Discussion GUIDE for Marine Anthropogenic Litter, Edited by Melanie Bergmann, Lars Gutow, and Michael Klages

Authored by University of Hartford students in the classes: POL390: Marine Debris Policy and Action and HON385: Marine Pollution, Spring 2016

Chapter One

  1. What do you believe are the biggest problems resulting from marine litter?
  2. Is the issue of marine litter worthy of being addressed by international treaties or policies?
  3. Do you think it’s possible to find a solution that still allows for use of plastics by society?
  4. Can you imagine a solution to the issue of marine litter? What with this solution look like in practice?



Chapter Two

  1. Plastic constitutes the majority of all marine litter around the world. Do you think this is because plastic is the material we use most in our everyday lives? Or do you think other litter such as paper, wood, food waste, etc., enters the ocean as frequently but biodegrades and therefore does not accumulate in the ocean as much as plastic?
  1. What changes to distribution, composition, and abundance of marine debris can we expect with climate change and global warming?
  1. In addition to question 2, do you think collecting data on the global distribution, composition, and abundance of marine litter will become increasingly difficult if climate change and global warming continue to impact the oceans?
  1. Scraping sediments on the sea floor and beach sediments can disturb or even be destructive to the resident fauna. Do you think this is a reasonable risk in order to better assess marine debris?
  1. What are the primary influencers of accumulation rates?


Chapter Three

  1. Why is it important to understand the different types of plastics identified and the degradation process of those plastics?
  2. Why do Photo-Oxidation and different marine conditions hinder plastics from breaking down?
  3. What are some of the errors attributed to buoyancy and sampling conditions?
  4. What do many plastic samples collected from beaches and water look like and why?
  5. In this chapter we learn that it is not true that more plastics are thrown away than other items, but instead that plastics are persistent in the environment. Is it possible to find a solution when littering is a way of life for many people?


Chapter Four

  1. The article discusses the concern of “plastic soup” as tiny particles of plastics, which cannot be seen, but are being digested by multiple animals in the food chain, however, there is no explanation regarding the amount of “plastic soup” nor the actual effects. Is this a proven issue- or is the author referring to more general effects of consuming plastic?
  2. The article discusses the dolphins and other animals which become entangled in “ghost fishing” gear, yet does not comment on the even greater number of animals killed through overfishing, especially considering the dolphin-tuna debate from a few years ago. Do we really find stray nets to be a large enough debris issue? Perhaps regulations in fishing would resolve the matter much more appropriately.
  3. When discussing the color of ingested plastics, do we believe that color-blindness comes into play?
  4. When plastics are ingested purposefully- in lieu of food- is this due to a flaw in judgment, or is there a lack of food in the environment causing the need for a last resort?
  5. Why do you think they emphasize the food chain?
  6. The authors mention that hundreds of thousands of fish are known to perish in active fishing gear. This is called bycatch, and these fish are simply thrown overboard as waste. Knowing this, do you think the fishing industry can be sustainable?



Chapter Five

  1. The reading talks about how certain types of plastics release chemicals once in the ocean and begin to go through photo-degradation, while others act as a “sink” and absorb chemicals. Do you think it could possibly be a good idea to purposely use large pieces of plastic known to absorb chemicals in order to clean up certain chemicals from bodies of water?
  2. The book talks about how some chemicals used while manufacturing plastics contain carcinogenic and other very toxic chemicals that when used in studies have proven to cause endocrine disruption, thyroid problems, and developmental disorders in certain animals. If this is the case do you think there could be a connection between people developing cancer or other disorders and the amount of seafood they consume?
  3. Considering what we now know about how chemicals are affecting marine life, are you as an individual more concerned about consuming seafood? Or do you think if enough is proven about the consumption of seafood, there will be regulations one day about what we should or should not eat?
  4. Do you think it is feasible to create regulations where some plastics are produced while others are banned because certain chemicals stay with the product long after production? Or would that create conflict when trying to come up with substitutions for certain products?


Chapter Six

  1. How might we prevent rafting species from attaching to plastic debris?
  2. If certain types of plastics such as Styrofoam reduce the ability for organisms to colonize due to low stability, should a certain type of plastic be preferred as far as the prevention of invasive species?
  3. Would creating nets out of material that would break down in a shorter span cause less colonization due to the smaller amount of space?
  4. Would a method of serialization of plastic items allow for more accurate age reports of marine debris?
  5. The text suggests that a microfilm forms first on a surface which then allows for macro-algae and other species to attach. Could the altering of plastics to not allow a viable surface for this film to form lead to a decrease in the attachments of other species?

Chapter Seven

  1. Do you think the amount of microplastics will increase in the environment, despite efforts already being made to stop new debris from entering the ocean?
  2. The book discusses how there have been laboratory studies in which they tested organism’s outcomes or life expectancy when exposed to microplastics. How do you think the animals are being affected or what do you think in these laboratory studies are coming across or finding in the organisms once they are exposed? What are your thoughts on this?
  3. Do you think there is something the government can do to change the way we produce, use, and dispose of plastics items?
  4. The author talks about how there has been some evidence of a possibility of a sink in the deep sea filled with micro plastics. The author notes, however, that there isn’t much evidence to support it. Why do you think that might be?

Chapter Eight

  1. Prevention vs. analysis: the author sets up the premise that we ought to focus much more on prevention. What are your thoughts?
  2. Are more chemicals the answer? Note how some of the solutions used to help separate the chemicals are sodium and zinc based, naturally occurring chemicals.
  3. Whose job is it to clean up the beaches? Use philosophical and political means to answer.
  4. The plastic pyrolysis process is pricey and uses energy. Is this all worth it? Should we heed the book’s warning and just stick to prevention methods?


