News / Industry News & Events / Long Beach aquarium, 20 others across the nation to phase out plastic (07/11/17)

Long Beach aquarium, 20 others across the nation to phase out plastic

07/11/17

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Working to reduce the massive amount of plastic pollution in the worlds oceans, 21 of the nations top aquariums today will announce that they are phasing out most plastic products from plastic bags to straws to plastic beverage bottles.

The effort, which will also include the creation of exhibits explaining how people can find alternatives to plastic, is an attempt to raise consumer awareness among the 20 million people who visit the 21 aquariums, which include Long Beachs Aquarium of the Pacific, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and San Franciscos Steinhart Aquarium.

The target of the campaign is single-use, disposable plastic, said Claire Atkinson, spokeswoman for the Long Beach aquarium. (We) have committed to eliminating plastic bags and plastic drinking straws as of Monday.

Additionally, they plan to significantly reduce plastic beverage bottles by December 2020, she said. Expect to see fountain beverages and signs encouraging visitors to bring their own reusable water bottles.

The aquariums say their goal is a market-based approach that they hope will steer the buying habits of the public to change the vast supply chains that manufacture, deliver and sell products to businesses across the world.

Warning against plastic pollution is nothing new at Long Beachs aquarium, which has long hosted anti-pollution education programs, encouraged phasing out plastic drinking bottles and sponsored events at which only reusable containers are welcome.

The aquariums compare the campaign to the Monterey Bay Aquariums highly successful Seafood Watch program, which has provided 57 million wallet-sized cards to shoppers since 1999 telling them which types of fish are best or worst to buy based on a green-yellow-red scale.

As consumer demand changed, that program contributed to Walmart, Target, Safeway, Whole Foods and many of the largest retail stores in the United States announcing that they would sell only seafood caught in sustainable ways that didnt lead to overfishing.

The market can be very powerful, said Ken Peterson, a spokesman for the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Meanwhile, Cabrillo Marine Aquarium officials said they are doing their part in San Pedro. Aquarium officials bought silverware to use at functions rather than plastic utensils. They also encourage visitors to bring their own water bottles, said Director Mike Schaadt.

Waste plastic that is not being recycled (which is most of the waste plastic) is causing greater and greater impact to inhabitants of the ocean, Schaadt said.

We are trying to phase out as much plastic as possible, but we struggle with the same issues that individuals face and that is that plastic is almost ubiquitous, Schaadt said. We are continuing to find alternatives to plastics in our attempts to become more sustainable in our institution. And we will continue to encourage our visitors to do the same.

Plastic is a growing problem. Every year, 8.8 million tons of plastic enter the worlds oceans, roughly a dump truck full every minute of every day, according to a 2015 study published in the journal Science. At current rates, it is expected to double by 2025.

Not only does the litter entangle and kill birds, fish, seals and other marine life, some plastic objects are mistaken for food like jellyfish by sea turtles and other animals, which eat them and die.

So much plastic has poured into the worlds oceans in recent decades much of it washing from land that a vast area known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has grown in size. The area, hundreds of miles across, contains trillions of tiny pieces of plastic broken apart by waves. Tons of plastic washes up every year on the beaches at Midway and other Pacific islands. And studies of albatrosses and other wildlife have discovered large amounts of plastic in the stomachs of dead birds, particularly chicks.

Under the new initiative, the participating aquariums have agreed that starting today they will no longer provide plastic bags to customers and will begin phasing out plastic straws. They also have agreed to significantly reduce or eliminate plastic bottles by 2020 and will work with vendors to reduce plastic packaging in their gift shops and cafeterias.

As leaders in aquatic conservation, aquariums are expected to walk their talk and thats exactly what this partnership is meant to do, said John Racanelli, CEO of the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

Ashley Stoney, a spokeswoman for the Plastics Industry Association, based in Washington D.C., said on Friday the group would have no comment on the initiative.

In the past, the plastics industry has opposed city and state efforts to ban single-use plastic bags, saying that they are recyclable and are convenient for shoppers. In 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a statewide ban on the distribution of such bags by supermarkets, pharmacies and other businesses. Companies that make plastic bags, such as Hilex Poly in South Carolina, collected signatures and placed the issue before voters in 2016, hoping to overturn the ban. Although they spent $6 million, 53 percent of California voters upheld the ban.

The new coalition has launched a website, www.ourhands.org, and will work to convince zoos, sports teams, airports and other businesses to join, Peterson said.

He said paper bags or reusable bags, paper straws, reusable water bottles and other alternatives are readily available. Peterson also noted that the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which has 2 million visitors a year, already has convinced several companies that sell merchandise in its gift shops to eliminate plastic shrink-wrap in favor of other packaging.

Jeff Koseff, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University who studies plastics in the ocean, said the campaign could make a difference. But he said it will be more effective if it makes connections to aquarium visitors about how toxic chemicals absorbed in the plastics are eaten by fish and eventually can be consumed by people.

To me its apolitical. Its not a Republican or Democratic issue, he said. Its really about our future on this planet. As institutions of teaching and outreach, aquariums have the right to do this, and I think they should do it.