Category Archives: Litter and debris

Plastic bags and straws reined in with two bills passed by state Senate

Washington State Senate has tackled the problem of marine debris by approving one bill to ban the use of plastic grocery bags and a separate bill to discourage the use of plastic straws. Both bills have now moved over to the House of Representatives for possible concurrence.

Issues of waste, recycling and compostable materials have been the subject of much debate in the Legislature this year, with at least a dozen bills attempting to address these multiple problems.

Ban on plastic bags

If approved by the House, the statewide ban on plastic bags would follow the lead of 22 Washington cities and two counties, along with the states of California and Hawaii, according to the American Progressive Bag Alliance. I have also reported in Water Ways on major steps taken by the European Union to reduce plastic pollution.

The legislation approved by the Senate, Senate Bill 5323, would prohibit retail stores from providing single-use carryout plastic bags. The ban does not include bags provided inside stores, such as those used for produce, meats, frozen foods and small hardware items. Also exempt are newspaper bags, door-hanger bags and dry cleaning bags.

Retailers may provide paper bags made of recycled content for a nonrefundable charge of 8 cents each. They may also sell carryout bags designed to be reusable — provided they are washable, made of recycled material and meet standards of durability.

The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Mona Das, D-Covington, said the measure is one step that can reduce some 8 million tons of plastics that wind up in the world’s oceans each year. Much of the plastics break down into tiny fragments eaten by marine organisms, becoming integrated into the food web.

“We’ve all seen the heartbreaking photos of animals choked by plastics and the frightening depictions of garbage islands in our oceans,” Das said, speaking on the floor of the Senate.

The senator said she first became aware of the problem years ago when she moved to Ireland and discovered that shoppers there have to pay for their bags or else bring their own from home.

“It was the first time that I realized the impact of plastic bags,” she added, “and I became a lifelong user of reusable bags… We realize that this (bill) won’t eliminate the plastic problem, but it is a good step.”

With more cities adopting plastic-bag bans as time goes on, retailers would like a uniform set of standards, she said. Many local jurisdictions have required a fee of 10 cents per paper bag, and the state legislation would not require a change in those fees.

Opposing the bill, Sen. Doug Erickson, R-Ferndale, said he grew up using paper bags, which supported a thriving timber industry. But plastic bags are more convenient, cheaper to produce and have an overall lower impact on the environment, considering the full life cycle of the material, he said.

But what really got to him in the debate over plastic bags, Erickson said, was how the Legislature believes it should establish a permanent retail price for an item, such as a paper bag.

“The fact that we, as a Legislature, think that we are able to determine the cost of the bag in a free-market society is just unbelievable to me,” he said, “which perhaps leads me to believe that we actually are not living in a free-market society in today’s Washington… It’s a very dangerous pathway we are on tonight.”

The bill passed the Senate on Tuesday, largely supported by Democrats, with four Republicans voting in favor of the ban.

Plastic straws

The legislation dealing with plastic straws, Senate Bill 5077, initially called for a total ban on single-use drinking straws in Washington state. But by the time the bill came up for a hearing on Jan. 24, many of the people testifying realized that some accommodations should be made for people with certain disabilities who need a plastic straw to drink safely.

As passed by the Senate, the bill would prohibit a food establishment from providing straws to customers unless the customer asks for one. They would be required to provide one if requested.

The prime sponsor, Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, said the legislation was first brought to her by a group of students from Lake Washington High School. Later, a group of younger students formed a group they called “The Straw Kids” and began pushing the idea of a straw ban.

Members of the Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee couldn’t help but be charmed by the students, including 6-year-old Geneva Betnel, one of the Straw Kids.

“I challenge people to stop using plastic straws for one month,” Geneva said, “so they would think about stop using plastic straws completely, because plastic straws only get used one time and then they get throwed away. It’s not enough to say, ‘I don’t want a plastic straw,’ because people forget, she continued. “That has happened to me.”

Check out the video above for the testimony of the young supporters of the plastic straw legislation, many of whom mentioned the needs of disabled people.

Shaun Bickley of The ARC of King County said he was horrified that people are assuming that the state can do away with plastic drinking straws and nobody will be harmed.

“Making people find alternatives that don’t exist is very horrifying to me,” he said. “We could be talking about banning every other form of single-use plastic, but this is the one single-use plastic that people need. This is not a symbolic action to people whose lives and livelihoods depend on being able to do it.”

