No Time to Waste: Tackling the plastic pollution crisis before it’s too late

In this report from Fauna&Flora International, the Institute of Developmental Studies, Wasteaid, and Tearfund, authors describe the environmental destruction, sickness, mortality, and damage to livelihoods that the plastic pollution crisis is causing. It outlines the problem – namely the huge recent increase in the production and distribution of single-use plastics, and its expansion across the globe to countries lacking the capacity to collect, manage and recycle waste. And it spells out the solutions. Current trajectories point to increased illness and unnecessary deaths, further harm to livelihoods, and greater destruction of our environment.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. In this report we outline the roles and responsibilities of four groups we believe to be key to tackling the plastic pollution crisis:

  • – multinational consumer goods companies who drive the production of single-use plastic
    – packaging, and currently do little to collect and sustainably manage the waste they have created;
  • – developed country governments who have enabled and incentivised a ‘throwaway’ culture and whose response to the crisis in developing countries has so far been weak;
  • – developing country governments whose citizens are the most severely impacted by the crisis;
  • – citizens who can show there is an overwhelming demand for change.

Plastic is the one material that epitomises the mass production and disposal
cycles of the modern era perhaps more than any other. Society has conducted a love affair with this versatile and transformative substance since the 1950s; lightweight, cheap, safe and durable, what’s not to love? Yet as plastic production has escalated, so too has the overwhelming presence in every corner of the planet of discarded plastic debris.

Which brings us to the subject of this book, microplastics. There are few environmental contaminants that have grasped the popular imagination of public and scientists alike and publications on microplastics, where they come from, what they do and what to do about them, are appearing thick and fast.
This book is a much-welcomed addition to this growing literature since it searches for unifying patterns and processes that can help us to understand, remediate and, ultimately, to search for solutions. By combining aspects of environmental chemistry, biology and human health, this book aims to bring a holistic view.

F Minus opens a new front in the climate fight: a call for divestment from fossil fuel lobbyists.

Launched in July 2023, F Minus is using its revolutionary database of state-level lobbyists for upstream and midstream oil, gas, and coal interests to demonstrate the extent to which these lobbyists are also representing people, schools, communities, and businesses being harmed by the climate crisis.

The fossil fuel industry is rapidly losing the social license needed to build new projects as the severity of the climate crisis becomes increasingly clear and the public embraces the energy transition. Nevertheless, the fossil fuel industry remains firmly embedded in state capitols because of positive or merely neutral public opinion about its lobbyists, more than 1,500 of whom also represent non-fossil fuel companies, schools, nonprofits, and other organizations whose activities are perceived as beneficial. F Minus is disrupting this dynamic and calling on people to fire their fossil fuel lobbyists.

A comprehensive introduction to the plastics life cycle—the impacts on our lives, our future, and our planet—and the actions we can take.

Everywhere we look, we are surrounded by plastics: perhaps you have a book in one hand and your phone—made of various metals, plastics, and glass—in the other, or you are reading this on your polyurethane mattress after having flipped on a plastic light switch. In this Essential Knowledge series volume, Imari Walker-Franklin and Jenna Jambeck provide a deep exploration of the entire life of plastic things—plastics production and use, plastic waste generation and management, the environmental and societal impacts of plastics in our environment, and, finally, the policies that can help reduce pollution caused by our heavy use of plastics.

One of the most current and comprehensive summaries on the subject, Plastics covers not only ocean and terrestrial plastic pollution but also the potential harms of microplastics on the human body. The authors also explain why we use plastic for so many products, how trash ends up in even the most remote corners of our world, and the alternatives and interventions that can help address our overreliance on this virtually imperishable material. As easily digestible to read as it is important, this book empowers its readers with the crucial knowledge and information they need to make thoughtful consumer choices, influence change, and spark inspiration.

This report responds to a request in the bipartisan Save Our Seas 2.0 Act for a scientific synthesis of the role of the US both in contributing to and responding to global plastic pollution in the oceans. We want to point out that of course plastic pollution spans much more than plastic in the oceans, extending throughout plastic’s endless toxic existence and including many types of land, air, and water pollution, from the moment its fossil fuel ingredients are extracted through storage, transportation, refining; manufacturing, use, and disposal. We also note it is less preferable to refer to plastic pollution as “waste,” as that confers that pollution is acceptable and manageable if it is not wasted—which is not the case.

From abstract: “The United States is a major producer of plastics and in 2016, generated more plastic waste by weight and per capita than any other nation. Although the U.S. solid waste management system is advanced, it is not sufficient to deter leakage into the environment. Reckoning with the U.S. Role in Global Ocean Plastic Waste calls for a national strategy by the end of 2022 to reduce the nation’s contribution to global ocean plastic waste at every step – from production to its entry into the environment – including by substantially reducing U.S. solid waste generation. This report also recommends a nationally-coordinated and expanded monitoring system to track plastic pollution in order to understand the scales and sources of U.S. plastic waste, set reduction and management priorities, and measure progress.”

Report reveals human health risks of polyvinyl chloride
(PVC) plastic, recommending state and local officials avoid using the material for their communities’ water pipes.

The discovery of unsafe levels of lead in drinking water in communities across the country is so pervasive that in November 2021, Congress made $15 billion available to states and municipalities to replace lead service lines (the pipes that deliver water to our homes, schools, and businesses). 

Although the decision to replace those lead lines is very positive, it’s equally important to ensure that the replacement piping material will not simply create a new set of adverse health and environmental impacts. The data on the safety of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic piping raises serious concerns about replacing metal pipes with PVC plastic pipes. The risk of leaching chemicals that are harmful to human health is real. There is evidence that this may occur, and the testing necessary to prove otherwise is either inadequate or nonexistent.

Communities that opt to replace their lead service lines with PVC plastic pipes may well be leaping from the frying pan into the fire. Although we strongly support the replacement of lead service lines, we need to know that the replacement piping material is safe. 

In the absence of guidance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s to state and local governments on the safety of various replacement piping materials, Beyond Plastics commissioned the well-respected science writer Meg Wilcox to look at the published literature and examine this issue. What Wilcox found is eye-opening and raises concerns that should be considered by the state and local officials who are deciding what type of pipes will be used in their communities. The residents who drink and bathe in these public water supplies should also be aware of the dangers posed by PVC service pipes.

The report has been compiled with additional resources and insights from Beyond Plastics, Environmental Health Sciences, and Plastic Pollution Coalition.