2nd International Symposium on Plastics in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic Region

November 22, 2023 , 8:00 am November 23, 2023 , 5:00 pm EST

Register today for the 2nd International Symposium on Plastics in the Arctic and Sub-Arctic Region, which will take place in Reykjavík, Iceland, November 22-23, 2023. The Early Bird registration deadline for the Arctic Plastics Symposium was extended until September 30, 2023. ECS and Indigenous Peoples can now apply for funding opportunities until September 28, 2023.

The symposium will shed light on the latest findings on the extent and impact of plastic pollution in the Arctic and near Arctic Regions. The Plenary Opening will be provided by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iceland Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir and moderated by the Senior Arctic Official of Iceland Ambassador Pétur Ásgeirsson. The Ministerial Panel Discussion will be moderated by the Prime Minister of Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, providing also closing remarks. Check out the draft program of the Symposium here.

Federal Court rules landmark case should proceed in California State Court

February 23, 2021 (Berkeley, CA) — Earth Island Institute, represented by Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, received a favorable ruling today in its landmark lawsuit against 10 major food, beverage, and consumer goods companies for the nuisance created by their plastic packaging, including polluting California waterways with plastic trash and touting products as recyclable when they’re not.

Judge Haywood S. Gilliam, Jr., of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted Earth Island Institute’s motion and ruled that the lawsuit belongs in state rather than federal court. This decision means that the lawsuit against the companies can proceed toward its merits rather than facing delays involved with attempts to change the venue. Similar motions have been used by Big Pharma and Big Oil to try to delay or derail lawsuits against them. Judge Gilliam’s decision prevents Big Plastic from attempting the same.

“We are thrilled to be one step closer to a full consideration of the merits of our groundbreaking case” said Sumona Majumdar, Earth Island Institute’s general counsel. “Our lawsuit is about the harm caused by the defendants’ plastic products here in California, and Judge Gilliam rightly saw through their attempts to recharacterize our complaint in an effort to cause delay and obtain what they perceive as a more favorable venue in federal court.”

The lawsuit was filed a year ago, in February 2020, in San Mateo County Superior Court in California, against Crystal Geyser Water Company, The Clorox Company, The Coca-Cola Company, Pepsico, Inc., Nestlé USA, Inc., Mars, Incorporated, Danone North America, Mondelez International, Inc., Colgate-Palmolive Company, and The Procter & Gamble Company. The case alleged violations of the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act, public nuisance, breach of express warranty, defective product liability, negligence, and failure to warn of the harms caused by their plastic packaging. The defendants, however, sought to remove the case to federal court under various theories, including federal common law and maritime jurisdiction.The ruling today granted Earth Island’s motion and remanded the action back to California state court.

Mark Molumphy, a partner at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy (CPM), lead counsel for Earth Island, said, “Today’s order is an important step in holding Big Plastic accountable for the impacts of their products in California. Plastic pollution is an environmental disaster that is getting worse with each passing day — this ruling gives the green light to move forward without further delay.”

“We look forward to presenting our case in state court,” said Noorjahan Rahman, the CPM attorney who gave oral argument on the Earth Island motion that was the subject of today’s ruling.

For almost forty years, Earth Island Institute, a leading nonprofit environmental organization based in Berkeley, California, has been developing programs and supporting projects that counteract threats to the planet’s biological and cultural diversity. Earth Island also plays a leading role in efforts to fight plastic pollution and protect our oceans, coasts, and marine life. Earth Island has filed this case in its own right and on behalf of the following sponsored projects:

● Plastic Pollution Coalition, founded in 2009, is a growing global alliance of more than 1,200 organizations, businesses, and thought leaders in 75 countries working toward a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on humans, animals, waterways, oceans, and the environment. The companies in the lawsuit are held accountable by the coalition, which serves as an industry watchdog, driving corporate change on single-use plastic. Together with members, Plastic Pollution Coalition has created and amplified thousands of petitions, collecting millions of signatures asking these companies to change their polluting practices.

