Plastic Wars: Industry Spent Millions Selling Recycling — To Sell More Plastic

Plastic Wars: Industry Spent Millions Selling Recycling — To Sell More Plastic

SOURCE: NPR DATE: March 31, 2020 SNIP: For decades, Americans have been sorting their trash believing that most plastic could be recycled. But the truth is, the vast majority of all plastic produced can’t be or won’t be recycled. In 40 years, less than 10% of plastic has ever been recycled. In a joint investigation, NPR and the PBS series Frontline found that oil and gas companies — the makers of plastic — have known that all along, even as they spent millions of dollars telling the American public the opposite. Starting in the late 1980s, the plastics industry spent tens of millions of dollars promoting recycling through ads, recycling projects and public relations, telling people plastic could be and should be recycled. But their own internal records dating back to the 1970s show that industry officials long knew that recycling plastic on a large scale was unlikely to ever be economically viable. A report sent to top industry executives in April 1973 called recycling plastic “costly” and “difficult.” It called sorting it “infeasible,” saying “there is no recovery from obsolete products.” Another document a year later was candid: There is “serious doubt” widespread plastic recycling “can ever be made viable on an economic basis.” Despite this, three former top officials, who have never spoken publicly before, said the industry promoted recycling as a way to beat back a growing tide of antipathy toward plastic in the 1980s and ’90s. The industry was facing initiatives to ban or curb the use of plastic. Recycling, the former officials told NPR and Frontline, became a way to preempt the bans and...
Discarded coronavirus masks clutter Hong Kong’s beaches, trails

Discarded coronavirus masks clutter Hong Kong’s beaches, trails

SOURCE: Reuters DATE: March 11, 2020 SNIP: Discarded face masks are piling up on Hong Kong’s beaches and nature trails, with environmental groups warning that the waste is posing a huge threat to marine life and wildlife habitats. Most of Hong Kong’s 7.4 million people have for weeks been putting on single-use face masks every day in the hope of warding off the coronavirus, which has infected 126 people in the city and killed three of them. But huge numbers of the masks are not disposed of properly, and have instead ended up dumped in the countryside or the sea, where marine life can mistake them for food, washing up on beaches along with the usual plastic bags and other trash. Environmental groups, already grappling with the flow of marine trash from mainland China and elsewhere, say the cast-off coronavirus masks have compounded the problem and also raised concern about the spread of germs. “We only have had masks for the last six to eight weeks, in a massive volume … we are now seeing the effect on the environment,” said Gary Stokes, founder of the environmental group Oceans Asia. Densely populated Hong Kong has for years struggled to deal with plastic waste. A culture of eating out, fast food and takeaway has fueled a rising tide of single-use plastic. Very little rubbish is recycled with about 70 percent of the city’s 6 million tonnes of waste a year ending up in landfill. “Nobody wants to go to the forest and find masks littered everywhere or used masks on the beaches. It is unhygienic and dangerous,” said Laurence McCook,...
New £20 notes featuring JMW Turner enter circulation

New £20 notes featuring JMW Turner enter circulation

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: February 20, 2020 SNIP: The new polymer £20 note featuring the artist JMW Turner is to go into circulation, as the Bank of England begins a mammoth operation to replace the most popular banknote in the country. At least 2bn have been printed, and the Bank expects half of the country’s cash machines to have switched over within the next fortnight. In Scotland, Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale will launch their polymer £20 notes on 27 February, with Royal Bank of Scotland following on 5 March. Banks in Northern Ireland will also change over in 2020, but there is no specific date. The Bank said the banknote will be the single biggest switchover to polymer attempted anywhere in the world. While first adopted by Australia in 1988, US dollars and euros have so far resisted the switch to plastic. According to the Bank of England, if the new £20 notes were laid end to end, they would stretch around the world almost seven times and weigh a total of 1,780 tonnes. The notes are manufactured in England by De La Rue. Old notes removed from circulation are either turned into compost, or burned to generate...
The missing 99%: why can’t we find the vast majority of ocean plastic?

The missing 99%: why can’t we find the vast majority of ocean plastic?

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: December 31, 2019 SNIP: Every year, 8m tons of plastic enters the ocean. Images of common household waste swirling in vast garbage patches in the open sea, or tangled up with whales and seabirds, have turned plastic pollution into one of the most popular environmental issues in the world. But for at least a decade, the biggest question among scientists who study marine plastic hasn’t been why plastic in the ocean is so abundant, but why it isn’t. What scientists can see and measure, in the garbage patches and on beaches, accounts for only a tiny fraction of the total plastic entering the water. So where is the other 99% of ocean plastic? Unsettling answers have recently begun to emerge. What we commonly see accumulating at the sea surface is “less than the tip of the iceberg, maybe a half of 1% of the total,” says Erik Van Sebille, an oceanographer at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. “I often joke that being an ocean plastic scientist should be an easy job, because you can always find a bit wherever you look,” says Van Sebille. But, he adds, the reality is that our maps of the ocean essentially end at the surface, and solid numbers on how much plastic is in any one location are lacking. It is becoming apparent that plastic ends up in huge quantities in the deepest parts of the ocean, buried in sediment on the seafloor, and caught like clouds of dust deep in the water column. Perhaps most frighteningly, says Helge Niemann, a biogeochemist at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea...
The Plastics Pipeline: A Surge of New Production Is on the Way

The Plastics Pipeline: A Surge of New Production Is on the Way

SOURCE: Yale e360 DATE: December 19, 2019 SNIP: As public concern about plastic pollution rises, consumers are reaching for canvas bags, metal straws, and reusable water bottles. But while individuals fret over images of oceanic garbage gyres, the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries are pouring billions of dollars into new plants intended to make millions more tons of plastic than they now pump out. Companies like ExxonMobil, Shell, and Saudi Aramco are ramping up output of plastic — which is made from oil and gas, and their byproducts — to hedge against the possibility that a serious global response to climate change might reduce demand for their fuels, analysts say. Petrochemicals, the category that includes plastic, now account for 14 percent of oil use, and are expected to drive half of oil demand growth between now and 2050, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says. The World Economic Forum predicts plastic production will double in the next 20 years. And because the American fracking boom is unearthing, along with natural gas, large amounts of the plastic feedstock ethane, the United States is a big growth area for plastic production. With natural gas prices low, many fracking operations are losing money, so producers have been eager to find a use for the ethane they get as a byproduct of drilling. America’s petrochemical hub has historically been the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana, with a stretch along the lower Mississippi River dubbed “Cancer Alley” because of the impact of toxic emissions. Producers are expanding their footprint there with a slew of new projects, and proposals for more. They are also seeking...