Journey of the Plastic Microbeads: From Science to Legal Policy

By Lisa Boyle

The Plastic Microbead is having its 15 minutes of fame. Though hard to see because it is less than 5mm, the microbead is in the spotlight because it is a surprisingly bad actor. In fact, the microbead should have a Razzie by now. Plastic Microbeads appear commonly in personal care products such as face scrubs, body wash and even toothpaste. A single product can contain as many as 350,000 polyethylene or polypropylene microbeads. But a California ban on the beads and a federal ban being scripted will soon send the plastic microbead into retirement along with other notorious bad actors like lead in paint and gasoline.

Thanks to research conducted by 5 Gyres' Dr. Marcus Eriksen in the Great Lakes , we know that the small plastic beads we have been scrubbing with are washing straight down our drains and into our lakes, rivers and ocean. After this scientific discovery was published, 5 Gyres drafted model legislation to ban the beads from personal care products and published the legislation along with a summary of the science in the first law journal dedicated entirely to legal solutions to Plastic Pollution at Tulane Law School. At the same time, 5 Gyres began to engage with lawmakers in New York and California, and then across the country as legislation took off with the help of many other nonprofits.

Legislation to ban plastic microbeads passed the California State Assembly this morning on a 58-11 vote. The legislation, AB 888, authored by Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) and first sponsored in 2014 by LA based environmental organization The 5 Gyres Institute, would set up the strongest protections in the country against the use of these unnecessary and toxic additives.

Marcus Eriksen, 5 Gyres' Director of Research and the first US scientist to document microbeads in US waters states:

"When we first detected high levels of plastic microbeads in Lake Erie in 2012, we never imagined that this scientific finding would result in a National legislative campaign. This important step towards a victory in California sends a strong signal that the public sector can drive major design changes at the corporate manufacturing level, to protect our National waters, and our health."

The 5 Gyres Institute conducted the first scientific research on plastic pollution in the Great Lakes in 2012, in partnership with SUNY Fredonia. On this expedition, the team documented high levels of microplastics in Lake Erie that they later traced back to personal care products.

"We found one sample with 1600 plastic particles, more plastics by count than any of our ocean samples spanning over 50,000 miles", said Dr. Eriksen. "These particles were all roughly the same shape and size - we had never seen anything like it. We compared these to the plastic beads found in facial scrubs and body washes, and there it was. With this finding, we were able to begin working on the clear solution - banning these unnecessary toxic plastics from products designed to be washed down the drain."

Microbeads have emerged as a pervasive form of pollution in our waterways and marine environment, contributing approximately 38 tons of plastic annually. The tiny particles are prevalent in ocean debris, the Great Lakes, and were found in the Los Angeles River last year. Most microbeads are not biodegradable and absorb various toxins such as DDT, PCBs (flame retardants), and other industrial chemicals and are ingested or absorbed by a variety of marine life and other mammals. Because fish ingest these particles and absorb the toxins in their flesh, they constitute a direct threat to our seafood.

Assemblymember Bloom states:

"This is not a problem without a solution. Plastic microbeads are not essential to personal care products. Safe and natural alternatives are available such as walnut husks, pecan shells, apricot shells, and cocoa beans. Some brands already use environmentally safe alternatives. However, there are still a number of companies who are holding out. By passing this bill, we will take the first step in phasing out these damaging products completely in California and paving the way for other states and countries to follow our lead."

As 5 Gyres Policy Director and one of the authors of the legislation, I am proud to showcase AB 888 as a perfect example of 5 Gyres' mission to conduct the best science, craft effective legal policy solutions based on our research, and find the best representatives of the people to carry the legislation through the halls of government to become law. 5 Gyres identified Richard Bloom because of his long history of environmental stewardship on the California Coastal Commission, as a City Council Member and Mayor of Santa Monica and in his current office as Representative of the people of the 50th District of California.

