland Bans the Bag from Mayor Sam Adams on Vimeo.

After many years of educating, organizing and solid grassroots activism, on July 21, 2011, Portland City Mayor and Commissioners voted unanimously to ban plastic check out bags in the city of Portland. Showing tremendous leadership on this issue and staying true to his and the council’s resolution last April, Mayor Sam Adams declared this the first small step, in joining with cities across the nation and even countries world wide to promote reusable bags and reduce our consumption of single use plastics. It’s been a long path for the Portland Chapter and the many other organizations who joined this fight. I remember 4 years ago quite distinctly sitting in a room off east burnside with about 5-7 people, who got really motivated to start doing something to Rise Above Plastics. The issue saw through 2.5 executive council terms on the chapter, jumped from 5-7 core chapter organizers to 15-20, activists and supporter engagement jumped from the 100s, to 1000s, to over 10,000. Delayed for a year, the issue went statewide, a bill was drafted and swiftly entered the capitol. Going through a tough session and a strong plastic lobby, the bill failed during the 2011 session and the chapter stayed focus on their original goal for Portland…and Portland BANNED THE BAG!

Senate Fails to Pass Bag Ban – Local Govs Move Forward

After an epic battle against the goliath out-of-state plastic industry’s various misleading ads, scare media and unrealistic recycling solutions campaign, Senate Bill 536, a bill to enact a statewide ban on single use plastic checkout bags died today. The good news is that all of the cities and grassroots support for passing local ordinances in the absence of a statewide ban is now springing into action. In a statement to the Oregonian, Mayor Sam Adams says, “I’m disappointed that a statewide ban won’t be enacted this session. However, I’m committed to moving forward with a local ban on plastic bags in Portland.” And that’s something our full coalition will be working on in many cities throughout the state of Oregon in the coming weeks. By discussing this statewide legislation, Oregonians have become more aware of the environmental and economic impacts created by single use plastic bags. Surfrider Foundation is committed to Rising Above Plastic and would like to thank the tens of thousands of individuals that continue to support this effort as well as the over 500 businesses and many local governments that have stepped up with their own commitments. Attached below is a link to our official press release:

Senate Bill 536 Press Release

Plastic Bags: Too Wasteful to Recycle?

Upon a recent trip to southern California, I was struck by these “recycling stations”, mandated and paid for from a recycling bill backed by the American Chemistry Council. The so called “recycling stations” are more like an ad for the plastic industry, neatly stating above the cans “Plastics. Too Valuable to Waste”. Really? Or maybe it should be something to the effect of “Plastics (especially bags): too wasteful to value. I’m curious how that recycling bill is fairing for California litter, stormdrains, beaches and the nearshore ocean animals. And just today, news comes out that after plastic industry demands for a bag recycling bill instead of a bag ban bill, they still can’t support reaching the 20% recycling rate in the first year. This just shows the hypocrisy of the plastic bag industry. They claim a ban isn’t needed because bags can be recycled, but when legislators cater to their demands (thanks to out-of-state campaign donations and lobbying) they oppose that too! Fact is, there’s a reason that 95% of plastic bags aren’t recycled – there’s no real market and its cheaper for the industry to produce billions of new ones each year. The bottom line is that a bag ban will not only protect the environment, it will save money for both businesses and consumers. If that wasn’t true, the NW Grocers Assoc. never would have supported the original bill (SB 536) which continues to be opposed by the (out of state) plastics lobby.

The plastic industry has continually opposed a ban relying on the messaging that recycling is the answer and they’d be interested in a recycling bill. That bluff has been called and the plastic industry is showing their cards now that recycling is not the answer. Well played plastic-hearted on the million dollar scare tactics, campaigning and recycling messaging, but you’ve got an empty hand now – clearly you can’t recycle your way out of this problem.

