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Erica Cirino

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Erica Cirino
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Erica Cirino is a writer, artist, and author who explores the intersection of the human and more-than-human worlds.

Latest by this author


Erica Cirino is a writer, artist, and author who explores the intersection of the human and more-than-human worlds. She is best known for her widely published photojournalistic works that cut through plastic/fossil fuel industry misinformation to deliver the truths about plastic—the most ubiquitous and insidious manmade material on Earth. This includes her award-winning book, Thicker Than Water: The Quest for Solutions to the Plastic Crisis (Island Press, 2021).

Cirino took on the role of communications manager of the nonprofit Plastic Pollution Coalition in 2022. Her photographic and written works have appeared in Scientific American, The Guardian, VICE, Hakai Magazine, YES! Magazine, The Atlantic, and other publications. She is a recipient of fellowships from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, a gold Nautilus Book Award, and several awards for visual art.

The Revelator | February 2022

The United Nations has an opportunity to address plastic pollution on an international level. Will it finally act?

TBR News Media | April 2022

Consider the impact your trash has on others; read more about environmental injustice and take action by standing up for the respect and protection of those communities worst affected by waste—and demand accountability of those people and systems who drive pollution and injustice.

People for Mutual Education (P4ME) | 2020

People for Mutual Education (P4ME) is a decentralized collective based in Portland, Oregon who work collaboratively to assemble resources, synthesize existing information, and share knowledge on racial and social (in)justice. This printable pamphlet informs us about environmental racism.

The Scientist | October 2021

Plastic waste pervades every ecosystem on Earth and is likely affecting neurobiology as well.

Publications by this author
Co-author: Isabelle Marina Held | Environmental History | July 2023
Co-authors: Charles Rolsky, Erica Cirino, James Brown, Janette Wallis, Lisa M. Erdle, Sandra Curtis, Tierney Thys | Frontiers in Built Environment | 2023

Plastic pollution and climate change are serious and interconnected threats to public and planetary health, as well as major drivers of global social injustice. Prolific use of plastics in the construction industry is likely a key contributor, resulting in burgeoning efforts to promote the recycling or downcycling of used plastics. Businesses, materials scientists, institutions, and other interested stakeholders are currently exploring the incorporation of plastic waste into building materials and infrastructure at an accelerated rate.

Examples include composite asphalt-plastic roads, plastic adhesives, plastic-concrete, plastic/crumb rubber turf, plastic lumber, plastic acoustic/thermal insulation, plastic-fiber rammed earth, and plastic soil reinforcement/stabilizers. While some believe this to be a reasonable end-of-life scenario for plastic waste, research shows such efforts may cause further problems. These uses of plastic waste represent an ongoing effort at “greenwashing,” which both delays and distracts from finding real solutions to the plastic pollution crisis.

Hypothesized effects of incorporating plastic waste in construction materials, including economic, environmental, human health, performance, and social impacts, are evaluated in this mini review. We compare known impacts of these treatments for plastic waste and provide recommendations for future research. Evidence shows that such practices exacerbate the negative ecological, health, and social impacts of plastic waste and increase demand for continued production of new (virgin) plastics by creating new markets for plastic wastes. We urge caution—and more research—before widely adopting these practices.

Co-authors: Belen Garcia Ovide, Charla Jean Basran, Erica Cirino, Kristian Syberg, Torsten Geertz | Environments | September 2022

Surface water samples were collected using a low-tech aquatic debris instrument (LADI) at six nearshore locations on the north and northwestern coasts of Iceland to investigate the prevalence of mesoplastic (5–10 mm) and microplastic (0.3–5 mm) in the region. This sampling strategy involved sampling each transect three times for a total of 18 samples collected in order to assess uncertainties related to heterogeneous distribution of plastic in surface waters. Samples in all six nearshore locations contained meso- and/or microplastic, though concentrations were highly variable.

Visual, physical, and FTIR analyses were performed on 71 suspected plastic particles collected, confirming and identifying 40 of those particles as one of six types of plastic: polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), polyester, low-density polyethylene (LDPE), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Lines originating from fishing gear were the most prevalent types of plastic detected across the samples. This study is among the first to quantify and identify microplastic particles collected in Icelandic nearshore surface waters.

Co-author: Anja Krieger | Undark | December 2021

In Thicker Than Water, journalist Erica Cirino probes the history of plastic pollution, along with possible solutions.

Co-author: Holli Cederholm | Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners | November 2021
Co-author: Diana Gitig | Ars Technica | October 2021

A readable book on a depressing subject: the ongoing challenge of plastic pollution.

Island Press | October 2021

Much of what you’ve heard about plastic pollution may be wrong. Instead of a great island of trash, the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of manmade debris spread over hundreds of miles of sea—more like a soup than a floating garbage dump. Recycling is more complicated than we were taught: less than nine percent of the plastic we create is reused, and the majority ends up in the ocean. And plastic pollution isn’t confined to the open ocean: it’s in much of the air we breathe and the food we eat.  

In Thicker Than Water: The Quest for Solutions to the Plastic Crisis, journalist Erica Cirino brings readers on a globe-hopping journey to meet the scientists and activists telling the real story of the plastic crisis. From the deck of a plastic-hunting sailboat with a disabled engine, to the labs doing cutting-edge research on microplastics and the chemicals we ingest, Cirino paints a full picture of how plastic pollution is threatening wildlife and human health.

Thicker Than Water reveals that the plastic crisis is also a tale of environmental injustice, as poorer nations take in a larger share of the world’s trash, and manufacturing chemicals threaten predominantly Black and low-income communities.  

There is some hope on the horizon, with new laws banning single-use items and technological innovations to replace plastic in our lives. But Cirino shows that we can only fix the problem if we face its full scope and begin to repair our throwaway culture. Thicker Than Water is an eloquent call to reexamine the systems churning out waves of plastic waste.