Californians Against Waste, Clean Water Action, Breast Cancer Fund, California League of Conservation Voters, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Environment California, Heal the Bay, Los Angeles Water Keeper, Natural Resources Defense Council, Ocean Conservancy, Sierra Club, and Story of Stuff are a sample of the many other groups in support of the bill.

Having now passed the State Assembly, AB 888 must now pass the State Senate before going to Governor Jerry Brown for his consideration.

Watch here to see The Plastic Microbead as a very bad actor.

Meet our 18 year old T-Shirt Artist from Peru, creator of "Plastic Whale"

Click to enlarge

Starting today, and for two weeks only, you can get a 5 Gyres "Plastic Whale" t-shirt, designed by 18 year old Peruvian student, Dafne. Winner of From The Bow Seat's Ocean Awareness Student Contest. Grab a shirt and learn more about the creation of the epic design below. 5-10% of sales go directly back to Dafne's class, so spread the word and support international environmental education!

  • 5% of sales go to Dafne's class if we sell 100 shirts
  • 10% of sales go to Dafne's call if we sell 1000 shirts 

Dafne Murillo

Dafne Murillo

My name is Dafne Murillo, I am18 years old and was born in Lima, Peru.

I applied to college abroad, but my goal is to return to my country as a Development Economist, and contribute to improving the lives of the many millions of Peruvians who live engulfed in poverty.

Having grown up in a coastal city, in one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world, the ecological theme has always been present in and outside my classroom.

I have been a first-hand witness to how the oceans are contaminated with plastic, leading to the deaths of thousands of marine species.

The whale is the favourite marine animal of many people, including myself. Unfortunately, its population number grows smaller by the minute due to plastic pollution.

I believe that apathy is the main source of this serious ecological problem.

My work “Plastic Whale” was a visual representation of the “out of sight out of mind” mentality, which must be changed in order to win the fight against plastic pollution.  -Dafne

Dafne's Class In Peru

Dafne's Class In Peru

Blue Vision: Find Your Inner Fish

Lisa Kaas Boyle
Lisa Kaas Boyle

May 12th, Please join our Washington DC dinner and hear Dr. Eriksen discuss federal microbead legislation. Details at end of blog. 

by Lisa Kaas Boyle

Attorney, Consultant, Writer and 

a 5 Gyres Board member

My dad, Dr. Jon H. Kaas, is always giving me odd and fascinating books. He is a neuroscientist and expert on the evolution of the human brain so his shares are pretty mind-expanding. He gave me the fun read Your Inner Fish, also a PBS Series. Turns out that we have a lot in common with fish, and that you can trace the origins of the human body back through millions of years into the ocean and find modern anatomical connections with our finny friends.

Since I am about to attend the premier Ocean Policy Summit in the nation: Blue Vision Summit in our nation's capitol, I got to thinking that maybe we should all be thinking like a fish. Our planet is mostly blue, the ocean provides most of the oxygen we breathe, and fish are not only a major source of food, but sustain an ocean ecosystem that keeps us alive...We NEED our fishy relatives. They collapse and so do we.

We are doing a good job of killing off our fish friends and destroying their habitat. The data is startling.

Overfishing AcidificationPlastics Seas WarmingPetroleum Spills

These facts are the reason scientists, lawyers, educators and legislators are gathering May 11-14 in Washington, DC to talk science and policy to reverse these trends. But you don't need to be an expert already to attend. Here is a video invitation for YOU.

Of course, the dying seas are an economic issue as well as a survival issue, and the corporate leaders of Legal Sea Foods and Taylor Shellfish of Washington will be speaking at the summit about preserving our fish stocks.

Other keynote speakers and participants will include NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathy Sullivan, ocean explorers Fabien Cousteau and Sylvia Earle, as well as California Representative Sam Farr and citizen activist Ralph Nader.

Blue Vision Summit offers attendees the opportunity to meet with Elected Ocean Champions including Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii for 'Healthy Ocean Capitol Hill Day' on May 13 and to visit our legislators to discuss policy to protect our oceans. Just to make sure our leaders know what we are here to discuss, a 90-foot life-size blue whale will be inflated outside the Capitol Building.

