Plastic Bags Are Hurting More Than The Environment
An interview that Jennie Romer just did about the history of bag bans and charges in the US.
The American recycling business is a mess: Can Big Waste fix it?
Waste Management says that contamination of its recycling stream has doubled in the past decade. Now, an average ofone in six items dumped in blue bins is not recyclable, gumming up processing facilities and jacking up costs. Some recycling facilities have to shut down once an hour so that workers can cut layers of plastic bags off the machinery. That’s because of what Sharon Kneiss, the CEO of the National Waste and Recycling Association, calls “aspirational recycling”—a habit of throwing non-recyclable materials into bins because they might or should be recyclable. But Kneiss’ term may be a little too generous: the rise of contamination in the recycling stream can also be attributed to pure laziness. In one National Waste and Recycling Association survey, nearly one in ten Americans admitted to throwing their waste in recycling bins when trash cans were full.
How a Ban on Plastic Bags Can Go Wrong
When the city council in Austin, Texas, passed a single-use plastic shopping bag ban in 2013, it assumed environmental benefits would follow. The calculation was reasonable enough: Fewer single-use bags in circulation would mean less waste at city landfills. Two years later, an assessment commissioned by the city finds that the ban is having an unintended effect—people are now throwing away heavy-duty reusable plastic bags at an unprecedented rate. The city's good intentions have proven all too vulnerable to the laws of supply and demand.
The Ocean Cleanup Project
23 August 2015
The Ocean Cleanup Prepares for 2020 Pacific Cleanup, Successfully Completes Mega Expedition Reconnaissance Mission
The Ocean Cleanup successfully concluded the Mega Expedition with the arrival of a first group of vessels including the fleet’s 171-foot mothership in the port of San Francisco today. Using a series of measurement techniques, including trawls and aerial surveys, the fleet of close to 30 vessels sampled the concentration of plastic during its month-long voyage through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This is in preparation for the large-scale cleanup of the area, set to begin in 2020.
The Mega Expedition’s primary goal is to accurately determine how much plastic is floating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, by executing the largest ocean research expedition in history. This was also the first time large pieces of plastic, such as ghost nets and Japanese tsunami debris, have been quantified.
“I’ve studied plastic in all the world’s oceans, but never seen any area as polluted as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” said Dr. Julia Reisser, Lead Oceanographer at The Ocean Cleanup. “With every trawl we completed, thousands of miles from land, we just found lots and lots of plastic.”
Although the samples collected during the expedition still have to be analyzed, preliminary findings indicate a higher-than-expected volume of large plastic objects floating in the ocean. This underscores the urgency of The Ocean Cleanup’s mission to clean it up, according to CEO and founder Boyan Slat: “The vast majority of the plastic in the garbage patch is currently locked up in large pieces of debris, but UV light is breaking it down into much more dangerous microplastics, vastly increasing the amount of microplastics over the next few decades if we don’t clean it up. It really is a ticking time bomb.”
During today’s press conference in San Francisco harbor, Slat announced that The Ocean Cleanup was able to conduct the Mega Expedition thanks to major financial contributions from entrepreneur-philanthropists, including Salesforce chairman, CEO and founder Marc Benioff: "Protecting the oceans should be a priority for all of Earth's citizens. The Ocean Cleanup is taking an innovative approach to preserving one of our most critical resources and raising visibility of this global challenge."
Marine & Environmental Research Institute
The Guide to Microplastic Identification was developed at MERI, to be followed with a publication on the institute's sampling methods. Citizen science initiatives, students, and researchers are encouraged to use the guide. The hope is that studies across the world will have a similar, rigorous process for identifying microplastics using a relatively low-tech laboratory.
15 November 2015
Analysis of polyethylene microplastics in environmental samples, using a thermal decomposition method.
Abstract: Small polymer particles with a diameter of less than 5 mm called microplastics find their way into the environment from polymer debris and industrial production. Therefore a method is needed to identify and quantify microplastics in various environmental samples to generate reliable concentration values. Such concentration values, i.e. quantitative results, are necessary for an assessment of microplastic in environmental media. This was achieved by thermal extraction in thermogravimetric analysis (TGA), connected to a solid-phase adsorber. These adsorbers were subsequently analysed by thermal desorption gas chromatography mass spectrometry (TDS-GC-MS). In comparison to other chromatographic methods, like pyrolyse gas chromatography mass spectrometry (Py-GC-MS), the relatively high sample masses in TGA (about 200 times higher than used in Py-GC-MS) analysed here enable the measurement of complex matrices that are not homogenous on a small scale. Through the characteristic decomposition products known for every kind of polymer it is possible to identify and even to quantify polymer particles in various matrices. Polyethylene (PE), one of the most important representatives for microplastics, was chosen as an example for identification and quantification.
