The European Parliament has voted for an extensive ban on single-use plastics to stop pollution entering the world’s oceans. Products including plastic plates, cutlery, straws and cotton buds will all be eradicated from 2021 under the plans.
The ban is intended to affect items for which valid alternatives are available, which are estimated to make up over 70 percent of marine litter.
In a far-reaching set of proposals, EU lawmakers also set out plans to make companies more accountable for their plastic waste. The regulations will now have to be approved in talks with member states, some of which are likely to push back against the strict new rules.
The plan was initially proposed in May after a wave of public opposition to single-use plastic swept across the continent.
Fragments of plastic have been found everywhere from Arctic sea ice to fertilisers being applied to farmland.
Animals as small as plankton and as large as whales are known to eat plastic, and as tiny shards enter the human food chain they seem to be ending up inside humans as well.
While much still remains unknown about the impact plastic is having on the environment and human health, environmentalists have called for urgent measures from industry and governments to curb the flow of plastic.
“We have adopted the most ambitious legislation against single-use plastics. It is up to us now to stay the course in the upcoming negotiations with the council, due to start as early as November,” said Belgian liberal Frederique Ries, who was responsible for the bill.
Under the new rules, member states would have to ensure that tobacco companies cover the cost of cigarette butt collection and processing in a bid to reduce the number entering the environment by 80 percent in the next 12 years.
Similar measures would apply to producers of fishing gear, who would have to help ensure at least 50 percent of lost or abandoned fishing gear containing plastic is collected per year. Fishing gear accounts for over a quarter of waste found on Europe’s beaches, and “ghost fishing” is thought to be responsible for thousands of whales, seals and birds dying every year.
EU states would also be obliged to recycle 90 percent of plastic bottles by 2025, and producers would have to help cover costs of waste management.
Environmental groups have criticised companies like Coca Cola, Pepsi and Nestle, which collectively are responsible for a vast proportion of plastic waste, for not doing enough to tackle pollution.
Other plans set out by MEPs included an intention to reduce consumption of other plastic items for which there are no viable alternatives by at last a quarter by 2025. These include various food containers and fast food cartons.
The parliament backed the range of proposals with a 571-53 majority. “Today’s vote paves the way to a forthcoming and ambitious directive,” said Ms Ries. “It is essential in order to protect the marine environment and reduce the costs of environmental damage attributed to plastic pollution in Europe, estimated at €22bn (£19bn) by 2030.”
Many European nations have already proposed their own measures to cut back on single-use plastics. On Monday the UK government announced plans to ban plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds in a bid to “turn the tide on plastic pollution”.
By Josh Gabbatiss, Science Correspondent, Independent
October 24, 2018
Study suggests microplastics may be widespread in the human food chain.
Microplastics have been found in human stools for the first time, according to a study suggesting the tiny particles may be widespread in the human food chain. The small study examined eight participants from Europe, Japan and Russia. All of their stool samples were found to contain microplastic particles.
Up to nine different plastics were found out of 10 varieties tested for, in particles of sizes ranging from 50 to 500 micrometres. Polypropylene and polyethylene terephthalate were the plastics most commonly found. On average, 20 particles of microplastic were found in each 10g of excreta. Microplastics are defined as particles of less than 5mm, with some created for use in products such as cosmetics but also by the breaking down of larger pieces of plastic, often in the sea.
Based on this study, the authors estimated that “more than 50% of the world population might have microplastics in their stools”, though they stressed the need for larger-scale studies to confirm this.
The Environment Agency Austria conducted the tests using a new procedure the researchers said shed fresh light on the extent of microplastics in the food chain. Samples from the eight subjects were sent to a laboratory in Vienna where they were analysed using a Fourier-transform infrared microspectrometer.
Philipp Schwabl, a researcher at the Medical University of Vienna who led the study, said: “This is the first study of its kind and confirms what we have long suspected, that plastics ultimately reach the human gut. Of particular concern is what this means to us, and especially patients with gastrointestinal diseases.”
Previous studies on fish have also found plastics in the gut. Microplastics have been found in bottled water and tap water around the world, in the oceans and in flying insects. A recent investigation in Italy also found microplastics present in soft drinks. In birds, the ingestion of plastic has been found to remodel the tiny fingerlike projections inside the small intestine, disrupt iron absorption and add to stress on the liver.
“The smallest microplastic particles are capable of entering the bloodstream, the lymphatic system, and may even reach the liver,” said Schwabl, who will report on the study at UEG Week in Vienna on Tuesday. “Now that we have the first evidence for microplastics inside humans, we need further research to understand what this means for human health.”
Plastic particles in the gut could affect the digestive system’s immune response or could aid the transmission of toxic chemicals and pathogens, the researchers said.
The sources of the plastic found in the stool samples is unknown. The people studied kept a food diary that showed they were all exposed to plastics by consuming food wrapped in plastic or drinking from plastic bottles. None of those participating in the study were vegetarians, and six of the group ate sea fish.
Scientists still know little about the effects of microplastics once they enter the human body, though many studies have already found them present in foods such as fish that people are likely to eat. The UK government has launched a study of health impacts. . .