Aimee Champion of Self Advocates in Leadership said many of the non-plastic alternatives available to most people could create dangers for disabled people. Paper, glass, metal and bamboo all create problems, depending on the individual.

Kuderer said she listened to the concerns about the needs of disabled people and found ways to change the bill, allowing people who need straws to ask for them.

“The reason we focused on straws in the first place is that it seems like it would be a fairly simple thing for most of us to give up, and for most of us that’s true,” she said. “But for those who need them for medical reasons, it’s not an easy lift, and so it was appropriate that we amended the bill.”

Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, was not impressed with the outcome.

“We’re talking about a plastic straw,” he said. “We’re talking about going to a restaurant and having someone inadvertently offer me a plastic straw and being in violation of this bill. Talk about an impractical bill. So I will be a very strong “no” on this, being a total waste of time and energy.”

Sen. Erickson said he understands that plastic is a worldwide problem that needs to be dealt with. But most of the plastic in the Pacific Ocean comes from Asia or gets dumped overboard from ships, he said.

It’s ironic, he noted, that a bill which started out to ban plastic straws now requires restaurants to have them on hand for disabled people who might ask for one.

Sen. Dean Takko, D-Longview, told Erickson that he does not agree that the plastic problem is mostly somewhere else. He often takes his grandchildren to play on the beaches along the Lower Columbia River.

“You wouldn’t believe how much there is on the beaches down there,” he said. “It’s not coming from ships out in the ocean; it’s coming down the Columbia River.

“No, this isn’t go to be a big deal to solve the plastic problem that we have out in the ocean or anywhere else,” he said, “but it is one of the small steps we can take. Then maybe when I go out on the beach to play with my grandchildren on the Lower Columbia, I’ll see just a little less plastic.”

The bill passed the Senate Monday on a 27-21 vote, entirely supported by Democrats, with two Dems registering a “no” vote. The bill is scheduled for a public hearing next Thursday before the House Environment and Energy Committee.

Other related legislation

One bill approved by the House Environment and Energy Committee addresses plastic food-service products, including containers, utensils, straws, plates, clamshells and lids.

The bill, House Bill 1632, would allow customers to obtain plastic food-service products only if they asked for them when eating onsite. For food businesses that do not provide a place to eat, the business operator may ask customers if they would like certain plastic items. Such food-service products may be placed in bins for the customer to take, but customers must have the option of taking only the utensils they need — as opposed to a bundle or package of utensils.

The long-term goal should be to replace plastic utensils and containers with compostable items or at least recyclable items, according to Heather Trim of Zero Waste Washington.

“Taco Time has already gone to compostable products, so it is doable,” she said.

Nora Nickum of Seattle Aquarium said the aquarium’s café converted to compostable utensils, coffee stirs and straws by 2010. It is now among 22 aquariums across the U.S. that have done away with single-use plastic straws, eliminating the disposal of 5 million straws per year.

Several other bills are attempting to increase the recycling of plastics by addressing collection, handling and marketing issues. Recycling experts say the biggest problems involve finding markets for the different types of plastics collected together or finding new ways to separate the materials. Companies in China had been taking an enormous amount of mixed plastics before last year, when they announced they would no longer take loads of plastic comingled with an excess of nonrecyclable materials, including garbage.

House Bill 1543, approved by the House on Wednesday, would create a new Recycling Development Center within the Department of Ecology to address recycling issues, including the so-called contamination problem.

House Bill 1569 is due for floor action. As amended, the bill would define different types of plastic products and compostable materials and prohibit anyone from mislabeling materials being sold or distributed. Products labeled as compostable would need to meet scientific standards for the rate of breakdown.

House Bill 5397, also due for floor action, calls on the Department of Ecology to assess the types of plastic packaging sold, managed and disposed of in Washington state. An independent consultant would conduct the report, including system costs passed on to state residents and businesses.

Amusing Monday: Inspiration from underwater photos

More than 5,000 underwater photographs, taken by photographers from 65 countries, were submitted for judging in the annual Underwater Photographer of the Year competition.

“Gentle Giants” ©François Baelen/UPY2019

The contest, based in Great Britain, was started in 1965 and celebrates the art and technology of capturing images under water — from the depths of the ocean to “split shots” at the surface, from open waters to enclosed estuaries, from lakes to even swimming pools.

I first reported on this contest in Watching Our Water Ways last year and received such a positive response from readers that I decided to make it an annual feature of this blog. The 125 winning entries are shown in an online Gallery of the 2019 winners. A series of videos provides insight from the photographers telling the stories that surround their winning entries.

