Revealed: more than 1,000 metric tons of microplastics rain down on US parks and wilderness

Revealed: more than 1,000 metric tons of microplastics rain down on US parks and wilderness

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: June 11, 2020 SNIP: Microplastic particles equivalent to as many as 300m plastic water bottles are raining down on the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree and other US national parks, researchers have found. In a survey of 11 remote western locations, also including the Great Basin and Craters of the Moon national parks, researchers discovered more than 1,000 metric tons of microplastic particles that had traveled through the atmosphere like rain or water particles. Most microplastics are fragments from larger pieces of plastic. Since plastics aren’t biodegradable, plastics that end up in waste piles or landfills break down into microparticles and make their way through the Earth’s atmosphere, soil and water systems. Janice Brahney, lead researcher and professor of watershed sciences at Utah State University, calls this process “plastic spiraling” – and some microplastics have been traveling through natural systems for a long periods. “Plastics could be deposited, readmitted to the atmosphere, transported for some time, deposited and maybe picked up again,” Brahney said. “And who knows how many times and who knows how far they’ve travelled?” Brahney’s team found that so-called wet microplastics, named for the way they are transported via wet atmospheric conditions, had most likely been disturbed by a storm and swept up into the atmosphere, and originated in larger urban areas. Dry microplastics, by contrast, mimicked the dispersal patterns of dust patterns and traveled long distances, often across continents. Brahney warned that new findings show an urgent need to reduce plastic pollution. Although their full effects on the human body are still unknown, scientists are starting to raise public health concerns over...
‘More masks than jellyfish’: coronavirus waste ends up in ocean

‘More masks than jellyfish’: coronavirus waste ends up in ocean

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: June 8, 2020 SNIP: Conservationists have warned that the coronavirus pandemic could spark a surge in ocean pollution – adding to a glut of plastic waste that already threatens marine life – after finding disposable masks floating like jellyfish and waterlogged latex gloves scattered across seabeds. The French non-profit Opération Mer Propre, whose activities include regularly picking up litter along the Côte d’Azur, began sounding the alarm late last month. Divers had found what Joffrey Peltier of the organisation described as “Covid waste” – dozens of gloves, masks and bottles of hand sanitiser beneath the waves of the Mediterranean, mixed in with the usual litter of disposable cups and aluminium cans. The quantities of masks and gloves found were far from enormous, said Peltier. But he worried that the discovery hinted at a new kind of pollution, one set to become ubiquitous after millions around the world turned to single-use plastics to combat the coronavirus. “It’s the promise of pollution to come if nothing is done,” said Peltier. In France alone, authorities have ordered two billion disposable masks, said Laurent Lombard of Opération Mer Propre. “Knowing that … soon we’ll run the risk of having more masks than jellyfish in the Mediterranean,” he wrote on social media alongside video of a dive showing algae-entangled masks and soiled gloves in the sea near Antibes. The group hopes the images will prompt people to embrace reusable masks and swap latex gloves for more frequent handwashing. “With all the alternatives, plastic isn’t the solution to protect us from Covid. That’s the message,” said...
Surgical masks wash up on Sydney beaches after 40 containers fall off cargo ship

Surgical masks wash up on Sydney beaches after 40 containers fall off cargo ship

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: May 26, 2020 SNIP: Residents of Sydney’s east have woken to beaches covered in face masks, plastic containers and other items after 40 shipping containers fell off a ship on the weekend. The APL England lost the cargo in rough seas on Sunday while en route from China to Melbourne, forcing the ship to turn around and head to Brisbane. The containers lost overboard held a wide range of goods including household appliances, building materials and medical supplies. Australian Maritime Safety Authority officials received reports of face masks “washing up between Magenta Beach and The Entrance”, north of Sydney. New South Wales Maritime executive director Alex Barrell said boxes of flexible ducting, commonly used in heating and cooling systems, washed ashore at Bondi and Long Bay on Tuesday. Eastern beaches locals attempted to clear the debris on Wednesday morning, concerned the large amount of plastic could hurt local marine life. Aliy Pott, who lives in Bondi, said: “I saw an article about the shipping last night. I didn’t get a good night’s sleep. I set an alarm and promised myself I’d go down and do what I could. “When I got down [to Coogee], the beach looked like a tip. The whole left side of the beach was just covered. It was all medical masks and full packages of plastics containers not opened. NSW Maritime was advising coastal councils between Sydney and Gosford on how to deal with the containers and their contents as sea current modelling shows these areas could be further affected over the coming...
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,...