By Fiona Harvey and Jonathan Watts, The Guardian
October 22, 2018
Much of the plastic trash cleaned up from Canadian shorelines by volunteers in September could be traced back to five companies: Nestlé, Tim Hortons, PepsiCo, the Coca-Cola Company and McDonald’s, an audit of plastic polluters led by Greenpeace Canada has found.
Greenpeace and other environmental advocacy groups working on the international Break Free from Plastic campaign looked for branding on 10,000 litres of food wrappers, plastic bottles, plastic-lined coffee cups and other plastic trash collected in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax during World Cleanup Day on Sept. 15 and counted the results as part of their first Canadian plastic polluters brand audit.
Sarah King, head of Greenpeace Canada’s oceans and plastics campaign, said its first brand audit was in the Philippines last year because the group found that cleanups could only do so much.
“You do a cleanup one day, and the next day the beach is filling up with plastic again,” she said. “We really wanted to look at the companies that were responsible for the bulk of this trash that we were finding on the beaches.”
According to King:
- Over 75 per cent of the 10,000 litres of trash collected during the Canadian cleanups was plastic.
- Of that, 2,231 pieces had identifiable branding, and 700 other pieces had branding that couldn’t be identified.
- Food wrappers were the most common item found, followed by bottles, cups, bottle caps and shopping bags.
- The top five companies accounted for 46 per cent of the identifiable branded trash.
Many of the companies have multiple brands — for example, Nestlé sells treats ranging from Drumsticks ice cream cones to Aero and Coffee Crisp chocolate bars, along with bottled water under brands such as Aberfoyle and Montclair, and PepsiCo makes Quaker granola bars and Frito-Lay chips.
When brands were counted instead of the companies themselves, the top offenders, accounting for 40 percent of identifiable trash were, in order:
- Nestlé Pure Life.
- Tim Hortons.
- Starbucks (the company came 7th overall).
Worldwide, Break Free from Plastic member organizations found that the Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Danone, Mondelez International, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Perfetti van Melle, Mars Incorporated and Colgate-Palmolive were the most frequent multinational brands collected in cleanups.
CBC has reached out to the five companies cited in the Canadian audit.
In response, Tim Hortons said in an email that is working on a packaging strategy that takes into account its environmental footprint.
Nestlé suggested in an email that the real problem was improper disposal, saying the results “demonstrate a clear and pressing need for the development of proper infrastructure to manage waste effectively around the world.”
It added that the company’s goal is to make 100 per cent of its packaging reusable or recyclable by 2025, and it is also exploring packaging solutions with its industry partners to reduce plastic usage and develop new approaches to eliminating plastic waste.
Recyclability not the solution: Greenpeace
King thinks much of the trash found during cleanups may have been disposed of properly, but spilled into the environment by wind or storms.
Based on the Canadian results, she added, it didn’t seem that easily recyclable items, like plastic bottles, were less common than ones that are more difficult to recycle, like coffee cups or food wrappers.
She hopes the findings of the audit will have an impact on the companies that were responsible, and get them to recognize that simply making single-use plastics recyclable isn’t the solution.
“We really want the companies to recognize, ‘Look the efforts that you’ve made or that you’re stating that you’re making aren’t good enough.’ You actually have to reduce your production of these products if want to be sure that they’re not going to be ending up in their environment, in our oceans and polluting communities.”
King firmly believes that it’s the companies that make the products that should be responsible, not the consumer. “We aren’t given a lot of options for buying food and household products in plastic-free packaging,” she said.
She thinks consumers can have the biggest impact by pushing companies for reusable and refillable alternatives to single-use plastic packaging.
He added that Greenpeace’s report could influence organizations like governments and universities in their purchasing decisions. “To the corporations, I would say don’t fight it,” he said. “Collaborate, address this constructively.” He added that Greenpeace is an international organization with a lot of experience that could be used as a resource in finding solutions.
As for consumers, he says, they should also be disciplined about their use and disposal of these products.
By Emily Chung, Science and Technology Writer, CBC News
October 10, 2018
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“These brand audits offer undeniable proof of the role that corporations play in perpetuating the global plastic pollution crisis,” said Global Coordinator of Break Free From Plastic Von Hernandez. “By continuing to churn out problematic and unrecyclable throwaway plastic packaging for their products, these companies are guilty of trashing the planet on a massive scale. It’s time they own up and stop shifting the blame to citizens for their wasteful and polluting products.”
The audits, led by Break Free From Plastic member organizations, found that Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Danone, Mondelez International, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Perfetti van Melle, Mars Incorporated, and Colgate-Palmolive were the most frequent multinational brands collected in cleanups, in that order. This ranking of multinational companies included only brands that were found in at least ten of the 42 participating countries. Overall, polystyrene, which is not recyclable in most locations, was the most common type of plastic found, followed closely by PET, a material used in bottles, containers, and other packaging.
The top polluters in Asia, according to the analysis, were Coca-Cola, Perfetti van Melle, and Mondelez International brands. These brands accounted for 30 percent of all branded plastic pollution counted by volunteers across Asia. This year’s brand audits throughout Asia build upon a week-long cleanup and audit at the Philippines’ Freedom Island in 2017, which found Nestlé and Unilever to be the top polluters.