● The International Marine Mammal Project is one of the leading groups fighting to protect dolphins, whales, and the ocean environment from plastic pollution. The ingestion of plastic packaging produced by the companies in this lawsuit often impacts the health of marine life. IMMP is currently developing a comprehensive report on these impacts and compiling a record of dolphins and whales that are dying from plastic ingestion and washing up on shores around the world.

● Shark Stewards works on the front lines of marine cleanup efforts and observes firsthand the ubiquitous presence of plastics that are trashing our shorelines and ocean environments. The organization aims to help restore ocean health by organizing and participating in cleanup programs, by saving sharks from overfishing and the shark fin trade, and by protecting critical marine habitat through the establishment of marine protected areas and shark sanctuaries.

● 1000 Fountains is building a network of one thousand drinking fountains throughout San Francisco to provide consumers with alternatives to single-use plastic bottles. By providing San Franciscans with more drinking fountains, almost 300 million single-use plastic water bottles that are purchased annually can be eliminated, saving consumers more than $500 million per year.

Additional information about this lawsuit can be found here.

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Photo: A rooftop garden at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Singapore.

by Sandra Curtis

The international gathering of members of Healthcare Without Harm Asia (HCWHA) convened at the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Singapore October 8-10.  HCWHA is committed to alignment with the Paris accords by moving to net zero by 2050. This fifth HCWHA gathering focused on three specific areas:

  • Procurement

  • Plastic Pollution

  • Air Pollution

Following welcoming remarks, the first day took deep dives into each area. The first segment on procurement featured an introduction the Sustainable Health in Procurement Project (SHiPP).  SHiPP’s goal is to catalyze broad change in the health care sector in key markets to help transform the global economy. Specifically, SHiPP is looking to help hospitals use their purchasing power to transform the supply chain by reducing their environmental footprint.  Their goal is to reduce toxicity, reduce GHGs, and conserve resources. Noting that if the global health care sector were a country, it would be the fifth largest GHG emitter on the planet. This sector accounts for 4.4% of global carbon footprint, 70-80% of which comes from their supply change, making procurement an important area to support UN SDG12. 

Initially, SHiPP participants are creating a sustainable public global baseline across sectors – bringing suppliers together to focus on reusables not disposables. They’ve identified the top 30 carbon hotspots which will be prioritized for greatest impact. They are developing an index with the UN to identify more sustainable products and for suppliers, as well as identifying gaps in the marketplace. 

Six hospitals initially launched SHiPP. Their biggest challenge is how to influence suppliers and purchasers to shift away from chemicals of concern. Cross collaborations offer great learning since some teams know about energy but not chemicals. One hospital in the Philippines is seeking a replacement for plastic bottles for fluids. In India, they are looking at more energy efficient medical devices. In Colombia, they are supporting everything from refillable shampoo bottles to using recycled paper. 

The challenges faced by SHiPP are embedded in a system focused on profit, not on environmental health.  The goal is to inform doctors, who may be resistant to change, on the costs of goods, availability of supplies and information/knowledge on environmental health to doctors.  It takes planning in several stages:

  • Pre-purchasing: Planning, Requirement definition, sourcing

  • Purchasing: Solicitation; Bid receipt and Opening, evaluation, Review and award

  • Post-purchasing

SHiPP is producing fact sheets, tool kits, among other resources with a major focus on reusable products.   

The first afternoon session focused on global plastics and the effects on health followed by air pollution. Von Hernandez, Global Coordinator for Break Free from Plastic gave a broad overview of the environmental plastic crisis.  PPC’s Sandra Curtis, Director of Innovative Projects, discussed the background, framework, findings and ongoing efforts of the ReThink Plastics intervention study.  Rob Chase of New Gen Surgical described the need for non-plastic alternative medical products for operating rooms which account for 35% of hospital waste.   

