There is a coalition of aquariums across the United States that are striving to reduce the use of plastic straws. The coalition is called the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP) and is a collaboration of 22 public aquariums in 17 states, including the Tennessee Aquarium. They are “committed to advancing conservation of the world’s ocean, lakes, and rivers through consumer engagement, business leadership and policy changes.”1
Aquariums are awesome and full of wonder and thousands of children go through them daily. So they are poised to be leaders in positive change, and this is a great example of that! One of the things they’re doing is asking restaurants and others in the hospitality industry to reduce the use of straws by only giving them out upon request, instead of automatically. They’re also asking individuals to sign a pledge to stop using plastic straws.
What’s wrong with plastic straws?
First, the sheer amount of them! Just like with all single-use disposable plastic products, it’s the over-consumption of them. Think 500 million plastic straws per day. That’s more than one straw per person per day in the United States. Our consumption has gone way overboard and has created a waste stream that is too large for us to keep up with! Second, they are not recyclable at all.
Don’t feel guilty about having used plastic straws. Just please refuse plastic straws – START TODAY. Politely refuse those plastic straws – if everyone refuses just one straw per day, we’ll more than cut our usage in half!
I threw my disposables into the trash/recycling receptacle like I’m supposed to, how are they ending up in the rivers and ocean?
One of the critical issues with all the media about single-use disposable plastics is that the biggest question is often not answered: How does the plastic end up in the ocean in the first place?
Most people assume that once they’ve placed their disposables into a receptacle, those disposables go to the proper facility. What people don’t know is that many items don’t make it to the recycling facility or landfill. Since that’s out of our control, it seems impossible to do anything about it. But it’s not impossible by any means. The best way to guarantee that your single-use disposable plastics don’t end up in the ocean is…
To just not use them! Refuse them. Find an alternative. Then you do have control. We have the power to be the change.
So back to the question – how are plastics ending up in the rivers and ocean?
There are so many causes! Spillage from recycling that has been transported across the ocean for years to Asia; plastic products shipped across the ocean to the U.S. have spilled from ships; the fishing industry regularly dumps their trash into the ocean; trash and litter get blown or washed into storm drains and rivers that then feed into the ocean; illegal dumping; beach trash; river pollution; microbeads washing down drains; and debris from natural disasters and floods. Plastic bags are picked up by the wind and blown into waterways that flow into the ocean.
Ok, so what steps can I take?
First, let’s support the Aquarium Conservation Partnership. You can do this by signing the pledge (linked under Additional Resources below).
Second, refuse. Just say no thank you. To all single-use disposable plastics. Because recycling is not the answer. Only about 9% of our plastics get recycled. That means 91% is not recycled!
Third, if you must have something commonly produced as a single-use disposable plastic, like a straw, please buy a reusable one. Paper disposables and supposedly biodegradable straws are a better option, but it’s still going to be thrown away after one use. Try a stainless steel straw, glass straw, or bamboo straw.
Fourth, tell others! Tell your friends, your co-workers, your favorite restaurant, the local coffee shop, and your local school. So many to tell!
Fifth, participate in trash clean-up efforts. Join the Litterati. Maybe you’ll keep some of the trash you pick up from entering the ocean.
Last, stop supporting businesses that just won’t get on board. If consumers are asking businesses they patronize to stop using certain items, such as single-use disposable plastics, the consumer also has the power to not patronize that business. If consumers refuse to spend money at a business because that business does not do or provide what consumers want, then that business will be forced to change if they want to maintain profitability.
Collectively, have the power to create change just by modeling the best behavior. Refuse that straw. Be polite, of course. But just say no. You might influence someone else to refuse straws too. If everyone starts refusing straws, businesses won’t have the need to order as many. Then the plastic straw manufacturers will have to produce less. And then less will end up in landfills, in nature, and in the oceans. Carry a reusable stainless steel straw with you. Be the change! And as always, thanks for reading.