“We pay the price for multinational companies’ reliance on cheap throwaway plastic,” said Greenpeace Southeast Asia – Philippines Campaigner Abigail Aguilar. “We are the ones forced to clean up their plastic pollution in our streets and waterways. In the Philippines, we can clean entire beaches and the next day they are just as polluted with plastics. Through brand audits, we can name some of the worst polluters and demand that they stop producing plastic to begin with.”
In North and South America, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé brands were the top polluters identified, accounting for 64 and 70 percent of all the branded plastic pollution, respectively.
“In Latin America, brand audits put responsibility on the companies that produce useless plastics and the governments that allow corporations to place the burden, from extraction to disposal, in mostly vulnerable and poor communities,” said GAIA Coordinator for Latin America Magdalena Donoso. “BFFP members in Latin America are exposing this crisis and promoting zero waste strategies in connection with our communities.”
In Europe, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé brands were again the top identified polluters, accounting for 45 percent of the plastic pollution found in the audits there. In Australia, 7-Eleven, Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s brands were the top polluters identified, accounting for 82 percent of the plastic pollution found. And finally, in Africa, ASAS Group, Coca-Cola, and Procter & Gamble brands were the top brands collected, accounting for 74 percent of the plastic pollution there.
“These brand audits are putting responsibility back where it belongs, with the corporations producing endless amounts of plastics that end up in the Indian Ocean,” said Griffins Ochieng, Programmes Coordinator for the Centre for Environment Justice and Development in Kenya. “We held cleanups and brand audits in two locations in Kenya to identify the worst corporate polluters in the region and hold them accountable. It is more urgent than ever, for the sake of communities that rely on the ocean for their livelihoods, health and well-being, to break free from plastic.”
Bread Free From Plastic is calling on corporations to reduce their use of single-use plastic, redesign delivery systems to minimize or eliminate packaging, and take responsibility for the plastic pollution they are pumping into already strained waste management systems and the environment. While the brand audits do not provide a complete picture of companies’ plastic pollution footprints, they are the best indication to date of the worst plastic polluters globally.
For the entire set of results, please find Break Free From Plastic’s brand audit report here: https://www.breakfreefromplastic.org/globalbrandauditreport2018/
 Break Free From Plastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in September 2016, nearly 1,300 groups from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. These organizations share the common values of environmental protection and social justice, which guide their work at the community level and represent a global, unified vision. www.breakfreefromplastic.org
Photo and video:
For photo and video from brand audits around the world, click here: https://media.greenpeace.org/collection/27MZIFJWQQ88P
by Greenpeace International
Perry Wheeler, Greenpeace USA Senior Communications Specialist: +1 301 675 8766, firstname.lastname@example.org
Shilpi Chhotray, Break Free From Plastic Senior Communications Officer: +1 703 400 9986, email@example.com
Claire Arkin, GAIA Campaign and Communications Associate: +1 510-883-9490, firstname.lastname@example.org
Greenpeace International Press Desk: +31 (0)20 718 2470 (available 24 hours), email@example.com
In Italy, the first analysis carried out by Il Salvantente found microplastics in industrial soft drinks.
We live immersed in plastic. It can be found everywhere; we see it in the seas, dragged by the waters of our rivers, even scattered on mountain peaks or in the countryside that we still consider uncontaminated… Now we are beginning to realize that we eat and drink it. And we can do very little about that, if things do not change. In fact, what comes from our food, spices, water and, as shown by the first analysis carried out by Il Salvagente on 18 industrial beverages, from cola to orangeade, from lemonade to iced tea, we cannot see it with the naked eye nor can we avoid it.
The danger, in this case, has a specific name and a scientific definition, even though researchers and analysts have only recently started to look into it, and a level of risk that is still largely unknown. It is called microplastics, this is the definition of solid particles that are insoluble in water, even with dimensions that are much smaller than 5 millimetres. So small it is hardly distinguishable and perhaps for this very reason just as, if not more, insidious than the larger fragments from which it comes. Which, needless to say, are the most commonly used polymers, such as polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, polyamide, polyethylene terephthalate, polyvinylchloride, acrylic, polymethyl acrylate.
For some years now, those who look for it, regardless of what they are analyzing, find it. It is found in the fish fillets we consume, where they accumulate in incredible quantities, in seafood, in sea salt, in bottled water, in water (from rivers and taps, even in mineral water). It is even present in products like honey.
It is inevitable, therefore, that it would also be detectable in the soft drinks that the monthly consumer guide magazine sent to the Maurizi Group laboratories. If anything, it is hardly surprising that none of the kinds of tea, cola, lemonade, orangeade, or tonic water under analysis were saved.
Microplastics are served (at the table and in your glass)
Seven Up, Pepsi, San Benedetto, Schweppes, Beltè, Coca-Cola, Fanta, Sprite are just some of the brands to end up under the microscope and – with a slight surprise – all gave an unambiguous response: the presence of microplastics has not spared any product, all 18 bottles were found to be contaminated, with values that ranged from a minimum of 0.89 mpp/l (microparticles per litre) to a maximum of 18.89 mpp/l.
. . .
A ‘vehicle’ for poisons
Seen from Brussels, for example, the question of plastic particles that we ingest is not considered as so worrying: “According to current knowledge, it is unlikely that ingestion of microplastics ‘per se’ is an objective risk to human health”, writes the European Union.
