Thursday, February 5, 2015

Rally Ss to take action against ocean plastic. Read Plastic, Ahoy! #ibpyp #ibmyp #ocean #plastic #edchat #scichat

Did you miss my Nerdy Book Club essay about how Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch morphed from children's book to call to action? 


Sac Bee, T Aug. 4, 2009 A11 (1)I didn’t plan to write a call to action. I planned to write a science book for kids about plastic accumulating in the North Pacific. But the project surprised me partway through, and took me in a new direction.
The idea for Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch began with an article in my local newspaper about graduate students who organized a research trip called the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastics Expedition (SEAPLEX). They wanted to study the growing plastic problem in the North Pacific Central Gyre—a massive area of open ocean surrounded by circling currents. SEAPLEX was one of the first expeditions to gather data from the gyre, and its story showed how science could be fun and relevant. The nonfiction author in me wanted to know more.
It's not too late (click here for more).

Thursday, January 8, 2015

What if it costs more, not less, to purchase a non-recyclable item built from a waste-based process? #scichat #Pledge4ThePlanet #IBMYP @thew2o

Consuming less plastic and recycling what we use are common refrains in the ongoing battle to clean up our ocean. But a recent World Ocean Radio broadcast, "Bad Trash to Good Cash," sheds new light on the subject.

As Peter Neill, Director of the World Ocean Observatory, so elegantly states, "What if we built a new economy on a recycling ethic, a price or tax structure built on the inherent value of re-use, the concept that an item is more valuable if it can be used longer or it can be re-used for a process and production that exploits and affirms its economic basis again and again in a cycle of maximum utility and return? What if it costs more, not less, to purchase a non-recyclable item built from a waste-based process?"

Just, think--perhaps with Neill's model in place we wouldn't have to pay more for recycled printer paper or recycled paper towels.

We can start small by stretching our creativity and thinking before we throw items away. How many different uses can we find for yogurt cups or tennis ball cans? I recycle nearly all of the plastic that comes through my life. Check out the list of recyclable plastics in your area. It's probably longer than you think.
Shopping bag made from recycled newspaper courtesy of an
artist in Czech Republic

I also take inspiration from an independent artist in the Czech Republic who made her own shopping bags from recycled materials instead of purchasing plastic bags. And from Maxime, a French exchange student visiting the U.S., who made a kangaroo-like pouch out of his t-shirt when his host family left the reusable grocery sacks in the car. According to Maxime, everyone in France carries their own shopping bags. Stores don't pack the food in plastic or paper bags. “If you forget your bags, then you just don’t shop or you carry the food in your arms,” he says.

Flip flop sculpture by Ocean Sole
Next, we could applaud (and buy from) cottage industries, such as Ocean Sole, which support recycling and sustainability. Ocean Sole packs a one-two punch because it re-purposes thousands of flip flops that wash up on Kenyan beaches each year into beautiful sculptures. The organization also helps it employees rise above subsistence-level living with secure jobs.

On an even larger scale, we applaud those with the ingenuity to create common objects from waste, such as Mike Biddle who strips plastic waste to its essence and re-purposes it to electronics and appliance manufacturers.

Peter Neill's economy based on a recycling ethic is achievable. How many other examples can you find where plastic waste is re-used and recycled to its maximum utility?

Friday, December 12, 2014

5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in ocean? New study drives home sobering point #eco #OurOcean2014 #scichat

Watch the trailer
In Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch I introduce readers to three pioneering female trash detectives who journeyed to the North Pacific Central Gyre to study plastic. Their 2009 Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastics Expedition (SEAPLEX) expedition was one of the first of many to set sail to study the plastic problem that poisons and entangles marine life.

In a recent study published December 10, 2014, scientists accumulated data from 24 such expeditions--a combination of 680 net tows and 891 visual survey transects. They estimate a startling total of 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in our world ocean that swirl around with the help of prevailing winds and surface currents. The pieces measure from .33 mm to over 200 mm.

