Today we have a second guest blog from David Helvarg, founder of Blue Frontier Campaign and author of 50 Ways To Save The Ocean. My row is a project of the Blue Frontier Campaign, and I look to David as my expert on all matters marine. I invited him to write a piece about the unnecessary pollution caused by plastic water bottles, and he has kindly obliged with this very informative yet entertaining blog.


Next time you hoist one to Roz or some other ocean champion make sure it’s not from a plastic bottle.

80 percent of all marine debris comes from land-based sources, while 60-80 percent of that debris, and 90 percent of floating debris, is plastic, and as we know, floating plastic bags are dead ringers for endangered sea turtles’ favorite snack food, jellyfish.

It was during World War Two that rayon and plastic were first synthesized to replace cotton and rubber that were then in short supply (the Axis powers were occupying key production lands). Rayon reached its apotheosis with the Aloha shirt that Roz will find many of her friends and supporters wearing when she gets to Hawaii. Plastic on the other hand has become a global plague.

I’m not saying that various kinds of plastics don’t make for good aircraft and boat skins, sail cloth, IV bags, prosthetic body parts, bathtub liners, also boogey boards and flak jackets (I have one of each). Some forms of plastic are so useful as metal substitutes that I’d argue we shouldn’t be wasting our limited supplies of oil producing greenhouse-generating fuels.

Unfortunately with oil companies like Exxon-Mobil and Shell having grown into the largest industrial combine in human history we’re burning more fossil fuel than ever even as plastic has become so cheap to manufacture that over 90 percent of it is wasted as throw away packaging including everything from single-use grocery bags to designer brand plastic water bottles.

Here’s a back of the (recycled) envelope calculation I’ve done. Every year the world’s oceans are stripped of about 100 million tons of living biomass to feed the global seafood market. Most of this does not go to feed the world’s hungry, but goes to the restaurants, supermarkets and fast-food joints of developed nations where it’s appetite not hunger driving the slaughter that’s taking fish out of the sea faster than they can reproduce. At the same time we manufacture about 200 million metric tons of plastic stock every year. If half of that eventually finds its way to the sea that means we’re replacing living organisms with toxic polymers on a pound per pound basis. Jeez, how long can that go on?

Along with the oil and gas used to manufacture hundreds of billions of disposable plastic bags and bottles we then burn even more oil transporting the heavy weight of water. We burn bunker fuel, the carcinogenic dregs of the petroleum process, to ship containers full of bottled water across entire ocean basins from places like France and Fiji to places like California and Australia. Compared to that, rowing alone across the Pacific with a water maker aboard your small boat seems eminently sane.

While about a billion people still don’t have access to clean, potable water, people who do are spending up to $7.00 a gallon for the alleged health and lifestyle benefits of spring water, geyser water, desalinated deep ocean water (Mahalo Water from Hawaii that’s mostly marketed in Japan) and filtered municipal water (from Coca-Cola and Pepsi). Or you could turn on the tap and get that same municipal water for about one tenth of a penny-per-gallon (that’s 3.78 liters, Roz). Personally I drink Coke. If I’m going to spend that kind of money I want lots of beet sugar, citric acid and caffeine thrown into the deal.

So now here’s the good news. There is a rapidly growing global movement against throwaway plastic. From places like the small town of Modbury in Great Britain it’s spread to China, Australia, South Africa and 15 other countries that have decided to ban single-use plastic bags.

In California, the State’s Ocean Protection Council has just come out with a report on marine debris that says fast-food outlets and coffee shops should not be allowed to distribute polystyrene cups and containers, that supermarkets and other retail stores should have mandatory recycling or else ban single-use plastic bags. It points out that bottles (glass or plastic) with redemption fees of as little as 25 cents are rarely if ever found in beach litter.

There’s also a bill in the California State House AB 2058 the “Plastic Bag Waste Reduction Act,” that would implement a minimum fee of 25 cents per single use plastic bag no later than 2010 while still allowing local municipalities to charge higher fees or, like the city of San Francisco, ban the bags outright.

The Blue Frontier Campaign, along with other seaweed (marine grassroots) groups, has signed a letter to Governor Schwarzenegger asking him to support the bill and sign it into law. If you’re a California resident please contact your State Senator and express your support for AB 2058. For information on how to do this go to the website of Heal the Bay, For more general ocean updates go to our site at

Remember, each of us doing our part can take small but significant steps to use less plastic, to change the laws to reduce plastic waste and to make our societies more sustainable so that the seas around us can sustain their own wondrous diversity of life now and forever. As a friend of mine likes to say, “we do it one stroke at a time.” And that’s the Roz Savage lesson of the day.

Other stuff:

Position as at 2210 4th August Pacific Time, 0510 5th August UTC: 23 34.989’N, 142 56.643’W.

A mixed bag of weather today. Squally this morning, with a few short rainshowers (but no significant amounts of water collected – the showers were too short). Then windy and sunny this afternoon. Another good day for progress. We luuuuurve those trade winds!

Thanks for all the messages of support, encouragement and advice. As I’m rowing later and later in the evenings (I row until it gets dark, and as I head west that time gets later) I’m starting to struggle to mention people individually in every blog, so will take a night off from it tonight. It’s been a long day and my bunk is calling! But will mention individuals and answer questions when not feeling so tired..

Click here to view Day 72 of the Atlantic Crossing 10 February 2006: Thoughts on Reaching Triple Figures – less than 1000 miles to go.

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