Into the Current

Into the Current highlights the plastic pollution problem by showcasing photographs, 3-D objects, and sculptures created with plastic debris found on North County San Diego beaches. The installation is on display at the Hill Street Country Club gallery at 530 South Coast Highway (Oceanside) in the Linksoul building through October 16, 2021. Schedule a viewing appointment, check the events calendar, and/or email Janis at janis@surfidersd.org for additional information about Into the Current.

Introduction

As I walk along the beach in North County San Diego, I collect plastic debris that has washed up with the waves, was swept out with the run-off, or was left behind by beach-goers. Many aspects of modern culture are represented in the detritus: single-use straws, utensils, water bottles, bottle caps, grocery bags, balloons, toys, food wrappers, and much more are curated by the tides.

Each time I clean the beach, I notice the contrast between the man-made refuse and the beauty of the shore, the crashing waves, and the ever-changing sky out toward the horizon. I enjoy the challenge of making something out-of-place look visually pleasing as I seek to tell the story of our polluted planet. 

Into the Current references the ocean currents and the current health of the ocean. It also alludes to the current issue of environmental racism related to plastics, and the extraction, manufacturing, and waste disposal processes that impact the health and well-being of people living near facilities that emit pollutants. Finally, Into the Current speaks to the current lack of meaningful action on the part of corporations and political leaders at all levels. 

In spite of the current realities and despite the amount of plastic I find washed up on local beaches, I don’t get discouraged. Instead, I find hope in the inspiration provided by others. My hope comes from knowing that I am part of a world-wide community of activists who care about the environment and are taking action to protect both people and the planet.

Visit http://www.sandiegosurfrider.org for information about local, state, and federal campaigns and/or contact Janis directly at janis@surfridersd.org to find out how you can help.

Drowning in Plastic

Drowning in Plastic: Created in Collaboration with Margit Boyesen for Beautiful-We.

Garbage Patches

Garbage Patches represents the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific along with the other concentrations of marine debris, which are located in the South Pacific, the North and South Atlantic, and the Indian Ocean. Debris gathers in these five ocean zones due to surface winds and circular currents that act like giant whirlpools in which plastic detritus becomes trapped. 8 billion tons of plastic enters the ocean annually, and 80% of it is from land-based sources. If we don’t act now, by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by weight.

Alphabet Soup

Alphabet Soup is a compilation of letter-shaped plastic items found on North County San Diego beaches. The title references the fact that the concentration of plastics in the garbage patches are not islands of large pieces of floating debris. Rather, the accumulated plastics are more like a soup of swirling microplastics, some of which are so small they aren’t even visible. In fact, it’s possible to sail through one of the garbage patches and see very little plastic, but it’s there, floating on the surface and swirling throughout the water column. 

Sea-Enemies

When released, helium-filled balloons will eventually burst or deflate and will descend to Earth as harmful debris. Latex balloons often fragment into pieces that resemble sea anemones, and as ocean pollution, both latex and mylar balloons can harm shorebirds, marine mammals, and sea turtles. 

Fortunately, there are innumerable ways to replace helium-filled balloons with other fun options. Try making prayer flags out of scrap fabric or decorate with recycled paper flowers—and if balloons are a must, air-filled stick balloons are a safer option because they won’t float away if accidentally released. For more information, including additional ideas for balloon-free celebrations, please visit balloonsblow.org, and to find out how you can support the San Diego County balloon campaign, email RAP@surfridersd.org.

Calamity Clown

A calamity is a disaster “marked by great harm and lasting distress and suffering.” Calamity Clown represents the harmful impact that plastic pollution has on the environment and the distress and suffering it causes people living in fence-line zones near facilities that emit pollutants. 

Calamity Clown also signifies the urgency of the problem and the fact that there is no time for clowning around. Individuals can help stop the plastic pollution calamity by refusing single-use items such as plastic bags, water bottles, straws, stirrers, utensils, and take-away cups and containers.