On May 14th, Blue Vision attendees will celebrate this year's Peter Benchley Ocean Award winners. Among those accepting awards will be Secretary of State John F. Kerry, HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, and the Economist and Marine Scientist Dr. Daniel Pauly.

So If you want to join me and find your inner fish at Blue Vision Summit, register here. We're all in this together, human folk and fish.

Invite to discussion
Invite to discussion

OUR FINDINGS: WHAT WE NOW KNOW – Blog 6 of 6 Antarctica 2015

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5 Gyres joined the crew of 2041 to Antarctica to survey plastic pollution.  Our mission’s are aligned.  2041 aims to, “…build personal leadership skills among people who choose to embrace the challenge of sustaining all forms of life – in their families, communities, organizations and the planet.”  How awesome is that?  We worked with the most amazing volunteers from a crew of 81 people from 27 countries to answer the question, “Is Antarctica polluted with plastic?”

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We did a lot of work together.  With 10 hours of sea surface observations, two kilometers of beach combing, and 8 m2 of microplastic sampling, I can report that we found almost nothing.  This is great news, but we need to do more work.   While there’s a need for more sampling here, I’m left with the reassuring belief that this part of the world isn’t feeding its wildlife too much anthropogenic junk.


Here’s what we found.  In a 10-day expedition, we only spotted one fishing buoy.  Our beachcombing produced one bottle cap, a meter of fishing line, and a packing strap likely from a bait box discarded from a fishing vessel.  Our microplastic sampling on the beaches inside the caldera of Deception Island produced no microplastic pollution.

Here’s why I think the waters of Antarctica are much cleaner than the three subtropical gyres above it.  Between the South Atlantic, South Pacific and Indian Ocean gyres, there’s what’s called the “Subtropical Convergence”.  This is where the colder waters swirling around Antarctica dive under the warmer waters of the three gyres.  This frontal system is where waters converge and forms a bit of a blockade against plastic pollution.  Look at the line of red stars below. That’s the subtropical convergence, and it wraps around Antarctica.

The result is that this amazing part of the world is kept beautiful by stormy seas that push both sailors and trash away.  Can we keep it that way? As Robert Swan, founder of 2041, says, “Can we leave just one place alone?”  After all of the previous expeditions of 5 Gyres to discover microplastics in the 5 subtropical gyres, we heralded a call to action to stop the flow of plastic to the sea.  Antarctica is a different call to action, and in the words of the UN Antarctic Treaty of 1991, let’s keep Antarctica “A natural reserve devoted to peace and science,” … and free of plastic trash.

Thanks to the crew of 2041 and IAE 2015.  Your commitment to conservation and social justice is inspiring beyond words.



Robert Swan is one of those guys wearing icy beards standing on a flat white horizon in those tattered photographs of polar explorers to the furthest reaches of the planet.  He’s the founder of 2041(.com), and is the principle reason I'm here.  He holds his place in history aside Amandson, Scott and Shakelton with the title “First person to walk unassisted to both poles.” His 900-mile walk to the South Pole, below the hole in the ozone layer in the early 1980’s permanently changed the color of his eyes, then in the North he swam, hiked, climbed over melting ice floes to the opposite pole of the planet. “This is climate change,” he says, and dedicated his life to preserving Antarctica.  The problem is climate change, the solution is cleaner energy, and the catalyst is the day the current international treaty to preserve Antarctica for science and peace is reinstated in perpetuity. The current treaty ends in 2041.  His fear is that in 2041 countries addicted to fossil fuels will make a land grab.  “Alternate energy is the way!” he declares.

