My friend Carolynn Box is the most plastic-aware person I know. She has good reason to be obsessed with things that most of us use and throw away without a second thought each day. After becoming involved with beach cleanups around San Francisco, Carolynn took time off from her day job at the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission to sail the high seas and visit the plastic gyres of the South Atlantic and North Pacific aboard a 5 Gyres research sailboat called The Sea Dragon.

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Photo courtesy of Carolynn Box

I had the privilege of riding on this magnificent vessel when it came through San Francisco Bay. Like all well-designed objects, the boat’s taught and practical beauty serves its function of trawling our world’s oceans for information about how and to what extent they are being filled with plastic debris. The results are sobering. Today there is more plastic than plankton infused in our oceans.

The industrialized world’s forgotten junk comes back to human civilization when it washes up on our beaches and gets swallowed by our future fish dinners. Marine life may hunt and swallow nurdles and toothbrush handles instead of a nutritious meal. And plastic never biodegrades. It just gets broken down into smaller and smaller pieces, easily forgotten, but ever present. We’re not sure about the extent to which it will change our environment and effect life on Earth.

The good news is that most of the plastic that ends up in the ocean is stuff we wouldn’t miss that much if we stopped using it. Like plastic bags, plastic straws, and coffee cup lids. Carolynn is now working with the Surfrider Foundation and other organizations to ban plastic bags in the Bay Area and plastic straws in San Francisco. She started the Plastic Beach project to gather more in-depth data from Surfrider’s beach cleanups around the Bay Area. She’s also reaching out to other communities to talk about techniques for raising awareness and actions that have worked in her neck of the woods and beyond.

Though Carolynn was the first person to tell my about our plastic oceans, lately I’ve been hearing the buzz about this issue from a lot of different publications. I’m a long-time bag-washer and re-user, but now I’m a lot more aware of all the other plastic bits that pass through my life temporarily and end up in the garbage or recycling bin shortly after. I’m trying to remember to ask for cocktails with no straws, but my skills need honing. San Francisco bartenders are quick, and have usually finished the pour-ice-straw maneuver before I’ve had time rethink the wording of my order. “No straw, please!”

Surfrider Foundation’s Rise Above Plastics

Surfrider’s Ban the Bag in Portland

Carolynn’s Blog

Good Magazine