Seen from Helsinki, from the headquarters of the European Chemical Agency (the ECA), the perspective is different. “Some of the additives or organic contaminants that are added to plastics can be toxic”, the agency stated in black and white in a document a few months ago. And it is not just Finnish scientists to be concerned about this. There are numerous studies – all very recent, seeing that the issue is relatively new – that show how microplastics can become a convenient ‘vehicle’ for toxic substances, concentrating and transporting pollutants such as bisphenol, some phthalates, pesticides and other carcinogenic molecules as well as interfering with the endocrine system.
And it is not just the dangers of the substances added in the processing of plastic, but also of those that it collects as it travels during its long life. According to the French agency Centre national de la recherche scientifique, particles of less than 5 millimetres have the capacity to “bind to organic pollutants in the environment such as PCBs, dioxins or PAHs” and pathogenic microorganisms. There are not sufficient studies to quantify the impact on humans, but the risk is already evident: ingesting particles that are invisible to the naked eye that, once in our organism, release their load of poisons. “We don’t want to find ourselves in the same dramatic situation as we did with asbestos”, Matteo Fago explains, “a material considered safe and inert for many years before it was discovered, too late, how serious and extensive the damage it had produced on human beings was.”
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This video shows a green sea turtle trying to nest on a plastic-filled beach on Christmas Island. It is a battle to not only nest, but also to get back to the ocean. Many green sea turtle hatchlings we stranding amongst the plastic and had to be rescued.
Producing, selling and using plastic bags becomes illegal as officials say they want to target manufacturers and sellers first.
Kenyans producing, selling or even using plastic bags will risk imprisonment of up to four years or fines of $40,000 (£31,000) from Monday, as the world’s toughest law aimed at reducing plastic pollution came into effect.
The east African nation joins more than 40 other countries that have banned, partly banned or taxed single use plastic bags, including China, France, Rwanda, and Italy.
Many bags drift into the ocean, strangling turtles, suffocating seabirds and filling the stomachs of dolphins and whales with waste until they die of starvation.
“If we continue like this, by 2050, we will have more plastic in the ocean than fish,” said Habib El-Habr, an expert on marine litter working with the UN environment programme in Kenya.
“This is something we didn’t get 10 years ago but now it’s almost on a daily basis,” said county vet Mbuthi Kinyanjui as he watched men in bloodied white uniforms scoop sodden plastic bags from the stomachs of cow carcasses.
Kenya’s law allows police to go after anyone even carrying a plastic bag. But Judy Wakhungu, Kenya’s environment minister, said enforcement would initially be directed at manufacturers and suppliers.
It took Kenya three attempts over 10 years to finally pass the ban, and not everyone is a fan.
Samuel Matonda, spokesman for the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, said it would cost 60,000 jobs and force 176 manufacturers to close. Kenya is a major exporter of plastic bags to the region.
“The knock-on effects will be very severe,” Matonda said. “It will even affect the women who sell vegetables in the market – how will their customers carry their shopping home?”
Big Kenyan supermarket chains like France’s Carrefour and Nakumatt have already started offering customers cloth bags as alternatives.
Reuters, August 28, 2017
UPDATE: Visiting Kenya a year into its plastic bag ban
A big step divides opinion
Until this time last year, the bags that have now been written out of quotidian existence were widely used, especially at places like Nairobi’s bustling Kangemi market where traders sell everything from fruit and veg to clothing.
The recyclable fabric totes that now hang on each stall are 10 times the price of their illegal plastic predecessors. Many customers bring their own bags or carry their goods in buckets instead.
For Wilfred Mwiti, who regularly shops at the market, the plastic bag ban isn’t a problem. On the contrary.
“I’m okay with the ban and my feeling is that the government should work out a way in which the remaining bags could be eliminated,” he said, referring to packaging on individual food items.
But not everyone has embraced the new rules with such enthusiasm. Although she acknowledges the environmental benefits of the law, sweet-potato vendor Martha Ndinda is still struggling with the new reality.
“I used to sell sweet potatoes in plastic bags, they were packed in plastic bags for them to remain fresh. But now they’re becoming dry so fast,” she said.
The biggest critic of the ban is the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM). Prior to the new rules, the country was home to 170 plastic-producing companies that employed almost 3 percent of the Kenyan workforce.
Sachen Gudka, who runs a label-manufacturing company, is chairman of KAM and one of the country’s most influential businessmen.
He says a lot of companies, which received no government compensation following the ban, had to close in its wake, and that around 60,000 jobs were lost as a result, directly and indirectly. He would have liked to see the legislation phased in more gradually.
“Kenya used to have a thriving economy in terms of plastic bags to the neighboring countries, all those export earnings have now been lost to Kenya,” Gudka said.
The future is recycling
Betty Nzioka of NEMA, is hoping those neighboring countries will soon follow Kenya’s lead, resulting in “a collective ban across East Africa.”
Until that happens, the authorities will continue to face challenges, such as the illegal import of plastic bags from countries such as Uganda.
On the whole however, Nzioka is pleased with public willingness to accept the changes, and welcomes the upshot of cleaner streets and fewer plastic bags turning up in fishing nets and cows’ stomachs.
