State panel recommends strict measures to reduce plastic marine debris in California

State panel recommends strict measures to reduce plastic marine debris in California

In
a report to be release next week, the Ocean Protection Council
advocates banning plastic foam cups and plastic bags, items that often
end up in coastal waters and on beaches.
By Kenneth R. Weiss, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

July 26, 2008
California’s leaders should ban smoking on beaches, forbid fast-food
joints from distributing polystyrene cups and containers and require
markets to recycle plastic bags or ban them outright as part of an
aggressive campaign to reduce plastic marine debris.

These and dozens of other recommendations are included in a report to
be released next week by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Ocean Protection
Council, a policy body designed to coordinate the patchwork of local
efforts to protect California’s waters and beaches.

?

Some of the recommendations would compel the state to catch up
with coastal cities that are outlawing single-use plastic containers
and plastic supermarket bags.

"We need to charge forward and have an overarching policy that is no
less vigorous than these cities’," said Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, who
was instrumental in ordering the report when he was a member of the
council.

Some recommendations in the 23-page report could push California to the
forefront of the anti-plastic litter campaign, by regulating toxic
chemicals used in plastics and going after litterbugs more aggressively.

Besides the traditional public education campaigns, the report
recommends attaching redemption fees or punitive charges to items that
commonly wind up in coastal waters and on beaches.

Notably, the report says, bottles with monetary redemptions are rarely found amid the debris.

"The debris that is found on our beaches has no value," the report
said. "There are costs associated with cleaning up litter, and there is
no financial incentive to the individual who caused it to do otherwise."

Meanwhile, plastic bags, which are often free and can’t be redeemed,
make up 25% of the tonnage of debris scooped each year from storm
drains in Los Angeles.

The council’s report suggests toughening enforcement of anti-litter
laws and increasing fines to $2,000 for a first violation and $5,000
for subsequent infractions.

It recommends supporting a statewide ban of smoking on beaches, as a way to reduce or eliminate cigarette butts left behind.

The long-awaited study was designed to marshal support for pending
legislation which, among other things, would prohibit supermarkets from
providing plastic carryout bags unless stores charge a small fee and
encourage customers to return the bags for recycling.

An estimated 19 billion plastic bags are distributed in California each year. Fewer than 5% are recycled.

China, Australia, South Africa and other countries have decided to ban
the bags. "California should join the growing list of jurisdictions
that have decided to prohibit the sale of single-use plastic bags," the
report said.

Tim Shestek, director of state affairs for American Chemistry Council,
said the plastics industry has many programs to encourage the
collection and recycling of discarded plastics, but he believes bans
are ill-advised.

"We do oppose these knee-jerk reactions that say, ‘Let’s ban plastic
grocery bags,’ " Shestek said. "If we do, then what? Paper is heavier
and has a cost associated with it. It takes seven trucks to deliver the
same number of paper bags that takes one truck with plastic bags, so
you have more CO2 emissions."

Any discussion, he said, should weigh all the trade-offs.

The light-weight and durable nature of plastics has made them a focus
of marine debris campaigns. It takes hundreds of years for plastic to
break down in the ocean.

Globally, 80% of plastic marine debris comes from land, either blown by
the wind or washed off city streets into streams and rivers that empty
into the ocean. The rest, mostly fishing gear, is jettisoned by ships.

Plastic debris kills an estimated 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and turtles each year.

Vikki Spruill, president of the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy, commended
Schwarzenegger and Garamendi "for their determined efforts to combat
ocean trash so that our planet’s life support system is healthier and
more resilient."

ken.weiss@latimes.com