But what does plastic pollution have to do with climate change?  They both have their root in fossil fuels.  Fossil fuels give us both energy and chemistry for the benefit of civilization since the Industrial Revolution and throughout the technical advances of the last half-century.  But the chemistry and energy sectors both share a corporate model of production without responsibility for environmental or societal outcomes. CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels are responsible for the greenhouse glasses in the atmosphere that keep heat in, changing the climate of the planet at an unprecedented rate in the last 650,000 years.  Plastic pollution, the result of single-use throw-away product and packaging designs that have no recovery system in place, result in a SMOG of plastic particulate globally distributed in our oceans and slowly settling to the seafloor.

Both CO2 emissions and plastic pollution become a tragedy of the commons because they pollute international air and water, and the industries that create the problem work endlessly to defer costs of cleanup to governments and taxpayers.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.  Does this common problem have a common solution?

Arguably, bioplastics and biofuels are a partial solution.  Bioplastics and biofuels are alternates to plastics and energy from fossil fuels, relying on carbon already on the surface of the earth.  That means little new CO2 in the atmosphere. Though they show a promising future with a reduced reliance on fossil fuels, the waste emission is still an issue.  Bioplastics, a term rampant with confusion, is used for both biodegradable plastics and non-biodegradable plant-based plastics.   For example, Coca Cola markets a ‘plant bottle’ made of PET derived from modern plants rather than fossil plants, but it still the same polymer with the same ocean pollution issues.  Polyhyroxylalkanoate (PHA), a plastic produced from bacteria, is the only ocean-friendly bioplastic with a reasonable rate of degradation. We are already seeing some smart applications of PHA bioplastic, like ZoeB beach toys that replace the PE and PP toys we sometimes find floating 1000’s of miles offshore.

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In a recent conversation with David Hone, climate change advisor for Shell Oil, he explained that a Carbon Tax is the best way to go, and that’s his hope for the Paris 2015 summit on climate change.  This would level the playing field for all companies and countries, creating a competitive advantage for alternative energy.  “As long as cheap oil and gas exist in the world, solar and wind will be marginalized,” he says.  But would a carbon tax work for plastic?  Surely it would, for the same reasons.  For bioplastics, reusable bags and mugs, or paper products to replace the plastic status quo, the price needs to be competitive.  A “Polymer” tax that would be utilized to fund environmental cleanup projects, could come to a ballot near you someday soon.

But the real solution to climate change and plastic pollution is Zero Waste.  Zero waste is the common virtue.  Zero Waste in your life is the best way to personally combat climate change and plastic pollution (besides supporting the Carbon Tax).  Your carbon footprint and your plastic footprint are not mutually exclusive.  When I stood with Robert Swan on the Antarctic Peninsula we talked about climate change and pollution.  He said, “It 8 years for my team to remove 1500 tons of rubbish from Antarctica, but we had to do it,” adding, “you can’t separate the two.  It’s the same fight.”

Is Biophilia in your mission statement? 4 of 6 Antarctica 2015

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I hear the exhale before I see the fin atop the arched back of a juvenile humpback whale, then the wide white fluke before a long dive.  The second whale followed.  Ice swirls on the surface where they had been, then looking beyond them you understand that you are in their space.  “You” are the odd object here, “You” do not belong in Antarctica and are only a feeble visitor, and that humility is speechless.

E.O. Wilson, naturalist and Harvard entomologist, defines biophilia as the human affinity for life and life-like systems.  Why do we need nature?  Predominantly we take from nature for practical and material exploitation, which Wilson calls “utilitarian biophilia.” We eat nature, farm, ranch, fish, hunt, drill, log and mine nature.  But there are 8 other relationships, each of equal importance.  Three are evident here in Antarctica at this moment; satisfaction from direct experience (naturalistic biophilia), affinity and ethical concern for nature (moralistic biophilia), and an overpowering sense of beauty (aesthetic biophilia).  I’m also well aware that in a Maslow’s Hierarchy kind-of-way, that I can have these thoughts and feelings because my utilitarian needs of food, shelter, security and warmth are already met.  Surely, I wouldn’t care much about natural beauty if our zodiac flipped over.  Yet, when I have basic needs met, I long for greater meaning in life, and nature gives that in spades.

