Good News: Another Green Doom Disproved—Plastic Doesn't Outweigh Plankton in the Oceans

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Plastic makes it possible

Do you carry your own bags to the grocery now? And do stores give you inferior paper bags in which to carry your shopping booty? The campaign against cheap sturdy plastic bags is spreading around the globe driven in part by stories about how they are clogging up the oceans. Exhibit one in the anti-plastic campaign is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Using its usual rhetorical restraint, this is how Greenpeace describes the plastic apocalypse:

The trash vortex is an area the size of Texas in the North Pacific in which an estimated six kilos of plastic for every kilo of natural plankton, along with other slow degrading garbage, swirls slowly around like a clock, choked with dead fish, marine mammals, and birds who get snared. Some plastics in the gyre will not break down in the lifetimes of the grandchildren of the people who threw them away.

I am happy to report that new research once again shows that environmentalist predictions of doom are a bit exaggerated. As ScienceDaily reports:

There is a lot of plastic trash floating in the Pacific Ocean, but claims that the "Great Garbage Patch" between California and Japan is twice the size of Texas are grossly exaggerated, according to an analysis by an Oregon State University scientist.

Further claims that the oceans are filled with more plastic than plankton, and that the patch has been growing tenfold each decade since the 1950s are equally misleading, pointed out Angelicque "Angel" White, an assistant professor of oceanography at Oregon State.

"There is no doubt that the amount of plastic in the world's oceans is troubling, but this kind of exaggeration undermines the credibility of scientists," White said. "We have data that allow us to make reasonable estimates; we don't need the hyperbole. Given the observed concentration of plastic in the North Pacific, it is simply inaccurate to state that plastic outweighs plankton, or that we have observed an exponential increase in plastic."

White has pored over published literature and participated in one of the few expeditions solely aimed at understanding the abundance of plastic debris and the associated impact of plastic on microbial communities. That expedition was part of research funded by the National Science Foundation through C-MORE, the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (http://cmore.soest.hawaii.edu/).

The studies have shown is that if you look at the actual area of the plastic itself, rather than the entire North Pacific subtropical gyre, the hypothetically "cohesive" plastic patch is actually less than 1 percent of the geographic size of Texas.

"The amount of plastic out there isn't trivial," White said. "But using the highest concentrations ever reported by scientists produces a patch that is a small fraction of the state of Texas, not twice the size."

Another way to look at it, White said, is to compare the amount of plastic found to the amount of water in which it was found. "If we were to filter the surface area of the ocean equivalent to a football field in waters having the highest concentration (of plastic) ever recorded," she said, "the amount of plastic recovered would not even extend to the 1-inch line."

Putting plastic in the ocean is not OK, but exaggerating it effects distorts how we set proper priorities in addressing real environmental problems. By far the biggest environmental problem for the oceans is overfishing which is the result of the lack of private property in fisheries.

Unfortunately, showing this new Green scare is mostly an overhyped legend will probably have no effect on policy. We will all continue to be forced to engage in ritual plastic hate  Whole ScienceDaily article here.

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  1. the hypothetically “cohesive” plastic patch is actually less than 1 percent of the geographic size of Texas.

    That’s about, what, 2600 square miles? Nothing to sneeze at. Still an overblown threat, though.

    1. “Another way to look at it, White said, is to compare the amount of plastic found to the amount of water in which it was found. ‘If we were to filter the surface area of the ocean equivalent to a football field in waters having the highest concentration (of plastic) ever recorded,’ she said, ‘the amount of plastic recovered would not even extend to the 1-inch line.’

      2600 square miles with 1/36th of 1% of area coverage.

  2. ‘There is no doubt that the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans is troubling, but this kind of exaggeration undermines the credibility of scientists[…]’ [Angelicque] White said.”

    Ya think, dude??????

    1. it depends on the current baseline of credibility.

  3. The campaign against cheap sturdy plastic bags is spreading around the globe driven in part by stories about how they are clogging up the oceans.

    Nah. Cui bono? There’s more to this than mere concern for the environment – I suspect Unions, but I am not 100% sure… I will get back to you.