Well before the ban, in 2013, student and photographer James Wakibia launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #ISupportBanPlasticsKE, calling for an end to single-use plastic bags. Wakibia’s activism attracted widespread attention, including from the government in Nairobi, which put a ban at the top of its to-do list. Plastic carrier bags and their smaller, thinner counterparts used for packaging fruit and vegetables have now been outlawed for a year.
Wakibia wants the government to implement more ambitious rules and would like to see the ban expanded to include further products like bread packaging. “Many are exempt from the ban of plastic bags,” he said. “My call is to ban all single-use plastic, like plastic straws.”
That’s a move that wouldn’t be popular with KAM.
. . . Wakibia is now working with activists from Zambia and Sudan on a forward strategy. Because even though his route into Nakuru is now largely free of plastic bags, he knows the broader issue is far from solved.
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Young researcher Sarah-Jeanne Royer set out to measure methane gas coming from biological activity in sea water. Instead, in a “happy accident” she found that the plastic bottles holding the samples were a bigger source of this powerful warming molecule than the bugs in the water. Now she’s published further details in a study into the potential warming impact of gases seeping from plastic waste.
“It was a totally unexpected discovery,” Dr Royer told BBC News. “Some members of the lab were experimenting with high density polyethylene bottles looking at methane biological production, but the concentrations were much higher than expected. So we realised that the emissions were not just coming from the biology but from the bottle that we were using for the experiment.”
After graduating from university in Barcelona, Dr Royer found herself in Hawaii, leading teams of volunteers who were helping to remove plastic from beaches at weekends, while working on the chemistry of the substance during the week.
Now she’s published her report after spending a year and a half testing different types of plastic in and out of seawater to see if they emit methane and ethylene, which both contribute to the greenhouse effect.
Dr Royer found that the most widely-used plastic, the stuff used to make shopping bags, is the one that produces the greatest amount of these warming gases.
At the end of the study, after 212 days in the sun, this plastic emitted 176 times more methane than at the start of the experiment.
Ironically, when plastics were exposed to air the amount of methane emitted was double the level from sea water.
What’s causing these emissions?
In short it’s the Sun. Solar radiation acts on the surface of plastic waste. As it breaks down, becomes cracked and pitted, these defects increase the surface area of plastic available to sunlight which accelerates gas production. Even in the dark, the gas continues to seep out.
“I’m in the field every week,” said Dr Royer. “When I touch a piece of plastic, if there’s a little impact on that plastic it’s degrading into hundred of pieces pretty much as we look at it.”
Is this a big deal?
Up to now, the link between plastics and climate change was mainly focussed on the use of fossil fuels like oil and gas in the manufacture of plastic items.
It’s also known that when plastics degrade in the environment, they release CO2. Experts have welcomed this report as it is the first time that anyone has tried to quantify other warming gases emerging from plastic waste.
“Low density polyethylene (LDPE) does emit ethylene, methane and propane, even at low temperatures that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions,” Prof Ashwani Gupta from the University of Maryland, who was not involved in the study, told BBC News.
“It is nice to see some quantified emissions on greenhouse gases for the selected polyethylene. The results clearly show variation in gas emission levels among the different polyethylene sources.”
While the amounts of methane and ethylene being produced right now from plastics are very small, Dr Royer is concerned about the future and the fact that as plastic breaks down, more surface area is exposed, increasing the amount of the gases that drifts into the atmosphere.
“If we look at all the plastic produced since 1950, it’s pretty much all still on the planet, and it’s just degrading into smaller and smaller pieces, so we know the industry is booming and in the next 30 years and more and more greenhouse gases will be produced – that’s a big thing.”
What have the plastics industry said?
Nothing much at this point. According to Dr Royer, when she approached companies in the field, they weren’t keen on talking about it.
“I told them I was a scientist and I was trying to understand the chemistry of the plastic,” she said. “I was trying to order some plastics of different densities and I was asking questions about the process and they all said we don’t want to have contact with you anymore. I think the plastic industry absolutely knows, and they don’t want this to be shared with the world.”
How have other scientists reacted?
“Research on plastic waste is revealing it to be a disturbing pandora’s box,” said Dr Montserrat Filella, a chemist at the University of Geneva.
“As research expands our knowledge, we are realising that plastics can be insidious in many other ways. For instance, as vectors of ‘hidden pollutants’, such as heavy metals present in them or, now, as a source of greenhouse gases. And, in all cases, throughout the entire lifetime of the plastic.”
Others agreed that further research was urgently needed.
“No one knows how much methane and ethylene are being released from these sources. We don’t know if it is adding significant amounts of greenhouse gases to our atmosphere,” said Dr Jennifer Lynch, a marine environment expert from the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (Nist).
“It’s another consequence of the use of plastics and it needs further examination.”
August 2, 2018
Indian company’s edible spoons are part of growing trend of edible cutlery.
Plastic cutlery is a major contributor to the growing plastic waste crisis. An estimated 40 billion plastic utensils are used and thrown away each year in the United States alone.
But, Narayana Peesapaty the founder and directing manager of Bakey’s, an Indian cutlery company, has a possible solution—spoons and forks you can eat.
Peesapaty said he was inspired to create the product while watching his country’s plastic problem mount and the use of plastic utensils become more routine. It’s estimated that India discards about 120 billion pieces of disposable plastic utensils each year.