Chapter Nine

  1. With the population constantly increasing, the marine debris is going to get worse, so do you think the government should or ever will set modifications to redesign products so they contain less hazardous substances so if they were to be out in the environment they wouldn’t be as damaging as they are now?
  2. The ultimate goal is to reduce pathways that lead into the sewers and waterways. Will the government ever control what companies are allowed to manufacture and sell?
  3. Do you think if we knew the place, person, or company who is letting these toxic things in the environment people would stop using them and consider other products?
  4. There is little research about the pathways, but people can assume it comes out of our houses and factories and into the sewers and storm water. Do you think with more research about pathways, that we can put an end to it leading into the ocean?


Chapter Ten

  1. Do you think people would cut down on plastics if they knew how much it affects marine mammals, biota, and potentially humans?
  2. Who should be responsible for doing more research on microplastics and how they affect marine environments in certain areas?
  3. Is plastic worth it even if it will ultimately accumulate in coastal and marine environments and potentially harm biota and humans?
  4. Should countries with more concentrated areas of microplastics be held more responsible for the proper handling of microplastics even if they aren’t the main contributors for the large accumulations?
  5. In later years, do you think macroplastics or microplastics will pose a larger threat?
  6. Would you rather have plastics that break down fast or plastics that are durable and don’t break down as fast?


Chapter Eleven

  1. A plastic additive may leach from a heavily contaminated plastic particle, but clean the organism from its body burden of legacy POPs at the same time. Do you agree that there is a positive AND negative trade off of micro-plastic ingestion?
  2. How do you feel and/or do you agree with the term, “clean plastic” versus regular plastic/ plastic particles when all plastic in the ocean releases chemicals over time?
  3. Should the study of plastic ingestion be focused on whether or not it may clean an organism or that plastic ingestion can cause physical stress, which can then affect ingestion rates?
  4. Is plastic ingestion more important that getting rid of the spread of POPs or are they both equally a problem because of how they are both causing harm?


Chapter Twelve

  1. Nano-plastics pose a serious and difficult threat, yet the majority of the public neither knows of the threat nor believes it is that harmful. It is not a threat one can see physically such as debris on a beach or floating on the ocean. What possible means are there to make the public aware of nano-plastics, something that is still not fully understood and is invisible to the human eye?
  2. Different studies have different definitions of nano-plastic, and such studies have various methods and conclusions. Some areas also have not been fully explored. Should there be one agency to take charge in order to set a standard of definitions and goals, and if so, who should be in charge of that agency?
  3. Would it be more ideal to have a plastic that is far more durable in order to prevent the break down into smaller pieces and then eventually nano-plastics?
  4. The hazards of nano-plastics will continue on as long as plastics exist. Even if the United States manages to dramatically cut down on the consumption of plastics, there are still around seven billion other people on the planet, and dozens of countries that rely on plastics for economic growth. Plastic production is expected to continue to rise, yet the impacts of nano-plastic currently in the oceans are becoming more evident. Is it possible to convince nations to deviate from the production and use of plastics, or are plastics the only realistic solution for the future in regards of consumers and economics, and, if possible, what is an alternative?


Chapter Thirteen

  1. The chapter states that, despite comprising 19.8% of European plastic demand, code 7 plastics, or plastics categorized as “Other”, comprise 0% of recycled plastics. Can we reasonably expect to meaningfully reduce plastic waste when such a high proportion of plastics aren’t being recycled at all?
  2. According to the study presented in this chapter, no reliable means of detecting and measuring nanoplastics in the environment and animals exists. Knowing this, what steps, if any, can be taken to reduce the spread of nanoplastics across environments and species?
  3. The chapter mentions both that we do not know the full extent to which microplastic particles are absorbed through the human gut and other tissues, and that we are exploring the potential for micro- and nanoplastics as a means for delivering medication. Would you, personally, be willing to use these medications if they were made available to the public?
  4. To what extent, if any, should the government be involved in regulating the use of micro and nanoplastics in medicinal applications?


Chapter Fourteen

  1. Studies have assayed the loss in economic activity due to the presence of marine debris. However, the studies have neglected ecological impacts and mainly focused on regulation services, health effects due to the debris, and loss of revenue from tourism and fishing. What do you think the studies on the cost of marine debris should focus on?
  2. Marinas and ship owners spend annually about €39,000 per marina, €2.4 million for all UK ports in order to remove litter. There were 286 rescue operations done in order to remove debris from clogged boat jets and remove nets and ropes from propellers. Most clean ups are not done regularly because they are expensive but would it be more efficient to clean up more frequently to prevent expensive rescue operations, or do you think it would not make a difference overall?
  3. As fisheries lose their traps, it leads to increased marine debris. This is an increase in service cost, as well as a decrease in revenue due to ghost fishing. Should we implement stricter regulations and policies to control fisheries?
  4. Landfill taxes, product taxes and charges, infrastructure charges and deposit refund schemes have been implemented to regulate waste. Which one do you think is the hardest to implement, and which is the most effective?
  5. In Europe, there are countries that tax waste to landfills. This led to a decrease in waste from 63%-33%. The tax money goes to waste management and environmental initiative. This is called the EU landfill Directive. It aims to encourage the prevention, recycling and recovery of landfill waste. Do you think this is possible to implement such a policy in the U.S. along with regulations of proximity to water bodies and design features to prevent water soil contamination? Why or why not?
  6. An indirect fee leads to the cost of delivering solid garbage waste to port reception facilities being included in the fee paid by all ships visiting the port. This is not specified on the invoice. Do you think being sneaky and getting money for waste removal is better than being direct?