All Caps

Billions of plastic drink bottles are sold every day around the world, and all too often the bottle caps end up as litter only to get swept into a storm drain where they can be carried to the ocean when it rains. In fact, bottle caps are the third most commonly found item on International Coastal Clean-Up Day. How can you ensure that your next bottle cap doesn’t end up polluting the ocean?

Shovel Stars

There are close to 2,000 species of sea stars (starfish) living in the ocean. Most have five arms, but there are sea stars with as many as forty arms. Plastic sand shovels are also ubiquitous. Everyone enjoys watching children as they play in the sand at the beach, but when broken beach toys are left behind, they become plastic pollution. 

Litterpress 

Letterpress trays were once used to store moveable letters for typesetting. This Litterpress displays pieces of marine debris that were found on beaches in North County San Diego. Some of the items are recognizable as the objects they once were, and others are unidentifiable. Look closely at each block. Can you find the contact lens case, cigar tip, snack pack cheese spreader, Lego wig, or tooth flosser? What else can you identify?

Unmasked

To unmask something is to expose the hidden truth about it, and Unmasked reveals truths about plastic pollution. The marine plastic used to create Unmasked was cleaned up off of North County San Diego beaches, evidence that the problem is pervasive. What can you do to raise awareness and unmask truths about the harmful impacts of unnecessary plastics? 

Love Getting Lost With You

Cairns (stacked stones) are often used to mark wilderness trails as a way to help hikers navigate. Stacking beach stones can be considered a meditative practice, which can also help people stay on the right path. Have we lost our way when the convenience of single-use plastics is valued over protecting the environment? Have we gone astray when we don’t consider the people whose health and well-being  are impacted by the pollution that our convenience creates?                                                                      

Petrol-glyphs

Prehistoric people created petroglyphs by carving or incising into rock. According to scholars, the etchings were created for a variety of reasons, many of which are not well understood today. Even though our understanding is limited, petroglyphs remain “powerful cultural symbols that reflect the complex societies and religions of the surrounding tribes.” These petrol-glyphs were created by arranging petroleum-based marine debris on a background of plastic detritus. How will the scholars of the future interpret the single-use symbols that we will leave behind? What story will our discarded plastics tell about our daily lives and modern culture?

Flotsam Army

Toy soldiers are prized finds by beach cleaners around the world so much so that there is a popular #flotsamarmy hashtag. Flotsam Army is a reminder that we must fight for the health of the planet. In fact, Veterans for Peace has developed a Climate Crisis steering committee that focuses on the following areas: “The unequal burden of both climate change and militarism on people of color and the poor; The carbon footprint of the US military, which is larger than that of many countries; How wars for oil and other resources support the fossil fuel-based status quo.”

Sad Ball and Angry Bird

Sad Ball is one of the first photos I ever took of something unnatural that I found on the shoreline. It represents the beginning of my journey. My sister and her husband are my inspiration. They are artists who started using beach plastic in their work over 20 years ago. When they first told me about the problem, I wasn’t seeing it on my beach walks here in North County, but about 8 years ago that changed, and I began finding more and more debris on our beaches. I started documenting the things I was finding by taking photographs in situ, and I began posting images like these to social media as a way to raise awareness about plastic pollution. Sad Ball and Angry Bird speak to the range of emotions one feels when facing the problem. 

First World

People in the United States often place the blame for plastic pollution on developing countries. However, a study conducted by oceanographer Dr. Kara Lavender Law found that the U.S. generates “the largest amount of plastic trash in the world, disposing of nearly 92.6 billion pounds of plastic in a single year. Using the most recent available data from 2016, researchers determined that the U.S. produces six to eight times more plastic waste per person than its counterparts in China and India, respectively.”

Law explained that “For years, so much of the plastic we have put into the blue bin has been exported for recycling to countries that struggle to manage their own waste, let alone the vast amounts delivered from the United States. And when you consider how much of our plastic waste isn’t actually recyclable because it is low-value, contaminated, or difficult to process, it’s not surprising that a lot of it ends up polluting the environment.”