I’ve chosen some of my favorite photos (above and below), which can be enlarged by clicking on the images. One of the best way of viewing all the winning entries is to download the UPY 2019 Yearbook.

“Gentle Giants” — Wide Angle category

François Baelen of Reunion Island, winner of the Wide Angle category, captured an intriguing image (top photo) of humpback whales near his home in the Indian Ocean.

“At the very end of the day, this humpback whale was resting 15 meters down and allowed me to free dive centimeters away from her tail,” François wrote. “I told my friend I wanted him to be part of the shot, but didn’t need to ask the playful calf; he was very curious. From down there, the scene looked unreal, and I’m glad that this photograph has captured this moment. Humpback whales are amazing and peaceful animals, and I can’t believe they are still being hunted by mankind today.”

Note from judge Martin Edge: “The first moment I viewed this image I knew it would be a strong contender. For me, it’s the symmetry of the humpback and the balance between the diver and calf. Everything about it is in perfect alignment. The shape of the tail in relation to the four corners of the frame, not to mention the position of the free diver and calf. Superb imagery at its very best. Many congratulations François.”

“Big Guns” — Wrecks category

Rene B. Andersen of Denmark, winner of the Wrecks category, carefully framed this picture of the turret dislodged from the HMS Audacious, a battleship sunk by a mine off the coast of Ireland in 1914. He credited a black-and-white photo by British photographer Leigh Bishop as his inspiration.

“Big Guns” ©Rene B. Andersen/UPY2019

“I used a tripod and three Big Blue lights to illuminate the turret with the majestic 13.5” guns and myself as the model,” he said. “There was a small current, so it wasn’t easy to lay still during this long exposure shot. It took some time before achieving it, and at 64 meters (deep) the clock is ticking fast. That is the challenge with deep-wreck photography. Using the tripod, with me as a model, there was a risk that something would go wrong as I am far from the camera so I had to cross my fingers every single shot.”

Note from Judge Peter Rowlands: “So simple yet so powerful; the additional lighting of the turret and the main diver perfectly positioned. This was a very strong category this year with a deserved winner, and it’s refreshing to read the acknowledgement to Leigh Bishop’s pioneering work.”

“Caretta caretta turtle” — Marine Conservation category

Eduardo Acevedo of Spain, named Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year, was able to show the problem of plastic pollution in this shot of a loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta), a species that spends most of its life in the open ocean.

“Caretta caretta turtle” ©Eduardo Acevedo/UPY2019

“They come to the Canary Island (Spain) after crossing the Atlantic Ocean from the Caribbean beaches,” Eduardo said. “In this trip of many years, they often have to avoid many dangerous traps like plastics, ropes, fishing nets etc. In this particular case, it got trapped in a net, and it was practically impossible to escape from it. But this day it was very lucky and could escape thanks to the help of two underwater photographers who were sailing near her.”

Note from judge Alex Mustard: The problems of plastic pollution and ghost fishing are both illustrated by this struggling loggerhead turtle. I am happy to learn this individual was lucky enough to survive this deathtrap thanks to the photographer.”

“Fly High and Smile” — Portrait category

Nicholas Samaras of Greece, winner of the Portrait category, shot this picture of a ray while on a project involving a special seahorse colony near Stratoni in Northern Greece.

“Fly High and Smile” ©Nicholas Samaras/UPY2019

“On my third and last visit, I was planning to create a specific group photo of seahorses before the sunset using natural light,” he said. “Just at the time of the big finale, a small ray came into the scene! I managed to swim with him and place my camera underneath to capture a portrait of his belly with the mouth and nose looking like a smiling happy angel’s face, with the sun beams on the background softening the color to emerald.”

Note from judge Martin Edge: “Superb impact from the very first moment it was presented. Perfect composition within the image frame and the understated colors. To top it off, the author’s comments above say it all… a Smiling Happy Angel’s Face. One of my favorites from the entire competition.”

“Hairy in the Sunrise” — Compact category

Enrico Somogyi of Germany took this split double-exposure image by waking up for the sunrise to get a shot of the fishing boat near Ambon, Indonesia.

“Hairy in the Sunrise” ©Enrico Somogyi /UPY2019

“This was the first picture,” he said. “The second picture with the Hairy Frogfish I take on Laha 1. Here I was using a Inon S2000 with a Snoot for the Hairy. For the blue backlighting I used a colored Fiberoptic Snoot on a Inon Z240. To get the two pictures together, I was using the double-exposure setting in the camera.”