The simple points on recycling:

  • Recycling is not an effective solution to the environmental problem of plastic pollution. An estimated 100,000 marine mammals and 1 million sea birds die every year after ingesting or being tangled in plastics.
  • Recycling rates can increase, but at the same time the number of plastic bags consumed can increase.
  • Recycling might make us feel good, but it’s a failure to Reduce our consumption, and to Reuse alternative solutions.
  • Where these are being recycled is a key thing, if they are still being shipped over to China or back to Indiana, then the overall carbon footprint is huge. Learn more about that here!
  • Incinerating plastic bags for electricity is not recycling.
  • Oregonians are already confused and many unaware that you can’t put plastic bags into your curbside, passing this could lead to an increase of people putting them into their curbside and greater economic impacts to Oregon recyclers and material recovery facilities over the next few years.

We know enough right now about the very real economic and environmental impacts of plastic bags to Oregon businesses and the health of our ecosystems to take action, why wait for 2-3 years before implementing a ban.

Global Expedition to Study Marine Plastic Pollution in Ocean Gyres Ends in South Pacific

Leave it to the pioneering researchers with 5 Gyres Institute, they’re doing it again, completing their fifth expedition through all five subtropical gyres with another scheduled expedition coming soon. This completes the most extensive study of marine plastic pollution that has ever been undertaken, 2 years and over 25,000 miles across the worlds oceans. Most recently they collected data from the South Pacific Gyre where scarce data previously existed on plastic pollution. 

“We had no idea what to expect, though we knew that the South Pacific Gyre has a more dense accumulation zone than the other gyres”, explained Anna Cummins, who with Marcus Eriksen, PhD, co-founded The 5 Gyres Institute in 2009. Much of the media in the past has made this issue difficult to understand and further communicate, making analogies to such gyres as “islands” to try and convey the large amount of plastic debris that accumulates in these areas. Better described as a “soup”, far less dense than an “island of plastic”, this type of pollution is extensive in the water column of subtropical gyres – and, poses much more of a threat than a single dense mass. “We found little plastic until we approached the center of the gyre, where we suddenly began seeing more large and small plastic fragments floating past the hull of our vessel.”

Read the full press release by clicking on the link below and learn more about 5 Gyres at

Plastic found in all 5 Gyres_Press release

Send Surfrider PDX Chair to Sea – Vote today!

Surfrider’s Portland Chapter Chair, Nastassja Pace, has been volunteering and advocating for awareness on the marine plastic pollution for years. She has been tirelessly fighting for the campaign – BAN the BAG – to ban single-use plastic bags in Oregon, taught thousands of children about re-use and recycling practices and makes art depicting the plastic pollution problem plaguing the worlds’ oceans.

Right now, Nastassja has the opportunity of a lifetime — to join 5Gyres, scientists and activists aboard Sea Dragon on a 10 day sailing trip in the South Pacific Gyre to study and document marine plastic debris.

Please help Nastassja win the Chaco Wave of Change Art Contest by voting for her plastic wave painting today! Simply click on the link here and had her name, Nastassja Pace, to the comments section. And pass the link along. Thank you!

Can’t find friends on Facebook…

then buy ads to scare them.

Take action now! In the latest of scare tactics of the plastic greedy out of state interests, comes this lovely facebook ad to promote their pro plastic pollution action alert. The ad reads “lead, cadmium, there may be more in your reusable bag than groceries”. Come on you guys, this childish scare tactic is getting old, but nonetheless, let’s take a look at the same study they seem to be referencing and see what the actual findings are. Wholly crap, the findings were this: 6 single use-plastic bags failed for dangerous lead, chromium or mercury levels, and 1 paper and 1 reusable bag (not in Oregon). Nice scare tactic highlighting the very study that merely demonstrates that these chemicals are more commonly found in single use plastic bags, the very thing their out of state bought and paid for website from is promoting.




Portland Mayor Sam Adams Talks Plastic Bags

5 Gyres caught up with Portland’s very own Mayor Sam Adams to talk plastic bags, and their real costs to the city.

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