A few other facts from the study:

  1. Scientists expected to see higher plastic counts in the northern hemisphere because of years of shipping and the litter associated with people moving across the ocean. Surprisingly, the amounts are about the same for the southern and northern hemispheres. Perhaps plastics are moved from gyre to gyre more easily than previously thought. Or perhaps additional sources of plastic pollution exist in the southern hemisphere that have not been accounted for.
  2. The authors of the study say, "The ultimate fate of buoyant microplastics is not at the ocean surface." A large proportion of plastic is lost from the surface as it becomes more and more fragmented.  Plastic may wash up on beaches, sink because organisms attach themselves to the surface and make the fragments heavier, or organisms may eat it. See "Miriam's Hitchhikers" and "Charting the Answers" in Plastic, Ahoy!
  3. The study focused on plastic on the surface of the ocean. Further research is necessary at a variety of depths to determine how smaller bits of plastic are moving deeper in the water column.
"Plastics are like a cocktail of contaminants floating around in the aquatic habitat," said Chelsea Rochman, marine biologist at the University of California, Davis, and Plastic, Ahoy! trash detective. "These contaminants may be magnifying up the food chain." [Source:  NY Times]
    Plastic counts.  Source:  PlosOne

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Plastic bag mockumentary -- a perfect way to kick off an ocean unit #scichat #STEM #5thchat #6thchat

Are you a Planet Earth fan? Richard Attenborough's clipped English voice? Fantastic video footage? Then you're in for a treat with The Majestic Plastic Bag -- A Mockumentary. I've included a link to this little gem in the back matter of Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, but it bears repeating hear.

Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons narrates, and opens with, "The open plains of the asphalt jungle. Home to many creatures great and small, and the puffing ground for one of the most clever and illustrious creatures, the plastic bag."

Wouldn't the video be a great way to kick off a science unit on the ocean, and ocean plastic in particular? Enjoy! (I see cross-overs to Language Arts, too, on introducing satire.)

[Produced by Heal the Bay, a non-profit group dedicated to cleaning up Santa Monica Bay in California.]

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Rally students to take action against ocean plastic #4thchat #5thchat #6thchat #scichat @LernerBooks

Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not simply a children's nonfiction book, it's a rallying cry to readers to become part of the solution. During school and Skype visits, I've found that readers want to help, but they are unsure how to go about it, so I've compiled a list of ideas and resources that might help get you started.

But first, some inspiration:  First grade readers at W. E. Striplin Elementary School in Alabama decided to reduce the amount of Styrofoam in their lunchroom. The students received permission to switch to reusable trays for several weeks to understand how much Styrofoam first graders alone could eliminate. The lunchroom produced an average of eight garbage bags of trash a day. The first graders cut the garbage output by two bags per day with reusable trays. Now their focus is to eliminate Styrofoam in the lunchroom for all grades.

Your rallying cry can be something as simple, such as:

  • Carrying reusable bags to the grocery store.
  • Refusing Styrofoam take-out/left-over containers (ask for foil instead, which can be recycled after you use it).
  • Drinking water or coffee out of reusable bottles or mugs.
  • Take a selfie for the sea, in which you show yourself doing something for the ocean.
  • Create recycled plastic sculptures to increase awareness of plastic waste.
  • Celebrate Earth Day and World Oceans Day or participate in an International Coastal Cleanup. 
Are you looking for something to do in a classroom setting? I suggest a waste audit to see just how much plastic trash comes through your life in a day, a week, and a month (see page 18 of my teacher guide for instructions and the necessary chart).

Perhaps you want to contribute in a bigger way, like the first graders at Striplin Elementary:
  • Teens from Granada Hills High School designed a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to take video evidence of plastic pollution for Captain Charles Moore on his July 2014 expedition to the North Pacific Central Gyre. 
  • Form an environmental club at school or in your community, such as the students from Team Marine at Santa Monica (CA) High School who created the video below. 

Other resources:  To learn more about marine debris, contact Katie at Algalita's Ship2Shore program for activity kits on Debris Science and Mapping Plastic Marine Pollution. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

10 plastic waste facts to curl your hair #2014Cleanup #environment #6thchat #5thchat

Did you know:

  1. .
  • 32 million tons of plastic waste were generated in 2012 (EPA).
  • Only 9 percent of the total plastic waste generated in 2012 was recovered for recycling (EPA).
  • The U.S. uses over 2 MILLION plastic bottles every 5  minutes (Sierra Club).
  • It takes 1,500,000 barrels of oil to make plastic water bottles used in the U.S. per year (U.S. Council of Mayors).
  • The U.S. airline industry uses 9,000,000,000 (that's BILLION) plastic cups annually--roughly 1,000,000 plastic cups every six hours--and they do not recycle (several sources)
  • Americans use and dispose of 100 billion plastic shopping bags each year. At least 12 million barrels of oil are used each year to make those plastic grocery bags (The Wall Street Journal).
  • 240,000 plastic bags are used throughout the world every 10 seconds (Popular Science).
  • At least 267 different species either ingested or were entangled in plastic marine debris (WorldWatch Institute)
  • Over 650,000 volunteers collected nearly 13,000,000 pounds of trash in the Ocean Conservancy's 2013 International Coastal Cleanup (Ocean Conservancy).
  • The majority of e-waste and plastics continue to be processed improperly in the developing world (Popular Science).