Deer in the Headlights

A deer will freeze in the road when encountering a car at night because the headlights are blinding. Research has shown that when inundated with frightening news about the environment, people react much like deer caught in the headlights. The overwhelming fear can be emotionally paralyzing and may cause some to experience inertia or apathy, but we must unfreeze ourselves and “turn our fears into motivated action to save our planet.”

Hill Street Country Club Gallery

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Plastic Plankton

Plastic Plankton was created with unaltered plastic debris found on North County beaches.

According to a study conducted in 2020, the prevalence of microplastics in the ocean has been significantly underestimated, and the number is at least double previous estimates. Professor Pennie Lundeque, who led the research, stated that “…microplastic concentrations could exceed 3,700 particles per cubic meter—that’s far more than the number of zooplankton you would find.”

Unfortunately, zooplankton ingest microplastics, and that’s one way that plastic enters the food web, moves up the food chain, and ends up on our plates, but the overall impacts are even more complex. Plankton are an essential part of the ocean’s carbon sink because they transport carbon dioxide to the seafloor where the carbon is then sequestered in sediments. Consequently, impacts to zooplankton may reduce the capacity of the ocean to absorb carbon and help “regulate global climate.”

As discouraging as the news may seem, there are simple things we can do to help. As individuals, we can refuse single-use plastic items, including plastic bags, take-away coffee cups, utensils, straws, polystyrene cups and clamshells, single-use water bottles, and all unnecessary plastic packaging.

Most importantly, we must hold the petrochemical industry and plastic producers to account, and we must insist that leaders at every level pass legislation to protect people, planet—and plankton!

(Join us in cities across North County San Diego to advocate for common-sense single-use plastic policies. Upcoming city council meetings during which plastics reduction measures will be discussed include Oceanside on August 4th, Carlsbad on August 14th, and San Marcos on September 14th. Please read the Surfrider San Diego blog post about the reluctant city council in Oceanside, and see the document linked HERE for details about all the upcoming meetings.)

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I hate to burst your balloon, but…

Mylar balloons have really been blowing this week! In fact, I picked up six during my beach walk in North County on Wednesday.

By now, most people realize that when released, helium-filled balloons will eventually burst or deflate and will descend to Earth as harmful debris. As ocean pollution, they can injure or kill shorebirds, marine mammals, and sea turtles, but they can also be caught by westerly winds and be blown all the way to Anza-Borrego State Park where they may harm desert tortoises and other wildlife. 

Sicco Rood, UC Irvine staff research associate at the Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center, has seen the inland problem first-hand: “I find these balloons and their strings and ribbons littering and tangled up in cacti and other plants in pristine areas of desert on a daily basis.” To address the issue, Sicco started a Change.org petition seeking to Ban Harmful Helium Filled Mylar Balloons in San Diego County California. Sicco is also working with Surfrider Foundation San Diego Chapter volunteers to advocate for ordinances, and the campaign has recently been featured in the local news (links below).

Environmental impacts to San Diego’s coastal and desert regions aren’t the only reasons to consider banning helium-filled balloons. Mylar balloons conduct electricity, and when they contact power lines, they may cause power outages, and they can even spark wildfires. Sadly, Mylar balloons caused the 2013 Deer FIre which burned 11,429 acres and injured five people in Northern California. A startling video, taken by a resident of Long Beach who captured an explosion, highlights what can happen when Mylar balloons get caught on power lines.

Injuries to wildlife, explosions, power outages, and fires should be reason enough to ban mylar balloons, but we must also consider that helium is a non-renewable resource. Serious shortages have occurred in the past with potential impacts to healthcare, industry, science, and technology. Consequently, instead of filling party balloons with it, helium should be reserved for essential purposes such as MRIs, respiratory treatments, high speed internet, and telecommunications. 

In an article published by the BBC in 2012, Tom Welton, a professor of sustainable chemistry, stated “When you see that we’re literally just letting it float into the air, and then out into space inside those helium balloons, it’s just hugely frustrating. It is absolutely the wrong use of helium.”