I’ve used Dawn dishwashing detergent my entire adult life. It seemed to work better than every other brand I tried. The concentrated version seemed to go a lot further than other brands, therefore giving me my money’s worth. Even after I started reducing the number of products in plastic packaging that I buy, I kept buying Dawn. I used it not only to wash dishes but also used it in my Easy DIY all-purpose cleaner.
And, I was supporting clean-up efforts and saving wildlife after oil spills, right?
I believed that Dawn products were helping clean and save wildlife after oil spills. And I think they do in some cases, as well as raise money to donate toward rescue efforts. According to a 2010 article in the Washington Post after the major BP Deepwater Horizon spill, Dawn is legitimately used by the International Bird Rescue. “After a 1971 oil spill, the California-based nonprofit group began experimenting with products including paint thinner and nail polish remover to find the least traumatizing method for cleaning oiled animals.”1 So in 1978, the International Bird Rescue started a relationship with Procter and Gamble, the makers of Dawn. “Through trial, error, and our tenacity to find a solution, we discovered that Procter and Gamble’s Dawn dish soap, was the golden ticket! It was inexpensive, effective, readily available, and Procter and Gamble was excited to learn about this somewhat unusual use of their product.”2
Procter & Gamble heavily markets Dawn’s Saving Wildlife campaign toward conscientious consumers. Their advertisements pull at our heartstrings. One moved me to tears, which I originally shared in this post. The URL for that specific video changes frequently, so I decided to just let you search “dawn oil spill commercial” on YouTube where you’ll find many of these commercials. But the footage was not of wildlife actually affected by an oil spill. The commercials are a “simulated demonstration” and some have a caption indicating “no oil used.” I’ve read they coat the animals with a mixture of tempera paint and corn syrup so they can simulate cleaning the animals on camera. I find this to be a questionable practice.
But Dawn is petroleum-based – so does that mean they’re part of the problem?
NPR did a segment on this very issue after the BP oil spill disaster in 2010, looking at the story in detail and interviewing people from both sides. The overall conclusion was that yes, Dawn does help remove crude oil from the animals. But this is because the grease-cutting part of the solution is made from petroleum, according to Procter & Gamble, who was interviewed for the segment. There are alternatives to using petroleum products but that needs testing. Meanwhile, rescuers and veterinarians are sticking with what works, because, in the end, they are trying to save the animals’ lives.3
Yet others find the product to be hypocritical because Dawn is a petroleum-based soap.4 A writer for Treehugger.com wrote:
“The sad irony of the whole thing is that Dawn is petroleum-based. Every bottle of Dawn used to clean a bird actually adds to our nation’s demand for oil. Not only are we using an oil-based product to clean oiled birds, but we’re increasing the incentives for companies to drill for more oil, making it more likely that there will be another spill. Which, incidentally, will be great for Dawn’s marketing. It’s one big beautifully incestuous circle.”5
What about animal testing?
Procter & Gamble, owner of the Dawn brand, does do animal testing. They have committed to the #BeCrueltyFree Campaign in recent years but have not yet achieved that status. If you want non-animal-tested and cruelty-free products, avoid Procter & Gamble brands and products.
What about the ingredients in Dawn?
I decided to check into the ingredients of Dawn through the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Dawn Ultra Concentrated Dishwashing Liquid (Original), the very product I used to regularly buy, received a D rating (on A-D, F grading scale). One of the main concerns was the lack of ingredient disclosure. There are not many laws in the United States regarding chemicals in household ingredients and products. Procter & Gamble is not required to tell us what is exactly in their product. Many companies like to keep their ingredients and formula a secret, to prevent others from copying. EWG’s Top Scoring Factors for this Dawn product were “Poor disclosure; May contain ingredients with potential for acute aquatic toxicity; general systemic/organ effects; bioaccumulation.”6
Procter & Gamble claims to be using biodegradable surfactants in Dawn and claims to be trying to improve and reduce packaging. But this giant corporation has made only a few changes over the last decade – it’s too little, too slow.