SHiPP’s plastic audit toolkit was piloted at Mary Johnston Hospital, Philippines, successfully reducing their plastic use from 47 to 28% in a year by segregation of waste at source, using personal mugs, providing water station on every floor among other purchasing and policy measures. One Indonesian hospital took plastic completely out of in-hospital meals.


Dr. Sandra Curtis speaks on ReThink Plastic at the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Singapore.

Dr. Sandra Curtis speaks on ReThink Plastic at the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Singapore.

The final afternoon session of the Deep Dive on Air Pollution offered a case study from Chennai highlighting the importance of helping the public understand the air pollution problem by making the invisible “visible.”  Toxics in the air have no boundaries in a city.  Once they began monitoring, they also generated data for trends, developed posters and website for the public to get more information, provided updates given on the radio, like traffic updates and offered recommendations for what individuals can do to protect themselves and what municipalities can provide for safe/healthy environments for people to be outdoors during safe air times of the day.  what to do – good to maximize and how to protect yourself during bad air quality days.

Day 2 got underway with an opening address that featured statistics on health care’s  contribution to global carbon emissions and the need for health care systems to respond to the growing climate crisis.  HCWH Asia’s aims is to align global climate goals with global health goals, meeting the Paris accords to achieve net zero by 2050.

The actions needed to support of Climate-Smart Health Care include:

·      Reduce health care’s climate footprint now

·      Support a societal transition to clean renewable energy

·      Chart the course for zero emissions health care by 2050

·      Make development assistance for health climate-smart

·      Establish and implement government action plans

·      Deepen research on health care and climate change

Themes repeated throughout the day’s presentations included:

·      Climate change is a health issue;

·      Renewable energy as a prescription for a healthy planet;

·      Increasing health equity and health access;

·      Building climate resilience in health care,

·      Moving the Hippocratic oath of “Do No Harm” outside the hospital walls;

·      Health care workers are the climate messengers

Challenges for the Health Care community are focused on:

·      Responding to health emergencies resulting from the climate crisis;

·      Changing consumption patterns contribute to non-communicable diseases (NCDs)

·      Rapid urbanization

·      Traditional health threats including infectious diseases (Polio epidemic declared last week in the Philippines; heat stress, waterborne and foodborne disease, malnutrition from food insecurity)

·      High rates of maternal and infant mortality.

·      Air pollution – causes a million deaths a year in Asia

There was a major effort to promote vegetarianism, including at the final evening’s gala banquet which was a 8 course meal of all vegetarian dishes. EAT published in the Lancet 2019 reinforces the message that food is the single strongest lever to optimize human health and environmental sustainability on Earth. 

During the plenary on waste management, Ruth Springer emphasized segregating waste for streams for recycling and the use of autoclave for sterilization, which is cheaper than incineration.  Such methods are working in Nepal and Zimbabwe with a motivating mantra of “Waste to energy or waste of energy?”  She also promoted biodigestion as a low carbon emission waste treatment which is being used in Tanzania and Madagascar.  She also emphasized the importance of Resilience/Disaster preparedness to be ready for climate disasters when health care workers may be coping with three times the amount of waste.  As an example, when the Gorkha earthquake occurred in 2015 in Nepal, the medical community had already been trained.  If not, predictions are that they would have been dealing with had an epidemic.   

A variety of programs in effect in Singapore were highlighted which reinforce the waste hierarchy of Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, and lastly Recycle.  They practice an ecofriendly lifecycle which, if reduced at the source, leaves not much to recycle.  One program, BYO Singapore has 881 outlets in which companies offer a variety of incentives to push a zero waste (ZW) government agenda. However, despite their ZW focus, incineration remains one of their waste management strategies and they are resistant to banning Styrofoam.

Another focus of energy reduction is on building design. Principles include maximizing natural light; water efficiency, including biodiversity and ecosystems, material efficiency, waste reduction; and indoor air quality.  The Khoo Teck Puat Hospital is a model example of the implementation of these principles.  Not only are plants, trees and running water incorporated into the design, an extensive rooftop garden provides food for the hospital patients and an opportunity for community volunteers to work in the garden.   

