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The Pacific Plastic Continent

The size of the patch, consisting primarily of suspended particulates in the upper water column, is determined, by sampling, to range in size from 700,000 square kilometres (270,000 sq mi) to more than 15,000,000 square kilometres (5,800,000 sq mi) (0.41% to 8.1% of the size of the Pacific Ocean), or, in some media reports, up to "twice the size of the continental United States".[Marks, Kathy (2008-02-05). "The world's rubbish dump". The Independent (London).]
The United Nations Environmental Program report estimated 46,000 pieces of plastic debris floats on or near the surface of every square mile of ocean.
The average American uses 190 pounds of plastic annually and tosses 2.5 million plastic bottles into the sea every hour and 18 billion disposable diapers end up in the oceans each year.
Studies by Captain Charles Moore and the Algalita Foundation found that even in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, plastic nodules have been found to outweigh plankton by a ratio of 6 to 1. Similar studies in the Atlantic have revealed the same ratio.


The Plastic Sea

an essay by Captain Paul Watson, www.seasheperd.org

“In a well-documented beach clean-up in Orange County, California, volunteers collected 106 million items, weighing thirteen tons. The debris included preproduction plastic pellets, foamed plastics, and hard plastics; plastic constituted 99 percent of the total material collected. The most abundant item found on the beaches of Orange County was preproduction plastic pellets, most of which originated from transport losses. Approximately one quadrillion of these pellets, or 60 billion pounds, are annually manufactured in the United States alone. You never hear about these spillages in the newspaper, and there is not a single plastic pellet spillage response crew anywhere in the world.
Of 312 species of seabirds, some 111 species, or 36 percent, are known to mistakenly ingest plastic. In Hawaii, sixteen of the eighteen resident seabird species are plastic ingestors, and 70 percent of this ingestion is of floating plastic resin pellets. Seabirds in Alaska have been found to have stomachs entirely filled with indigestible plastic. Penguins on South African beaches have suffered high chick mortality from eating plastic regurgitated by the parents, and 90 percent of blue petrel chicks examined on South Africa's remote Marion Island had plastic particles in their stomachs. The oceans pulsate with powerful currents, and these currents keep plastic debris in constant circulation, as a result, debris travels in what are called "gyres." The gyre concentrates the garbage in areas where currents meet. For example, one of the largest of these movements in the Atlantic is called the central gyre, and it moves in a clockwise circular pattern driven by the Gulf Stream. The central gyre concentrates heavily in the northern Sargasso Sea, a place that is also host to numerous spawning fish species.
The number of floating plastic pellets found in the Sargasso Sea has been measured in excess of 3,500 per square kilometer. The same ratio of 3,500 parts per square kilometer was found in the waters of the southern coasts of Africa. This study found that plastic pollution had increased in South African waters from 1989 to the present by 190 percent.
Birds, turtles, and fish mistake the tiny nodules for fish eggs. Garbage bags, plastic soda rings, and Styrofoam particles are regularly eaten by sea turtles. A floating garbage bag looks like a jellyfish to a turtle. The plastic clogs the turtles' intestines, robbing the animals of vital nutrients, and it has been the cause of untold turtle losses to starvation. All seven of the world's sea turtle species suffer mortality from both plastic ingestion and plastic entanglement. One turtle found dead off Hawaii carried over 1,000 pieces of plastic in its stomach and intestines. Another could not submerge from so much Styrofoam in its stomach.
In New Zealand, one beach was found to contain over 100,000 pellets per square meter.
Once, on the bottom of the Mediterranean off France, I witnessed a scene that appalled me. The entire bottom was made of plastic. Bottles and plastic bags swaying with the tide, replacing the sea grasses and algae. It was sad to see one little fish scurry from behind a white plastic bag to take cover from me in a sunken automobile tire."

Stop The Madness!

About 4% of world oil production goes into making polymers used in plastic production. 25% of petroleum product consumption in the Gulf of Mexico region is for production of plastic. 1941 Henry Ford produced a prototype vehicle utilizing soybean plastics.

Which Bio-plastics Degrade Naturally?

Poly(lactic acid) or polylactide (PLA) is widely marketed as a bio-plastic and biodegradable. PLA, which is derived from corn starch or sugarcanes is only biodegradeable under specific conditions and will not degrade easily, if at all, under natural conditions. Giant corporation Cargill under the name of NatureWorks LLC has large stakes in production and marketing their "biopolymer", "environmentally friendly" products made of PLA.
From their Natureworks LLC website FAQ page regarding their Ingeo biopolymer:
"...due to the low oxygen concentration and drop in temperature, the natural environment will retard molecular weight loss thus not allowing PLA to become biodegradable."
"...soil and seawater are relatively cold environments that severely retard the molecular weight loss, thus not allowing PLA to become biodegradable."
"If not disposed of properly, Ingeo biopolymer will not reach the typical composting humidity and temperature required and thus will maintain its product integrity in the near term."
"Ingeo biopolymer, as with any plastic, would be a foreign body if accidentally ingested."

Introduction of PLA "bioplastics" into the disposable container stream further complicates the recycling/disposal process as consumers may mistakenly combine them with petrochemical recyclables or assume them to be biodegradable in landfills, or worse, unwittingly dispose of them in nature.
The Smithsonian Magazine addressed these issues 4 years ago in a 2006 article on PLA plastic yet much hype abounds online promoting PLA.