Dawn dishwashing soap has been one of my hold-overs from going plastic-free that I haven’t been able to kick yet. Then one weekend, I ran out. I used to buy economy-size bottles, tricking myself into believing that buying a larger plastic bottle was better than lots of little bottles. But I was unable to find that size again at my regular grocery store. And short of running around to Target or Walmart or searching online, I decided maybe this was a good opportunity to try something different. Here were my options:
Liquid dish soap choices, all in plastic bottles. Photos by me.
Ugh! My only choices were plastic, plastic, and more plastic. However, this store also carries Seventh Generation brand dish soap. If you’re not familiar with this brand, they use ingredients they believe to be safe and healthy as well as using post-consumer recycled packaging. The bottle that I purchased is a plastic bottle marked “100% recycled plastic.” They also list all of their ingredients on the back of the package. Last, Seventh Generation does not test on animals.
Unfortunately, before using this product at home, I checked the EWG’s site to see if they’d tested it. Sadly, it only received a C rating, meaning “some potential for hazards to health or the environment. At least some ingredient disclosure.” While they found their ingredient disclosure good, they found that this dish soap has ingredients that have some concerns, mostly aquatic toxicity, respiratory effects, and skin irritations. Seventh Generation does follow the regulations for the EPA Safer Choice certification, but EWG still found concerns. But it has much safer ingredients than most of the brands on the shelves of most stores.
What am I going to do next?
Dawn and most other major brands of dishwashing soap are going to have the same issues with plastic packaging, animal testing, and unsafe ingredients. With all of those things combined, I am going to try going plastic-free on dish soap after I use this bottle of Seventh Generation. Because even that 100% recycled bottle has an afterlife. And there is no guarantee that that plastic bottle won’t end up floating in the ocean someday.
I am experimenting with using bar dish soap and baking soda. I’ll update this post once I’ve experimented and have some good results to share. What about you? Can you try a new solution for washing dishes plastic-free, toxic-free, and animal-friendly? Join me in the adventure and be the change. Please share and subscribe, and thanks for reading!
Update, March 15, 2019: We have been using plastic-free bar soap for a couple of months now to wash dishes. And it’s working good! We just rub the scrub brush and Skoy cloth against the soap and then wash our dishes and pots. I’ve been trying different brands.
I’m also now using baking soda for cleaning pots, especially those that have stains or black areas. I learned this advice from Beth Terry at myplasticfreelife.com, and it does work – look how clean I got this pot!
Sea turtles are endangered, which is probably not news to you, but you may not know the reasons they are endangered. They are keystone species, meaning they play a crucial role in the way an ecosystem functions. According to Oceana.org,sea turtles “play an important role in ocean ecosystems by maintaining healthy seagrass beds and coral reefs, providing key habitat for other marine life, helping to balance marine food webs and facilitating nutrient cycling from water to land.”1 I want to help people understand what we can do right NOW to help.
Sea turtles have been on the Earth for at least 110 million years, and now human activities are to blame for their decline and endangerment. All 7 sea turtle species are vulnerable, threatened, or endangered due to human behaviors and activities.2 Following are the biggest threats:
Entanglement and Bycatch
Beach (and Ocean) Litter
Poaching and illegal trade of eggs, meat, and shells
Turtle Shell Trade
Let’s examine each of those further.
Entanglement and Bycatch
Entanglement is exactly what it sounds like, that is, entanglement in fishing nets and gear. Up to 40% of all animals caught in fisheries are discarded as waste. Bycatch refers to animals that were not the target catch – for example, dolphins getting caught in tuna nets. “Despite ‘Dolphin Safe Tuna’ labeling, approximately 1000 dolphins die as bycatch in the Eastern Tropical Pacific tuna fishery each year,” according to seeturtles.org. The World Wildlife Fund explains that “modern fishing gear, often undetectable by sight and extremely strong, is very efficient at catching the desired fish species—as well as anything else in its path.”3 Most often the animals die.
