The next time you sip on a drink from a straw, you may want to think twice because humans are producing an inordinate amount of plastic waste on straws alone. Plastic straws are one of the leading contributors to ocean trash, they take up to 200 years to decompose and they can’t be recycled. Every year, the US alone uses enough straws to fill up nine baseball stadiums. Plastic straws are pretty much the definition of wastefulness, they serve very little purpose and are terrible for the environment. This week on Sea Change Radio, we speak to two people who are doing their best to combat plastic waste in our oceans. First, Mark Marinozzi from World Centric gives us some important facts about plastic straws and talks about the best ways to fight the problem. Then, we hear from Romain Troublé whose organization, Tara Expedition, has been making scientific ocean voyages for the past fifteen years to monitor and collect data about ocean plastic waste.
Narrator 0:01 This is Sea Change Radio covering the shift to sustainability, I’m Alex Wise
Mark Marinozzi 0:20 it won’t necessarily be a transition. In terms of straws as a category, it will be a transition in terms of the behavior of the trade customer and the consumer.
Narrator 0:34 The next time you sip on a drink from a straw, you may want to think twice because humans are producing an inordinate amount of plastic waste on straws alone. plastic straws are one of the leading contributors to ocean trash. They take up to 200 years to decompose, and they can’t be recycled. Every year, the US alone uses enough straws to fill up nine baseball stadiums. plastic straws are pretty much the definition of wastefulness. They serve very little purpose and are terrible for the environment. This week on Sea Change Radio, we speak to two people who are doing their best to combat plastic waste in our oceans. First, Mark Marinozzi from World Centric gives us some important facts about plastic straws, and talks about the best ways to fight the problem. Then we hear from Romain Troublé, whose organization the Tara Foundation has been making scientific ocean voyages for the past 15 years to monitor and collect data about ocean plastic waste.
Alex Wise 1:57 I’m joined now on Sea Change Radio by Mark Marinozzi. He’s the VP of Marketing at World Centric. Mark, welcome to Sea Change Radio.
Mark Marinozzi 2:05 Thanks, Alex. Appreciate it.
Alex Wise 2:07 So a lot of us have started seeing a spike in compostable packaging it seems to be anytime you go to a salad bar, let’s say a whole foods you see these different type of clam shells and plates that are made out of cardboard that we may have seen plastic 10 years ago? Why don’t you first explain the market and how World Centric plays a part in it?
Mark Marinozzi 2:32 Well, first of all, World Centric was started in 2004 by our founder and CEO Aseem Das. He was looking to raise awareness for large scale humanitarian and environmental issues, and to alert people that the pursuit of the good life was severely damaging the planet’s ecosystems. So he started the company to both establish as a nonprofit, that awareness and also to advocate for creating better sustainability in our society, as well as trying to lessen the inequities between the two and a half billion people that live on less than $2 a day. So by 2009, he decided it was probably best to switch the company over to a for profit. But in 2010 actually converted it to a California benefit corporation and a B Corp. and B corpse are organizations that really focus on Triple Bottom Line and are looking to harness the power of business to solve social and economic problems. And so there’s an audit that you have to go through to show how you are in fact doing that that has a lot of complexity to it, and ultimately allows you to be certified and we are currently one of the top certified B Corporations in the United States. Meanwhile, around the 2009 2010 period, the interest in compostable products for foodservice those are like to go containers and cutlery, cups and plates and bowls really started taking off and the technology to make those products out of sugarcane waste, which is also called because wheat straw, bamboo fiber and then on the plastic side out of renewable renewable plant based plastics. The technology really came about to support that interested increase. So we’ve jumped ahead to today and you see that the the market is just exploding now in and restaurants and bars and cafes and coffee houses, college and university cafeterias, business and university cafeterias are all jumping onto the renewable and compostable products bandwagon, because there literally isn’t anything that they need in the way of to go or even dine in experiences that can’t be made from a renewable product. So as I like to say, the days of wood fiber and using petroleum plastic are numbered because of that. In addition to all of that, there are a number of local and regional governments that are passing ordinances and laws that are restricting the use of styrofoam and to go containers, and a number of other materials that are not compostable, or readily recyclable. And so that is also bringing about an acceleration of switching over to renewable products.
AW 6:06 A lot of the news has been focused lately in terms of plastic replacement products in the food industry, with straws, first of all these little things, they kind of slipped from our radar in general. Now all of a sudden, it seems like everybody’s turning their eyes to these pernicious little sipping devices. Why don’t you give us a little bit of a background on the plastic straw? And then get us up to speed with what’s happening today in the industry?
