17 February 2008

City Zine Article #6

Surf Report: Our Contribution to the Plastic Continent

When it rains it pours . . . and sends greats heaps of plastic debris into the ocean via our county’s storm drains. Many people don’t realize that the Los Angeles rainfall season runs from July 1 to June 30, thus the measuring for city’s rainfall totals begins in mid-summer. In the last seven months, Los Angeles received almost as much rain as it did during the previous complete rainfall season. The precipitation was a godsend for this city, with its overabundance of lawns and gluttonous greenery. Unfortunately, the rains spelled disaster for our beaches.

After the most recent rainstorms in January, the banks of the Ballona Creek flood control channel were covered with litter. (One can only surmise that other channels were also lined with trash.) The birds and other indigenous wildlife could not escape it. The trash was everywhere.

An inquiry to the County of Los Angeles about the problem resulted in the following response from Gary Hildebrand of the County’s Department of Public Works:

“I appreciate your concern over the condition of Ballona Creek. Yes, the recent large storms have left a considerable amount of trash deposited along the banks. After each storm we have staff that collect the accumulated trash. We also maintain a floating boom in the channel immediately downstream of Lincoln Blvd to capture trash that flows down the channel. This boom was damaged during the storm of early January and was under repair. Therefore more trash than usual was deposited along the banks of Ballona creek during last week’s storms. The boom will be reinstalled this coming week. We will have crews out along the channel this weekend to collect the trash.”

The County is obviously aware of the problems that occur after a heavy rain and is prepared for the extensive clean-up involved. What about the trash that didn’t wash up on the banks of the creek? Where does it end up?

It could eventually come to rest in what is known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”. A close look at the Ballona Creek photos reveals that the majority of the trash on the creek’s banks is plastic—Styrofoam containers, straws, and water bottles, among other things. Plastic will, without a doubt, be the death of our oceans. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is essentially a continent-sized plastic landfill floating in the Pacific Ocean. In his article for the Los Angeles Times’ Altered Oceans series, Times writer Kenneth Weiss described the Garbage Patch as an area, located between San Francisco and Hawaii, “where flotsam collects from around the Pacific, much like foam piling up in the calm center of a hot tub”. One could say that plastic travels to the Garbage Patch to die. The problem with that poetic assumption is that plastic doesn’t die. Plastic, unlike paper, does not biodegrade. It simply breaks down into smaller pieces.

Charles Moore, the captain of a private research vessel, wrote an article in 2002 that detailed the damage plastic, specifically the Garbage Patch, is doing to our oceans. Moore was blunt in his assessment of the source of the problem: “For the last 50-odd years, every piece of plastic that has made it from our shores to the Pacific Ocean has been breaking down and accumulating in the central Pacific gyre.” The trash in Ballona Creek shows that Los Angelenos must take steps to both reduce our use of plastic and increase our recycling of plastic. The debris from Ballona Creek that successfully made its way out to sea will eventually become a part of the Garbage Patch, and we will have no one but ourselves to blame.

Be part of the solution. Stop using plastic grocery bags. If you must use them, make sure to recycle them. (But, really, it’s not difficult to buy some canvas bags for your groceries.) If you use plastic utensils, don’t throw them away; wash them and reuse them or make sure they are placed in a recycling bin when you no longer want them. Do your homework. Plastic, for all of its wonderful properties, is killing our oceans. Use it and recycle it.


At 2/18/08, 6:15 PM, Blogger Christian said...

Well said. Plastic carelessly discarded is a plague.

At 2/19/08, 4:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately plastic utensils aren't allowed in our recycling bin in San Diego and the only sanitary way I clean after my dog is these plastic bags...Is there a better way to do it than that? My wife can't stand that I recycle everything....She says I'm wasting more time and energy by not separating properly but it ticks me off that when I have some plastic container that's not within their requirements they will just end up tossing into the can. Not cool..

At 2/19/08, 4:41 PM, Blogger Surfsister said...

I've heard there are dog poop bags that are biodegradable.

I'm irked by the recycling rules too. You're supposed to recycle but your local government doesn't support it whole-heartedly. What's up with that?

All you can do is try. That's what I do. I'm not perfect by any means, but I try and I do my best to remind others to try.


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