Fortunately, there are innumerable ways to celebrate more sustainably (and creatively), including making prayer flags out of scrap fabric or decorating with recycled paper flowers—and if balloons are a must, air-filled stick balloons are still an option.

For more information, including additional ideas for balloon-free celebrations, please visit balloonsblow.org, and to find out how you can support the San Diego County campaign, email RAP@surfridersd.org.

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Takeaways

Service for Six

I have picked up more than my fair share of plastic forks and spoons while cleaning the beach. In fact, I recently collected an assortment of eleven plastic utensils during one walk along the shoreline. Nevertheless, I was surprised by a recent headline in The Guardian: “Takeaway food and drink litter dominates ocean plastic, study shows.”

According to the study, which was published on June 10th in Nature Sustainability, plastic bags, beverage bottles, food containers, cutlery, and wrappers are “the top polluting products and accounted for almost half of all objects found.” In fact, lead researcher Carmen Morales-Caselles from the University of Cádiz in Spain, stated “We were not surprised about plastic being 80% of the litter, but the high proportion of takeaway items did surprise us,…” 

A Spoonful of Barnacles

The researchers concluded that bans on single-use items are one of the best options for stopping plastic pollution. Unfortunately, council members in Oceanside rejected the Marine Debris Reduction Ordinance proposed by city staff and plan to enact a resolution instead. There is nothing inherently wrong with a resolution, but a resolution that does not require mandatory compliance is not an adequate response to the plastic pollution crisis. Needless to say, Oceanside’s leaders will no longer be able argue that single-use plastics are not a city-level responsibility, because this research makes the disposable takeaway problem undeniable and highlights the need to mitigate plastic pollution at all levels of government: local, state, and federal.

Even though the Oceanside City Council is being shortsighted, there is much to celebrate. Vista city officials have taken a proactive stance, and later this month, council members will vote on an ordinance that will require that service ware items (utensils, straws, stirrers, etc.) be provided only upon request starting on August 1, 2021. In addition, polystyrene (Styrofoam) containers will be phased out by July 1, 2023. (Read the Agenda Report here.) If passed, Vista will be the first city along the 78-highway corridor and the first inland city in San Diego County to enact a single-use plastics ordinance. 

A Fork in the Sand

With that said, we need support to ensure Vista’s ordinance passes. We also need help with urging the Oceanside City Council to direct staff to develop a comprehensive ordinance that will compliment and strengthen the proposed resolution.

For an eye-opening video about our dependence on convenience, watch The Story of a Spoon, and then, join me in taking action by participating in the upcoming city council meetings in Vista on June 22nd and in Oceanside on August 4th.

For general council meeting participation details and ideas, visit City Council Participation Tips and Fact Sheets, and for information on how you can contribute in North County, please leave a reply or email janis@surfridersd.org.

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Playing with Plastic

Sand toy flags found on North County San Diego beaches

Sand toys found on the beach make fun designs, but plastic toys can be harmful to children.

According to new research from the Technical University of Denmark, “Out of 419 chemicals found in hard, soft, and foam plastic materials used in children toys, we identified 126 substances that can potentially harm children’s health either via cancer or non-cancer effects, including 31 plasticisers, 18 flame retardants, and 8 fragrances.” In short, plastic not only pollutes the planet, the chemicals are poisonous to people, especially children.

Plastic shovel handles found on North County San Diego beaches

In the report, researchers highlight “that an efficient and practical way to reduce exposure to priority chemicals present in plastic toys is to reduce the amount of new toys introduced into our households every year. This is also supported by a recent study showing that the quality of…play is negatively influence by the abundance of toys, and that fewer toys may help toddlers to focus better and play more creatively.”

As summer approaches, think about choosing sustainable and healthy options for beach play. A metal bucket and spade used for gardening will last longer than plastic sand toys and will have fewer environmental and health impacts. For a list of alternatives, read 12 Amazing Plastic-Free Toys for Summer.