MM 6:36 Sure. Well, you know, there was a day when straws used to be only made of paper. And then it was, I believe, around the late 50s, early 60s that with the advent of, you know, plastic manufacturing, that we could even make plastic straws, or at least make them in a large scale commercial level. And they started really pushing out paper straws because you know, the durability of a plastic straw is such that it will hold up in a liquid for much longer period of time. Unfortunately, that pervasiveness is now brought us to the point where every day, over 500 million disposable plastic straws are used in the United States alone, every day.
AW 7:23 Wait every day, every day, there’s half a billion straws every day used in the US.
MM 7:29 In the US That’s enough straws to circle the planet more than two and a half times a day. And the average person in their lifetime uses a little over 38,000 straws. And those straws are only really used for about 20 minutes before they’re thrown away.
AW 7:48 And generally pretty unnecessary. Right?
MM 7:52 Right. So when you think about a paper straw, a paper straw actually lasts on average for about 10 to 20 minutes, before the bottom of it will start getting a little mushy. But when you think about the average straws I’ll use for 20 minutes. The need for having a durable plastic straw is really kind of ridiculous. But we just went that direction at one point in time.
AW 8:18 And why was that? Why did we go into the plastic direction? Was it just cheaper? Or did they last longer? Or was it kind of something that the consumers seem to gravitate towards?
MM 8:30 Well, I don’t think there’s any one smoking gun. I think it’s a combination of the things you just mentioned. And I wouldn’t say so much. It’s the consumers asking for it. I think it was, you know, the food service industry, restaurants and bars and whatnot, saying that, hey, this is cheap. I can bring this into my restaurant or my bar or my cafe or whatever. And I’m maybe I’m not getting as many complaints that I have a mushy straw in my drink. You know, I’m sure there, there wasn’t any one thing. But here we are today with a giant amount of waste. And then what’s happened is that waste has started migrating because it’s light and it’s small. It started migrating into waterways and our oceans so that right now plastic straws are the seventh most common type of beach litter and every year you know they have the annual coastal cleanups. The annual coastal cleanups pick up just in plastic straws in a single day. Over 900,000 pounds of plastic straws. pounds 900,000 pounds.
AW 9:42 Just try to imagine how many straws must make up a pound of straws, right?
MM 9:47 Yeah, it’s really mind boggling when you think about that. Now, the other thing that is very important to point out is a lot of people think when they’re using a petroleum based plastic straw that it’s recyclable, plastic straws aren’t recyclable. And it’s a real challenge for a number of reasons. They’re small. They are hard to sort in recycling facilities. So they contaminate other recyclables. And ultimately, when they can even be sorted out in a recycling facility, they get sent to the landfill. So, you know, not only are we utilizing petroleum in a wasteful manner, not only are we using something that could be replaced with a better alternative that we used to use, but we’re just creating a huge amount of waste
AW 10:44 And is that waste mostly detrimental on land or in the ocean, or maybe you can kind of highlight the significance of both of those waste streams?
MM 10:55 Well, in both in landfills, the common misnomer is that people think that things break down in the landfill, and they don’t, landfills generally are kept. And in order for anything to break down, it takes water, heat and time. So if you have an absence of heat and absence of moisture underneath the cap landfill, it’s just going to be in tuned. So on land, that straws, this is going to sit there basically forever. In the oceans, petroleum based plastic is not degradable. And so there are some of these iconic images and stories we’re hearing. As of late, you know, there’s been the picture that’s gone around on the internet of the, you know, the turtle with the, the straw up his nose. There have been stories about the whale that was, you know, found dead on the beach that had a huge amount of plastic in its stomach. Those are just anecdotal evidence. But if you learn a little bit more about the five gyres, which are the five circular regions in our oceans that are collecting plastics, you’ll find out that there are these huge masses of plastics that are collecting in our oceans. And straws are one of the major contributors to that plastic that’s getting caught because it just sits there and floats. So, you know, having a plastic straw is seemingly a small thing for each person in their everyday experience. But when you add those up across even just the United States, it’s a considerable amount of waste.
AW 12:46 And when it gets into the oceans, often we hear about it getting broken down into apex predators, and then it goes all through the food chain. Maybe you can kind of tell us a little bit more about how that plastic degrades is that the problem or is it just the straws themselves in their current form? Are they the significant danger to sea creatures and to ocean ecologies?