Erik Dümichen, Anne-Kathrin Barthel, Ulrike Braun, Claus G. Bannick, Kathrin Brand, Martin Jekel, Rainer Senz; BAM Federal Institute for Material Research and Testing, Unter den Eichen 87, 12205 Berlin, Germany; UBA Umweltbundesamt, Wörlitzer Platz 1, 06844 Dessau-Roßlau, German; Technical University of Berlin, Water Urban Area, Strasse des 17 Juni, 10623 Berlin, Germany; Beuth University of Applied Sciences, Luxemburger Straße 10, 13353 Berlin, Germany
Global Change Biology
14 September 2015
Risk analysis reveals global hotspots for marine debris ingestion by sea turtles
Abstract: Plastic marine debris pollution is rapidly becoming one of the critical environmental concerns facing wildlife in the 21st century. Here we present a risk analysis for plastic ingestion by sea turtles on a global scale. We combined global marine plastic distributions based on ocean drifter data with sea turtle habitat maps to predict exposure levels to plastic pollution. Empirical data from necropsies of deceased animals were then utilized to assess the consequence of exposure to plastics. We modelled the risk (probability of debris ingestion) by incorporating exposure to debris and consequence of exposure, and included life history stage, species of sea turtle and date of stranding observation as possible additional explanatory factors. Life history stage is the best predictor of debris ingestion, but the best-fit model also incorporates encounter rates within a limited distance from stranding location, marine debris predictions specific to the date of the stranding study and turtle species. There is no difference in ingestion rates between stranded turtles vs. those caught as bycatch from fishing activity, suggesting that stranded animals are not a biased representation of debris ingestion rates in the background population. Oceanic life-stage sea turtles are at the highest risk of debris ingestion, and olive ridley turtles are the most at-risk species. The regions of highest risk to global sea turtle populations are off of the east coasts of the USA, Australia and South Africa; the east Indian Ocean, and Southeast Asia. Model results can be used to predict the number of sea turtles globally at risk of debris ingestion. Based on currently available data, initial calculations indicate that up to 52 percent of sea turtles may have ingested debris.
Schuyler, Q. A., Wilcox, C., Townsend, K. A., Wedemeyer-Strombel, K. R., Balazs, G., van Sebille, E. and Hardesty, B. D.; ARC
Linkage grant; Australian Postgraduate Award; Margaret Middleton Foundation; CSIRO's Oceans and Atmosphere Flagship; Shell Social Investment Program; National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship; Texas A&M Marine Biology Graduate Interdisciplinary Program and the Biology Department; Australian Research Council; Global Change Biology
Environmental Science & Technology
03 September 2015
Scientific Evidence Supports a Ban on Microbeads
Chelsea M. Rochman, Sara M. Kross, Jonathan B. Armstrong, Michael T. Bogan, Emily S. Darling, Stephanie J. Green, Ashley R. Smyth, and Diogo Veríssimo
Environmental Science & Technology
24 August 2015
When Microplastic Is Not Plastic: The Ingestion of Artificial Cellulose Fibers by Macrofauna Living in Seagrass Macrophytodetritus
Abstract: Dead leaves of the Neptune grass, Posidonia oceanica (L.) Delile, in the Mediterranean coastal zone, are colonized by an abundant “detritivorous” invertebrate community that is heavily predated by fishes. This community was sampled in August 2011, November 2011, and March 2012 at two different sites in the Calvi Bay (Corsica). Ingested artificial fibers (AFs) of various sizes and colors were found in 27.6 percent of the digestive tracts of the nine dominant species regardless of their trophic level or taxon. No seasonal, spatial, size, or species-specific significant differences were revealed; suggesting that invertebrates ingest AFs at constant rates. Results showed that, in the gut contents of invertebrates, varying by trophic level, and across trophic levels, the overall ingestion of AFs was low (approximately 1 fiber per organism). Raman spectroscopy revealed that the ingested AFs were composed of viscose, an artificial, cellulose-based polymer. Most of these AFs also appeared to have been colored by industrial dyes. Two dyes were identified: Direct Blue 22 and Direct Red 28. The latter is known for being carcinogenic for vertebrates, potentially causing environmental problems for the P. oceanicalitter community. Techniques such as Raman spectroscopy are necessary to investigate the particles composition, instead of relying on fragment size or color to identify the particles ingested by animals.
