The U.S. Natural Gas Boom Is Fueling A Global Plastics Boom

The U.S. Natural Gas Boom Is Fueling A Global Plastics Boom

SOURCE: NPR DATE: November 15, 2019 SNIP: Natural gas is mostly used for heating homes or fueling power plants. But when it comes out of the ground it contains another key ingredient — ethane, a building block of plastics — that is now fueling another booming industry. America is producing so much ethane that more than 300 new petrochemical and plastics plants are either planned or are under construction around the U.S. President Trump has touted the economic benefits of this, recently telling workers at a Shell ethane plant in Pennsylvania that “we are reclaiming our noble heritage as a nation of builders.” But there’s more ethane than existing U.S. plants can use, so in short order the U.S. has also become the world’s leading exporter of ethane. That’s feeding growing plastics industries in India and China, as well as Europe and those exports are expected to keep growing. Plastics and petrochemicals are increasingly important to the oil and gas industry. They’re expected to account for more than a third of growth in world oil demand by 2030, and half of all growth by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency. This worries environmentalists, who point out that the plastics industry accounts for about 4% of all carbon emissions, and that number is expected to increase. Much of the growth in plastics will be in Asia, where millions of people will be moving into the middle class in the next few...
Plastic pollution off China’s coast soars after drive to stop dumping it in rivers

Plastic pollution off China’s coast soars after drive to stop dumping it in rivers

SOURCE: The Independent DATE: October 29, 2019 SNIP: The amount of plastic polluting China‘s coastal waters has soared following a government drive to stop rubbish being dumped in the country’s rivers. More than 200 million cubic metres of waste was found floating off Chinese shores last year, up 27 per cent on 2017, according to the environment ministry. Debris in the country’s seas has hit the highest level in a decade, with plastic accounting for the vast majority of the rubbish. Most of the waste was dumped in the delta regions of the Yangtze and Pearl rivers, both major industrial zones on China’s eastern coast, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment said. Environmental groups have previously expressed concern that China, desperate to clean up its own rivers, is dumping increasing amounts of trash in its seas instead. [S]cientists say China is the world’s leading generator of plastic waste. In a study published in May, researchers at Tianjin University warned China’s “massive impact on the plastic levels of the ocean” was “a definite cause of concern” with “multiple economic, environmental and biological...
Whales and dolphins found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for the first time

Whales and dolphins found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for the first time

SOURCE: The Conversation DATE: October 28, 2019 SNIP: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is said to be the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world. It is located between Hawaii and California, where huge ocean currents meet to form the North Pacific subtropical gyre. An estimated 80,000 tonnes of plastic are floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. We conducted two visual survey flights, each taking an entire day to travel from San Francisco’s Moffett Airfield, survey for around two hours, and travel home. Along with our visual observations, the aircraft was fitted with a range of sensors, including a short-wave infrared imager, a Lidar system (which uses the pulse from lasers to map objects on land or at sea), and a high-resolution camera. Both visual and technical surveys found whales and dolphins, including sperm and beaked whales and their young calves. This is the first direct evidence of whales and dolphins in the heart of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Plastics in the ocean are a growing problem for marine life. Many species can mistake plastics for food, consume them accidentally along with their prey or simply eat fish that have themselves eaten plastic. Both beaked and sperm whales have been recently found with heavy plastic loads in their stomachs. In the Philippines, a dying beaked whale was found with 40kg of plastic in its stomach, and in Indonesia, a dead sperm whale washed ashore with 115 drinking cups, 25 plastic bags, plastic bottles, two flip-flops, and more than 1,000 pieces of string in its stomach. Whales and dolphins are often found snared in debris. Earlier this...
‘Everywhere we looked’: trillions of microplastics found in San Francisco bay

‘Everywhere we looked’: trillions of microplastics found in San Francisco bay

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: October 4, 2019 SNIP: The most comprehensive study to date of microplastics in California has turned up a mind-boggling amount of plastic particles in the San Francisco bay. An estimated 7tn pieces of microplastics flow into the San Francisco bay via stormwater drains alone, researchers discovered. Nearly half of the microscopic particles found in stormwater looked suspiciously like tiny fragments of car tires, which rainfall washes off the streets and into the ocean. Treated wastewater contributed an additional 17bn particles of plastic, according to the study. Researchers also found plastic in sediment collected from the bay and its many tributaries and inside the digestive tracts of fish. “It was basically everywhere we looked,” said Rebecca Sutton, an environmental scientist at the San Francisco Estuary Institute, a local institution that led the three-year, $1.1m research effort. [R]esearchers accounted for two types of debris: microplastics, which are particles identified by a laser as fragments of plastic, and microparticles, which are particles the researchers suspect to be plastic, but couldn’t identify as such with the laser. The fragments and fibers they analyzed included the remnants of plastic packaging and bottles, microscopic shreds of cigarette butts and fibers from clothing. Nearly half the particles found in stormwater were “these squishy black particles that we think might be from tires”, Sutton said. “But it’s really hard to get a definitive sense of where exactly it’s all coming from because there are so many sources of plastic pollution.” The study is “extremely comprehensive”, said Stefan Krause, a microplastics researcher at the University of Birmingham. Even as scientists and engineers strive to...
A new material that’s part plastic and part rock is forming on this Portuguese island

A new material that’s part plastic and part rock is forming on this Portuguese island

SOURCE: MNN and Science of the Total Environment DATE: June 25, 2019 SNIP: You know we have a problem when our plastic pollution starts becoming a permanent fixture of the planet’s geology. And that seems to be exactly what’s happening on the Portugeuese island of Madeira—a place famed for wine, mountain peaks and, perhaps soon, its plastic-encrusted shoreline. Back in 2016, marine biologist Ignacio Gestoso first spotted the unusual patterns on rocks scattered along the island’s shore, as Gizmodo reports. It seemed that plastic was no longer content to wash ashore in its manufactured state, as bottles and wrappers and caps. Instead, it had formed a kind of hybrid material with the rock that would become known as “plasticrust.” At the time, Gestoso wrote off the strange new material as an unhappy coincidence. Surely, this union of plastic and rocks couldn’t last. But when he and his team returned to the island a year later, they found the marriage had not only lasted, but thrived. In a new study, published in Science of The Total Environment, Gestoso and his colleagues describe “plasticrust” as a synthetic moss covering huge swathes of the island’s stony shoreline — and even sporting bright, new and terrible colors. In fact, the researchers estimate plasticrust taints nearly 10 percent of rocky surfaces on the Madeira shoreline. At this rate, plasticrust is poised to become a part of our geological record. “The dimension of the problem is so large that it is possible our current era will generate an anthropogenic marker horizon of plastic in earth’s sedimentary record,” the authors note in the study...