    The reason I suspect Unions is that plastic bags allow for easier placement of goods by the cashier rather than relying on a bagboy (or bagperson… whatever), which would mean less due-paying workers.

    1. I don’t think that’s a viable answer, because a lot of the successful supermarkets (Wal-Mart or Target; Publix in the south) are non-unionized.

    2. Nah. Not having a bagger slows shit down with any type of bag.

  4. There is a mechanism for removal:

    New Jersey: where the Ocean throws its’ trash.

    1. “Kiss her where it smells – take her to New Jersey!”

      1. lulz!

  5. Lets stop using cheap safe plastic. And get people to start using reusable bags that are unsafe and crawling with disease.

    http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news…..n-You.html

    1. I use reusable bags, and clean them because I’m not retarded, because I don’t like wasting plastic bags, and like the feeling of being self-sufficient.
      Isn’t independence from plastic bags more of a Libertarian philosophy than not using them to save the ocean?

      1. Not to mention, most food is in PACKAGES.

        1. And, Tr-Triple Post,
          That story about reusable bags “Poisoning” people is about the same level of sensationalism and hyperbole as that story about plastic bags clogging the ocean.

          1. I doubt it “poisons people”. But they can’t be very clean. It is kind of disgusting when you think about it. Better to use plastic.

            1. Food is packaged, produce comes in plastic bags typically. Unless you are throwing unwrapped raw meat in the bottom of the bag, you don’t have much to worry about.

              1. You ever notice how juices tend to seep out the bottom of packages of meat?

            2. You are too easily disgusted, then. Waste is bad, whether or not it is going to ruin the environment.

            3. You seem like the type who uses hand sanitizer. Pussy.

      2. Most people don’t bother to clean the reusable ones. Why be independent from plastic? It is a great product.

      3. I re-use plastic bags. They are great as liners for smaller wastebaskets and to hold dog poop, just to name a few. If plastic bags get banned, very likely in several places here in the Bay Area, I’d actually have to buy more plastic bags to replace the ones I no longer get free from the stores.

        1. “I re-use plastic bags. They are great as liners for smaller wastebaskets and to hold dog poop”

          Why would anyone want to hold dog poop?

          1. The previous poster probably lives someplace with a pooper scooper law.

            1. You have to pick up your own dogs shit or run the risk of a concerned citizen reporting you to hoa!

        2. Maybe I’m a cheap bastard, or maybe I learned how to be frugal from my parents, but I have no problem reusing the bags for something else when I get them home.

      4. “…independence from plastic bags…”
        Uh, why would this have any value at all?
        Why would I want to be “independent” of any daily convenience?

  6. Greenpeace lied? I’m going to have to start charging a nominal fee for the use of my shocked face.

  7. Maybe those “Whale Wars” dipshits could go out there with pool skimmers and capture some of that trash.
    Do something, you know, useful.

    1. I’m waiting for the episode when they use Paul Watson as live bait for calling the Kraken to the surface to aid in their battle.

      1. my wife often shouts “release the kraken” before our love making.

        1. Made me laugh

        2. Your wife shouts that before our lovemaking too. I feel less special.

  8. “Trash Vortex” — Great name for a prog metal album.

  9. Well, fuck. So much for my grand idea for a floating, self sustaining, mid-ocean recycling and energy production facility under no currently established government control, that could serve as a haven of true libertarian ideals, and make a shitload of money, to boot.

    Lying Greenpeace enviro-weanies. Just like ’em to screw up a wet dream. Bastards. Why can’t they just stick to making kamikaze style futile gestures like driving a small boat into the path of a Japanese Whaling vessel, then whining about how their own stupidity was someone else’s fault. Assholes.

    1. I mean, really, what the bloody fucking hell. How in the Sam Hill is anyone supposed to come up with any sort of workable solutions to the ‘problems’ these crybabies are constantly going on about if they continually distort the information about the situation? It’s almost like they don;t want any solutions, they just want to be little emo bitches crying about this, that and the fucking other, ad nasuem, in perpetuity. Wankers.

