Marcus Eriksen, executive director and co-founder of 5 Gyres, will highlight the dangers of microbeads and other plastics in the marine environment, in a talk at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI) tomorrow.

Pollution: A sample of some of the microbeads and little pieces of plastic that are now choking the world’s oceans and lakes.

Plastics are now thought to make up about 90 percent of the garbage in the ocean.

The California-based organisation 5 Gyres is named after the enormous garbage patches of trash in all major oceans known as 'gyres'. The 5 Gyres team has conducted ocean research voyages throughout the world to study plastics in the marine environment. They began in 2009, and their first expedition left from Bermuda.

Ocean debris: Plastic trash on a beach in the Azores after rough weather.

Plastic bottle alternatives


You've heard that you should be using a reusable water bottle instead of one-use disposable ones, but sometimes they can be plain annoying.

They can be hard to clean. Sometimes the reusable bottle splits down the middle while your child is at recess. Sometimes, your six-year-old decides that the best place to store a leaky bottle is in her pouch with her reading book and homework.

It is clear that not all reusable bottles are created equal. They come in a dizzying array of styles and materials.

The common line of thinking from health advocates is that stainless steel or glass bottles with a silicone sleeve, are best in terms of health because they won't leach chemicals into the water and are easier to clean. Some aluminium water bottles may look like stainless steel but are often lined with an enamel or epoxy layer to stop the aluminium reaching with acidic liquids. This layer can wear down and leach chemicals into the water. Most aluminium bottles are also not dishwasher safe.

From an environmental point of view, look for products that will last long, and can be recycled.

Here are some highly recommended reusable water bottle brands which claim to be environmentally friendly, durable and easily cleaned.

Klean Kanteen is recommended by Marcus Ericksen, executive director and co-founder of the environmental awareness organisation 5 Gyres. It is made of surgical stainless steel and is reportedly made with the clean freak in mind. It is made from food grade surgical steel and made with all rounded corners so that bacteria has nowhere to fester. See www.kleankanteen.com.

Good Housekeeping recently named Nalgene OTG Everyday as the top reusable water bottle. Nalgene makes a range of water bottles and containers and claims that their water bottle is virtually indestructible. See www.nalgene.com.

If you want a glass bottle, try products from Lifefactory. Their bottles come with protective silicone sleeves. They also make sleeves for other products such as wine glasses. For more information see www.lifefactory.com.

Clean Bottle's The Square is another bottle for the germ conscious. The Square's stainless steel design unscrews from both ends for easy clean. It's square design will also stop it rolling away from any surface. See: www.theactivetimes.com.

And if space is an issue, the Vapur Element isn't really a bottle, but a pocket of plastic and nylon that compresses as liquid is removed from it. It is great for tight spaces. See: www.vapur.us.

Now, Mr Eriksen has stopped over in Bermuda on another research trip to Iceland.

"We broke the story about microbeads in facial scrubs when we were studying North America's Great Lakes," Mr Ericksen said. "Analysing facial cleanser products, 5 Gyres estimates that a single product can contain over 300,000 of these beads. In samples taken from our expedition to The Great Lakes in 2012 we found these beads, in some cases numbering more than 600,000 per square kilometre. This is unacceptable."

Now 5 Gyres is encouraging beauty product companies to replace the plastic beads with natural alternatives such as crushed apricot pits or cocoa beans which are biodegradable. (Some skin care specialists recommend that people give up exfoliating scrubs altogether, as the natural alternatives, such as exfoliants with apricot husks, are harsh on the skin as the abrasive material is not uniformly rounded.)

Mr Eriksen said: "While in Bermuda we want to ask local stores to shift from selling products with plastic microbeads to products that use more environmentally friendly microbead alternatives such as Burts Bees or St Ives. Most folks don't even know that their scrub contains plastic."

Some manufacturers prefer to use plastic because it can be given a colour, the beads are uniform in size and plastic is cheap.

Unfortunately, many species of marine life like to snack on passing plastic. Their stomachs can fill up with indigestible pieces so that there is no room left for real food, and they die. Sea turtles are particularly attracted to clear plastic bags floating in the water, as they resemble jelly fish. While in Bermuda, Mr Eriksen will be working with the Bermuda Institute for Ocean Sciences to look more closely at what marine life is eating plastic in the waters around Bermuda.

"The first study of plastics in the ocean done near Bermuda was conducted in 1972 by Edwin Carpenter," said Mr Ericksen. "He found there was a problem with plastic pellets in the water used by manufacturers to make plastic products. Laws were put in place to reduce pellet loss by manufacturers. We are seeing less of that product in the waters now, which means the legislation is working. It means that the ocean can clean itself up if we stop adding more trash."

He said companies manufacturing products needed to plan the entire life cycle of the product before releasing it onto the market.

"You can't rely on people to pick it up," he said. "If you can't get it back from the customer, it has to be environmentally harmless if it gets away. Unfortunately, our society has allowed companies to not take responsibility for so long, that now they are screaming that it costs too much to be environmentally friendly. Many companies are very resistant to change."

In 2012, the plastic industry reported that 288 million tons of non-biodegradable plastic had been made worldwide. It is estimated that only three to five percent of plastics will be recycled.

"That is an abysmal failure," said Mr Eriksen.

The 5 Gyres team estimates there are 5.25 trillion plastic particles in the ocean.

At the talk tomorrow Mr Eriksen will unveil results from a study to estimate the amount and weight of plastic in the world's oceans. The talk will start at 6.30pm with cocktails at the Harbour Front Restaurant at the BUEI. The lecture will begin at 7.30pm. Tickets are $20 for members and $25 for non members and are available at 294-0204 or at the BUEI gift shop.

To learn how you can get involved in the campaign to stop the use of plastic microbeads go to 5gyres.org/how_to_get_involved/campaigns/.

A short You Tube video about 5 Gyres in the North Atlantic can be viewed below or at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVXTNpTs32M

 

 

Original Article

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