MM 13:11 Well, again, we need to be very clear about this, the petroleum base, the plastics don’t break down. They’re not marine degradable, they may, they may break down a little bit from mechanical means, let’s say for example, they’re in the water and something hits it or that an animal comes in chews on it. That would have the potential of causing it to break down. But generally plastic straws do not break down. Even in the ocean. I didn’t realize that wow. No, they do not break down in the ocean. The only current plastic that breaks down in a commercial compost facility is a plant based plastic, you know, such as the plastic that we use for our straws that breaks down in a commercial compost facility. The only thing that breaks down in the ocean would be a paper straw. Much better.
AW 14:51 This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio. I’m speaking to Mark Marinozzi. He’s the Vice President of Marketing at World Centric, which makes compostable foodservice ware. So Mark, Starbucks recently announced that they are going to be banning plastic straws. I think American Airlines also so this is great. But there are other problems in that there are still these sippy style plastic lids and it’s going to take a lot to reduce the amount of plastic in our oceans right now in our landfills. Why don’t you explain some of the products that World Centric is developing to try to combat this.
MM 15:25 Our products are all 100% certified compostable. In a commercial compost facility. We carry products made from two primary categories of materials fiber that’s made from wheat straw, bamboo, we also use miscanthus, silver grass, and sugarcane waste, which increasingly we use quite a bit of including with a new hot cup that was made from 100% sugar cane paper. Our other materials are primarily made from PLA plastic, which is a renewable plastic made from plant based material. The replacement that Starbucks is currently introducing, which I call an adult sippy cup is made from a petroleum based plastic. And the challenge with that is, even though it’s made from a number five plastic, it still will not be recyclable. So there’s still going to be a great deal of waste, it’s still going to end up in a landfill. Most likely, if you have food contaminating if it’s been in a with milk froth or with a smoothie of any kind, it will be contaminated and it will be diverted into a landfill. Unless you make that out of a PLA plastic that can be commercially composted, it will most likely end up as the landfill material. The best option is to go with a compostable materials such as a PLA, plastic or paper. But we prefer utilizing a paper that’s from an FSC certified paper stock, which FSC is a certification that requires the manufacturer to have sustainable forestry practices, so that they’re not just doing clear cutting, everything that they do is, is around sustainability. And also reusing and recycling. So those are the two directions that ultimately the plastic straws will move towards. We currently have a PLA plastic straw, we’re looking at additional innovations that we will consider introducing in the near future. And I think you’re going to see in the same way that you mentioned, you know this explosion of renewables in to go containers and plates and bowls and what have you, you’re probably going to see the same thing happening in the category of cold and hot cups where they’ll be increasingly made from renewable materials like ours are, but also the lids and the straws will as well.
AW 18:09 So you guys have a PLA based straw that’s compostable. Where do you think the straw industry is moving? Are we going to see variations on plastic straws? Or will paper straws ultimately come back? In your opinion?
MM 18:25 Well, the first thing that I’d like to see happen, and I think this is already starting to happen is that it won’t necessarily be a transition. In terms of straws as a category, it will be a transition in terms of the behavior of the trade customer and the consumer, that increasingly consumers will when they’re offered a straw will think twice about whether or not they really need it and will say oh you know I don’t really need that straw. I have a daughter and 11 year old daughter that right now when I go to a restaurant with her if they hand her a straw, she’ll always say oh, no, thank you, I don’t need it. I think that’s one direction that we need to take is consumers need to have more awareness and simply say I don’t need a straw. Number two is that the trade customers the restaurant tours and cafe owners and bar owners, they need to leave the straws behind the counter and then put a sign up that says straws upon request or simply not offer them unless you know a customer asks for one that in and of itself that behavior change could make a real dent in how many straws are used in the United States alone. As far as straws as a trend. I think that as I said about other petroleum based products, the days of petroleum based straws are numbered. And the more that you frequent restaurants and bars and cafes that are using plastic base straws, and go to the barista or go to the waitstaff or go to the owner or the manager Say, would you please convert over to either a plant based plastic straw or a wood straw? Those little x will make a big difference towards us utilizing materials that are either certified compostable, or you know, not made from petroleum that are going to last for forever basically,
AW 20:21 Mark Marinozzi of World Centric. Mark, thanks so much for being my guest on Sea Change Radio.
MM 20:26 It’s been a pleasure, Alex, thank you.
AW 20:55 I’m joined now on Sea Change Radio by the CEO of Terra Expeditions Romain Troublé. Romain, welcome to Sea Change Radio.
Romain Troublé 21:04 Thank you. Hello.
Alex Wise 21:06 So why don’t you first explain what the mission of your organization is?