He said he was also concerned about the health effects of plastic utensils, given that research had found that chemical components in plastic products can leach into food.
With a background in groundwater research, Peesapaty said he also wanted to use a raw material that wouldn’t put much pressure on India’s already depleted water resources. That’s why the utensils are made mostly with millet. The ancient African grain absorbs liquids at a slower rate and is suitable for cultivation in semi-arid areas.
The utensils went viral after a video was posted to Facebook in 2016. The company said it has since expanded globally, with consumers around the world buying the edible cutlery from the company’s online store.
But Bakey’s stumbled that same year when it held two online crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter and Ketto and collected more than $300,000. Donors were promised packs of edible spoons for their contributions, but some are still commenting on the fundraising pages that they have yet to receive them.
A dispute ensued with the U.S. distributor, Sarah Munir, who Peesapaty says advertised the spoons at an unreasonably discounted price and shipping rates, and sent him only $148,000 of the $280,000 raised on Kickstarter. Munir wrote on the Kickstarter campaign page that the delay was caused by production problems on Bakey’s end.
Watch Bakey’s viral video, reposted below by National Geographic.
Munir wrote on the Kickstarter campaign page that the delay was caused by production problems on Bakey’s end.
Peesapaty admits his machines did break down during the fundraiser when he was still refining his process, but says that he’s working to catch up on orders from the Kickstarter supporters.
But the millet spoons aren’t the only edible cutlery option. American companies like Bocado Handcrafted Products are also making edible, biodegradable spoons. Others like the Edible Spoon Maker (EDM) and Wilton, sell irons and moulds that allow consumers to create their own spoons at home.
‘I don’t think it is enough’
But some environmentalists think the edible options don’t go far enough to address the plastic waste crisis. More than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since the 1950s, 60 percent of which has ended up either in a landfill or the natural environment.
“I think the edible cutlery is a fun idea; it really shows that there are innovative and creative solutions to single-use plastic, said Emily Alfred, the waste campaigner at the Toronto Environmental Alliance. “But I don’t think it is enough.”
Alfred said replacing single-use plastic with another single-use product isn’t going to solve the problem because — while better than plastic — edible options also use up a lot of resources and energy. [They can also cause entanglement problems for ocean animals before they break down.]
“We are still dedicating a lot of our resources to these new products, whether it is to create them, transport them, have them packaged or processed.” Those resources could be used in other ways to reduce plastic waste, said Alfred.
The cutlery also requires significant resources for packaging and shipping. Since the edible cutlery are more likely than plastic to break, the cutlery is packaged in paper bags and boxed in styrofoam, Peesapaty told CBC News.
Alfred said the best way to tackle the plastic waste crisis is to continue following the “three Rs.”
Loujain Kurdi, a Greenpeace spokesperson, says she agrees with Alfred. She suggests consumers buy lightweight metal cutlery sets designed for use on the go instead of plastic or edible utensils. “We need to reduce, reuse and recycle — in that order — whenever it is possible,” said Alfred, who stressed that reusable options are the best bet. “When we use reusables, we’re reducing and reusing at the same time.”
Mexican startup Biofase has developed and patented a process to produce plastic from avocado seeds which is a huge industrial waste in Mexico, which radially reduces production costs and does not impact food supplies. Thus these products can be offered at a competitive price.
The federal government says it will ban the sale of shower gels, toothpaste and facial scrubs containing plastic microbeads effective July 1, 2018. Microbeads found in natural health products and non-prescription drugs will be prohibited a year later, on July 1, 2019.
A notice published Friday in the Canada Gazette serves as final notice on the long-running environmental complaint, and it sets Canada on a timetable that follows the United States for removing the tiny pollutant from Canadian waters.
Environment Canada began studying the impacts of plastic microbeads on wildlife and the environment under the previous Conservative government in March 2015. The beads were officially declared toxic in June of this year.
The tiny pieces of plastic are used as exfoliants and cleansers in toiletries but do not dissolve. They then find their way into oceans, lakes and rivers where the beads are ingested by a variety of organisms.
In 2014, about 100,000 kilograms of plastic microbeads were imported into Canada for exfoliants and cleansers, while as much as 10,000 more kilograms were used in the domestic manufacture of personal care products.
Under the proposed change to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, new regulations will prohibit the manufacture and import of microbeads starting at the beginning of 2018, with the sales ban starting six months later.
The writing has been on the wall for some time and industry has already begun phasing out plastic beads from products.
The U.S. Congress approved the banning of microbeads in toiletries last December, effective July 1, 2017, while the European Union Commission recognized in December 2014 that the materials could not be labelled as environmentally friendly. Australia has a voluntary ban in effect for mid-2018.
. . . According to the Canadian Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association, a majority of Canadian manufacturers responsible for 99 per cent of the total amount of plastic microbeads used in 2014 have already committed to a voluntary phase-out by the time the federal prohibition comes into force.
Canadian Press, Global News
November 4, 2016
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The ban, which took effect on July 1, prohibits the manufacture, import and sale of most toiletry products that contain microbeads. Minister of the Environment Catherine McKenna announced the ban on Twitter, saying that that the move marks the “final step” in the effort to remove microbeads from Canadian waters.
However, the legislation excludes microbeads in natural health products and non-prescription drugs, which will be banned on July 1, 2019.
