Most plastic pollution at sea starts out on land as litter on beaches, streets and sidewalks. Rain or overwatering flushes that litter through a storm drain system or directly to creeks, streams and rivers that lead to the ocean.
After plastics enter the marine environment they slowly photodegrade into smaller pieces that marine life can mistake for food, sometimes with fatal results. Ocean gyres concentrate plastic pollution in five main areas of the world’s ocean and various research groups are bringing back alarming data documenting plastics impacts.
Simple local actions can help make an impact to solve this global issue. Join us in protecting the coast and Rise Above Plastics (RAP). Check out the resources on these RAP program pages, then get involved with your local Surfrider Foundation Chapter to help protect the coasts and oceans.
It’s in our homes, our offices, our vehicles, our yards, our playgrounds. We use it to package food, bottle products, bag produce, make dinnerware and utensils, make toys….
Plastics have undoubtedly helped us to manufacture, package and ship goods more easily, for less money, and in some cases more safely than ever before. But, plastics pose a significant threat to our planet as well.
Part of the problem is plastic itself. The very qualities that make it an adaptable and durable product to use, also make plastic an environmental nightmare. You see, plastics do not biodegrade. Instead they photodegrade – breaking down under exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, into smaller and smaller pieces.
Bottom line: With the exception of the small amount that has been incinerated, virtually every piece of plastic that was ever made still exists in some shape or form. The ocean is turning into a plastic soup.
You’ve heard it before, one drop may not make much of a difference, but hundreds or even millions of drops fill a whole bucket. Microplastics aren’t much different. They are tiny, but their compounding effect will be seen for centuries to come, especially if plastic production continues to rise in coming years.
Natural degradation of plastics is a painstakingly long process, taking as long as 450 years for the average plastic water bottle to photodegrade (but that’s only if the bottle is lucky enough not to be covered by more trash after it’s been dropped off at the landfill). When plastic products end up in the ocean due to littering, wind, etc., this photodegradation couples with crashing ocean waves to break the plastic into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually resulting in microplastics smaller than 5mm. These bits can be plastic fragments, fibers, or films. Microplastics also include plastic beads, called nurdles, which are melted down and used in the manufacturing of plastic products. Sometimes nurdles escape manufacturing plants and end up in the ocean.
But microplastics occur in more places than just the ocean! Recent research suggest microplastics can be found almost anywhere, from the air and soil, to the food we eat. And we’re not the only ones consuming microplastics. Oftentimes, tiny aquatic organisms mistake these microplastic bits for food, thus inserting synthetic polymers into our own food chain. And let’s not forget, plastics contain a variety of chemicals, many of which are known or suspected carcinogens.
To reduce the impacts of plastics in the marine environment by raising awareness about the dangers of plastic pollution and by advocating for a reduction of single-use plastics and the recycling of all plastics.
We encourage YOU to help address these globlal issues locally with plastic reductions at home, school, work and for your entire community:
Check out the Rise Above Plastics Activist Toolkit on the Resources page for detailed tips and ideas.
Ten Ways To Rise Above Plastics
Here are ten easy things you can do to reduce your ‘plastic footprint’ and help keep plastics out of the marine environment:
Microplastics Task Force
Microplastics have been an ongoing problem since plastics first entered our world. Natural degradation of plastics is a painstakingly long process, but weather and ocean waves help break down plastics into smaller pieces. Eventually they become fragments, fibers, films, or beads smaller than 5mm in length. These are microplastics. Oftentimes, tiny aquatic organisms mistake these microplastic bits for food, thus inserting synthetic polymers into our own food chain. Plastics contain a variety of chemicals, many of which are known or suspected carcinogens.
The Microplastic Task Force (MPTF) has put together a small team of volunteers to assist with sampling beach sand to collect data on the prevalence of microplastics on our beaches. Preliminary results showed the Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area (ODSVRA) did indeed have a larger quantity of microplastics.
The MPTF aims to get an idea of how prevalent microplastics are on other Central Coast beaches as well, and then use that information to educate the public. To add more meaning to our findings, we will be sampling regularly (monthly or quarterly) at the same locations. We would like to create an interactive map to display our data from different locations over time. Another goal is to standardize our methodology so other Surfrider chapters can add their own data. Our data will be available to support anti-plastic legislation that will hopefully lead to microplactics removal and prevention programs.
Microplastics are a huge up and coming field of study, but not a lot of studies have been conducted and methods are not standardized. It was important for MPTF’s procedure to be as repeatable and standardized as possible. We reviewed several scientific studies, including one that compared 44 microplastics studies from around the world. We also consulted with the Oahu Surfrider Chapter, which is already doing its own microplastics study). From these sources we compiled the most common and practical characteristics of existing methodologies. This helped us create the best citizen science method that can easily be performed and repeated by volunteers and other Surfrider chapters.
We hope that by laying the groundwork and making our resources (i.e., standard procedure, materials list, etc.) available, we will encourage other Surfrider Chapters across the country to start their own microplastics sampling program so data can be collected all over. Although we wish we never found any microplastics, the pieces we do find are removed from our beaches and provide information that will help us prevent more from contaminating our ocean, polluting our beaches and harming wildlife.
Our effort is dependent on volunteers to help us filter beach sand at our sampling sites. If you are interested in participating in this groundbreaking effort, please contact the RAP program coordinator, Taylor Gullikson (see Contact, below.
If you are interested in volunteering for the MPTF or either of our plastics prevention programs, please contact: Taylor Gullikson, RAP Coordinator, at RAP@slo.surfrider.org