bottle bills

http://www.bottlebill.org/ is a great resource to find out about the US states and other nations that have implemented bottle bills.  everyone has seen the list of US state abbreviations on the sides of their pop or beer bottles.  why don’t all of these states also appear on water bottles?  and why don’t all of the states appear on all bottles?  i am accustomed to the bottle laws having grown up in Michigan because the state’s bottle bill has been active since 1978.  for the sake of my familiarity, i am going to pick on Michigan.  although Michigan may have the highest bottle deposit and return at 10 cents each, it doesn’t apply to every type of beverage.  i do not know the political drive for implementing the bottle bill in Michigan but i do know that the legislation passed through a statewide vote that my parents and others proudly remember voting for.  when the laws were enacted, lawmakers felt a need to differentiate between different types of beverages.  when the law was written in 1976, there was not a plethora of bottled water and other beverages that we see in stores today.  in Michigan, the 10 cent deposit only applies to beverages that are carbonated.  the 10 cent per plastic, glass, or aluminum container deposit is charged to the consumer at the time of purchase and is refunded to them when it is returned at a bottle collection station [which by law is any store that sells the product].  this still unfortunately leads to many discarded water and juice bottles [and cans].  it also doesn’t include wine and hard liquors.  it would be a great thing to see that law amended to include all other uncarbonated beverages to reduce litter and raise recycling rates even more.  this will unfortunately probably not happen anytime soon considering the dismal economic climate within the state.

if you are skeptical of the effect that these laws actually have on recycling efforts and discarded waste, i challenge you to visit Michigan and see for yourself how few bottles are actually littering the landscape.  according to bottlebill.org, “The Michigan law requires reporting of containers sold and redeemed by bottlers and distributors. At 10¢, Michigan’s deposit is the highest in the country—and so is its recycling rate.” their figures show that 96.9% of the bottles sold with deposits are actually returned and recycled.  that is a great thing!

unfortunately, as i remember it, none of the bottle return machines, such as the one pictured above, accept the bottles if they have the plastic caps on.  this very well could have changed since i have moved away from Michigan several years ago.  let’s hope it did for the sake of all of the other discarded plastic caps!

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more from SEA

2010 SEA expedition plastic data _ http://www.sea.edu/plastics/science-results.htm

“Our hauls of plastic have been fairly consistent, and we’ve tallied about ~70 pieces per net tow, which works out to a surface concentration of around 50,000 pieces per square kilometer. These values are well within the range that we’ve found in this region before, but do not represent the super high values that define the center of the accumulation zone.

Assuming that each plastic piece weighs less than a 0.1 g, this means that within the area that we can see from the deck of our ship (about 4.5 nautical miles) there are almost 800 pounds of tiny plastic fragments floating in the surface waters. ” -Giora Proskurowski [http://www.sea.edu/plastics/science-results6-13.htm]

the above excerpt is a small part of a scientific paper published by SEA and Mr. Proskurowski and can be found on their website.  it is referring to their daily sampling results that occurred on a voyage in the Atlantic during 2010.  the above map is also from the study and it depicts the path that their boat took across the Atlantic paired with the varying degrees of plastic concentrations along the path.  the numbers are estimates based on small samples within each area.  this is their homepage for their voyage/study/report [http://www.sea.edu/plastics/].

why plastic bottle caps?

Bottle cap with crabs recovered from the Pacific Gyre _ algalita.org

if you read the ‘info’ section of this blog, it will give you a little bit of a background about this page. however, i haven’t fully described why i’ve decided to collect plastic bottle caps as opposed to bottles, bags, or any other commonly discarded one time use plastic item.  the image below is a common sight in Providence, RI.  it is disturbing but what worries me even more is to think that the amount of garbage in this river is not as much as in some other major metropolitan waterways.  if you look closely at the photo, there are dozens of plastic bottle caps in this small section of river.  you’ll also notice that even when they aren’t attached to the bottles, they float.

woonasquatucket river in Providence, RI

bottle caps are small and often overlooked as recyclable.  people often throw them in the garbage before they finish their bottle of water or juice.  i’ve seen many that never make it to trash bins or recycling.  they’re easily dropped or thrown to the ground and disregarded as litter. unfortunately, the bottle caps, along with plastic bags and other single use plastics, are probably the worst type of litter for our environment.

there is an abundance of garbage throughout the city streets of providence.  what happens to it?  how much of it actually gets cleaned up?  i’ve seen street sweepers drive past my block in the middle of the night but they don’t seem to be doing much besides helping the garbage find its way to the storm drains.

since i have been collecting bottle caps while walking through providence, i’ve noticed many things about the conditions of the streets.  certain pieces of garbage have been in the same location for weeks.  i occasionally pick them up and put them in the trash or if they are bottles, i will take some home to put in my recycling bin.  the depressing part is that there is so much of this waste that lies in the streets and will ultimately end up going through a stormdrain or will easily be washed down the hills into the Woonasquatucket River or straight into the bay.

