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18 November 2005 Science Magazine
Letters
New Directions in Plastic Debris

The largest ever meeting focusing on plastic debris in the environment was recently held in Redondo Beach, California (1). It is evident that plastic waste presents major concerns in aquatic habitats worldwide. However, this meeting differed from previous efforts/gatherings because representatives from industry, government, academia, and nongovernment organizations were united in their desire to identify solutions to reducing waste. There has been a switch in the types of litter recorded, from shipping- and fishing-related debris to landbased sources. This was poignantly underscored by reports of islands of plastic debris swept into the sea by Hurricane Katrina.

Polymer scientist A. Andrady explained that all the plastic introduced into the oceans


Toy cars amid debris in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
CREDIT: DAVID QUINN/AP PHOTO

remains unmineralized as either entire objects or fragments, some of which are less than 20 m in diameter (2). Large items of debris cause entanglement, impaired feeding, and mortality to birds, turtles, and mammals. Microscopic fragments are also ingested, but the consequences are unknown. H. Takada and C. Moore presented evidence on the ability of plastic to accumulate PCBs, DDE, and nonylphenol (3), and the potential for toxic chemicals to transfer to the food chain was identified as a key research direction. It was also recognized that better understanding of effects at an organismal level is required before consequences at population and ecosystem levels can be examined.

In terms of solutions, much could be achieved by reductions in packaging. Keynote speaker W. McDonough made the case for a "cradle to cradle" (4) strategy to ensure that plastics are retained in a product- specific recycling loop-turning debris from a waste disposal liability into feedstock for production. Although debris can be removed from drains and rivers by physical separators, there is also a key role for education to help reduce littering. The importance of social research to establish the public's willingness to engage with these solutions was also clearly recognized.
~~~~~~~~~~~~
Richard Thompson*
School of Biological Sciences
University of Plymouth
Plymouth, Devon PL4 8AA, UK

Charles Moore
Algalita Marine Research Foundation
148 North Marina Drive
Long Beach, CA 90803, USA

Anthony Andrady
Research Triangle Institute
3040 Cornwallis Road
Research Triangle Park
NC 27709-2194, USA

Murray Gregory
University of Auckland
Private Bag 92019
Auckland, New Zealand

Hideshige Takada
Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology
Tokyo 183 8509, Japan

Stephen Weisberg
Southern California Coastal Research Project
7171 Fenwick Lane
Westminster, CA 92683, USA

*To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: r.c.thompson@plymouth.ac.uk

References
1. Plastic Debris Rivers to Seas, organized by the California Coastal Commission, 7 to 9 Sept 2005.
2. R. C. Thompson et al., Science 304, 838 (2004).
3. Y. Mato et al., Environ. Sci. Technol. 35, 318 (2001).
4. W. McDonough, M. Braungart, Cradle to Cradle (North Point Press, New York, 2002).


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