Nick Kirmse, CTVNews.ca
July 2, 2018
Costa Rica wants to become the world’s first country to achieve a comprehensive national strategy to eliminate single-use plastics by 2021.
The Central American nation intends to replace single-use plastics, such as plastic store bags, straws, coffee stirrers, containers and plastic cutlery, with biodegradable or water-soluble alternatives, or products made of renewable materials (think plant starches).
The initiative is led by Costa Rica’s Ministries of Health and Environment and Energy with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and from local governments, civil society and various private sector groups.
Costa Rican government officials announced the country’s ambitious plan on June 5, 2017, World Environment Day.
“Being a country free of single use plastics is our mantra and our mission,” according to a joint statement from Environment and Energy minister Edgar Gutiérrez, Health minister María Esther Anchía, and Alice Shackelford, resident representative for UNDP Costa Rica.
“It’s not going to be easy, and the government can’t do it alone,” the statement continues. “To promote these changes, we need all sectors—public and private—to commit to actions to replace single-use plastic through five strategic actions: municipal incentives, policies and institutional guidelines for suppliers; replacement of single-use plastic products; research and development—and investment in strategic initiatives.”
“We also need the leadership and participation of all: women, men, boys and girls,” the statement notes.
Costa Rica has emerged as an global environmental leader, with its frequent 100 percent renewable energy streaks and its 2021 goal of becoming carbon neutral—a deadline set a decade ago.
However, the officials point out in their statement that Costa Rica’s impressive environmental record still has room for improvement.
“Although the country has been an example to the world by reversing deforestation and doubling its forest cover from 26 percent in 1984 to more than 52 percent this year, today one fifth of the 4,000 tonnes of solid waste produced daily is not collected and ends up as part of the Costa Rican landscape, also polluting rivers and beaches,” they explain.
“Single-use plastics are a problem not only for Costa Rica but also for the whole world,” they add. “It is estimated that if the current consumption pattern continues, by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish—measured by weight. For this reason, we began our journey to turn Costa Rica into a single-use plastic-free zone.”
“It’s a win-win for all: Costa Rica, the people and the planet.”
By Lorraine Chow, Ecowatch
August 7, 2017
UPDATE: Use of Plastics in Public Institutions is now prohibited
In an effort to find alternatives that significantly reduce pollution, Carlos Alvarado, the President of Costa Rica, ordered to restrict the use of plastics in all public institutions of the country.
According to the guideline established by the president, all canteens of public schools, health system institutions, cafeterias, and prisons should avoid single-use plastics such as dishes, removers, disposable cups, and cutlery.
It was stated that other public institutions such as the University of Costa Rica and the Costa Rican Petroleum Refinery have adopted restrictions for the use of plastics. The measure is taken in order to avoid the incorrect disposal of this material that has negatively impacted the country in environmental matters.Additionally, Alvarado and the Minister of Environment and Energy, Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, signed an agreement that instructs the ministries of Education, Justice, and Social Security to abstain from the purchase, use, and consumption of single-use plastics, by declaring that “we are giving unequivocal signals about our orientation in environmental matters”.
By The Costa Rica News staff,
June 19, 2018
Plastic and traces of hazardous chemicals have been found in the majority of snow and ice samples taken earlier this year in Antarctica, one of the world’s last great wildernesses, according to a new study.
Researchers spent three months taking water and snow samples from remote areas of Antarctica earlier this year. These have now been analysed and researchers have confirmed the majority contained “persistent hazardous chemicals” or microplastics.
The findings come amid growing concern about the extent of the plastic pollution crisis which scientists have warned risks “permanent contamination” of the planet.
Thilo Maack takes snow samples on Greenwich Island in the Antarctic to test for environmental pollutants. Photograph: Paul Hilton/Paul Hilton / Greenpeace
. . . The new report by researchers at Greenpeace is part of global campaign to create the world’s biggest ocean sanctuary in the seas around Antarctica to protect the fragile ecosystem from industrial fishing and climate change.
Frida Bengtsson, of Greenpeace’s Protect the Antarctic campaign, said the findings proved that even the most remote areas of the planet were not immune from the impact of manmade pollution. “We need action at source, to stop these pollutants ending up in the Antarctic in the first place, and we need an Antarctic ocean sanctuary to give space for penguins, whales and the entire ecosystem to recover from the pressures they’re facing,” she said.
Seven of the eight sea-surface water samples tested contained microplastics such as microfibres. Seven of the nine snow samples tested contained detectable concentrations of the persistent hazardous chemicals – polyfluorinated alkylated substances, or PFAS. Researchers said the chemicals are widely used in many industrial processes and consumer products and have been linked to reproductive and developmental issues in wildlife. They said the snow samples gathered included freshly fallen snow, suggesting the hazardous chemicals had come from contaminated rain or snowfall.
Prof Alex Rogers, a specialist in sustainable oceans at the Oxford Martin school, Oxford University, said the discovery of plastics and chemicals in Antarctica confirmed that man-made pollutants were now affecting ecosystems in every corner of the world. And he warned the consequences of this pervasive contamination remained largely unknown. “The big question now is what are the actual consequences of finding this stuff here? Many of these chemicals are pretty nasty and as they move up the food chain they may be having serious consequences for the health of wildlife, and ultimately humans. The effects of microplastics on marine life, likewise, are largely not understood,” he said.