Romain Troublé 21:12 Yeah, the Tara Foundation is a nonprofit – French, US and Japanese. And it has two goals: one, to support science basic science about the ocean try to get facts and more knowledge about what’s going on. And the second one is to share to share this knowledge with politicians, but also the past the people and, and the kids everywhere the bad goes and everywhere we have an impact on the media. And the Tara Foundation is managing a vessel that is 120 foot criss-crossing the planet for 15 years now.
AW 21:50 And you are doing your best to study plastic and litter in the ocean, correct?
RT 21:56 Yeah, we do study plastic and marine litter and also other topics like coral reefs and plankton the plankton ecosystem across the planet. So it’s a global project.
AW 22:08 You mentioned the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Why don’t you explain what that is and how it’s evolved? Since you and your colleagues first started to voyage there 15 years ago?
RT 22:22 Yeah, we’ve been. We’ve been basically recently we’ve been two times in the BMS patch in 2011. And in 2018, just a few weeks ago, I mean, this is in every ocean, you have kind of a center of big gyres and in the center, you can see a lot of elements some remain floating elements that gathering so of course, is that the contingent you cannot stop on step on them on these but the weather asked for 30 years, this area in the oceans gathered a lot of debris and marine eaters, wood, of course, floating woods, pieces of nets, any floating devices and also plastic devices. And the thing is that what you see now in these ecosystems and in these areas is that you see very small pieces of oval of, of plastic that are the size of a rice grain, very few millimeters in size. And so and there is it there it is to clean the ocean in the future. But I really think that what we need to do is to do to turn off the tap that tap on plastic I mean, try to use less to use better to recycle to reuse to value this plastic that we use on the on the planet today in our businesses in our households or in our daily life physically.
AW 23:57 This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio. I’m speaking to the CEO of Tara Expeditions Romain Troublé. I want to kind of get a better idea of what it takes to find the Pacific garbage patch as voyagers How do you navigate to this area and around it and is it different every time you approach it? Is it a moving target when you kind of give us the logistics of this from a sailor standpoint if you will?
RT 24:25 Yeah, why is nothing you can see from the space we satellites so you do refer to data you can you collect everywhere of people who cost the Pacific recently refer to observations that we find from many boats cargoes that cost the Pacific between Hawaii and Portland for instance. And we try to spot to spot the most accurately the spot so we’ve been selling for from Hawaii and we spent five days into what we said what we thought was the center of the dryer, but you cannot see it from the space, it’s pretty hard to spot. So you got to refer on the last pages of salvations. But we did find it because we did find a place where the plastic was three, four times more concentrated than any, any of the places we’ve been before.
AW 25:23 And so do you use netting to gauge how much plastic there is in one area versus another? How does that work?
RT 25:32 Yeah, on the planet today, everybody has looked at the plastic, they use the same approaches, they use the same net basically, nothing that is that is floating on the surface of the ocean, and collecting plastics out this net is only a meter wide. And you tow it for 20 to half an hour, 20 minutes to half an hour. And based on that you get you’re going to collect some sea marine life, microscopic and marine life. And also you’re going to collect the debris numbered plastic debris, and this help you to document this, this disaster and to get numbers and to compare what you can see across the world in the same way.
AW 26:19 And for people who would want to donate to terror expeditions or people from the science community. What are the big takeaways that you use to explain the findings that your organization has contributed to the discussion surrounding plastic waste in the ocean? What are some of the big takeaways?
RT 26:40 I mean, what you have in the ocean is very, very small. It’s not about life is completely independent from the plastic. Today, life is marine life is living on the plastics is making its houses on that it’s really completely linked. I mean, so today, the plastic innovation, the issue is not under solution. By not by far not on the ocean. The solution is in everybody’s kitchen. The solution is education, in ruling the plastic bands that we can do it on the planet. The solution isn’t is in innovation in in Eco consumption of products is on land. I mean, this is not the way it’s something they’re going to solve. In the ocean, you can go there and you can pick up a few stuff. But then the day after that will be another million of plastic going on in the ocean. So this is not the solution. The solution is to work in the towns in the communities locally to value this litter and to make something else with these products in the future.
AW 27:57 Romain Troublé – thanks so much for being my guest on Sea Change Radio.
RT 28:01 Thank you
Narrator 28:17 You’ve been listening to Sea Change Radio. Our intro music is by Sanford Lewis and our outro music is by Alex Wise. Additional music by Fog Swamp and Widespread Panic. Check out our website at SeaChangeRadio.com to stream or download the show or subscribe to our podcast. Visit our archives there to hear from Bill McKibben, Van Jones, Paul Hawken, and many others. And tune in to Sea Change Radio next week, as we continue making connections for sustainability. For Sea Change Radio, I’m Alex Wise.