Note from judge Martin Edge: “This image was a very popular choice between the panel. Ideal for a split rendition. What makes this a winner for me, not withstanding the double exposure, is the sympathetic balance of light and color connected between the top half and bottom of the image frame.”

About the judges: Alex Mustard (2019 Chair), Peter Rowlands and Martin Edge.

Amusing Monday: Taking on plastic pollution with a lighthearted approach

Last June, 10 days after the European Union announced major legislation to ban or otherwise control single-use plastic products, the European Commission launched a public-relations campaign to raise awareness and promote individual actions to reduce the problem of plastics.

The campaign, which asks “Are you ready to change?,” includes a lighthearted video designed to encourage people to question their choices of single-use plastics, such as cutlery, water bottles, plates and straws. Check out the first video on this page.

“The campaign is aimed at young, dynamic adults who are always on-the-go,” according to a statement by the European Commission. “The vast majority of this group is well aware of, and concerned by, the environmental impact of single-use plastics and the health-related risks caused by plastic waste and marine litter. But despite the level of awareness among the target audience, this does not translate into their daily choices: They continue to enjoy their take-away coffees and use straws in their drinks.”

A series of short videos cleverly emphasizes “the seductive power of single-use items,” such as the plastic bag. The script for the plastic-bag video, the second one on this page, goes like this:

“Its seduction technique is hard to resist. Always there when you need it, it waits for you at the end of shop counters, ready to help out and leave with you, hand in hand. But the morality of this fake friend is disturbingly flimsy. It will leave you in the first gust of wind, preferring to hang out with its friends on the beach, pollute the ocean and threaten marine life.

“Help protect our beaches and oceans. Don’t fall for the single-use plastic bag. Start a long-term relationship with a smarter alternative. Why not use reusable carry bags, totes or baskets? A solid alternative!”

Click on the following to see other videos featuring “seductive” plastics:

The United Nations has its own public-relations effort to battle single-use plastics. Called the Clean Seas Campaign, the project has enlisted the support of more than 50 countries throughout the world, many with specific commitments to reduce plastic pollution, according to a news release and webpage called “Tide-turners” about nations and private companies tackling the plastic problem. The United States is not listed among them.

In a UN video, a woman declares, “This relationship isn’t working; I’m breaking up with you.” But there’s a psychological problem looming over her conviction. In a new video, released last week in time for the holidays, the same woman confronts the problem of running into her “ex.” She learns that even with the best intentions it is not easy to get away from plastics in our modern world.

For more information about the European Union’s efforts to confront plastic pollution, take a look at my Water Ways post from yesterday.

European Union charges forward to reduce dangerous plastic litter

By 2021, the 28 countries in the European Union are expected to ban single-use plastics — including straws, plates, cutlery and drink stirrers, as well as plastic sticks for cotton swabs, balloons and candy.

The latest development, announced this past week, involves the approval of a provisional agreement by the European Parliament and Council of the European Union. Formal approval is expected next. The ban carries through on an initiative launched in May that also seeks to limit the use of plastic drink cups, food containers, grocery bags and candy wrappers. Review Water Ways, May 31,2018, or take a look at this EU brochure.

World production of plastic materials by region (2013). Click to enlarge // Source: European Union

Most plastic in Europe is landfilled or incinerated, rather than being recycled, which is a loss to the economy, according to EU documents contained in the European Strategy for Plastics. In the environment, many plastics take hundreds of years to break down, and the amount of plastic getting into the ocean has raised alarm bells throughout the world.

“When we have a situation where one year you can bring your fish home in a plastic bag, and the next year you are bringing that bag home in a fish, we have to work hard and work fast,” Karmenu Vella, EU commissioner for environment, maritime affairs and fisheries, said in a statement released Wednesday. “So I am happy that with the agreement of today between Parliament and Council. We have taken a big stride towards reducing the amount of single-use plastic items in our economy, our ocean and ultimately our bodies.”

“This agreement truly helps protect our people and our planet,” said First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development. “Europeans are conscious that plastic waste is an enormous problem and the EU as a whole has shown true courage in addressing it, making us the global leader in tackling plastic marine litter.”

The measures are expected to reduce litter by more than half for the top-10 plastic litter items, saving 22 billion Euros (about $25 billion) by 2030 and avoiding 3.4 million metric tons (3.75 million U.S. tons) of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, according to a fact sheet.