Under the dynamic leadership of Ms. Yen Tan, the COO at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, “A Vison of a Healthropolis” was launched.  The hospital building process, design principles were integrated into operational work.  They reinforce the 4Rs with Recycle as the last element, , not the first one.  Other practices they’ve instituted are: refusing plastic bags and receipts, encouraging use of multi-use containers for which employees get 20 cents off, a No Straw policy, all plastic bottle stopped in 2001, upcycling all cloth – creating mittens, kimono jackets, even clothes for teddy bears.  Their story is told in the newly released Seeking Sustainability. 

The next HCWH Asia will be held in 2021 in India.  Progress on the SHiPP program or other HCWH initiatives or access to the Plastic Audit Toolkit can be found at https://noharm-asia.org/.

 

Tides of history, from pirates to plastic: A look at the art of Steve McPherson

By Jennifer A. Wagner-Lawlor, PPC ambassador

Since his childhood a little north and west of London on the North Kent Coast of England, artist Steve McPherson has been a dedicated collector.

Eccles Bay is part of the North Kent coast of England, where the artist not only grew up but also where, except for some years after college, he still lives. Eccles Bay is “his bay,” in the sense that he belongs to, it, or with it: it is his physical and spiritual “home.”

The work created over the last 30 years can be connected back to a life spent around this cove-like stretch of English seacoast. As a young beach-comber McPherson was rewarded with endless wonders, everything from shells and driftwoods to fossilized amber and sponge, early human flint knifes or hammers, ocean-polished stones, sea glass, old coins, the occasional musket ball.

With its natural sea-caves carved into chalk cliffs, the bay has been visited by Vikings and pirates, and later, this entire southern coastline became Britain’s first line of defense against incoming enemy aircraft headed toward London from France (see map above). To this day, the ocean tosses up military detritus, such as shell casings, bullets, and gas masks—so many of the latter that Steve had a whole collection of them. 

Today’s invader, lurking in every nook and cranny of Eccles Bay, is plastic. The multiple collections of McPherson’s childhood have given way today to a single, vast collection of an endlessly variable cache of plastic detritus.  In the hour or so Steve and I walked the beach, we picked up not only the usual plastic bottles, straws, forks and spoons for eating fries and ice cream—but also tiddley winks, acrylic finger nails, popped balloons, plastic diapositive slide frames (McPherson has a large jar filled with these frames); plastic beads; nurdles (preproduction plastic pellets); “loom bands” for kids’ weaving sets; buttons and badges; bread packaging clips; large and small buoy fragments; fishing line; machine innards; plastic soldiers and other figurines; “bits and bobs” from everyday life.

Like many artists using found plastic, McPherson did not originally seek out plastic as a material to work with. His earlier work was interested in cartography, in books, in collections and archives, in memory and temporality, in change—and in the sea. Plastic came to him by making itself visible, to his eyes, as the latest form of historical record. Given his life-long interest in the bay itself, in the peoples who have come and gone, in the changes to the bay’s ecology and economy, and in its role in the broader history of England, creating artwork reflecting this latest phase in the life of the bay is a logical step. Then emerged the paradoxes and ironies of plastic that engage a growing number of artists, and the recognition that plastic is not just a material, but an idea.  

While McPherson is often labeled an “eco-artist,” his interest in the ecology of Eccles Bay is life-long, as it has so profoundly impacted his life and profession. This doesn’t mean the artist rejects an activist interpretation of his work—indeed, at home his family lives as plastic-free as possible. (For a take-out fish and chips dinner on the beach—no plastic packaging involved—they even brought a stainless steel water bottle for me in case I didn’t have one on hand.) But in creating plastic marine waste assemblages that “translate” into aesthetic form the scientific documentation of various environments, one sees the persistence of his earliest themes, recast in plastic. Plastic provides a critical, ecological dimension to Steve McPherson’s strong historical and archival sensibilities, as the artist also considers the present and the future of each unique locality by what has become a global threat.  