Thursday, September 18, 2014

One man might free the world from new plastic. Forever. #2014Cleanup #ocean #eco

What if we could manufacture new products out of recycled plastic? Mike Biddle, the CEO of MBA Polymers, is trying to do just that. "We get so concerned with how our products are made, but we don't seem to care how we are unmaking our stuff," he says.

Mike not only recycles plastic, he strips it down to its essence and reprocesses it into the basic building blocks–or nurdles if you’ve read Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch–which he sells back to manufacturers of electronics, coffee machines, and vacuum cleaners, to name a few.

Profiled in the March 2014 of Popular Science, Biddle's vision is to create a worldwide market for high-grade recycled plastic. Most recycled plastic becomes a lower-grade plastic. i.e. a recycled water bottle never becomes a water bottle again, but might show up in a polar fleece blanket or your carpet. 

With Biddle's model, plastic from a laptop is reduced to its purest form and sold back to an electronics company to make another laptop. 

MBA Polymers recycles more than 125,000 tons of trash a day. His plant shreds, cleans, and grinds the waste plastic into confetti-sized bits. These bits then travel through a secret closed-loop recycling process that removes ferrous and non-ferrous metals; sorts the material by weight; sorts plastics by chemistry; and sorts plastics by color.

In 2007, Biddle was named an Earthkeeper Hero, an honor previously awarded to Jacques Cousteau, Rachel Carson and Jane Goodall. He is also the founder of the Plasticity Forum, an influential dialogue on our world of plastic.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Kids care for polar bears to learn to be eco-friendly #5thchat #4thchat #scichat #STEM #plasticpollution

For the last several weeks on this blog, we've discussed plastic debris floating in the five gyres in the world's ocean and the need to reduce our single-use plastic consumption. (Need to catch up? Visit the Ocean Plastic discussion.) But how do we demonstrate for children that our real world actions have consequences for the environment?

A game, of course! In this case, HABITAT -- a touch-based game for Android and iOS phones and tablets that shows kids, ages 8-12, how their everyday actions can protect the environment. 

In the game, kids care for a polar bear in Glacier Park, the fictitious world of HABITAT. Similar to the Tamagotchi persistent-play model of the '90s, kids feed, groom and provide enrichment for their bear to keep it healthy. But HABITAT is unique because it encourages an actual change in behavior that promotes environmental responsibility.

Kids perform real world missions that help reduce their water consumption and carbon emissions, and preserve native habitat. The missions are categorized as "Speedy Missions" or "Five Day Missions." Speedy missions might include turning off unused lights or turning off the tap while brushing your teeth. The environmental benefits of these real-word choices are calculated with algorithms from the Integrated Sustainability Analysis (ISA) team in the School of Physics at Sydney University in Australia. The team at the Centre for Research on Computer Supported Learning and Cognition (CoCo) investigates the ways in which learners use the game.

After you read Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to your kids or students, download the HABITAT app. Using HABITAT children will see the link between their actions and our environment, which may in turn make it easier to convince them (and you!) to reduce plastic consumption.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

"Devil" creatures riding plastic. Are they killing coral reefs? #scichat #STEM #enviroed

If you've read Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (Millbrook Press) you know that plastic from rivers and beaches flows to sea on currents that distribute plastic all over the ocean. In the Pacific, that means the plastic is trapped in the North Pacific Gyre or perhaps deposited on the tropical beaches of Hawaii. Miriam Goldstein, one of the trash detectives profiled in Plastic, Ahoy!, studied the rafting community or the marine organisms that hitchhike on floating debris. This debris could be natural, such as logs and feathers, or man-made, such as plastic.

"Devil" pathogens that infect coral
After her 2009 SEAPLEX journey, Miriam calculated 100 times more plastic in the ocean than there was in 1970. The sheer abundance of plastic in our ocean creates increased opportunity for marine organisms to travel to places they don't belong. 