The United Nations has launched a campaign to reduce plastic pollution.
Source: UN

Peter Harris, a graduate of North Kitsap High School who is working on an environmental assessment for the United Nations, told me in June that plastics pollution is one of the three greatest problems facing the world’s oceans. The others are the bleaching of coral reefs caused by global warming and overfishing, which is driving some species to extinction. See Water Ways, June 6, 2018.

The European Union has carefully examined how plastics affect the ocean. EU countries should be recognized for their courage in tackling the problem in Europe, not waiting for a worldwide agreement before taking action. Non-European countries would be wise to consider their own plastic impacts on the environment.

So far, actions in the United States have been limited to a relatively small number of cities and counties, along with a few states. Because plastics wash downstream in stormwater and into rivers before reaching the ocean, every American has a role to play in the problem. Whether we address the challenges internationally, nationally or locally, everyone should take time to understand this serious issue, consider practical solutions and support actions that can save marine life before it’s too late.

McNeil Island becoming known for fish and wildlife, not just prison

If you’ve heard of McNeil Island, you are probably thinking of a former federal or state prison in South Puget Sound — not the rare and exclusive habitat that has won high praise from fish and wildlife biologists.

A derelict boat, estimated at 100 years old, is removed from the McNeil Island shoreline.
Photo: Monica Shoemaker, DNR

I never realized that McNeil Island was such a gem until I learned about state restoration plans that could lead to near-pristine conditions for the island, located about seven miles southwest of Tacoma.

To be sure, more than 90 percent of the island’s 12-mile-long shoreline remains in a natural state, including large trees bending over the water . The restoration — the result of a longtime planning effort — will focus on discrete areas that have been highly degraded by human activities, some for more than a century.

The first project, completed this week, was the removal of shoreline armoring, creosote pilings and debris in six locations. Close to 1,000 tons of concrete was hauled away by barge along with 55 tons of scrap metal and more than 51 tons of pilings. A 557-foot bulkhead was pulled out along with a derelict boat.

“You can already see how much better the habitat appears with all that armoring and debris gone,” said Monica Shoemaker, restoration manager for the Department of Natural Resources’ Aquatic Restoration Program.

“I’m super excited about it,” she added, as she wrapped up the site work. “It takes a lot of planning and permitting, and when you work on something awhile, it is great to see it completed.”

Metal anti-submarine nets, added years ago to McNeil Island’s shoreline, were hauled away during the removal project.
Photo: Monica Shoemaker, DNR

The concrete debris included what looked like an old building, demolished and tossed down the bank, Monica told me. What appeared to be ceramic tiles from a bathroom were scattered among the pieces of concrete. Metal debris included multiple layers of twisted and tangled anti-submarine netting, apparently brought to the site following World War II.

The accomplishment goes well beyond appearances. The shoreline is important rearing habitat for juvenile salmon, including threatened Chinook. Portions of the beach will provide excellent spawning habitat for forage fish, such as surf smelt and sand lance, according to Doris Small of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Much of the island contains moderate to low-bank waterfront, with about 25 percent identified as “feeder bluffs,” which provide sand and gravel to keep the beaches suitable for forage-fish spawning. Wetlands across the island provide habitat for a multitude of species.

Doris said the ongoing restoration effort has been the result of exceptional collaboration between DNR, WDFW and the state Department of Corrections.

McNeil Island served as the site a federal penitentiary from 1875 to 1979. It was the first federal prison in Washington Territory. In 1981, after the federal government decided it was too expensive to operate, the facility was leased by the state of Washington.

In 1984, the state Department of Corrections took ownership of the prison site with 1,324 acres used for buildings and infrastructure. The remainder of the island’s 4,413 acres was dedicated as a permanent wildlife sanctuary under control of WDFW. The deed also transferred ownership of Gertrude and Pitt islands to the state for conservation purposes.

The prison was upgraded during the 1990s with new buildings to serve up to 1,300 inmates. But in 2011 the prison was closed as a cost-cutting measure. Today, the facility houses about 300 inmates in a Special Commitment Center for sexually violent offenders who have been civilly committed.

McNeil, Gertrude and Pitt Islands remain closed to public access to protect breeding populations of wildlife. A 100-yard safety zone goes out into the water with warning signs for boaters.

In 2011, DNR established the Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve, which edges up against Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge and includes Anderson Island, McNeil Island and surrounding waters. The idea is to protect shoreline ecosystems in the reserve.

A feasibility report (PDF, 6.3 mb), developed by WDFW and DNR, includes a shoreline survey that identified 10 sites where debris removal would improve the nearshore habitat. Although contractors removed more material than originally estimated for the first six sites, bidding was favorable and costs were held to about $450,000, Monica said. Funding is from DNR’s aquatic restoration account.

The next project, to get underway in January, involves removal of a concrete boat launch, concrete debris and log pilings from the so-called Barge Landing Site at the southern tip of McNeil Island. Funding will come from an account that provides money from a pollution settlement with Asarco, a company that operated a Tacoma smelter that released toxic chemicals over a wide area.

Other projects on McNeil Island involve removing road embankments constructed across three estuaries along with work to restore natural functions. Estuaries provide rearing habitat for salmon and other aquatic species. State or federal restoration grants are needed to proceed with those projects. For ongoing information, check out DNR’s website about McNeil Island.

Environmental volunteers needed in Kitsap County

I thought I would offer a quick note on some volunteer opportunities in Kitsap County, based on an email from WSU Kitsap County Extension. By the way, Kitsap and King county governments are among the best in connecting people with opportunities where they can spent quality time together while helping their community. Check out Kitsap County Volunteer Services and King County volunteer calendar and opportunities.

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Amusing Monday: Value of water featured in art contest for students

More than 1,300 students entered this year’s Water Resources Art and Poetry Contest, sponsored by New York City’s water utility, known as the Department of Environmental Protection. Some 60 winners were named as “Water Champions” by a panel of judges.

Art by Lily H., grades 6–7.
Photo: New York City DEQ Art and Poetry Contest

“For more than three decades, DEP’s annual Art and Poetry Contest has given young New Yorkers a wonderful opportunity to use their artistic abilities to learn about and express the importance of protecting our environment and water resources,” DEP Commissioner Vincent Sapienza said in a press release announcing the contest winners. “Nearly half the State of New York relies on the city’s water supply system, so this is a terrific way for students in both New York City and beyond to celebrate our shared natural resources.”

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New state parks guide, picnic suggestions, and ‘beach-friendly’ Fourth

Photos and descriptions of more than 120 Washington state parks are part of the first-ever “Washington State Parks Guide” now on sale now at many state parks as well as online.

The 364-page guide, which costs $6 (online $13.80), describes which parks offer popular activities, such as hiking, biking and boating, and also activities that fewer people relish, such as paragliding, geocaching and metal detecting, according to a news release about the guide.

The guide is published by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.

Special sections highlight:

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World ocean researcher traces his interests back to Puget Sound

Marine geologist Peter Harris, a 1976 graduate of North Kitsap High School, has been awarded the prestigious Francis P. Shepard Medal for Sustained Excellence in Marine Geology.

Peter Harris

The annual award, from the Society for Sedimentary Geology, recognizes Peter’s 30 years of research accomplishments — “from the polar to the tropical,” as the judges described it — including his discovery of new coral reefs off Australia.

Also noteworthy is his work documenting the margins of the Antarctic continent; describing the prehistoric formation of the Fly River Delta in Papua New Guinea; and explaining changes in the “Antarctic bottom water,” a dense water mass surrounding Antarctica. Peter has published more than 100 research papers in scientific journals.

After an awards ceremony in Salt Lake City, Utah, Peter returned last week to Kitsap County, where he spoke to me about his current efforts on upcoming state-of-the-environment report for the United Nations. He is working on an oceans chapter for the “Sixth Global Environmental Outlook,” known as GEO-6, which will be used to advance environmental policies around the world.

“There are so many environmental issues in the ocean,” he told me, “but we were asked to identify three things that are the most urgent.”

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Europe may soon launch wide-ranging solutions to plastic pollution

Taking on the enormous problem of plastic pollution in the ocean, the European Union is on track to ban single-use items made of plastic, while communities in Washington state slowly adopt bans on plastic bags.

Straws are listed as a problem plastic.
Photo: Horia Varlan, Wikimedia Commons

The European Commission is targeting specific plastic products that constitute 70 percent of the items found among marine debris lost in the sea and along the shoreline. Cotton swabs, plastic cutlery, plates, drinking cups and straws are among the items that would be banned outright, because non-plastic alternatives are available.

The proposal announced this week goes well beyond those items, however, calling for a 90-percent reduction in plastic drink-bottle waste, possibly through a deposit system. In addition, plans are underway for new waste-disposal programs, ongoing cleanups, and educational efforts designed to reduce the purchase of and encourage the proper disposal of food containers, plastic wrappers, cigarette butts, wet wipes, balloons and fishing gear. Manufacturers of plastic products would help fund those various programs, according to the proposal.

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