Single-use plastics a serious climate change hazard

Single-use plastics a serious climate change hazard

SOURCE: The Guardian and Center for International Environmental Law DATE: May 15, 2019 SNIP: The proliferation of single-use plastic around the world is accelerating climate change and should be urgently halted, a report warns. Plastic production is expanding worldwide, fuelled in part by the fracking boom in the US. The report says plastic contributes to greenhouse gas emissions at every stage of its lifecycle, from its production to its refining and the way it is managed as a waste product. This plastic binge threatens attempts to meet the Paris climate agreement. It means that by 2050 plastic will be responsible for up to 13% of the total “carbon budget” – equivalent to 615 coal-fired power plants – says the research published on Thursday. While plastic pollution in the oceans has become a high-profile concern, the effect on climate change of the ubiquitous use of plastic has not been a focus. “After the extraction of fossil fuels to produce plastic, the carbon footprint of a material which has become ubiquitous across the globe continues through the refining process, and on well past its useful life as a drinks bottle or plastic bag, through the way it is disposed of and the plastic afterlife,” the report says. “With the petrochemical and plastic industries planning a massive expansion in production, the problem is on track to get much worse.” The key actions which the authors say are required are: • Immediately end the production and use of single-use, disposable plastic. • Stop development of new oil, gas and petrochemical infrastructure. • Foster the transition to zero-waste communities. • Implement a system where...
Plastic pollution harms the bacteria that help produce the oxygen we breathe

Plastic pollution harms the bacteria that help produce the oxygen we breathe

SOURCE: Science Daily DATE: May 14, 2019 SNIP: Ten per cent of the oxygen we breathe comes from just one kind of bacteria in the ocean. Now laboratory tests have shown that these bacteria are susceptible to plastic pollution, according to a study published in Communications Biology. “We found that exposure to chemicals leaching from plastic pollution interfered with the growth, photosynthesis and oxygen production of Prochlorococcus, the ocean’s most abundant photosynthetic bacteria,” says lead author and Macquarie University researcher Dr Sasha Tetu. “Now we’d like to explore if plastic pollution is having the same impact on these microbes in the ocean.” In the first study of its kind, the researchers looked at the effects these chemicals have on the smallest life in our oceans, photosynthetic marine bacteria. These microbes are heavy lifters when it comes to carbohydrate and oxygen production in the ocean via photosynthesis. In the lab, the team exposed two strains of Prochlorococcus found at different depths in the ocean to chemicals leached from two common plastic products — grey plastic grocery bags (made from high-density polyethylene) and PVC matting. They found that exposure to these chemicals impaired the growth and function of these microbes — including the amount of oxygen they produce — as well as altering the expression of a large number of their...
Polar Bears’ Plastic Diets Are a Growing Problem

Polar Bears’ Plastic Diets Are a Growing Problem

SOURCE: Hakai Magazine DATE: April 5, 2019 SNIP: Dumps are often chock-full of plastic and, as a new survey from Alaska shows, polar bears are ingesting a lot of it. In an analysis of the stomach contents of 51 polar bears that had been killed by subsistence hunters in the southern Beaufort Sea between 1996 and 2018, researchers led by Raphaela Stimmelmayr, a wildlife veterinarian with Alaska’s North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management, found that 25 percent of the bears had plastic in their stomachs. Ingesting plastic can cause serious problems for polar bears because of their physiology. Polar bears have a very narrow pyloric sphincter—the outlet from the stomach to the small intestine—so large items can cause painful blockages. Two of the bears whose stomachs were stuffed with more plastics than the other bears had behaved differently, too—they were more irritable and aggressive, and did not respond to deterrents meant to shoo them away. Scientists know that bears in poor body condition are likely to be more aggressive. In a 2017 study, Geoff York, senior conservation director with the nonprofit conservation group Polar Bears International, and his colleagues showed that nutritionally stressed male polar bears are more likely to attack people. “These bears are potentially not just hungry, but in pain,” York says. Stimmelmayr says most of the ingested plastics she found were clear plastic shopping bags and heavy-duty black garbage bags. She doesn’t think polar bears are deliberately eating plastic bags, as is the problem with leatherback turtles, which confuse the bags with jellyfish. Instead, she thinks that when people toss away bagged scraps, the cold...
Another whale is dead, poisoned by 48 lbs of plastic, and scientists fear there will be many more

Another whale is dead, poisoned by 48 lbs of plastic, and scientists fear there will be many more

SOURCE: Salon DATE: April 2, 2019 SNIP: Disposable dishes, shopping bags, fishing nets, a laundry detergent package with its barcode still detectable and a corrugated tube are just a few of the many items that made up the 48 pounds of plastic that killed a sperm whale in the Mediterranean Sea last Thursday. The carcass washed ashore in Porto Cervo, on the Italian island of Sardinia. The young female sperm whale was also carrying a fetus. “She was pregnant and had almost certainly aborted before she beached,” Luca Bittau, president of the SeaMe group, told CNN. “The fetus was in an advanced state of composition.” If this sounds like a familiar story, it is. In March, a whale was found dead on a Philippine beach with 88 pounds of plastic in its body. Last November, a dead sperm whale found on Kapota Island, in southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia, with 88 pounds of plastic in its stomach, which included 25 plastic bags, 115 plastic cups and two flip-flop sandals. Another sperm whale died in Spain after being unable to digest more than 60 pounds of plastic trash in April 2018. The world’s cetaceans are choking and dying on plastic. More than 8.8 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans each year, according to the World Wildlife. Marine animals often ingest plastic waste because they mistake it for food. However, the increase of whales being found dead from this is deeply worrisome to many in the marine wildlife field — especially since there does not appear to be an end in...
Pathogens hitchhiking on plastics ‘could carry cholera from India to US’

Pathogens hitchhiking on plastics ‘could carry cholera from India to US’

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: March 11, 2019 SNIP: Dangerous sewage pathogens have been found “hitch-hiking” on plastic litter washed up on some of Scotland’s finest bathing beaches, raising concerns from scientists the phenomenon could have far-reaching implications for human health worldwide. The findings, by the University of Stirling, have confirmed environmentalists’ fears that ubiquitous, persistent and tiny plastic beads, or “nurdles”, found on beaches and in rivers and seas around the world, act as rafts for harmful bacteria, transporting them from sewage outfalls and agricultural runoff to bathing waters and shellfish beds. The findings raise the potential for “cholera in India to be transported and washed up on a shore in the USA”, according to Dr Richard Quilliam, the study’s principal investigator. The scientists found 45% of nurdles, the size and shape of a lentil, collected from five EU-designated beaches in East Lothian were polluted with E coli, a bacteria that causes diarrhoea and severe cramps. Up to 90% of them were contaminated with Vibrio, which causes gastroenteritis. While harmful in itself, E coli is also an indicator of sewage pollution. A search of hundreds of beaches by volunteers across the UK found almost three-quarters of them are littered with tiny plastic pellets. Nurdles, which can be transparent or brightly coloured, are the bare building blocks of plastic goods, from single use water bottles to television sets, and get into the sea via accidental spillage from shipping containers or lorries. One estimate suggests that up to 53 billion nurdles are released annually in the UK from the plastic industry. The researchers have only tested for two bacteria, but they...