In a new paper, Miriam and her colleagues studied hundreds or organisms gathered on the 2009 cruise. They counted organisms from 95 different taxa and 11 phyla (some great vocab for science students!). The scariest by far is not a scaly sea monster with pointed teeth, but a single-celled ciliate called Halofolliculina. In a blog post for Deep Sea News Miriam describes the creature as "about the size of a sesame seed with teeny tiny devil horns. (They are actually pericytostomial wings, not devil horns, but I won’t tell if you don’t.) My collaborators Hank Carson and Marcus Eriksen found these little buggers living on plastic debris floating way offshore in the western Pacific, which wouldn’t be terrifying in itself since a lot of strange critters live on plastic debris But Halofolliculina is a pathogen that causes skeletal eroding band disease in corals, and this piece of debris was headed towards Hawaii." Skeletal eroding band (SEB) disease damages the coral's outer tissue and exposes the fragile skeleton. It has been reported in 82 species of corals according to the Global Coral Disease Database.

Goniastrea edwardsi with a small focal lesion caused by
the ciliate 
Halofolliculina corallasia, which is eroding
the tissue and skeleton. The black specks are
embedded loricae or tests of the ciliate.
Photo: Andrew Bruckner
Global Coral Disease Database]
There is no direct evidence to indicate that plastic brought skeletal eroding band disease to Hawaii, but it remains a possibility. Equally unsettling is our lack of information on how the various hitchhiking organisms affect the open ocean. As I say in Plastic, Ahoy!, "Miriam wondered if these hitchhikers could change the food chain--the who eats whom--in the gyre. Zooplankton are a critical link in the food chain. But they are not naturally plentiful in the gyre. What would happen if there were not enough to go around?"

Thursday, June 5, 2014

"Science is getting to poke at cool things." An interview w/ocean plastic trash detective #3rdchat #4thchat #5thchat #6thchat

Watch the trailer
To celebrate World Ocean Day, I caught up with Miriam Goldstein, head trash detective in Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Soon after the SEAPLEX expedition chronicled in my book, Miriam graduated with her Ph.D. from Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Where is she today?

Patricia Newman:  How did the 2009 SEAPLEX voyage affect your career in science?

Miriam Goldstein:  SEAPLEX pretty much launched my science career. It was an enormous privilege to be able to organize and lead such a huge project while still a graduate student. SEAPLEX data formed the base of my Ph.D. research, and continues to be used in Scripps plastic pollution research. I have also used SEAPLEX communications - the work that Annie and Mario did throughout the voyage - to show how excellent communication could get the public involved in scientific research. And also, it was on SEAPLEX that I fell in love with the open ocean, and with the North Pacific Gyre in particular. 

PN:  In your opinion, what are the next steps to studying ocean plastic?

MG:  We now have a much better idea of just how pervasive plastic pollution is throughout the world ocean, and of the many organisms that are affected by it. I think the next step is understanding how the vast quantities of plastic floating around in the ocean are affecting the ocean's chemical cycling. Does plastic change how the ocean takes up carbon, or how nutrients move around the food web? 

PN:  You left the sea for a stint as a legislative fellow for Knauss/SeaGrant. How did that work relate to ocean plastic? And where do you hope that work will take you?

MG:  After I finished my graduate work on ocean plastic and got my Ph.D., I moved to Washington DC to work as a Sea Grant fellow on ocean, fishery, and wildlife issues for then-Congressman now-Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts. I discovered that I really loved working on policy for Congress, so when my fellowship was over at the end of January, I was delighted to have the opportunity to join Congresswoman Jackie Speier's office as a Legislative Assistant. Congresswoman Speier represents the southern part of the San Francisco Peninsula, with the Bay on one side and the ocean on the other, so it's a great place for a marine biologist. I don't do very much work directly related to ocean plastic, but almost everything issue touches on the ocean in one way or another. For example, energy issues touch on climate change, which is having a profound effect on sea life through rising temperatures and through ocean acidification. I don't know where my career path will ultimately lead, but I am certainly enjoying the ride!

PN:  What is the most important finding (in your opinion) to come out of your SEAPLEX voyage since PLASTIC, AHOY!’s publication?

MG:  As of now, six scientific papers have been published using SEAPLEX data, and one more - the one about the hitchhikers featured in PLASTIC, AHOY - is undergoing scientific peer review and will hopefully be published soon. I think the most important finding, which is not unique to SEAPLEX but that SEAPLEX research supports, is that plastic pollution is profoundly changing the ocean in unexpected ways. Just one example is our work on sea skaters, a little insect that lives on top of the ocean's surface. We didn't go to sea expecting to find that plastic was changing the way that sea skaters lay their eggs, but that is what we eventually found once we knew the right questions to ask. What other questions aren't we asking yet?

PN:  What encouragement would you give to elementary, middle, or high school students interested in science?

MG:  Science is getting to poke at cool things for a living, and it's fantastic! It takes a lot of work to discover something new, that no one has ever known before, but it's worth it.