Plastic Pollution Has Increased a Hundredfold in the South Atlantic

Plastic Pollution Has Increased a Hundredfold in the South Atlantic

SOURCE: Nexus Media DATE: October 17, 2018 SNIP: Thirty years ago, the ocean waters surrounding British islands in the South Atlantic were near-pristine. But plastic waste has increased a hundredfold since then, and is ten times greater than it was a decade ago. These islands — part of the British Overseas Territories, which includes established or proposed Marine Protection Areas — are among the most remote on the planet. Yet they no longer are immune to the kind of pollution fouling industrialized North Atlantic coasts, a fact that portends dire consequences, according to new research. The plastic is of many types and from many sources, including debris blown in from landfills, trash tossed out by thoughtless beachgoers, detritus from the shipping and fishing industries, and other bits and bobs carried off by severe storms or other accidents, according to Barnes. “Millions of microplastics can form from degradation of a single larger piece, such as a plastic bag,” he said. [D]egrading plastics emit such greenhouse gases like methane and ethylene when exposed to sunlight, further worsening climate change. “Climate change is tied up with plastic as a threat to biodiversity — life on Earth — in a number of different ways,” said Barnes, lead author of the study, which appears in the journal Current Biology. Andy Schofield, a biologist with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and one of the researchers on the project, agreed. “These islands and the ocean around them are sentinels of our planet’s health,” he said. “It is heart-breaking watching Albatrosses trying to eat plastic thousands of miles from anywhere. This is a very big wake up call. Inaction threatens not just...
‘A single piece of plastic’ can kill sea turtles, says study

‘A single piece of plastic’ can kill sea turtles, says study

SOURCE: BBC DATE: September 13, 2018 SNIP: A new study suggests that ingesting even a single piece of plastic can be deadly for sea turtles. Researchers found there was a one in five chance of death for a turtle who consumed just one item – rising to 50% for 14 pieces. The team found that younger turtles are at a higher risk of dying from exposure to plastic than adults. The authors say their research raises concerns over the long term survival of some turtle species. The never ending surge of plastic into the world’s oceans is taking an increasing toll on iconic marine species. The authors of this study estimate that around half of all the sea turtles on the planet have ingested plastic – this rises to 90% among juvenile green sea turtles off the coast of Brazil. While sea turtles can live until they are about 80 and reproduce for decades, researchers are concerned for the longer term impact of so many juveniles consuming so much plastic. “We know that disproportionately finding it more in younger animals who won’t make it to the reproductive state will have long term consequences for the survival of the species,” said Dr Hardesty. “It’s very...
Tiny bits of plastic permeate our world

Tiny bits of plastic permeate our world

SOURCE: High Country News DATE: September 10, 2018 SNIP: TO THE EXTENT THAT most of us think about microplastics, we’re probably familiar with microbeads, the tiny plastic scrubbers that became common in face washes and toothpastes in the late 1990s. Following a surge in public awareness about the dangers microbeads pose when eaten by fish and other wildlife, Congress voted to ban them in personal care products beginning in 2017. But Danielle Garneau, an associate professor of environmental science at SUNY Plattsburgh who studies microplastics, says that microbeads never made up a large percentage of the microplastics she and her colleagues found in freshwater. A bigger culprit, she says, are plastic fibers. Head to any coffee shop in Bozeman on a wintry Saturday morning, and the problem is in plain sight. Fleece pullovers. Polypropylene leggings. Polyester hats. Globally, production of synthetic fibers — long, thin strands of plastics spun into threads much as wool is spun into yarn — more than doubled from 2000 to 2017. Today, roughly 58 percent of clothing is woven with them, including many technical outdoor fabrics. While these fabrics excel at keeping us warm and dry in the elements, they shed every time they’re washed: up to 250,000 plastic fibers per jacket, per wash cycle. IF FUTURE SCIENTISTS digging through layers of rock and sediment come upon the geologic strata being set down today, they’ll find a colorful stripe of earth atop the plain rock and dirt of the pre-industrial era. Since plastics first became widespread in the mid-20th century, more than 9 billion tons have been manufactured, most of which has been thrown...
U.S. Recycling Companies Face Upheaval from China Scrap Ban

U.S. Recycling Companies Face Upheaval from China Scrap Ban

SOURCE: Wall Street Journal DATE: August 5, 2018 SNIP: U.S. companies that collect waste for recycling are weighing higher prices and other changes to their operations since China upended the industry when it stopped accepting much of the scrap material Americans have been shipping there for decade. The top two solid waste services companies in the U.S., Waste Management Inc.and Republic Services Inc., both recently pulled back profit projections in their recycling divisions based on China’s new policies, which have created a glut in scrap markets and sent global prices for scrap material plummeting. “At this point in time, we have zero volume going to China,” said Richard Coupland, vice president of municipal sales at Republic Services. “We are still able to move material, but our economic model is completely upside down.” According to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc., 31% of U.S. scrap commodity exports worth a total of $5.6 billion were sent to China last year. Global prices for used materials have plummeted, so Republic loses money on most of the recycled scrap it now sells overseas. That cost is increasingly likely to get passed along to U.S. households and businesses. Some cities and towns could decide that keeping their recycling services is simply too...
Piling up: Drowning in a sea of plastic

Piling up: Drowning in a sea of plastic

SOURCE: CBS News DATE: August 5, 2018 SNIP: In the 1950s, a new material burst onto the scene that would change the world forever. Cheap, durable, sanitary, strong, and light. And today, there are literally thousands of raw categories of plastic, according to Fred Betke, founder of Delta Pacific Products, which makes plastic parts for medical instruments. The technical name is polypropylene, and all almost everything plastic starts out as pellets. They’re available in every color under the sun. After 65 years of making plastic, we’ve pretty much mastered the art. What we haven’t yet figured out is what to do with plastic once we’re done with it. “It lasts a really long time,” said Roland Geyer, professor of environmental science at UC Santa Barbara. “It doesn’t biodegrade. So, it just sits there.” Geyer has studied how much plastic we throw away. “We have statistics reaching all the way back to the dawn of plastic mass production, 1950. And if we add it all together, it’s 8.3 billion metric tons. So, if we take that and spread it out evenly over California, the entire state of California would be covered. And that would be an ugly sight.” “Every single year, somewhere between 5 and 12 million metric tons of plastic waste enters the ocean,” Geyer said. “Plastic in the ocean has a tendency to break down into other smaller pieces. And these tiny pieces then get taken up even lower down in the food chain. So, we know that it ends up on our dinner plates.” Geyer says that as of 2017, the world recycles only about 9 percent...