There are some protections for certain species, such as the dolphins mentioned above, but it is not a perfect system and the whole industry needs to find more solutions. “Each year hundreds of thousands of adult and immature sea turtles are accidentally captured in fisheries ranging from highly mechanized operations to small-scale fishermen around the world.”4 Companies that use devices called Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) are following regulations and best practices.
What can you do? Try to only buy responsibly caught seafood. Inform and encourage your family and friends to purchase seafood only from responsible fisheries.
Coastal development is exactly what it sounds like. “Half of the world’s population lives on or within 100 miles of a coastline and this number will likely increase dramatically in the next decade.”5 Human presence deters turtles from nesting where they would normally. Additionally, humans create pollution and waste – whether it’s litter or waste-water runoff, light pollution, or danger from vehicles driving on beaches.
What can you do? Whether you’re just vacationing at a beach or residing there, educate yourself about habitats in that area. First, follow the scout rule of “leave it cleaner than you found it.” That means leaving no trace! And pick up after other people too, because it’s the right thing to do.
Second, always limit light on beaches (this will allow you to see the stars, too!). Are there conservation efforts ongoing? Are there laws prohibiting certain practices to protect turtles? If so, make sure you follow the laws or best practices. You’ll be making a difference. If you’re going to live coastal, this is even more important – search the internet for where you live so that you can do the right thing, and be the change.
No laws or conservation efforts where you live? How about starting those efforts? You can partner with a local aquarium; lobby city or town council to get signs posted near the beach access points; even host a local seminar at the library and invite residents!
Turn Off The Lights
As mentioned above, artificial light from human presence is a big problem for turtle nests. Sea turtles depend on a dark and quiet beach for nesting. If there is too much light, turtles will choose a less optimal nest site, which reduces the chances of the baby sea turtles surviving. Also, hatchlings have an instinct that leads them in the brightest direction which is normally moonlight reflecting off of the ocean. Excess lighting from the nearby buildings and streets draws hatchlings toward land instead, where they will likely die from predators, humans, or even swimming pools.
What can you do? Eliminate light whether you’re a property or homeowner, tourist, or beach walker. Make your property low light and encourage others to do the same – especially during nesting season!
If you’re walking on the beach at night, don’t use flashlights and phone lights during nesting season. Download a red flashlight app if you must have some light. If you live in a beach-front residence, turn your lights off. I’ve listed an article about turtle-friendly lighting under Additional Resources.
Here is a video from the Sea Turtle Conservancy about how to eliminate artificial beach lighting:
Beaches are beautiful and the place many people want to be, myself included, someday. Coastal areas are prime real estate and many beaches in the world have been heavily developed. Coastal armoring refers to sea walls and similar structures that protect real estate property, but they are harmful to sea turtles. The Sea Turtle Conservancy explains: “Sea walls directly threaten sea turtles by reducing or degrading suitable nesting habitat. They block turtles from reaching the upper portion of the beach, causing turtles to nest in less-than-optimal nesting areas lower on the beach where their nests are more susceptible to wave action and more likely to be covered with water.”6
What can you do?If you’re a developer or building a home for yourself, please always first check with local legislation. Many coastal places in the United States already have existing legislation sometimes called Coastal Zone Protection, Dune Protection, or Dune Management. You can search the internet for the area you are residing in or visiting for information. If your area of interest has no protections or current legislation, how about proposing it to the local council or government? Please don’t build anything without first doing careful research – there are a ton of organizations out there that can advise or point you in the right direction. Do your homework, and the turtles (as well as other wildlife, humans, and the environment) will reap the benefits. Be the change.
Well, this topic is what my blog is all about: plastics and other human-made waste. Hundreds of thousands of marine animals and fish, as well as over 1 million seabirds, die each year from ocean pollution and ingestion or entanglement in marine debris. This includes turtles. Most plastic waste reaches the ocean via rivers, and up to 80% of this waste comes from landfill-bound trash. How does that happen!?!? I’ll get into that in another post.