Plastics designated Oxo-degradables may cause many severe health and environmental concerns:
  • The additives used to trigger the fragmentation process contain heavy metals, proven to cause adverse effects on humans and the environment.
  • The tiny fragments left behind cause extreme pollution problems among compost facilities, oceanic pollution and cause bioaccumulation among birds, fish etc.
  • The degraded plastic fragments attract and house PCBs and DDTs – when consumed cause endocrine disruption in the food chain. Endocrine disruption is known to cause significant health problems, including; miscarriages, birth defects and many forms of cancers.
The striking constrast of prevailing marketplace transparency and consumer protection ethics between the American and European markets becomes glaringly apparent through comparison of the specific standards applied to plastics marketed as compostable or biodegradeable.

European Standard EU 13432

According to these standards, compostable plastic materials must have the following characteristics. Each of these requirements must be met simultaneously for a material to be defined as compostable:
  • Biodegradability, meaning a material’s capacity to be converted into carbon dioxide (CO2) through the action of microorganisms, under the same process occurring in natural waste.
  • Disintegratability, namely fragmentation and invisibility in the final compost (absence of visual contamination).
  • Absence of negative effects on the composting process.
  • Almost complete absence of heavy metals and the absence of negative effects on compost quality.

In comparison, most US corporations appear to prefer the designations ASTM D6400 and ASTM C6868 Standard Specification for Compostable Plastics. ASTM is a private international standards organization. Plastics satisfying this standard must only meet the requirement of being compostable in municipal and industrial aerobic composting facilities.

THE GOOD GUYS

EarthShell has created a biopolymer made from potato and cornstarch, limestone and water. The company produces disposable single use plates and bowls made from their EarthShell composite in a their manufacturing facility in Missouri.
According to EarthShell, studies prove EarthShell occupies significantly less space in a landfill environment than traditional disposable dinnerware. Even better, EarthShell biodegrades completely in water (oceans) and its by-products are not toxic to marine animals.
Many organizations support the unique technology that goes into EarthShell. These groups include Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Earth, American Oceans Campaign and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Novamont, one of Europe's largest producers of bioplastics, produces several grades of biodegradable bioplastic under the name of Mater-Bi. Mater-Bi is made from blends of plant starches and synthetic polymers. Grades meeting the EU 13432 standard should biodegrade in nature.

Bisphenol A

Bisphenol A was known to be estrogenic (having effects similar to the hormone estrogen) since the mid 1930s, yet products containing bisphenol A-based plastics have been in commerce for more than 50 years.
It is used to make polycarbonate plastic, which is clear and nearly shatter-proof, and used to make a variety of common products such as: baby bottles, water bottles, sports equipment, medical and dental devices, dental fillings and sealants, and eyeglass lenses.
Resins containing bisphenol A are used as coatings on the inside of almost all food and beverage cans and linings for water pipes.
Human BPA Health Studies
Studies by the CDC found bisphenol A in the urine of 95% of adults sampled in 1988–1994 and in 93% of children and adults tested in 2003–04.
Infants fed with liquid formula are among the most exposed, and those fed formula from polycarbonate bottles can consume up to 13 micrograms of bisphenol A per kg of body weight per day.
In 2009, a study found that drinking from polycarbonate bottles increased urinary bisphenol A levels by two thirds, from 1.2 micrograms/gram creatinine to 2 micrograms/gram creatinine.
The National Toxicology Panel recommends avoiding microwaving food in plastic containers, putting plastics in the dishwasher, or using harsh detergents, to avoid leaching.
A 2009 small US study funded by the EWG has detected an average of 2.8 ng/mL BPA in the blood of 9 out of the 10 umbilical cords tested.
In the US and Canada, BPA has been found in infant liquid formula in concentrations varying from 0.48 to 11 ng/g.
In the US consumption of soda, school lunches, and meals prepared outside the home was statistically significantly associated with higher urinary BPA.
A 2010 study of Austrian, Swiss and German population has suggested polycarbonate (PC) baby bottles as the most prominent role of exposure for infants, and canned food for adults and teenagers.
In 2007, a consensus statement by 38 experts on bisphenol A concluded that average levels in people are above those that cause harm to many animals in laboratory experiments
HEALTH CONCERNS LINKED TO BPA EXPOSURE:
OBESITY
NEUROLOGICAL ISSUES
DISRUPTION OF DOPAMINERGIC SYSTEM LEADING TO SUSCEPTIBILITY TO DRUG ADDICTION
THYROID FUNCTION
INCREASED CANCER RISK FOR A NUMBER OF CANCERS INCLUDING BREAST AND PROSTATE
ALTERED GENETIC EXPRESSION -- EPIGENETICS
AFFECTS TO REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM AND SEXUAL BEHAVIOR
HEART DISEASE
DIABETES
FETAL DEVELOPMENT
ALTERED INTESTINAL PERMEABILITY
ASTHMA

Identification

There are seven classes of plastics used in packaging applications. Plastic classification is usually stamped on the bottom of food containers in a triangle.
Type 3 (PVC) can also contain bisphenol A as an antioxidant in plasticizers. This is particularly true for "flexible PVC", but not true for PVC pipes.
Type 6 (polystyrene) neither contains, nor does it break down into bisphenol A, according to the Styrene Information and Research Center, a not for profit organization whose membership represents approximately 95% of the North American styrene industry.
Type 7 is the catch-all "other" class, and some type 7 plastics, such as polycarbonate (sometimes identified with the letters "PC" near the recycling symbol) and epoxy resins, are made from bisphenol A monomer.

BPA Effects on The Environment

BPA makes its way into fresh water systems. During the germination period of reproduction the fish are exposed to low levels of estrogen which cause reproductive dysfunction to male fish. Some male fish end up becoming "intersex", containing both male and female parts. Other fish may only suffer from low fertility or sperm count. This is putting a great strain on our ecosystems as entire populations of fish are slowly being eliminated, due to an inability for some fish to reproduce.