Microplastics found in Industrial Soft Drinks

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 waterin 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.”

September 26, 2018

READ FULL ARTICLE AT:

https://ilsalvagente.it/2018/09/26/in-italy-the-first-analysis-carried-out-by-il-salvagente-find-microplastics-in-industrial-soft-drink/

 

 

Bike path in the Netherlands made from plastic waste

Dutch cyclists rode down the world’s first bike path made entirely of discarded plastic this week, in a move aimed at reducing the millions of tonnes wasted every year.

The 30-metre (100-ft) bike path in the 1,300-year-old northern town of Zwolle contains the equivalent of 500,000 plastic bottle caps and is estimated to be two to three times more durable than traditional roads.

“This first pilot is a big step towards a sustainable and future-proof road made of recycled plastic waste,” the path’s inventors Anne Koudstaal and Simon Jorritsma said in a statement. . .

Leading environmental expert Guus Velders welcomed the new initiative by Dutch engineering firm KWS, pipe maker Wavin and French oil major Total, saying it was a “positive step” towards a more circular use of materials.

However, Emma Priestland, campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said the solution to plastic pollution lay in preventing its unnecessary use in the first place.

“Using plastic to make bicycle paths may help to keep plastics out of landfill and … but it’s still unclear what happens to this plastic as the surface of the path is worn away,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.

Cities such as London, Amsterdam and Paris are looking at how they can shift to a circular economy – reusing products, parts and materials, producing no waste or pollution and using fewer new resources and energy. . . .

A second bike path is expected to open in the northeastern Dutch village of Giethoorn in November.

 

For Wildlife, Plastic Is Turning the Ocean Into a Minefield

Plastic debris is wreaking havoc on wildlife.  From getting stuck in nets to eating plastic that they think is food, creatures worldwide are dying from material we made.

On a boat off Costa Rica, a biologist uses pliers from a Swiss army knife to try to extract a plastic straw from a sea turtle’s nostril. The turtle writhes in agony, bleeding profusely. For eight painful minutes the YouTube video ticks on; it has logged more than 20 million views, even though it’s so hard to watch. At the end the increasingly desperate biologists finally manage to dislodge a four-inch-long straw from the creature’s nose.

Raw scenes like this, which lay bare the toll of plastic on wildlife, have become familiar: The dead albatross, its stomach bursting with refuse. The turtle stuck in a six-pack ring, its shell warped from years of straining against the tough plastic. The seal snared in a discarded fishing net.

But most of the time, the harm is stealthier. Flesh-footed shearwaters, large, sooty brown seabirds that nest on islands off the coasts of Australia and New Zealand, eat more plastic as a proportion of their body mass than any other marine animal, researchers say: In one large population, 90 percent of the fledglings had already ingested some. A plastic shard piercing an intestine can kill a bird quickly. But typically the consumption of plastic just leads to chronic, unrelenting hunger.

Right: On Okinawa, Japan, a hermit crab resorts to a plastic bottle cap to protect its soft abdomen. Beachgoers collect the shells the crabs normally use, and they leave trash behind. PHOTOGRAPH BY SHAWN MILLER 
“The really sad thing about this is that they’re eating plastic thinking it’s food,” says Matthew Savoca, a marine biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Imagine you ate lunch and then just felt weak and lethargic and hungry all day. That would be very confusing.” Fish such as anchovies, Savoca has found, eat plastic because it smells like food once it’s covered with algae. Seabirds, expending energy their malnourished bodies don’t have, roam farther in search of real food, only to drag back plastic waste to feed their young.

What makes plastic useful for people—its durability and light weight—increases the threat to animals. Plastic hangs around a long time, and a lot of it floats. “Single-use plastics are the worst. Period. Bar none,” Savoca says, referring to straws, water bottles, and plastic bags. Some 700 species of marine animals have been reported—so far—to have eaten or become entangled in plastic.