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We soon move our zodiac away from the scene and head back to the security of the ship, and within and hour we’re under way.  That’s when I see a fishing buoy dragging a long line.  I cringe, the same way you do when you hike to a vista somewhere far in the hills and you think you’ve got to be the first person to have this view, or at least the only person within a hundred miles at that moment.  Then you see a candy wrapper, water bottle, or even a diaper on the side of the trail.  You think, “What’s wrong with these people,” because in some small way that act of leaving trash behind and the persistence of that trash by design takes something from you, an opportunity for solace or a bit of personal restoration.

This deeper need for nature is echoed by Robert Swan when he says, “Can’t we leave just one place alone?” as he talks about the mission of his organization 2041 to make the Antarctic Treaty a permanent agreement.  In the case of plastic pollution, we need the middle of the ocean, the top of the mountain, and all the trails and seaways to get there, to be free from material graffiti.  The persistence of plastic waste in the world is an assault on wild space and what lives there, and a theft from humanity of a basic right to experience nature in the raw.

So when we think of why we do what we do, we must look at the complex relationship we have with nature.  The sum of these is the measure of who we are and more than justifies our conservation campaigns.

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GLOBALIZE IDEAS, LESS STUFF - 3 of 6 Antarctica 2015


Ohhhh, look at those fancy Gortex-covered, water-wicking, fleece-lined, gloves with the authentic down-filled “Thermal Ring”© that grips your wrist and keeps the cold out.   I need that next year, but only if they come in red.

There are 81 people on this expedition, from 27 countries.  The cost of new cameras, laptops and hard drives, clothing & boots, goggles & glasses, GPS units and fancy watches, could easily have paid off my mortgage. What they will still be using 10 years from now falls into two categories: tech and textiles.  All of it is built for extreme environments, so that Helly Hansen jacket will be just as warm 20 years from now (I actually brought my HH foul weather sailing gear).  Anything with a computer chip, except for maybe a few watches, will be out of style before you can say, “PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE!”


Is the obsolescence of a $50,000 camera intentional?  Not until you’ve bought all of the accessories, afterwards the body ceases to fit anything new. What will the iPhone 20 really do that the 19 doesn’t?  And why don’t all of the power cords work for all cell phones, all models, across time? 1n 1954 Brooks Stevens made the term “Planned Obsolescence” synonymous with modern capitalism, defined as, “Instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, and a little sooner than is necessary.” Just watch any episode of Mad Men to get this.

But today, planned obsolescence means designing death into your stuff, rather than convincing you to buy something fashionable, as Stevens first suggested.  Weakness is built into many products in the form of inferior hardware, buttons, dials, batteries, gears, bolts and screws, stitching, or restricting access repair manuals, schematics and software program updates.  There’s little of that here in the Andes.  By default, whether intended or not, people have bought into the “Heirloom Society.”  These are the far extreme away from those idiotic disposable plastic cameras.  In the Heirloom Society quality matters for the sake of longevity, economy, and values. Critics argue that the downside for business is quick market saturation, where the producer of a quality product is reduced to a repair shop, and the upside is the strange logic that when everything breaks it clears room for innovation.  But is being a high-end repair shop such a bad thing?  Rolex and Ferrari seem to be doing just fine.

OR…. we could just share.  I was sitting in on a Surfrider chapter meeting in San Francisco a few weeks ago listening to a representative of ZipCar talk about car sharing.  With over a quarter-million shared cars across the United States, some people are not buying new ones.  Also, barter economies, like EBay and Craigslist, have increased the flow of second-hand products to new markets.  Where the Heirloom Society will make the greatest impact is replacing our current Throw Away Culture.  Companies like Klean Kanteen and Chico Bag are making bags and bottles that could easily last over a decade, whether used by you or someone else.

