In Fairfax County, VA, the nearest ocean beach is several hours away by car. Why should we concern ourselves with marine litter problems?
Fairfax County is part of the Potomac Watershed, and therefore all streams lead to the Potomac River which goes to the Chesapeake Bay and then out to the Atlantic Ocean. Streams and rivers, by definition, flow. The litter that blows or is washed off driveways, parking lots, roads, yards, rooftops, and other hard surfaces often ends up in the myriad of streams that crisscross our county, and therefore potentially can drift to the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, according to the most recent EPA white paper on pollution from plastics, while ocean dumping remains a problem, plastic debris originates primarily from land-based activities including landfills and littering.
Other interesting findings from the December 2016 EPA publication entitled “State of the Science White Paper: A Summary of Literature on the Chemical Toxicity of Plastic Pollutants to Aquatic Life and Aquatic-Dependent Wildlife” indicate that the amount of plastic debris, which includes plastic bags and microbeads, has risen greatly in marine environments over the last number of years and now accounts for 60%-80% of marine litter. Microbeads are tiny particles of plastic, barely visible to the naked eye, that have been added to many personal care cosmetic products. These flow straight from the bathroom drain into the sewer system and cannot be filtered out effectively by wastewater treatment plants, thus ending up in our streams, and eventually, the ocean.
The effect of ocean litter goes beyond the negative aesthetics of having a trashy ocean. Aquatic animals can become entangled in plastic debris, or fatally ill from the chemicals when plastic is ingested. The whole ocean ecosystem is put at risk.
Yes, our actions here in Fairfax County DO affect the ocean. Reducing the use of plastics, particularly plastic bags, and buying personal care products that do not contain microbeads are some first steps. Ensuring that we dispose of trash appropriately and do not allow litter to end up in our streams is another important step. Finally, cleaning existing litter out of streams also prevents greater environmental impact. Consider planning a cleanup of a “trashy” stream near you for this coming spring.
One more way to help: Adidas is making sneakers made from 3-D printed recycled ocean waste, and though they are rather expensive, this is definitely a cool “reclaim” idea. Check it out at http://www.theverge.com/2016/11/4/13518784/this-adidas-sneaker-made-from-recycled-ocean-waste-is-going-on-sale-this-month
For more information about the problem of plastics in our marine environments go to https://www.epa.gov/wqc/aquatic-life-ambient-water-quality-criteria#plastics