Corporate Knights | October 2021

New book looks for solutions to the plastic crisis that's threatening wildlife and human health.

The Scientist | October 2021

In Chapter 5, "Pick Up the Pieces," author Erica Cirino investigates the potential health risks of the small plastic particles that permeate the planet.

PopSci | October 2021

Managing the climate crisis means diminishing our reliance on both.

Co-author: Jeffrey Sanzel | TBR News Media | November 2021
Co-author: Jhonatan Serrano | Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers | February 2022
Feature | July 2022

The industry has convinced us that recycling will reverse the toxic impact of plastic—while it keeps right on polluting. Here's what you can do to fight back.

Feature | May 2021

The plastic crisis is tied not only to ecological destruction, but also drives systemic injustice. With plastic’s fall, will we rise? For YES! Magazine's Solving Plastic Issue: In Depth. With original illustrations.

Feature | February 2017

More plastic in the oceans, found at greater depths than thought, would mean a bigger threat to environmental—and possibly human—health. Covers research done for the first time in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. With original photography.

Feature | September 2018

To combat the ill effects of “fast fashion,” designers look for more sustainable methods, using knowledge from nature.

Feature | June 2020

In Cancer Alley, residents are fighting a new plastics factory, arguing its placement “reflects a racist society.”

Feature | October 2021

Long Island residents and their allies seek environmental justice after decades of pollution.

Feature | March 2019

What if we’d listened to the researchers who first warned us about plastic pollution in the 1970s?

Feature | February 2017

I sailed from LA to Honolulu with Danish nonprofit Plastic Change to finish a global survey on ocean plastic. Short answer: The Pacific plastic problem is probably worse than you thought.

Feature | January 2017

Plastic pollution is a problem on Hawaii’s beaches, but fragments that litter the water also have scientists worried.

Feature | 2019

A new study suggests that our lungs are under siege in our own homes.

Feature | June 2017

The discovery of microplastics in deep water means scientists may have underestimated the extent to which plastic trash is contaminating the ocean – and its impact on fish, marine mammals and seabed dwellers.

Feature | December 2018

Dead American Oystercatchers on Brazilian beaches were loaded with plastic, hinting that the world’s pollution problem isn’t just far out at sea.

Feature | September 2017

The amount of plastic trash ending up in the birds' nests appears to be increasing—with dangerous and deadly results.

Feature | 2017

Juvenile fish exposed to a common environmental toxicant found in plastics show signs of anxiety.

Feature | June 2019

Scientists cruised into Iceland’s remote cold waters to find out why whales are eating so much plastic.

Feature | May 2018

Chemicals collect in microplastics, which then get eaten by fish, birds and seals — and by humans.

Feature | October 2017

Some people think beach cleanup efforts don’t accomplish much. They’re missing part of the picture.

Feature | 2017

When a 60,000-pound shipping container falls into the ocean, its plastic contents can end up on the world’s beaches — and in its fish.

Feature | 2019

Experts have recommended how the United States can drastically curb the use of throwaway plastics with new federal legislation.

Feature | June 2019

The technology exists to hold polluters accountable, but can it now be used to help monitor pollution and prevent toxic messes?

Feature | September 2017

Beach cleanup efforts in Thailand illustrate the global problem of plastic pollution.

Feature | June 2017

Dr. Sherri Mason’s research reveals extensive contamination of freshwater ecosystems with microplastics, highlighting the link between freshwater and ocean plastic pollution.

Feature | August 2017

Beach cleanup programs are generating a wave of information on plastics and other marine pollution, presenting policymakers with the challenge of turning that data into action.

Feature | August 2017

Scientists have found four times as much potentially toxic microplastic on the seabed as on the surface of the ocean – and it’s being consumed by tiny creatures essential to the marine ecosystem.

Feature | August 2021

An FAO study finds that more than 100 commercial seafood species ingest microplastic, which can be contaminated with toxins. More worrying are the unknown health effects of even smaller nanoplastics.

Feature | October 2017

The 5 Gyres Institute’s pilot program takes high school students on ocean expeditions to show them how to collect and analyze plastic trash – with the goal of inspiring careers as scientists, policymakers and advocates.

Feature | October 2017

For the first time scientists have shown that the smallest bits of marine plastic pollution – called nanoplastic – can move up the aquatic food chain and be absorbed by predators’ brains, affecting their ability to hunt.

Feature | February 2018

Researchers tracked hundreds of buoys deployed in the Gulf of Mexico. Not only did the buoys not spread out – many concentrated into an area the size of a football stadium. The findings may help scientists pinpoint areas for plastic or oil-spill cleanup.

Feature | February 2018

Charles Moore, who first sailed the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 1997, has returned five times over 15 years to document the concentrations of plastic in the ocean. His results show microplastics are accumulating at a rapid rate.

Feature | February 2018

Scientists testing North Atlantic mesopelagic fish eaten by the ocean’s top predators found that nearly 75 percent were contaminated with microplastic fibers. Researchers have also discovered microplastics in the scat of gray seals and in the Atlantic mackerel they eat.

Feature | March 2018

Last year, Maui and the Big Island banned polystyrene food containers that contribute to the islands’ coastal pollution problem. Now, Hawaii’s legislature is taking action toward the U.S.’ first statewide prohibition on foam packaging, which is toxic to marine life.

Feature | August 2020

Hundreds of thousands of marine mammals are killed each year by fishing gear. This should not be considered “sustainable.”

Feature | August 2018

Residents of Skibbereen fear the industrial facility would foul their air and water while adding to ocean plastic pollution. The plant is part of a global plastic factory-building boom driven by cheap natural gas.

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