Plastic bags are a huge factor when it comes to sea turtles. Why? Because turtles eat plastic bags. They mistake them for jellyfish. Many species of turtles do not have taste buds, in case you’re wondering why they can’t tell by taste. See the videos below. The first one shows you the difference between a jellyfish and a plastic bag floating in the water.
The next video shows you turtles eating a jellyfish, to give you visual context.
What can you do? My number one recommendation for the first thing you should change to make a difference: use reusable bags only, and don’t accept plastic bags from anywhere! Getting rid of plastic bags does and will keep making a big difference on so many fronts, so I can’t stress this enough!
After plastic bags, start eliminating all plastics from your life, especially single-use disposable plastics. Recycle, or better yet, don’t buy plastic as much as possible. “Over 1 million marine animals (including mammals, fish, sharks, turtles, and birds) are killed each year due to plastic debris in the ocean. More than 80% of this plastic comes from land. It washes out from our beaches and streets. Plastic travels through storm drains into streams and rivers. It flies away from landfills into our seas. As a result, thousands of sea turtles accidentally swallow these plastics, mistaking them for food.”7
Stop using disposable plastic straws and decline them at restaurants. Besides plastic breaking down into smaller pieces and polluting beaches and the ocean, these get stuck in turtles’ nostrils and airways. You don’t need a straw to drink most beverages. If you really must have one, carry a metal or glass straw with you.
Don’t release helium balloons! They burst and fall to the Earth or the sea, and sea turtles mistakenly eat the balloons and die. Or stop using balloons altogether.
Beach (and Ocean) Litter
Besides trash flowing into the ocean, litter on beaches prevents hatchlings from reaching the sea.
What can you do? Keep beaches clean. Don’t leave behind litter or beach toys when visiting the beach. I try to leave the beach a little cleaner than I found it, picking up trash that is about to wash into the sea with the changing tides. Participate in beach clean-up events or clean up with your friends or family.
Use coral reef-friendly sunscreen. Many of your average sunscreens have chemicals in them that are not only harmful to the ocean, but also to the human body. Look at the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Sunscreen Guide (see Additional Resources for the link).
Although trash and plastics are one component, there are many, many other ways in which human activities pollute the ocean. Waste and by-products, like toxic metals, PCBs, petroleum products, agricultural and industrial runoff of contaminants such as fertilizers, chemicals, nutrients, and untreated waste; are all major problems for ocean and land dwellers. These are also causing major human health problems (many major diseases can be tied to these chemicals – again, another topic for another day). Oil companies are a big contributor to pollution, above and beyond oil spills.
What can you do? Buy less and consume less overall. Reduce how much meat you eat and how many animal products you use, because agriculture creates a lot of waste, methane, and chemicals. These chemicals make it into waterways and then the ocean, which poisons wildlife throughout the food chain. Buying from a farmer’s market locally or even growing your own food can reduce the amount of fertilizer and pesticide chemicals that make it into our water (because smaller farms don’t always use such harsh chemicals, and I doubt you do in your own garden). Reduce the chemicals you use in your yard and dispose of others properly through the hazardous waste collection in your area.
This is a sensitive topic because it is so tied to politics these days. But global warming is real and happening, at an accelerated rate, which means many species will not be able to adapt quickly enough. This means the possible extinction of plants and animals and fish that are necessary to Earth’s balance.
What can you do?Reduce how much you drive. Perhaps try carpooling or using mass transportation. Ride a bike. Buy an electric car. Tell the oil companies to go to hell. Reduce the amount of energy you use. Avoid using fossil fuel energy whenever possible. Eat less meat and reduce your water use. Those are the first steps – start there!
Poaching and Illegal Trade
In some countries, turtle meat and turtle eggs are a food source; in others, turtle eggs are collected by people for income in order to feed their families. Sometimes during nesting season, hunters will watch for nesting females. Once located, they will wait until the female turtle has finished laying her eggs, then kill her for the meat and take the eggs as well.