Plastic shovel scoops found on North County San Diego beaches

Better yet, enjoy a day at the beach without toys of any kind. Build hand-formed castles and use natural materials to decorate; reimagine sea kelp as giant sea monsters; skip beach stones across the water; or simply splash in the waves. Read Study Underscores Why Fewer Toys is the Better Option.

For an article that summarizes plastic toy risks, read Huge, Global Study of Plastic Toys Finds Over 100 Substances That May Harm Children and for the full report, visit Chemicals of Concern in Plastic Toys.

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More Than A Spoonful

Plastic utensils are among the top ten items found during beach cleanups, and I have found my fair share while walking at the beach. Plastic knives, forks, and spoons are not recyclable in most waste systems, because they are made from a variety of types of plastic resins, and the odd shapes make them difficult for recyclers to bale. Plastic cutlery can also jam sorting machines, and they are a common contaminant in recycling systems.

We must reduce the amount of single-use plastic items we consume in order to help mitigate the plastic pollution problem. For an eye-opening video about our ridiculous dependence on convenience, watch The Story of a Spoon, and then, join me in taking action by participating in upcoming City Council Meetings in Vista and Oceanside. Details below.  

Plastic cutlery found on beaches in North County San Diego

In Vista, the City Council will discuss single-use plastics on Tuesday, March 9th at 5:30pm. The discussion will probably begin around 6:00pm, but I plan to join at 5:30pm to make sure I don’t miss anything. We are grateful to Council Member Contreras for continuing the plastic waste conversation by adding it to the meeting agenda, which is linked HERE.

We are hoping that the Council will direct staff to draft a single-use plastic reduction ordinance that will phase out polystyrene (Styrofoam) food service-ware and will include language about providing straws, utensils, stirrers, etc only upon request. This phased approach will provide businesses with ample time to recover and adjust prior to implementation. However, a majority vote in favor is not a given, and your voice will make a difference. 

Please submit a public comment prior to the meeting by emailing PublicComments@cityofvista.com and writing “Agenda Item D2 Single Use Plastics” in the subject line, or you can submit a comment by leaving a message at 760-643-2815. Say and spell your name and state agenda item D2 Single Use Plastics. All comments received by 2:00pm on the day of the meeting will be emailed (voicemails will be summarized) to the City Council members and will be added to the packet.

If you plan to make a public comment during the meeting, join the meeting through the Zoom link included in the AGENDA. Members of the public will not be on video but will be called upon when using the ‘Raise Hand’ option or by pressing *9, as instructed.

Overflowing trash can at Vista’s Creek Walk

NEXT UP, OCEANSIDE—Mark your calendars and prepare written comments in support of Oceanside’s Marine Debris Reduction Ordinance, which will be discussed during the Zero Waste Plan Update Workshop scheduled for March 17th at 2:00pm. Please register to speak and/or submit written comments by emailing the City Clerk at CityClerk@OsideCA.org before 12:00pm on the day of the meeting. Don’t forget to include “Zero Waste Plan Update Workshop: Marine Debris Reduction Ordinance” in the subject line. The agenda with the Zoom link will be available next week; in the meantime, additional participation instructions are available HERE.

Straws collected on the beach in Oceanside

For more information, Tips for Commenting on City Council Agenda Items can be found HERE, and Single-Use Plastics Fact Sheets are available HERE.

Please contact me at janis@surfridersd.org if you have any questions about how you might contribute.

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In Our Hands

In Our Hands was created with plastic debris found on beaches in North County San Diego.

For centuries, hands have been used as symbols of strength, healing, and protection. In Our Hands, created with plastic debris found on beaches in North County San Diego, will not bring good fortune to anyone; however, the toy hand clappers filled with nurdles* do symbolize the power we hold in our hands to fight for solutions to the plastic pollution crisis and the collective strength we must use to overcome systemic environmental racism.

From extraction and manufacturing to distribution and disposal, plastic has harmful effects throughout its lifecycle, and communities of color are the most severely impacted because fracking facilities, industrial plants, and waste incinerators are often located in fence-line zones.