In the studio, McPherson’s puzzle-like assemblages of hundreds of pieces of marine plastic trash per work are themselves part of the historical documentation of Eccles Bay, and other sites he visits. Each one of the dozens of circular and rectangular compositions (see slide show) represents a data set describing some current aspect of a particular ecological setting. Each formal experiment has the look of an “art infographic,” according to the artist, interpreting in form and color data sets describing the localities he visits. Steve researches reports and records of such things as mean water temperatures for the UK, light dispersion through the water column, the colors of the seasons (as he sees them—Steve is color-blind!), and, yes, the size and depth of the pelagic zones of the five major oceans where plastic pollution is collecting itself.

“Wavelengths” (above) is included in the now-traveling art exhibition I co-curated at Penn State University, Plastic Entanglements: Ecology, Aesthetics, Materials. This piece was one of the first that viewers saw, and was one of the most popular, especially among school-aged children.

Maybe the kids saw instinctively what Steve sees so clearly in each piece of plastic he picks up: a mystery. What is it? Where did this object, often just a fragment, come from? Where is it going? For how long? How many hands has it passed through? Why is it landing here, in Eccles Bay, and what is it “doing” here? The answers are often not forthcoming.

But that’s okay, says McPherson, “I like the mystery. Who wants to know everything, or solve the mystery? Then there’s nothing more to think about.” His ongoing investigations of plastic continue to reach backward and forward in time, to delve further into the nature of this latest, unnatural, visitor to the shores of Eccles Bay.

Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor is a PPC Ambassador and Professor of Women’s Studies and English at Penn State University.

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A new book, Plastic Soup: An Atlas of Ocean Pollution, published by Island Press, beautifully illustrates the scope of the plastic pollution crisis and the emerging solutions. Plastic Pollution Coalition spoke with author Michiel Roscam Abbing of the Plastic Soup Foundation to learn what inspired the book and what surprised him most during the process.

The earth we cultivate is much more polluted by plastic than our waters.

— Michiel Roscam Abbing

A fish with microplastics. Photo by Marcus Eriksen, 5 Gyres, courtesy of Plastic Soup.

The human health dimension is much more serious than we realise. We eat, breathe and drink plastic particles including nanosized ones that can penetrate deep into our bodies.

— Michiel Roscam Abbing

Wherever Plastic Soupermarket is exhibited, the composition of the products is different, depending on what was found in the immediate vicinity. Photo by Tetsuro Miyazaki, courtesy of Plastic Soup.

How long have you been a member of Plastic Pollution Coalition and how did you get connected to PPC?

The Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF) was founded in early 2011 and I joined later that year as a researcher and writer. The PSF has been a member of Plastic Pollution Coalition since 2012. This must have been after Dianna Cohen visited us in Amsterdam. I remember that she gave me a metal straw. I still have it and show it sometimes while lecturing about plastic soup. 

How did you come up with the idea for Plastic Soup?

The history of the book is a long one. Maria Westerbos initiated the book, Plastic Soup, in 2009, written by Jesse Goosens. In 2014, a few years after she established the PSF, we thought about writing a new book on plastic pollution. One that would summarize the major themes in an attractive way for a large audience, while also emphasizing solutions. It took some time to write and in April 2018 the book The Plastic Soup Atlas of the World was launched in the Netherlands. Publisher Island Press (Washington, D.C.) took over and the world edition, Plastic Soup: an Atlas of Ocean Pollution, appeared last April.

What was your overall goal with Plastic Soup when you started writing it? Did you find your goal shifting throughout the course of writing it?

The implicit overall goal of the book is to present a complex social, economic, and environmental problem to a large audience in an accessible way. This broad approach aims to countervail the dominant narrative presented by industry and authorities that we can go on producing and using plastic if we just clean up and recycle better. The format of the book, the division between “On the Map” (causes and consequences) and “Off the Map” (how do we solve the plastic crisis), with ten chapters and sixty themes, made it relatively easy to keep up with these implicit goals. Working on the book only convinced me that this was the right way to go.   