      1. Just now figuring that out?

        1. As Balko kicks my nut sack, Bailey often overfills my spleen. . .

          1. I’d suggest Depends(tm) but we know what part of the ocean those things always end up…

  10. Five bucks says Lee Fang will link this study to the Koch’s grand scheme to destroy the world for profit.

  11. Um, hat tip? Check out the first comment in the morning threads.

    1. Why the hat-tip obsession here? I’d be asking for cash or free Reason swag.
      But that’s just me.

      1. an evening with the hoody girl even

    2. JL: With due respect, I didn’t see your post and picked up the info elsewhere. But please do not stop sending in info.

  12. I think I understand now why an acquaintance of mine hoards plastic bags. He’s afraid of running out, or maybe fears an imminent ban. Or, more probably, he’s insane.

  13. The researcher should be commended for using the standard american metrics of inches and football fields.

  14. 1% of Texas, 200%, what’s the difference? Once global warming really kicks in all the plastic will melt and completely cover all the oceans, trapping and eventually suffocating all aquatic life.

    1. Good. My shares of soylent green stock need the help.

      1. Just the Soylent Corp. They produced multiple foods, with Soylent Red and Soylent Yellow being made out of plankton. Joseph Cotten knew the truth about Soylent Green, but was killed before he could reveal it.

        And women were basically furniture for the rich. 🙂

  15. They use Texas for a size comparison. That should have been the first indication — you know these people hate Texas. They will hate on Texas even though you have the equivalent in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and California.

    1. There ain’t nothin’ but queers and steers in Texas!

      1. Keep believing that and stay home.

        1. Yes, dear god, please do not come to Austin.

          1. It’s a Sgt. Hartman quote, from Full Metal Jacket – in other words a joke. Although why anyone would want to go to Austin is beyond me.

            1. The music, the barbecue, the gorgeous women running along the Town Lake hike n bike trail?

            2. Dude, it’s from Officer and a Gentleman…like five years before Full Metal Jacket. And it was Louis Gosset Jr.

  16. “There is no doubt that the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans is troubling, but this kind of exaggeration undermines the credibility of scientists,” White said. “We have data that allow us to make reasonable estimates; we don’t need the hyperbole.

    But without hyperbole, how would we get anything done?

  17. I hear plastic bags are really good for lining babies’ cribs.

  18. Amen, brother!
    I’m all for rational approaches for caring for our environment, especially the oceans. But environmental zealots who keep crying wolf are doing their cause a disservice. I view every environmentalist claim with a very high degree of skepticism based on their very poor track record.

    1. Why “especially the oceans”? At least you didn’t say “especially the rainforest”, because I would’ve vomited.

  19. I have a bold proposal to put forward: people who want to use plastic bags should be free to use them, and people who prefer (for whatever reason) reusable bags can use those.

    1. Stop being reasonable, Spartacus.

  20. An excellent surface skimmer for swimming pools is called The PoolSkim.

  21. The PoolSkim is a surface skimmer that causing floating leaves and debris to float into an easy to clean basket. This reduces the strain off of the pump and extends the life of the motor.

  22. True, that exaggeration isn’t accurate & yet anyone who throws the baby out with the bath water just because the garbage patch is not yet the size of texas is hiding from a truth. What, wait until it is that bad and then what? I live in TX and it is largely a wasteland of trash anyway due to environmental neglect right here on land.

  23. ? ?Each time I look through the microscope at plankton, it is like looking into an alternative universe where gravity has a lot less impact. It is breathtaking! I am awed. However, the thing that is weighing heavily on my heart, no matter where I have collected plankton I have found microscopic strands of plastic and UV-degraded plastic in my plankton samples. So far I have done microscopy on plankton found in Dublin Bay, Miyako Islands in Okinawa, Siwa in Egypt and the Open Ocean off the coast of Chile. Here is a photograph of plankton clinging to a piece of plastic. Microscopy by yours truly, Mara.
    http://www.calamara.com/wordpress/?p=69

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