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Ocean Plastics: What Goes Around Comes Around; Now In A Better Way

Updated: Oct 16

Julie Noblitt addresses a packed audience explaining how to try to combat steadily increasing ocean plastics pollution.

Hope. That was one of the main messages of a GreenTown-sponsored talk on “Ocean Plastics: Circular Economy and Green Chemistry Solutions” on Wed., Jan 23 at the Los Altos Library.


Julie Noblitt, a long-time advocate for reducing plastic waste, and the Energy and Climate Director of Acterra, a Palo-Alto based regional environmental organization, presented facts on plastic waste, the dire state of the oceans, and offered a glimmer of hope.


The crux of Julie’s talk was to highlight, not only what we can do as individuals to address the problem of rampant plastic waste, but what companies and creative entrepreneurs are doing to help mitigate the problem.

Yes, she’s 14. But Cambria Bartlett feels strongly about the future of oceans given the looming plastic crisis and has joined the organization “Heirs to Our Oceans” to help combat the issue.


In addition, Cambria Bartlett, a 14 year-old youth advocate active with the organization Heir to Our Oceans spoke about the work of their organization in educating people and policymakers about sustainable alternatives. If you don’t know about them, you should.


The problem:

  • Nearly 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year.

  • Only about 10 percent is recycled in any meaningful way.

  • 8 million metric tons of plastic enter our oceans every year.

  • Unless we act now to reduce plastic waste generation, this rate is expected to triple by 2050!

The solutions:

Julie highlighted a few big solutions that she is watching evolve.


Good alternatives to plastic


More and more bioplastics, plant-based plastics and edible/degradable substitutes are becoming available. Examples include styrofoam substitutes made out of mushrooms, from Ecovative and straws made out of marine-edible seaweed, from Loliware. In addition, we can return to paper for some uses. For example, good quality paper straws are now available from Aardvark and other manufacturers.


Dealing with existing plastics

A cocktail of chemicals is contaminating our oceans. What will you to do help stem the pollution?

Let’s talk about our clothing – 40 percent of clothing is plastic. When these plastics are washed, microfibers are released into our waterways. The CoraBall, can be thrown in with the laundry to collect these fibers before they go out in the wash water and into our waterways. Adidas has found an answer, teaming with Parley, to create shoes and jerseys made of plastics collected from the ocean.


Julie also described her own journey in reducing plastic in her life.


She started with declining single-use plastics, such as bags and water bottles, and reducing any packaging waste that she could by considering packaging before she purchases and by bringing her own containers, e.g., reusable water bottles, coffee mugs, and takeout containers. Her last ziploc bags were purchased about 10 years ago; she continues to wash and reuse them–a sorry testament to their staying-power in the environment. The good news is reducing package waste is getting easier with zero waste stores cropping up. Sprouts Market (locally) and Rainbow Market (San Francisco) carry a wide range of bulk or package-free items.


In addition to reducing your personal waste, you can make your voice heard. Let legislators know that you are concerned about the impacts of single-use plastics on the planet. Advocate for policies that support waste reduction at the source. Legislation that works, includes bag and styrofoam bans–currently in effect here in Los Altos–and extended producer responsibility, that require companies to take-back packaging that comes with things sold in their stores.


GreenTown has been working to combat plastic pollution in our community. Through our Skip the Straw initiative, we encourage local restaurants to offer straws only on request and offer paper (not plastic) straws, when requested. GreenTown volunteers got a boost in January 2019, when state legislation went into effect requiring dine-in restaurants to offer straws only on request (though they can offer plastic straws). The committee’s focus shifted to informing restaurants about the new legislation and offering paper straw alternatives for restauranteurs to test.


Thus far, Tom’s Depot, Pompeii Restaurant, Cafe Vitale, Amber India (for some drinks), and the Drive-Up Coffee Shop are offering straws on request and/or offering only paper straws. In addition, we have new recommendations for recycling thin plastics at store drop-off locations (such as at Safeway, Lucky and Draegers) to avoid these items going to the landfill and we are working on identifying the best markets for a zero-waste.


Additional resources and ideas mentioned at the talk

  • Zerowastechef.com, lots of tips from a local chef and zero waste advocate

  • Zerow.org, a zero waste blog by Sunnyvale resident, Tim Oey

  • Bring your used dental products (empty floss and toothpaste containers) to a recycling drop-off  in Sunnyvale

  • Make recyclable bags available at Farmers Market

  • Write to suppliers to suggest packaging changes

  • Be an active shareholder

  • Advocate for laws that require manufacturers to take packaging back

  • Attend the Mar 19 Oceans Day in Sacramento

  • Support companies like Loliware

The GreenTown Waste Reduction Team has information to help you go plastic-free as well as ways to get involved. For more info, email us.

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info@greentownlosaltos.org

P.O. Box 539, Los Altos, CA. 94023-0539