Bengtsson said: “Plastic has now been found in all corners of our oceans, from the Antarctic to the Arctic and at the deepest point of the ocean, the Mariana trench. We need urgent action to reduce the flow of plastic into our seas and we need large-scale marine reserves – like a huge Antarctic ocean sanctuary which over 1.6m people are calling for – to protect marine life and our oceans for future generations.”
The samples were gathered during a three-month Greenpeace expedition to the Antarctic from January to March 2018. The Guardian joined the trip for two weeks in February.
A decision on the sanctuary proposal, which is being put forward by the EU and supported by environmental campaign groups around the world, will be taken at the forthcoming meeting of the Antarctic Ocean Commission in Tasmania in October.
By Matthew Taylor, The Guardian
June 6, 2018
Plastic straws and white foam containers will soon be a thing of the past in Vancouver.
Vancouver city Council voted in May, 2018 to ban plastic straws and foam cups and takeout containers effective June 1, 2019 — six months earlier than initially proposed — making it the first municipality in Canada to ban the single-use disposable items.
“It’s a big boost towards Zero Waste 2040,” Mayor Gregor Robertson told council. “This is a really important step forward to demonstrate how serious we are in phasing out plastics and making sure we are working aggressively towards zero waste.”
Council also voted to provide more funding for outreach and education to support businesses and organization affected by the ban.
It did not impose a ban on plastic bags or disposable coffee cups, opting instead to work with businesses to reduce their use, whether by charging customers a fee, providing incentives not to use them, or ditching the items altogether.
Some speakers warned council the ban might have unintended consequences for people reliant on plastic bags and straws, including those with disabilities and low-income people.
A speaker from the Potluck Cafe Society, which provides healthy meals for people in the Downtown Eastside, expressed concern over the effect the new measures would have on their operating costs.
While the society endorses the strategy and the city’s zero waste goals, Downtown Eastside food providers will need more time to implement the changes, said Dounia Saeme. She asked the city to consider initiatives such as a subsidy program or capital grants to support the groups through the transition.
Joe Hruska, of the Canadian Plastic Industry Association, told council before the vote that the ban will increase landfill waste and greenhouse gas emissions. He called on council to defer the ban and consult with industry to find other solutions.
Some councillors raised concerns that the ban might affect businesses’ and consumers’ bottom lines and worsen affordability.
Robertson said the city is already spending $2.5 million a year to collect single-use waste items from public trash bins and litter in public spaces.
“I think zero waste is directly tied to more affordability,” he said. “It’s a dangerous thing to conflate taking action to be clean and green to creating more costs.”
Representatives of bubble tea shops asked council to delay the plastic straw ban because no viable alternatives for bubble tea straws are currently available on the market.
“Our industry depends on straws,” said Katie Fung, a manager at Pearl Fever Tea House. “This ban will be detrimental to many businesses in our city.”
Every week, 2.6 million disposable coffee cups are thrown into street garbage bins in Vancouver while 58 million straws are thrown out every day in Canada.
Victoria has implemented a plastic bag ban starting July 1, but that is being challenged in court by the Canadian Plastic Bag Association.
In North Vancouver, Deep Cove merchants have banded together to stop using plastic straws. Organizers of the movement plan to provide paper straws to help ease the transition for some businesses.
by Cheryl Chan
May 21, 2018
THE MARIANA TRENCH—THE deepest point in the ocean—extends nearly 36,000 feet (10,989 meters) down in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean, but it has not escaped from the global onslaught of plastic pollution. A recent study revealed that a plastic bag, like the kind given away at grocery stores, is now the deepest known piece of plastic trash. The discovery is one of 3,000 pieces of man-made debris dating back 30 years.
Scientists found it by looking through the Deep-Sea Debris Database, a collection of photos and videos taken from 5,010 dives from numerous international teams working around the world over the past 30 years and using deep-sea remote vehicles to help study the ocean beds to discover what lies beneath.
Of the classifiable debris logged in the database, plastic was the most prevalent, and plastic bags in particular made up the greatest source of plastic trash. Other debris came from material like rubber, metal, wood, and cloth, and some is yet to be classified.
Most of the plastic—a whopping 89 percent—was the type of plastic that is used once and then thrown away, like a plastic water bottle or disposable utensil.
While the Mariana Trench may seem like a dark, lifeless pit, it hosts more life than you might think. NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer vessel searched the region’s depths in 2016 and found diverse life-forms, including species like coral, jellyfish, and octopus. The recent study also found that 17 percent of the images of plastic logged in the database showed interactions of some kind with marine life, like animals becoming entangled in the debris.
The new study is just one among many showing just how prevalent plastic pollution has become worldwide. Single-use plastics are virtually everywhere, and they may take hundreds of years or more to break down once in the wild.
Last February, a separate study showed that the Mariana Trench has higher levels of overall pollution in certain regions than some of the most polluted rivers in China. The study’s authors theorized that the chemical pollutants in the trench may have come in part from the breakdown of plastic in the water column. . . .
By Sarah Gibbons, National Geographic
May 11, 2018
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Additional information from: The Telegraph
Plastic and traces of hazardous chemicals have been found in Antarctica