The greatest failure of planned obsolescence is waste.  The only solution is Extended Producer Responsibility.  The externalities of waste impacts on people and the environment are seldom taken into account when the full life cycle of waste is not part of the production plan.  This “linear” rather than “circular” thinking becomes the Tragedy of the Commons, as persistent compounds, like plastic, disperse globally and pollute the oceans where countries and companies have no jurisdiction.  Extended Producer Responsibility is not about having more recycling bins, which the taxpayer pays for.  It’s about the producer building in an financially incentivized recovery system that gets the stuff back, or it’s made to be 100% environmentally benign.  The old idea of “We make it, you deal with it” must be replaced with “We make it, we take it.”  We must get to Zero Waste.

This leaves a conundrum for the producers of single use, throw-away plastic.  Can plastic companies thrive in the 21st century if Zero Waste sounds like Zero Plastic?


Antarctica current map

When we published our results from a dozen expeditions in Dec. 2014, which included expeditions from 6 other wonderful colleagues, we learned a couple important things.  1. The sea surface is not the final resting place for microplastic.  2. Microplastics are likely found worldwide.  What’s missing is confirmation of how “likely” that distribution really is.  We aim to find out.

In the summer of 2014 the 5 Gyres Institute surveyed waters between Bermuda and Iceland across the Subpolar Gyre in the North Atlantic, finding microplastic fragments in 80% of our trawls as we followed the coastline of Greenland 200nm offshore.  We expected to find nothing.  This begs the question, “Does it happen on the opposite side of the planet?”

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Are microplastics leaving the three southern hemisphere gyres and migrating across the circumpolar gyre that flows around Antarctica?  The circumpolar gyre makes up the southern boundary of the Indian Ocean, S. Atlantic and S. Pacific, causing plastic pollution in those gyres to flow around Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope.  These three gyres share trash.  Potentially, microplastics can continue southward to the shores of Antarctica using surface currents to get there.

But we discovered that microplastics are leaving the sea surface in the subtropical gyres?  It is possible that the vertical distribution of microplastics enters deeper currents that take microplastics worldwide.  Afterall, the currents that make up the subtropical gyres are wind-driven, meaning they are only on the surface.  Those deeper waters dive beneath the circumpolar gyre and upwell near the Antarctic coastline.

Are those currents taking the smallest plastic particles with them to the most pristine waters on the planet?  That’s the big question that lead us here.

Microbead Loopholes are Crippling Legislation


Many of you were with us last year when we introduced the first bills in the US to ban plastic microbeads from consumer products, based on our scientific findings of high concentrations of microplastics in the Great Lakes. You helped us engage manufacturers in the issue, rally policymakers and NGOs to lead the charge, and spread the word.

You also witnessed the devastating loss of this bill by one vote on the Senate Floor due to last minute confusion spread by industry lobbyists, represented by the Personal Care Products Council (PCPC), who were determined stop our bill in its tracks.

This year, in an unexpected turn of events, the same industry has approached lawmakers across the country, from Hawaii to Maine, with their own version of a microbead ban.

Sound too good to be true? It is.

By subtly tweaking the definition of what constitutes a plastic microbead, industry sponsored bills create a loophole that would allow cosmetic companies to switch out traditional polyethylene microbeads for other types of pernicious plastics, such as compostable plastics (which absolutely do not biodegrade in the marine environment) and the type used in cigarette filters. This is greenwashing at its finest (most deceitful). If the PCPC has its way, we could see a patchwork of statewide laws that fail to accomplish the one and only objective of microbead bans; to keep plastic off of our faces and out of our waterways.

Ready for the good news yet?

5 Gyres has teamed up with Assembly Member Richard Bloom (D - Santa Monica) and a coalition of leading environmental groups and clean water agencies to introduce a bill (AB 888)  that would ban all types of plastic microbeads in consumer care products in the state of California.