François Remy, France Collard, Bernard Gilbert, Philippe Compère, Gauthier Eppe, Gilles Lepoint; Laboratory of Oceanology, MARE Centre, Functional and Evolutionary Morphology Laboratory, AFFISH-RC, and Laboratory of Analytical Chemistry, University of LIEGE, Institute of Chemistry B6c, 4000 Liege (Sart-Tilman), Liege, Belgium
Environmental Science & Technology
01 September 2015
Facilitated Leaching of Additive-Derived PBDEs from Plastic by Seabirds’ Stomach Oil and Accumulation in Tissues
Abstract: Our previous study suggested the transfer of polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants from ingested plastics to seabirds’ tissues. To understand how the PBDEs are transferred, we studied leaching from plastics into digestive fluids. We hypothesized that stomach oil, which is present in the digestive tract of birds in the order Procellariiformes, acts as an organic solvent, facilitating the leaching of hydrophobic chemicals. Pieces of plastic compounded with deca-BDE were soaked in several leaching solutions. Trace amounts were leached into distilled water, seawater, and acidic pepsin solution. In contrast, over 20 times as much material was leached into stomach oil, and over 50 times as much into fish oil (a major component of stomach oil). Analysis of abdominal adipose, liver tissue, and ingested plastics from 18 wild seabirds collected from the North Pacific Ocean showed the occurrence of deca-BDE or hexa-BDEs in both the tissues and the ingested plastics in three of the birds, suggesting transfer from the plastic to the tissues. In birds with BDE209 in their tissues, the dominance of BDE207 over other nona-BDE isomers suggested biological debromination at the meta position. Model calculation of PBDE exposure to birds based on the results of the leaching experiments combined with field observations suggested the dominance of plastic-mediated internal exposure to BDE209 over exposure via prey.
Kosuke Tanaka, Hideshige Takada, Rei Yamashita, Kaoruko Mizukawa, Masa-aki Fukuwaka, and Yutaka Watanuki; Laboratory of Organic Geochemistry, Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, Fuchu, Tokyo 183-8509, Japan; Hokkaido National Fisheries Research Institute, Fisheries Research Agency, Kushiro, Hokkaido 085-0802, Japan; Faculty of Fisheries, Hokkaido University, Hakodate, Hokkaido 041-861, Japan
Waste Management and Research
The Existing Situation and Challenges Regarding the Use of Plastic Carrier Bags in Europe
bstract: Since day one, retailers and consumers have favoured plastic carrier bags. However, owing to the numerous environmental disadvantages, lightweight plastic carrier bags have been drawing the attention of the European Union competent authorities. Therefore, many European Union member states have taken action so as to reduce the use of plastic carrier bags. Based on the existing legislation and voluntary initiatives for the reduction of lightweight plastic carrier bags, the challenges and achieved outcomes from the implemented policy options in the various European Union member states are discussed and commented regarding the forthcoming transposition of the ‘Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste to reduce the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags’ into the European Union member states’ national law.
Maria Kasidoni, Konstantinos Moustakas, and Dimities Malamis; School of Chemical Engineering, National Technical University of Athens, Athens, Greece
Environmental Contamination Toxicology
02 September 2015
Microplastics in the Ocean
Abstract: Since their ubiquity in the ocean and marine organisms was first revealed, global concern about microplastics has grown considerably. The North Pacific Ocean and the adjacent marginal seas have high levels of microplastic contamination compared with the global average. This special issue on microplastics was organized by the North Pacific Marine Science Organization to share information on microplastic pollution in the North Pacific region. The special issue highlights high levels of contamination in the North Pacific both on shorelines and at the sea surface. Particularly high levels of contamination were reported on the western and southern coasts of Korea. Sources, including sewage discharge, aquaculture, and shipyards, were implicated. With the direction and energy of surface winds and currents have an important influence on shoreline patterns of distribution. The special issue also demonstrates potential for ingestion of microplastic by small planktonic organisms at the base of the food chain. A wide range of chemicals are associated with plastic debris and concerns are expressed about the potential for these chemicals to transfer to biota upon ingestion. As an introduction to the topic, this paper provides a brief background on microplastic contamination, highlights some key research gaps, and summarizes findings from the articles published in this issue.
Won Joon Shim, Richard C. Thompson; This study was supported by research projects titled “Environmental Risk Assessment of Microplastics in the Marine Environment” from the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries, Korea.
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