We don’t fully understand plastic’s long-term impact on wildlife (nor its impact on us). We haven’t been using the stuff for very long. The first documented cases of seabirds ingesting plastic were 74 Laysan albatross chicks found on a Pacific atoll in 1966, when plastic production was roughly a twentieth of what it is today. In hindsight, those birds seem like the proverbial canaries in a coal mine.

The photographer freed this stork from a plastic bag at a landfill in Spain. One bag can kill more than once: Carcasses decay, but plastic lasts and can choke or trap again.JOHN CANCALOSI
Featured Image: An old plastic fishing net snares a loggerhead turtle in the Mediterranean off Spain. The turtle could stretch its neck above water to breathe but would have died had the photographer not freed it. “Ghost fishing” by derelict gear is a big threat to sea turtles.  PHOTOGRAPH BY JORDI CHIAS
By Natasha Daly, National Geographic
June 2018

We are drowning in plastic – how much and how did we get there

WE MADE PLASTIC. WE DEPEND ON IT. AND NOW WE’RE DROWNING IN IT.  The miracle material has made modern life possible. But more than 40 percent of plastic is used just once, and it’s choking our waterways.

… Because plastic wasn’t invented until the late 19th century, and production really only took off around 1950, we have a mere 9.2 billion tons of the stuff to deal with. Of that, more than 6.9 billion tons have become waste. And of that waste, a staggering 6.3 billion tons never made it to a recycling bin—a figure that stunned the scientists who crunched the numbers in 2017.
No one knows how much unrecycled plastic waste ends up in the ocean, Earth’s last sink. In 2015, Jenna Jambeck, a University of Georgia engineering professor, caught everyone’s attention with a rough estimate: between 5.3 million and 14 million tons each year just from coastal regions. Most of it isn’t thrown off ships, she and her colleagues say, but is dumped carelessly on land or in rivers, mostly in Asia. It’s then blown or washed into the sea. Imagine five plastic grocery bags stuffed with plastic trash, Jambeck says, sitting on every foot of coastline around the world—that would correspond to about 8.8 million tons, her middle-of-the-road estimate of what the ocean gets from us annually. It’s unclear how long it will take for that plastic to completely biodegrade into its constituent molecules. Estimates range from 450 years to never.
… And yet there’s a key difference: Ocean plastic is not as complicated as climate change. There are no ocean trash deniers, at least so far. To do something about it, we don’t have to remake our planet’s entire energy system.

“This isn’t a problem where we don’t know what the solution is,” says Ted Siegler, a Vermont resource economist who has spent more than 25 years working with developing nations on garbage. “We know how to pick up garbage. Anyone can do it. We know how to dispose of it. We know how to recycle.” It’s a matter of building the necessary institutions and systems, he says—ideally before the ocean turns, irretrievably and for centuries to come, into a thin soup of plastic.

 

In Plymouth, under the gray gloom of an English autumn, Richard Thompson waited in a yellow slicker outside Plymouth University’s Coxside Marine Station, at the edge of the harbor. A lean man of 54, with a smooth pate rimmed with gray hair, Thompson was headed for an ordinary career as a marine ecologist in 1993—he was working on a Ph.D. on limpets and microalgae that grow on coastal rocks—when he participated in his first beach cleanup, on the Isle of Man. While other volunteers zoomed in on the plastic bottles and bags and nets, Thompson focused on the small stuff, the tiny particles that lay underfoot, ignored, at the high tide line. At first he wasn’t even sure they were plastic. He had to consult forensic chemists to confirm it.

There was a real mystery to be solved back then, at least in academic circles: Scientists wondered why they weren’t finding even more plastic in the sea. World production has increased exponentially—from 2.3 million tons in 1950, it grew to 162 million in 1993 and to 448 million by 2015—but the amount of plastic drifting on the ocean and washing up on beaches, alarming as it was, didn’t seem to be rising as fast. “That begs the question: Where is it?” Thompson said. “We can’t establish harm to the environment unless we know where it is.”

