Solid Waste & Recycling


The Story of Stuff: ocean plastic edition

Moore Beach cleanup plastic.

Moore Beach cleanup plastic.

I recently received an email from Allison Cook — the lady from The Story of Stuff series of environmental videos that went viral on the internet a few years ago. The initial short film led to a sequel and a website loaded with resources for teachers and ecologically-minded citizens.

The new email refers to Cook’s recent voyage exploring the world’s ocean gyres that concentrate plastic waste. The email contains a link to a video: That’s what Episode 18 of the Good Stuff is all about: Sailing Past Plastic.

Over the course of my 25-year career as an environmental journalist and editor I’ve grown to feel that the problems with plastic, as a difficult end-of-life material and especially as a packaging format, pose some of the most vexing ecological challenges confronting us, compared with many other more benign materials. The issue used to be discussed in terms of their being made from non-renewable fossil fuels, but it’s their impact on the marine environment that disturbs me most nowadays (and I expect many other people too). It’s one of the reasons I advocated in a recent blog post for soft drink containers to be sold in a deposit-refund system.

I’ve reproduced Allison Cook’s letter below. But before you read it I also direct your attention to another news item that makes for a good companion piece, which is a report that, four decades after the book Limit to Growth was published, it’s forecasts have apparently been vindicated by new Australian research. “Expect the early stages of global collapse to start appearing soon,” write Graham Turner and Cathy Alexander in a Tuesday, September 2 2014 article in The Guardian:

Here’s the Cook letter:

Dear Guy

I spent almost a third of my summer on a sailboat the middle of the North Atlantic on a research expedition looking at plastic pollution in our oceans.

We are still awaiting the official analysis of the dozens of samples we trawled onboard, but our preliminary analysis suggests that every single sample we took, from Bermuda to Iceland, contained tiny bits of micro-plastic. Every sample.

Yet, in the face of this, I feel a renewed sense of optimism and confidence that plastic is not an intractable problem. There are solutions to be had and we are headed in the right direction to realize them.

That’s what Episode 18 of the Good Stuff is all about: Sailing Past Plastic.

In this episode, Annie sits down Stiv Wilson from 5 Gyres and takes a close look at plastic pollution in our oceans, lakes, and rivers and what we can do to stop it. It even features a very seasick satellite phone call yours truly from onboard the boat.

Being on the boat this summer deepened my commitment to fight for a world with a lot less plastic and I’m especially excited to share this podcast with you.

So, have a listen and get ready to flex your Citizen Muscles to go plastic-free!


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