Reuse and renew
We've trashed the beach: SXSW film screening looks at what to do about it
If you’re headed to the beach this spring break, you might want to keep your flip-flops on. And bring a trash bag.
At SXSW, Barefoot Wine and the Surfrider Foundation screened One Beach, a film, directed by Jason Baffa, "about those using creativity and innovation to keep our beaches barefoot-friendly.” Held Sunday, March 11 at The Parish on East 6th Street, the event featured libations from Barefoot Wine in Modesto, California, which has partnered with Surfrider for 15 years to support beach clean-ups.
The wine and a wide selection of tasty food were served in real glasses and on real plates, with cloth napkins and metal forks - nary a disposable bit of plastic in sight. That was a nod to the fact that much of the plastic we use once and toss out ends up on the beach.
“Maybe we love the beach because we carry the sea within us,” says the narrator in the film, which focuses on six people committed to cleaning up the mess. Some of them also make things from the abundant supply of plastics they collect.
We’ve all heard about plastic floating in the gyres of the world’s ocean. The Algalita Marine Research Foundation has documented plastic bits at up to six times the volume by weight of zooplankton in all five of the earth’s major ocean gyres, or circular currents, says Marcus Eriksen, the organization’s director of research. Zooplankton are the millions of tiny floating critters that form the base of the marine food chain.
Today, plastic is also found in the bodies of most marine organisms, causing injury, nutritional deficiency, and even death, primarily by blocking the intestinal tract. Marc Ward, director of Sea Turtles Forever, says studies also show that plastic particles in the ocean absorb PCBs, DDT, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and BPA. This pseudo-plankton then introduces these toxic chemicals into the food chain, which ends with us.
Scientists have documented more than 260 marine species that have ingested of become entangled in plastic debris. A study on plastic ingestion by sea turtles in 1993 found debris in the digestive tracts of 51 percent of loggerheads. The digestive tracts of dead turtles are sometimes packed with large pieces of plastic bags. About half of plastic debris is buoyant, floating on the surface where, to turtles, birds, and other marine life, it looks like food.
Still, for most of us, hearing that vast quantities of plastic are out there in the ocean seems abstract. Out of sight, out of mind. According to the film, one upside of that line of plastic debris left on the beach by the tide is its visibility. Personally confronting the stuff on whatever beach we frequent makes the problem more real.
Everyone who goes to the beach can help, every time they go, simply by picking up plastic debris. Several of the folks featured in One Beach do more than that — they make artwork and even surfboards out of the debris.
The Texas General Land Office sponsors annual beach clean-ups and the Texas Adopt-a-Beach program. Since the first clean-up in 1986, more than 423,000 volunteers have picked up 8,100-plus tons of trash from Texas beaches. The latest clean-up, February 11, 2012, on the Port Aransas, Corpus Christi and Padre Island National Seashore beaches, cleaned 3 tons of debris from 17.4 miles of beach. Some of this trash has come from as far away as South America, and in fact, trash dumped almost anywhere in the Gulf of Mexico ends up on Texas beaches, thanks to tide patterns. The next clean-up is April 28 at more than a dozen sites along the coast.
Cleaning our beaches is an important and worthwhile effort, and the film may inspire more people to do so. But picking up what is there now will never solve the problem, thanks to the sheer volume of plastic entering the environment. The only real solution is to stop making and using single-use plastic items, except where really necessary, such as for some medical applications. As the film points out and the screening demonstrated, that is something we can all do. So raise a glass, a real glass, of Barefoot Wine and toast the idea of going barefoot on the beach.