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...
Everyday Plastics Found To Emit Greenhouse Gas Pollution As They Degrade

Everyday Plastics Found To Emit Greenhouse Gas Pollution As They Degrade

SOURCE: IFLScience and BBC and PLOS One DATE: August 1, 2018 SNIP: The most commonly-produced plastics have been found to leach greenhouse gases (GHG) into the environment as they degrade. Until now, emissions from plastic products have not been accounted for in future climate predictions, according to a study published in PLOS One. Plastics used to make everything from food storage containers and textiles to construction materials and eyeglass lenses degrade naturally from environmental factors like light, heat, moisture, and chemical oxidization. When plastics physically change they also exhibit chemical changes that put methane and ethylene into the atmosphere, which can also have adverse effects on human health. Polyethylene used in plastic shopping bags was the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases and is also the most produced and discarded plastic in the world. Low-density polyethylene (LPDE) plastics used to make frozen food bags, shrink wrap, and coatings for milk cartons were found in the ocean and can increase over time. Once sunlight starts to decompose the plastic – a process called photo-degradation – emissions can continue even as the Sun starts to fade. When these plastics are further broken down or cracked, the study authors say the rate of gas production can further accelerate. Microplastics – smaller pieces of plastic particles found to move up the food chain and in nearly every corner of the world, including Antarctica – may further accelerate GHG production. What’s causing these emissions? In short it’s the Sun. Solar radiation acts on the surface of plastic waste. As it breaks down, becomes cracked and pitted, these defects increase the surface area of plastic available...
A giant wave of plastic garbage could flood the U.S., a study says

A giant wave of plastic garbage could flood the U.S., a study says

SOURCE: Washington Post DATE: June 20, 2018 SNIP: A tidal wave of plastic trash will flood the world over the next decade, a new study says, and warnings are already blaring like sirens in the United States. In the wake of China’s decision to stop importing nearly half of the world’s scrap starting Jan. 1, particularly from the wealthiest nations, waste management operations across the country are struggling to process heavy volumes of paper and plastic that they can no longer unload on the Chinese. States such as Massachusetts and Oregon are lifting restrictions against pouring recyclable material into landfills to grant the operations relief. Based on the amount of domestic scrap exported to China, the researchers estimate that the United States will have to contend with 37 million metric tons of extra waste, an amount it’s not prepared to handle. Conservationists who reviewed the study and found it credible said such heavy loads of garbage worldwide would not only continue leaking into oceans but would also likely spill into neighborhoods. “There’s not really another huge main hub where this material has to go” other than China, said Jenna Jambeck, an associate professor at the University of Georgia and one of the researchers of the new study. “There isn’t another individual country that has the capacity that China had to take the material,” she said. The United States is the largest individual exporter of scrap to China. The European Union was the largest regional exporter. “This is coming, and we’re really going to have to contend with it,” said George Leonard, chief scientist at Ocean Conservancy. “It’s probably going...