What was something surprising you discovered as you researched and wrote Plastic Soup that you think would surprise most readers?

I would like to mention five topics: 

  1. The human health dimension is much more serious than we realise. We eat, breathe and drink plastic particles including nanosized ones that can penetrate deep into our bodies.
  2. Fracking for plastic, using cheap shale gas to produce virgin plastic, will drastically augment the use of plastic (especially single use plastics) in the coming years, while we need absolute reduction. 
  3. The earth we cultivate is much more polluted by plastic than our waters.
  4. There is no dedicated international treaty that deals with plastic pollution.
  5. The time dimension: within a lifetime plastic pollution has become one of the world’s most severe environmental issues. In what kind of world will our children spend their lives if this keeps going?  

You highlight a lot of great efforts to reduce plastic pollution–what are some of the most inspiring projects you found?

Among the most inspiring ones are individuals or communities that show that living without creating waste is possible. Inspiring are initiatives of re-fill systems or “bring your own” and plastic free shops. Natural branding makes it possible to print information on the skin of a fruit or vegetable, so you don’t need packaging anymore for information. 

How has your relationship with plastic changed since writing Plastic Soup?

Writing a book is a solitary activity. It was after the release of the book and giving presentations that I realized that many people struggle with plastic like I do. You are seduced all the time to profit from the easiness that plastic brings you when shopping and consuming, but you have a kind of bad feeling about this knowing about the consequences. The challenge is to use less plastic, step by step. I must admit that I still have a long way to go.

What is the key message you hope Plastic Soup readers will walk away with?

Plastic has always been perceived as a save product of convenience. It is not. Everybody can do their part to fight plastic pollution. 

Learn more and purchase your copy of Plastic Soup here.

Read an exclusive excerpt of Plastic Soup below.


EDUCATING

Education and information about plastic soup are indispensable if we want to counteract plastic litter. The relationship between behavior and plastic soup is not difficult to comprehend. Even young children understand that you must not throw plastic away because it can kill animals. Some pertinent questions need to be asked, though. What can you do if education doesn’t help and pollution continues to increase? There will always be some groups of people who simply won’t allow anyone to tell them what to do. Educating people is very important, but that alone will never be enough.

Since the 1950s, major multinationals such as Coca-Cola have invested in public information campaigns.

These companies have even set up and financed special organizations for the purpose. Keep America Beautiful has been around since 1953 and sister organizations in other countries have been added since. Only the consumer is ever held responsible for littering. The public, therefore, needs to be educated. Plastic soup shows that these campaigns have not been even vaguely effective.

Keep America Beautiful was formed in direct response to a new law in the state of Vermont designed to combat litter, which included a ban on non-refillable bottles. The bill lasted only four years due to intense lobbying from the beverage industry that presented litter as a people’s problem. To this very day, organizations such as Keep America Beautiful have the same aims: to educate the general public and—less visibly—to ensure that the production of disposable products, which is growing every year, is not restricted by inconveniences such as laws, deposits, and taxes.  

Information campaigns are also an attractive and cheap way for governments to influence behavior. The effect of information and education is generally overestimated, however. Growing environmental awareness is by no means always going to result in the desired, environmentally friendly behavior. In that context, it is important to make a distinction between people who are acting out of their own intrinsic motives and exhibiting the desired behavior pattern after being educated, and those who only act in the environmentally aware way because of external driving forces, for example the ‘reward’ of getting their deposit back.

Those who study behavior know that the actions of teenagers, in particular, are difficult to affect. Younger people are, after all, busy with things other than simply avoiding litter. What does seem to work well for this target group are extrinsic motivators such as financial stimuli. 

Education is extremely worthwhile, but it is much more important to combine it with other methods of combating pollution, such as financial compensation for handing in waste.

Excerpted with permission from Plastic Soup by Michiel Abbing. Copyright © 2019. Reproduced by permission of Island Press, Washington, D.C.

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