great pacific garbage patch

nurdles _ onemoregeneration.org

“The largest pieces of plastic—miles long discarded fishing nets and lines— take an obvious toll. These “ghost nets” snare and drown thousands of seals, sea lions, and dolphins a year. Researchers have also watched in horror as hungry turtles wolf down jellyfish-like plastic bags and seabirds mistake old lighters and toothbrushes for fish, choking when they try to regurgitate the trash for their starving chicks. As Barnes is documenting, tiny marine animals riding rafts of plastic trash are invading polar seas, while Japanese researchers are finding high concentrations of deadly chemicals clinging to floating, tapioca-size plastic pellets called “nurdles.” And Moore, back from a three-month North Pacific voyage last week, is tracking it all and discovering that tiny fragments of plastic are entering the food web right near its bottom.” – Thomas Hayden / U.S. News & World Report 4nov02 from mindfully.org

Cusk eel in vaseline jar _ algalita.org

the Algalita Marine Research Foundation [same one i mentioned before that was founded by Charles Moore] has conducted periodic studies of the concentration of plastics in the pacific since 1999.  their data sets are more complete than anything else that i’ve come across about the pacific ocean.  they don’t give a full picture of the plastic concentrations in the pacific but they do begin to illustrate the proximity of different concentrations to each other and to land masses.  their data can be found on this web page: http://www.algalita.org/research/Maps_Home.html  the page also has a helpful outline of what the methods of data collection are.  there is a plethora of information beyond that at algalita.org.

a TEDx conference that focused on the great pacific garbage patch was held on november 6, 2010 in LA.  below is a link to all of the lectures that were given at the gathering. i have not watched them all yet, but every one that i have watched so far is great and approaches the subject from a different angle.  http://www.tedxgreatpacificgarbagepatch.com/agenda/]

the media depicts this plastic island in many ways and there are many misconceptions. i like this brief New York Times article from August 26, 2009 because it poses questions about the topic instead of projecting numbers and offering solutions. the reality is that we don’t have numbers and there are not any solutions.    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/27/opinion/27thu3.html?th&emc=th

marine debris and legislations

the above ocean current diagram is from the NOAA marine debris website.  this page [http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/info/patch.html#5] on their website is a very helpful resource for general information about marine debris and the garbage patches.  it is my understanding that there is a lot of inaccurate information drifting around about the ocean currents and that the NOAA info is one of the best, most accurate resources for this type of info.

the Clean Seas Coalition [http://www.cleanseascoalition.org/] is an organization in California that advocates the cleanup, regulation, and prevention of marine debris.  they’re concerns are not just plastics, but every type of human generated waste that ends up in the ocean.  these photographs that present some of the most common marine debris problems are posted on their website:

”]”]surfrider.org has a useful map of the campaigns across the US that they support: http://www.surfrider.org/campaigns# the causes they support include things like adding water and sports drinks bottles to the Massachusetts bottle return program and legalizing surfing at Chicago beaches.

the US Environmental Protection Agency claims to be taking action on some fronts. their website [http://water.epa.gov/type/oceb/marinedebris/floatingdebris_index.cfm] lists some of the initiatives that they have created to assess and prevent waste in our waters.    ‘public law 109-449’ which was passed on behalf of the EPA in the 109th US congress on december 22, 2006 outlines an attempt to deal with some aspects of marine debris.  the introduction to the law reads, “To establish a program within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the United States Coast Guard to help identify, determine sources of, assess, reduce, and prevent marine debris and its adverse impacts on the marine environment and navigation safety, in coordination with non-Federal entities, and for other purposes.”  it is an obvious attempt to do something about these issues but did it actually do anything?  attacking the source of marine debris will be the solution in the end.  however, can the government even begin to attempt to do this?  more government oversight and restrictions are not the best answers.  most of the action needs to be taken by individuals and companies that produce the materials that are polluting our waters.

who is helping?

are you contributing to the problem or are you helping? talk can raise awareness.  people who are aware don’t necessarily care.  only those who care are going to be willing to take action.  change only comes from action.

Greenpeace is good at making the public aware of issues that they are concerned about.  they unfortunately don’t always check their facts surrounding problems they’re concerned with.  so, as with any other source, be wary when reading information presented by Greenpeace.  regardless of what the exact information is that they are presenting on a certain issue, the fact remains that they are very skilled at identifying important environmental problems and drawing awareness to them.  they may not create solutions, but i feel that they often provide awareness to the general public.  this is needed in order for groups to coalesce and take action on problems like the existence of the great Pacific garbage patch.  they have a portion of their website dedicated to the garbage patch: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/oceans/pollution/trash-vortex/

are governments helping?  some try, but like most things that they stick their hands in, they more often than not, complicate the issues attempting to be fixed.  here is an editorial from the Economist that further explores some of these issues: http://www.economist.com/node/13135349

here are some other groups that are spreading word and taking action to help resolve the plastic island problems:

the Plastic Pollution Coalition [http://plasticpollutioncoalition.org/

Save Our Shores http://www.saveourshores.org/

Heal the Bay http://www.healthebay.org/

Conservation International http://www.conservation.org/where/oceans/Pages/overview.aspx