If we pass a comprehensive ban in just one large state, the scales will tip in our favor and we will prevail over the behemoth that is the cosmetics industry. But to make it happen, we are going to need your help. Over the next several months, 5 Gyres and its coalition partners will educate lawmakers about the dangers of allowing this “bioplastics loophole” and  activate the grassroots support necessary to pass the strongest microbead ban in the country here in California.

So please keep in touch! You will be hearing from us soon with powerful actions for you to take and creative ways that you can get involved to ensure that this year, we win.

You can even get started right now:

1) Make a donation to support our work

2) Sign our petition to stop microbead pollution

3) Contact 5 Gyres to volunteer – we’re looking for online ambassadors to help us spread the word (email

Why is this so important for the oceans?

Our recent publication estimating over 5 trillion pieces (yes, with a t) of plastic in the earth’s oceans has shocked - but not surprised - those of us dedicated to mitigating the emerging global plastic crisis.  Our research indicates that there is not one square mile of ocean on the planet, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, from the Indian Ocean to the Gulf of Alaska, that is not polluted with plastic.

This sobering news, along with recent discoveries of alarming amounts of plastic in Arctic ice, sea beds and on islands across the world have us asking “how can we possibly tackle a problem of this magnitude?”

Because plastic is ubiquitous in our society, solutions to plastic pollution are complex.  But when the bathtub is overflowing - as the ocean is with plastic - the first thing to do is turn off the faucet. This bill is a great step in that direction.

For the oceans,

Blake Kopcho

Campaign Manager

The 5 Gyres Institute

TCT Update: We're Tracking California's Trash in Creeks


Last week marks the kickoff of our field work related to the Tracking California's Trash (TCT) Project! We had a great first field day and an amazing group of people helping out.

We are very excited to be part of the large scale project to understand and prevent trash from entering the Pacific Ocean. The project has multiple partners, including the State Water Resources Control Board, the Bay Area Storm Management Agencies Association (BASMAA), and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, along with multiple consulting firms and scientists. 


The project is a result of regulatory efforts by the California State Water Resources Control Board that have focused on developing and adopting water body specific Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs), regional NDPES permit requirements, and a statewide Trash Policy to significantly reduce trash impacts. The San Francisco Regional Water Quality Board adopted a regional Phase I NPDES permit in 2009 that requires all permitted municipalities to reduce trash. Trash TMDLs have been put in place in the Los Angeles Area, including many rivers, (Ballona Creek and the LA River are included, which are well known for their trash problems). Reductions of trash entering and flowing in creeks and rivers in the San Francisco Bay and the Los Angeles Area are now required under these regulatory actions, an more cities will be involved once a statewide policy is put in place.

Our goals for the project are to develop methods and guidelines that cities and counties can use to monitor trash that is floating on the surface and within the water columns of large and small creeks and rivers. This data will assist city officials and regulators to better understand if the efforts that have been put in place to reduce trash (through bag and foam bans, increased street sweeping, catchment basins, etc) from entering the marine environment are working.


On Wednesday, March 4th 2015, 5 Gyres completed our first round of sampling at one Bay Area creek near San Francisco.  The research was done during very low flow, approximately 1.7 cubic feet/second, and was mainly to understand and practice deploying our trawls from a bridgeway above the creek. We deployed two different trawls successfully, including the Manta Trawl, usually used in our ocean research, and the Rectangular Trawl, a trawl designed for the project.

With such low flow, we didn't expect to find much trash, but we definitely found it - cigarette butts, foam bits, wrappers - and we saw much more settled into crevices and on the nearby sidewalk and roads.


When the flow in the creeks increases, we'll try out the High Speed Trawl and the Mini High Speed Trawl. At this time, we've been warned that our samples will fill multiple 55-gallon garbage cans  - !!

Moving forward the project will also monitor two more creeks in the South Bay and one river in the Los Angeles Area. We'll continue to blog throughout the project and plan to be in the field again in the San Francisco Area in early May. For more information contact TCT Project Manager Carolynn Box ( or check out the project website: