plastic pollution

Thinking of Releasing Balloons and Lanterns? Think Twice!

Thousands of balloons or lit lanterns released into the sky: we have all seen it at least one, and it’s a very mesmerizing sight. People release balloons for various occasions: weddings, birthdays, memorials, graduations, charity events…Unfortunately, these balloons and lanterns have to come back down to Earth at some point, and end up creating an environmental disaster.

Balloons usually slowly deflate overtime, and end up getting stuck on trees, bushes, or floating in the middle of the oceans. They also take years to break down, as it is with many other forms of plastic. Latex balloons are falsely-marketed as biodegradable, and can take years to break down. Once in the air, free-flying balloons and lanterns can travel as far as 1,300 miles away from its release site. 

Many terrestrial and marine species, such as turtles, dolphins, or birds have been hurt or killed by balloons. If ingested, a balloon will block the digestive tract of the animal, thus letting them starve to death. Other animals may become entangled in the ribbon or the ballon, impeding their movements or causing them to choke.

(Rusty Blackbird found dead due to entanglement in balloon ribbon. Photo: David E. Gurniewicz)

Sea turtles are some of the most at-risk animals, as deflated balloons floating in the sea looks dangerously similar to their favorite food: jellyfishes.

(A sea turtle entangled in ribbons. Photo by FWC)

(A sea turtle that appears to have ingested a balloon. Photo by L. Byrd – Sea Turtle Hospital, Mote Marine Laboratory)

A few US states and cities have anti-balloon laws:  Ocean City and Baltimore in Maryland, Louisville in Kentucky, Huntsville in Alabama, and the entire states of California, Connecticut, Florida, New York, Tennessee and Virginia. Plymouth in the UK, and New South Wales and Sunshine Coast-Queensland in Australia also have laws in place.

The thing is, balloon pollution is completely avoidable. Just don’t do it! Is your joy and wonder of letting a balloon go really worth the death and pain of other living organisms? There are plenty of alternatives to releasing plastic into the sky. And if you were to stumble upon a balloon on the beach or while out on a boat, please make sure you pick it up.


Look closely. These sculptures are made entirely from garbage found along the beach.

A traveling art exhibit by Angela Haseltine Pozzi, now at our National Zoo, educates visitors about one of the biggest enemies to the ocean today: trash.

Pozzi and her volunteers with the Washed Ashore Project collected discarded plastic from beaches on the West Coast, which she transformed into beautiful sculptures that tell an ugly story. The 17 larger-than-life pieces represent the more than 315 billion pounds of plastic in our oceans today. 

“Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea” will be at the Zoo through Sept. 5. 

Microbeads banned! A victory against ocean plastic pollution

Good news, land and sea dwellers! Congress and the White House just cooperated—with remarkable bipartisan speed—to eliminate an insidious source of plastic pollution in the ocean. 

Microbeads are tiny plastic balls often used as exfoliants in everything from soap and facial scrub to toothpaste. When we rinse them off, they wash down the drain and flow into the ocean, lakes and rivers, where they can absorb other pollutants such as DDT and PCBs. Fish and other marine animals often mistake microbeads for food, concentrating these toxins up the food chain—potentially ending up in seafood on our plates.

Photo courtesy Alliance for the Great Lakes.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium and other leading public aquariums nationwide supported the passage of statewide microbeads bans in California and in other states. At the federal level, we worked to strengthen the language of the Microbead-Free Waters Act, urged Congress to pass the bill and asked President Obama to sign it into law. 

Learn more about how the ban passed and what’s next in the effort against plastic pollution

Learn more about our work against ocean pollution


Your personal care products could be contributing to an increase of plastic pollution in the environment.

We’ve all seen the advertisements for facial washes and body scrubs that have “gentle microbeads that smooth away roughness without over-drying or irritating your skin” (*cough* Neutrogena *cough*). It sounds great and all, but those face-smoothing microbeads are anything but gentle.

The beads are made of polyethylene and polypropylene micro-plastic particles. With a diameter of approximately .5mm, the beads can easily travel through sink drains and filtration systems, quickly working their way into local waterways. Once in a body of water, the plastics soak up pollutants such as pesticides, hydrocarbons, and other industrial chemicals from the surrounding air and water. While that may sound great, the now chemically-soaked micro-plastics (whose rounded shape resembles tasty fish eggs) are consumed by fish and aquatic reptiles. These beads have also been discovered in the digestive and circulatory systems of mussels and worms. The beads continue on their journey through food webs, impacting every species along the way–including humans.

In 2012, 5 Gyres–an organization who aims to reduce plastic pollution–took water and sediment samples from the Great Lakes. They discovered that these microbeads could be found in numbers of more than 107,500 particles per square mile. Add that number to the amount of particles found in aquatic organisms and you’re looking at a minefield of toxins. Brief note: One tube of Neutrogena’s “Deep Clean” contains an estimated 360,000 microbeads. Let that sink in for a second.

Recently, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill that would call for a ban of microbead-containing products. By 2018, companies will have to stop producing these products, and any product containing beads can no longer be sold by the end of 2019. A similar bill is currently being reviewed in California, showing proof of progress in the ban of microbeads. Though progress is occurring, it is important to note that plenty of damage can be done in Illinois alone before the products are banned. More and more companies are adding microbeads to their face cleansers, body scrubs, and even toothpastes as a result of a consumer’s desire for “icy blue microbeads” that “exfoliate and clean deep down to pores!”

The best way to reduce the amount of microplastics in waterways is to simply cease purchasing products that contain microbeads. has provided a frequently updated list of products containing microbeads. For those of you who cannot give up your beady exfoliants, there are products out there that use sands and organic materials (such as plant wax) for the same deep-cleansing and face-smoothing purpose. This is the simplest way to help the environment without even having to change your personal care routines! Please help, and visit the links below for more information.

Photograph and information from: The Atlantic

Information from: 5Gyres
Congress OKs bill banning plastic microbeads in skin care products
Bill would phase out tiny plastic particles that can contaminate the environment and hurt wildlife

Exciting news!

Plastic microbeads used in soaps, body washes and other personal-care products will be phased out starting in 2017 under legislation approved by Congress and sent to the president.

The Senate approved the bill Friday following House approval last week. Lawmakers said the bill was needed to protect fish and wildlife that are ingesting the tiny beads after they are rinsed down the drain and discharged into lakes and rivers.

For every pound of tuna we fish from of the ocean, we are now putting back two pounds of plastic. This is a transfer ratio that we cannot continue to sustain.
—  UCSB marine scientist Douglas McCauley

To help save marine life, a craft beer company developed edible 6-pack rings. Florida’s Saltwater Brewery wanted to help protect the ocean from plastic pollution, so they created the rings from beer byproducts and made them completely safe for both humans and animals to eat. Source

Why plastic bag recycling isn’t enough

“I recycle my plastic bags already. Why should I support Proposition 67?”

It’s a good question, and one we get often. First, we applaud your efforts to recycle. And it’s great you’re doing your research on Prop 67, the California ballot referendum to uphold the statewide ban on single-use, carryout plastic bags.

Unfortunately, recycling has its limitations in tackling the global challenge of ocean plastic pollution. And the reasons might not be obvious.

Too expensive to recycle

Many people recycle their single-use plastic bags, either in grocery stores or in their curbside recycling bins. But it’s still not making much of a dent in the numbers heading to the landfill. Of the approximately 15 billion single-use plastic bags that Californians use each year, only about 3 percent are ultimately recycled.

Instead, the bags notoriously jam recycling machinery. As a result, cities and counties spend an enormous amount of time, labor and money removing plastic bags from the recycling stream.

Recycling alone won’t keep plastic bags out of the ocean. Single-use plastic bags, in particular, go everywhere. They’re so lightweight, they easily blow out of recycling bins, trash cans, garbage trucks and landfills—making them one of the largest sources of accidental litter. Animals often eat these bags, or get tangled up in them. Plastic bags also clutter our open spaces and clog our storm drains.

Bag bans work

But here’s some good news: Studies show that bag bans work. There are more than 150 local bag bans in place throughout California, and they have helped to significantly reduce plastic-bag litter (and save millions of dollars in associated clean-up costs). Plastic bags are the fourth most commonly found item in international coastal cleanups, but they’re a lot less prevalent where bag bans are in place.

For example, since San Jose’s bag ban law went into effect in 2012, the city has seen 76% fewer plastic bags in creeks and rivers, 69% fewer in storm drains, and 59% in park and roadside litter. After almost every jurisdiction bordering the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary banned plastic carry-out bags, the number of bags removed during beach clean-ups has dropped by 70%.

Consider the positive impact a statewide bag ban would have in California—a state with the third-longest coastline in the U.S and the sixth-largest economy in the world!

Monterey Bay Aquarium urges a YES vote on Proposition 67 to uphold the state law banning single-use plastic carryout bags statewide. We also recommend a NO vote on Proposition 65, which would further delay the ban’s implementation.

Still not convinced that plastic bags blow? Check out this parody on the “adventures” of plastic bag litter.


The Fine Art of Marine Debris by Pam Longobardi

Pam Longobardi (b.1958) transforms oceanic marine debris into installations and photographic works. Her artwork involves also painting and addresses the psychological relationship of humans to the natural world. She currently lives and works in Atlanta and is Professor of Art at Georgia State University.

In 2006, after discovering the mountainous piles of plastic debris the ocean was depositing on the remote shores of Hawaii, I began collecting and utilizing this plastic as my primary material in my project called Drifters. Since then, I have made scores of interventions, cleaning beaches and making collections from all over the world, removing thousands of pounds of material from the natural environment and re-situating it within the cultural context for examination. 

For me, plastic has come to stand for the heavy hand of human presence in every corner of the globe. It is the symbol of wanton and thoughtless production and consumption, a lazy and greedy sucking up of energy and resources at the cost of all other life on the planet.

Read more about Pam Longobardi’s Drifters Project on her website.

Our archives is the treasure chest. Just open it and you’ll see.

posted by Margaret


Yes yes yes! What a wonderful idea! A 100% biodegradable six-pack ring, plastic-free and made of barley and wheat leftover from the brewing process. 

We need every beer company to support and switch to these edible six pack rings! In the meantime and if you must purchase a six-pack with plastic rings, don’t forget to cut it up before you throw it out, That way, if it accidentally ends up in the water, no animals will get entangled in the rings. 

Ari Jónsson uses algae to create biodegradable water bottles

DesignMarch 2016: product design student Ari Jónsson has combined red algae powder with water to create a biodegradable bottle.

Jónsson – who studies at the Iceland Academy of the Arts – exhibited the project during this year’s Reykjavik design festival DesignMarch from 10 to 13 March 2016.

After reading about the amount of waste plastic produced every day, the designer felt an “urgent” need to develop a replacement material.

“I read that 50 per cent of plastic is used once and then thrown away so I feel there is an urgent need to find ways to replace some of the unreal amount of plastic we make, use and throw away each day,” Jónsson told Dezeen. “Why are we using materials that take hundreds of years to break down in nature to drink from once and then throw away?”

He began studying the strengths and weaknesses of different materials to determine what could be suitable for use as a water bottle. Eventually he came across a powdered form of agar, a substance made from algae.

When agar powder is added to water, it forms a jelly-like material. After experimenting to find the right proportions, Jónsson slowly heated the substance before pouring it into a bottle-shaped mould that had been kept in the freezer.

He then rotated the mould while submerged in a bucket of ice-cold water, until the liquid inside has taken the shape of the bottle.

It was then placed in a refrigerator for a few minutes before the agar bottle was extracted from the mould.

As long as the bottle is full of water, it will keep its shape, but as soon as it is empty – it will begin to decompose.

“If it fails, or if the bottom is too thin or it has a hole in it, I can just reheat it and pour it into the mould again,” said Jónsson.

As the bottle is made from 100 per cent natural materials, the water stored inside it is safe to drink – although Jónsson noted that after a while it may extract a small amount of taste from the bottle.

He even suggested that if the user likes the taste, they should bite the bottle itself when you have finished drinking.

Read more here.

Provided by Dezeen
France becomes the first country to ban plastic plates and cutlery
The ban, to take effect in 2020, is part of a program aimed at making France a model for reducing environmental waste.

Another great step in the right direction to reduce single-use plastics and plastic pollution in the ocean!


The Most Dangerous Species in the Mediterranean
CREDIT: Agencia Catalan de l'Aigua
Posted in March, 2011 on

The oceanic waters are home to many ferocious and intimidating creatures but the most dangerous of all creatures appears to be the humans. Human waste deposited into the oceanic waters can reap negative effects on the marine life in many ways.

This infographic examines the most common types of human wastes, how the waste affects the marine life, and how just how long the average lifespan of article is. Watch out for long living ferocious beasts like the plastic bottle, the tin can, and the battery.