One example of a community that has been irreparably harmed is in Tennessee where Formosa Plastics Group plans to begin construction on a $9.4 billion facility that will be one of the largest petrochemical complexes in the United States. When complete, The Sunshine Project will be about 80 football fields in size and will double the toxic pollutants emitted in a section of St. James Parish that has been referred to as Cancer Alley since the 1980s. Over time, the area has also come to be known as Death Alley, and it has most recently been dubbed Coronavirus Alley because the majority Black residents are suffering from a COVID-19 death rate that is five times higher than the national average.

To add insult to injury, Formosa went to court in an attempt to block the public from visiting a slave burial site located on The Sunshine Project property. Formosa appealed the first ruling, but residents eventually prevailed and were allowed to hold a Juneteenth prayer ceremony on the ground where their ancestors are buried.

Nelson Mandela said “It’s in your hands to create a better world for all who live in it,” and everyone can have a hand in stopping this human and planetary catastrophe by reducing dependence on single-use items which account for 50% of all plastics produced. We can refuse plastic bags, take-out containers, take-away coffee cups, utensils, stirrers and straws, polystyrene cups and clamshells, single-use water bottles, and unnecessary plastic packaging.

Most importantly, we must hold the petrochemical industry and all plastic producers to account, and we must insist that leaders at every level pass and enforce legislation to protect people and planet.

(*Nurdles are lentil-sized preproduction plastic pellets used to make almost all plastic products. They easily escape during manufacturing and transportation and an estimated 250,000 tons of them enter the world’s oceans annually. Formosa recently settled a $50,000,000 lawsuit for illegally dumping billions of nurdles into the Gulf of Mexico. In June, activists fighting The Sunshine Project were arrested on felony terrorizing charges for leaving a box of nurdles at the home of an oil and gas industry lobbyist.)

Learn more — Stop Formosa

Read NAACP’s — Fumes Across the Fence-line

Support — The Federal Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act

Support — California Circular Economy and Pollution Reduction Act

Participate — Plastic Free July

Watch — The Environment Subcommittee Briefing: Plastic Production, Pollution, and Waste in the Time of Covid-19

Watch The Urgent Need to #StopFomosa below:

 

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Endangered

May 15th was Endangered Species Day, which was established 15 years ago to raise awareness about the living things that are most at risk. In the United States, over 1,300 plants, crustaceans, insects, reptiles, mammals, and others are listed as endangered. While many people think of deer as being quite common, several species are actually threatened with extinction. Unfortunately, the cervidae that I create with unmodified marine plastics found on San Diego County beaches, will exist forever in some form.

Un-endangered deer made with unaltered marine plastic found on beaches in San Diego County.

One deer species that is on the endangered species list is the Key deer. Key deer are named for the Florida Keys where they live—and swim between islands. They have rebounded from a low of 25 in the 1950s to a population estimated to be fewer than 1,000 today.

This recovery is in part due to the establishment of the National Key Deer Refuge, but threats still remain, including habitat loss and climate change. In addition, Key deer, also known as “toy deer,” are small (between 24-32 inches tall), and visitors to the area are prone to feeding them, which makes them less afraid of humans and more vulnerable to harm.

There are common sense things we can do to protect Key deer and all wild animals, such as not feeding them, and even during the pandemic, we can also take action to ensure that deer made with marine plastic eventually do become extinct.

  • Use bar soap, instead of liquid soap
  • Purchase hand sanitizer for refills from a local distillery
  • Refuse plastic cutlery and other unecessary single-use plastic items when ordering take-out and/or when using restaurant delivery services
  • Sign up for a CSA produce box program through a local farm and/or shop for produce at a farmers market
  • Put groceries back in the cart after paying, and load them into your own reusable bags at the car

Please leave a reply with your suggestions for reducing single-use plastics while staying safe and healthy during the Covid-19 crisis.

Use bar soap instead of liquid soap.

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Litter in the Time of Coronavirus

Some of the gloves and masks found in and around downtown Vista between April 14 and May 1.

Most of the beaches in San Diego County closed at the beginning of April, and instead of my walks at the coast, I began venturing through my neighborhood to the small Main Street area of town. Every time I go out, I see gloves and masks that have been abandoned in parking lots, tossed on sidewalks, or jettisoned in gutters—and I am not alone. 

People in cities across the country and around the world are witnessing the same thing. I understand that some of the items could have been dropped accidentally, but even if that’s the case, the carelessness is disheartening. As litter, the discards are disgusting. They not only create blight, they harm the environment, and when you consider that the gloves and masks could be vectors for COVID-19, it’s downright frightening.

Map of gloves found on my walking route.

On May 1st, face coverings became mandatory in San Diego County when “in public and within 6′ of someone that is not a household member.” Thankfully, most people had already been wearing fabric masks that can be washed and reused indefinitely, which helps keep others safe while reducing the waste caused by single-use PPE.

On the other hand, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) does not recommend gloves for the general public at all, citing that they give people a false sense of security and “failing to change them often is the same thing as failing to wash your hands.” People who wear latex gloves make the mistake of leaving them on for extended periods of time and end up touching lots of things, which can spread the virus. Sadly, underpaid sanitation workers, grocery store employees, and gas station attendants are most likely the ones who will have to pick up these potential biohazards.

81 Gloves and Masks

In addition, littered masks and gloves that go unnoticed can become environmental hazards. In fact, I frequently found gloves at the beach prior to the coronavirus crisis, and I am quite sure that it won’t be too long before even more start washing up. Out of respect for our essential workers, and for the sake of the natural environment, single-use masks and gloves must be discarded appropriately. Ultimately, we can all help keep the unsung heroes in our communities out of harms way, while also protecting our oceans and sea life. 

For more about medical waste found on the beach, read my post entitled “Yuck.”

Please read The Glove Challenge in The New Yorker to learn what others have been doing about the glove scourge, and take a look at What’s Next for Earth: Quarantine Discoveries to check out inspiring works of art created during the pandemic.

UPDATE #1: As of June 12th, I have found 348 gloves and masks on my daily walks around town. Over time, the number of gloves has decreased while masks have increased. I believe that this is due to San Diego County’s mask mandate. In addition, people have become more aware of the fact that COVID-19 is transmitted through respiratory droplets and is not easily spread through touching surfaces. In fact, the CDC states that the “transmission of novel coronavirus to persons from surfaces has not been documented.” However, recent research indicates that masks can significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19. Please consider reusable fabric masks, but no matter which type you choose, please handle them carefully and dispose of them properly. 

UPDATE #2: When I went back to in-person work in August 2020, my daily walks became less consistent, and even so, I have documented 1,528 pieces of PPE to date. On February 20th, I did an onramp cleanup as part of Caltrans’ Adopt-A-Highway program and found 21 gloves and masks scattered along the roadside along with lots of other litter. In addition, I have been venturing to the beach more often lately, and as expected, I have been finding masks and gloves every time I go.

IN THE NEWS—The image below has been used in several publications, including the following:

Brill—The effects of COVID-19 litter on animal life (A research study)

The Nation—Byproducts of the Pandemic

CNN—Used Masks and Gloves are Showing Up on Beaches

Cambridge University Press— ‘COVID waste’ and social media as method: an archaeology of personal protective equipment and its contribution to policy

PLastic Oceans— A New Type of Ocean Pollution: Coronavirus Waste

MAHB Stanford—Litter in the Time of Coronavirus

USC Annenberg Media—How ‘Ocean Friendly’ initiatives in San Diego are combatting the rise in COVID-19 Plastic Pollution

256 Gloves and Masks
A map of my meanderings.
321 Gloves and Masks (graphed from April 14 to June 7)
An Animation

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Drowning in Plastic

I was humbled to be featured on the Beautiful-We website, which highlights people who are having a positive impact. For Drowning in Plastic, photographer Margit Boyesen surrounded me in blue plastic debris that I have collected while cleaning North County San Diego beaches. Please follow Beautiful-We to be inspired by others who are striving to make the world a better place.

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