What can you do? If you travel, don’t buy food or products that use turtle, as that supports the practice. Organizations and governments are educating tourists and local inhabitants about the endangered turtles around the world. You can help by supporting the causes that protect and monitor sea turtle nests. You can help by spreading the information and helping to educate others about the problems. Participate in eco-tourism!
Turtle Shell Trade
This relates to poaching and illegal trade but is specific in regards to products made from turtle shells, aka tortoiseshell; and is usually specific to the Hawksbill sea turtles. The Sea Turtle Conservancy indicates that “scientists estimate that hawksbill populations have declined by 90 percent during the past 100 years.”8 This has been outlawed by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) which is an international agreement signed by 173 governments. However, the black market demand for turtle shells is still high.
What can you do? Don’t buy items that might be made from turtle shells or other turtle parts (including skin). Of course, those products likely won’t be labeled “turtle shell” or “hawksbill shell” but if you suspect, just say no and walk away. Unfortunately, the alternative is plastic, which I am trying to eliminate from my life. So be more minimalist and don’t buy either! You’ll remember your trip or vacation without a bunch of souvenirs anyway. Here’s a handy infographic put out by Travel For Wildlife to help you avoid turtle shell products:
They also made this very informative video, so please share it on social media with your friends and family!
You can join me in signing the pledge to avoid turtle shells with the See Turtles Organization9. They, too, have wonderful resources about how to identify real turtle shell vs. fake.10 Again, maybe just don’t buy either – it’s not worth the risk!
You can symbolically adopt a sea turtle or a sea turtle nest. There are many of these, you’ll find many just by searching online but look for a reliable organization. Most of the programs fund education about sea turtle nests, protect nests, and/or track sea turtles.
What other ideas do you have? Please feel free to leave a comment or question or idea! Thanks so much for reading. Please share and subscribe!
Our family loves Hilton Head Island (HHI) for a variety of reasons. First, my husband and I got married there. What drew us there before marriage was the island’s dog-friendliness. But then we discovered some other things about the island, besides its natural beauty, cleanliness, and great restaurants.
There are no billboards or neon signs littering the landscape because ordinances keep signs low and unobtrusive. No building can be taller than the trees. Hilton Head also has a sea turtle protection project. The town requires light structures visible from the beach to be covered or turned off between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am during nesting and hatching season, which spans from May through October.
We’ve taken many trips to HHI, including this past weekend, and we had a wonderful and relaxing time. Of course, we saw beautiful sunsets and sunrises. We witnessed a full rainbow, which was my first time seeing one (see my pitiful attempt at a panoramic image above). We saw a stingray trapped in a tidal pool, which was cool to see up close. We alerted someone who was able to move it back to the ocean. And we saw a ghost crab up close – so cool!
A Clean Beach
I mentioned that Hilton Head Island is very clean, especially compared to other beaches we’ve visited. Since we are a family that cleans up litter and trash, we pay attention. So for a clean beach, here’s some of the trash we picked up and posted on the Litterati app:
Seems like a lot, doesn’t it? It wasn’t compared to other litter pick-ups I’ve seen or been involved with. We found straws which I’ve determined to be the evilest single-use disposable plastic thing in use! We found cigarette butts, pieces of Styrofoam, and microplastics. The image of the bag of trash was from a garbage can that blew over during high winds and the trash scattered. We collected all we could but it was far too windy to try and photograph each piece. The contents of it were mainly single-use disposable drink bottles. We found some beach toys, as we usually do. I promise we didn’t take these from someone! They sat abandoned for a long time, and I didn’t want them to wash out to sea during high tide!
Plastic Bag Ban!
On our last evening, we stopped at the ice cream shop. As I was paying, I saw a sign posted by the register, and I think I startled the clerk with my excited reaction!
The Town of Hilton Head Island passed this ordinance in January 2018. It does not ban all plastic bags, such as produce and meat bags; however, it is a huge, progressive step in the right direction. Eating my ice cream, I felt inspired – could I get that ordinance passed in my city? What a huge task that would be…but maybe I could do it.