Sign on Letter
We are writing on behalf of the members of The Plastic Pick-Up to urge you to join our efforts to prevent golf balls from entering our watersheds, oceans and sensitive environmental areas.
Current research has found that “By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans”.
Over the course of two years, divers from The Plastic Pick-Up have removed over 5,000 pounds of golf balls from the ocean floor and beaches below Pebble Beach. This amount of plastic equates to 50,000 golf balls, 150,000 plastic water bottles, or 350,000 plastic grocery bags. As their research and diving progressed they founded The Plastic Pick-Up, a non-profit organization aimed to raise awareness about oceanic plastic pollution and to reduce the input of plastics into the ocean. Upon bringing this issue to local golf courses, they were pushed away and given the silent treatment. With the goal of creating policy change, Alex Weber decided to write scientific literature which was been published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin. This study is the first ever documentation of golf balls in the marine environment and will be used to direct and develop a mitigation procedure for golf courses to follow. Alongside that, The Plastic Pick-Up needs the support of their community and people around the globe. The goal of this letter is to acquire as many signatures as possible from people and organizations in support of our three step protocol (found below) designed to make golf courses more sustainable. These signatures will be attached to a letter very similar to this one that will eventually be sent out to coastal and watershed golf courses in hopes of inspiring then to transition into a more sustainably practice.
We have spent hundreds of hours working in the field, and some of the observations we have made include:
Golf balls in the ocean degrade significantly faster than on land.
Balls begin by losing the outer plastic cover which then breaks into smaller pieces that eventually become microplastics.
Because the plastic is polyurethane, which does not float, these microplastics sink to the bottom making it almost impossible to remove once at that stage.
The remaining ball either contains a solid core or a rubber band core.
· A solid core contains Zinc Acrylate. The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals
(GHS) has labeled Zinc Acrylate, “very toxic to aquatic organisms, may cause long-term adverse effects in aquatic
·A rubber band core unravels into what looks like kelp grass or sea hare eggs and easily tangles into kelp and sea life.
·Each rubber band core can unravel to 275 yards of rubber “string” which floats on the surface due to its low density.
In central California, the Pebble Beach Golf Links host 62,000 rounds of golf per year and has been in operation since 1919, and with an average golfer losing between 1–3 balls per round it is implied that between 62,000 and 186,000 golf balls are lost to the environment each year at the Pebble Beach Golf Links. This translates to 3.14–9.42 tons of debris annually.Using a conservative estimate of 10,000–50,000 balls lost to sea annually gives a range of 1–5 million golf balls lost to the coastal environment during the century that this course has been in operation. These projected numbers indicate that this issue has been overlooked for decades. On a global scale, the number of coastal and riverside golf courses is unknown; however, there are a total of 34,011 eighteen-hole golf courses worldwide. Some of these courses, like our local ones, include ocean hazards, while other courses use river hazards, which create the potential for debris to accumulate and drain into the ocean. With a global population of 60 million regular golfers (defined as playing at least one round per year), and a likely average of nearly 400 million rounds played per year, the scale of this issue quickly magnifies. As previously stated, golf balls in aquatic conditions such as the ocean or rivers, have a faster rate of degradation due to mechanical action (forces from impact of water, sand and rocks), biological degradation from bacteria/algae and photodegradation from the sun (Cummins). This means that the plastic will break up and produce smaller and smaller fragments also known as microplastics. It is important to consider the impacts and effects of microplastics when we are looking at the issue on a large scale.
Some key published facts about microplastics include:
There are 5 major, subtropical gyres, one in each ocean. Gyres are large, rotating oceanic current systems driven by winds and earth’s rotational forces, creating a vortex-like effect. The gyres concentrate floating plastics, where they can endanger marine wildlife and ecosystems (Cummins).
The plastic in each gyre breaks down due to UV Light, mechanical action, and photodegradation into microplastics.These microplastics are about the size of a grain of rice (Cummins).
·Microplastics are being consumed at many levels of the food chain in oceans and by coastal birds, fish and marine mammals. Evidence of microplastics have been found in the stomachs of birds and fish all over the world (Cummins).
Microplastics adsorb PCBs, DDTs, flame retardants and other persistent organic pollutants (POPS) which have been shown to be carcinogenic and endocrine disruptors. When fish and birds consume these microplastics the toxins can bioaccumulate up the food chain and potentially threaten human health (Cummins).
It is only recently that the effects of golf balls on the marine world have been discovered. That being said, now is the time for golf courses to become responsible for recovering the balls that have been lost into aquatic and marine environments and migrating to more sustainable practices. Hitting plastic golf balls into the ocean or a body of water that flows into the ocean is equivalent to dumping inorganic material into the environment. According to US Legal, “Congress declares that it is the policy of the U.S. to regulate the dumping of all types of materials into ocean waters and to prevent or strictly limit the dumping into ocean waters of any material which would adversely affect human health, welfare, or amenities, or the marine environment, ecological systems, or economic potentialities.” Furthermore, The London Dumping Convention, which was signed by over 85 countries, prohibits the dumping of many substances including persistent plastics (which golf balls are composed of) into the ocean. According to these legislative acts, golf balls should not enter the ocean (Copeland). Therefore, in order to stop this input of plastic into our oceans, The Plastic Pick-Up would like to propose adoption of the protocol that was presented to The Pebble Beach Company, to all coastal and watershed golf courses. This recommendation has three components:
1. Visitor Education: Golf course operators should provide golfers and resort visitors with information that illustrates how miss-hit golf balls contribute to plastic ocean pollution problem. The information should discourage golfers from purposely hitting balls into the ocean and rivers, or taking high risk shots. Operators can accomplish this using a combination course signage, personnel from the course or pro shop, and information provided by the resorts.
2. Lost Ball Accounting: Golf course operators should regularly record the number of balls lost by golfers to maintain an updated understanding of the number of balls lost. Operators should ask caddies and golfers to track the number of balls lost during a round of play.
3. Lost Ball Recovery & Clean-Up: Golf course operators should conduct programs to regularly recover lost balls and course-related plastics from the shores and ocean along their courses. Operators should conduct monthly underwater clean-ups and weekly beach or riverside clean-ups with the goal of recovering at least 75% of the balls that have been lost by their clients. Operators should record the amount of balls as well as the condition and the location of balls recovered. All recovery data should be published yearly, on a document available to the public.
If golf courses around the world are able to implement this program, our oceans and marine ecosystems will be protected from the significant environmental impacts of this well loved sport. By signing onto this letter your organization is supporting our efforts in getting golf courses around the world to agree to the program stated above, and encouraging their transition into a more sustainable facility. The Plastic Pick-Up is committed to protecting our oceans and conserving them for the future. With this letter, we hope to spread this passion to golf courses all around the world, to demonstrate an opportunity for the sport of golf to take a stand on sustainability and conservation of the ocean. With your support, a new framework and mindset about the environmental impact of golf balls will emerge and provide golfers with opportunities to protect the environment they love.
The Plastic Pick-Up