Break Down

Plastics break down into smaller and smaller bits until they become microscopic, but they never completely degrade. In other words, petroleum-based plastics never go away. The term “break down” can be applied not only to plastics but to the coronavirus crisis as well. How can we leverage the break down in life as we knew it to revitalize systems while putting people and planet first—and how can we ensure that the lessons learned stay with us forever?

(The broken down pieces of plastic used to make Break Down were all found on North County San Diego beaches.)

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Winter Solstice Snowflakes

Even though remote mountain tops appear pristine in scenic photos, microplastics have been found in snow samples taken from the Sierra Nevada, the Alps, and the Pyrenees—and 90% of samples collected in the Rockies contained microplastics.

There are things we can do to help alleviate the plastic pollution crisis. We can reduce our use of single-use plastic items, and we can rethink polyester clothing, which sloughs off microfibers when washed. Microfibers are actually one of the most ubiquitous micro-plastics found in snow and water samples taken around the world.

To watch an interesting video and to learn about a citizen science snow sampling project being developed by Columbia University, visit The Weather Network.

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Juul Caps

When I recently started finding these caps on the beach, I thought that they were from USB drives. However, a recent headline about the life-threatening consequences of vaping made me realize that they are caps for Juul e-cigarette products.

In addition to adding to the plastic pollution problem, e-cigarette companies like Juul are marketing to youth. Nicotine use by teens had been on the decline until the recent increase in vaping, which can lead to addiction, behavioral changes, and health problems. In fact, on August 27, the FDA released a statement about their current investigation of 215 cases of severe respiratory distress and pulmonary illness attributed to e-cigarette use.

To stop this epidemic, regulations need to be put into place, and San Francisco, home of the Juul Labs company, has done just that. It is now illegal “to sell nicotine vaporizer products in stores or for online retailers to ship the goods to San Francisco addresses.” In Beverly Hills, the City Council approved an ordinance that will “prohibit the sale of nicotine-products, including cigarettes, chewing tobacco and e-cigarettes” beginning on Jan. 1, 2021.

Local ordinances are helpful, but in order to fully protect our children and our environment, California’s SB424 needs to be passed. If enacted, it will “ban filtered cigarettes, disposable plastic holders and mouthpieces, and single-use electronic cigarettes. It also calls for manufacturers to take back any non-recyclable parts of reusable e-cigarettes.”

If you are a California resident and want to support SB424, please visit Surfrider’s post that includes a quick and easy way to send a message to your elected official.

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Be Disposable Free


Plastic cutlery is often among the top ten items found during shoreline cleanups, and I have certainly collected 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 most recycling systems.

Compostable utensils are also problematic, because in most cases, they can only be composted in a commercial composting facility, and very few of those exist in the US. The best choice is reusable cutlery.

Green Oceanside has started a Be Disposable-Free campaign, and volunteers are needed to help raise awareness about the harmful effects of single-use items, including utensils. If you are in San Diego County and are interested in supporting the effort in Oceanside, please contact ShoreSweep.

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The Butterfly Effect

butterfliesThe butterfly effect theory comes from meteorologist Edward Lorenz and the idea that the development of a tornado can be “influenced by minor perturbations such as the flapping of the wings of a distant butterfly several weeks earlier.” In other words, small fluctuations or changes can have a dramatic impact somewhere else at a later time. Even though it can feel like our individual actions will not make a big enough difference quickly enough, everything we do matters, and our collective efforts will have a significant positive impact in our communities and around the world.

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Sea Turtle

IMG_4989More than half of the world’s sea turtles have ingested plastic, and sadly, they are especially susceptible to its harmful effects.

According to Sea Turtle Conservancy, their anatomy prohibits the regurgitation of debris, and the accumulation of plastic in their stomachs not only disrupts digestion, it can lead to “bubble butt syndrome.“ One way this occurs is when the decomposition of debris in a sea turtle’s stomach causes the development of an air pocket of trapped gas. The trapped gas can inhibit the animal’s ability to dive, and a sea turtle that is unable to dive will not be able to thrive.

The tiny bits filling up this toy turtle are microplastics, which are plastics that are less than 5mm. The colorful pieces are the result of the photo-degradation of larger plastics, which fragment into smaller and smaller toxic bits. The opaque rounded pellets are nurdles, which are “primary source microplastics.” In other words, they were originally produced to be 5mm or smaller. Nurdles are preproduction plastics used to make other plastic products. They are often spilled during manufacturing and transportation, and when they enter waterways, they can be swept out to sea. Watch the short animated TED-Ed video called Nurdles Quest for Domination for more information.


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The Uplifting Power of Community

It can be all too easy to lose heart. There is so much wrong with the world one can quickly forget what’s right, but today I was reminded of the enormity of the good that still exists.

Organized by @1stcreamiatwin, a group of litter-picking, beach-cleaning, planet-loving people posted images of hearts to Instagram. The hearts, which were mostly made from litter, were created as a show of solidarity in support of @justgrabbits who works to inspire and unite us.

After marveling at each #welovejustgrabbits submission, I headed to the beach. As I walked, I felt the presence of these new friends. My heart overflowed with appreciation and the task of cleaning the shoreline was made a little bit easier knowing that I am not alone as I do my part to make our world a cleaner and more positive place.

From now on, whenever I begin to feel disheartened, I will reflect on the uplifting power of community and the love that connects us to each other and to the planet we all call home.

So far 36 uniquely beautiful hearts have been posted. Here are just a few:


Top row: @smartie_lids_on_the_beach; @woollybright; @emma_b_oakeley

Center row: @anna.kauffman; @janisselbyjones; @1stcremiatwin

Bottom row: @cleancoast_angel; @beauswalkies; @u2cstevo

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