In the years since his first beach cleanup, Thompson has helped provide the beginnings of an answer: The missing plastic is getting broken into pieces so small they’re hard to see. In a 2004 paper, Thompson coined the term “microplastics” for these small bits, predicting—accurately, as it turned out—that they had “potential for large-scale accumulation” in the ocean.

When we met in Plymouth last fall, Thompson and two of his students had just completed a study that indicated it’s not just waves and sunlight that break down plastic. In lab tests, they’d watched amphipods of the species Orchestia gammarellus—tiny shrimplike crustaceans that are common in European coastal waters—devour pieces of plastic bags and determined they could shred a single bag into 1.75 million microscopic fragments. The little creatures chewed through plastic especially fast, Thompson’s team found, when it was coated with the microbial slime that is their normal food. They spat out or eventually excreted the plastic bits.

Microplastics have been found everywhere in the ocean that people have looked, from sediments on the deepest seafloor to ice floating in the Arctic—which, as it melts over the next decade, could release more than a trillion bits of plastic into the water, according to one estimate. On some beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii, as much as 15 percent of the sand is actually grains of microplastic. Kamilo Point Beach, the one I walked on, catches plastic from the North Pacific gyre, the trashiest of five swirling current systems that transport garbage around the ocean basins and concentrate it in great patches. At Kamilo Point the beach is piled with laundry baskets, bottles, and containers with labels in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, English, and occasionally, Russian. On Henderson Island, an uninhabited coral island in the South Pacific, researchers have found an astonishing volume of plastic from South America, Asia, New Zealand, Russia, and as far away as Scotland.

As Thompson and I talked about all this, a day boat called the Dolphin was carrying us through a light chop in the Sound, off Plymouth. Thompson reeled out a fine-mesh net called a manta trawl, usually used for studying plankton. We were close to the spot where, a few years earlier, other researchers had collected 504 fish of 10 species and given them to Thompson. Dissecting the fish, he was surprised to find microplastics in the guts of more than one-third of them. The finding made international headlines.

In Life magazine in 1955, an American family celebrates the dawn of “Throwaway Living,” thanks in part to disposable plastics. Single-use plastics have brought great convenience to people around the world, but they also make up a big part of the plastic waste that’s now choking our oceans.

PHOTOGRAPH BY PETER STACKPOLE, LIFE PICTURE COLLECTION/GETTY IMAGES

 

After we’d steamed along for a while, Thompson reeled the manta trawl back in. There was a smattering of colored plastic confetti at the bottom. Thompson himself doesn’t worry much about microplastics in his fish and chips—there’s little evidence yet that they pass from the gut of a fish into the flesh we actually eat. (See We Know Plastic Is Harming Marine Life. What About Us?) He worries more about the things that none of us can see—the chemicals added to plastics to give them desirable properties, such as malleability, and the even tinier nanoplastics that microplastics presumably degrade into. Those might pass into the tissues of fish and humans.

“We do know the concentrations of chemicals at the time of manufacture in some cases are very high,” Thompson said. “We don’t know how much additive is left in the plastic by the time it becomes bite-size to a fish.

“Nobody has found nanoparticles in the environment—they’re below the level of detection for analytical equipment. People think they are out there. They have the potential to be sequestered in tissue, and that could be a game changer.”

Thompson is careful not to get ahead of the science on his subject. He’s far from an alarmist—but he’s also convinced that plastic trash in the ocean is far more than an aesthetic problem. “I don’t think we should be waiting for a key finding of whether or not fish are hazardous to eat,” he said. “We have enough evidence to act.”

In one of their early applications, they saved wildlife. In the mid-1800s, piano keys, billiard balls, combs, and all manner of trinkets were made of a scarce natural material: elephant ivory. With the elephant population at risk and ivory expensive and scarce, a billiards company in New York City offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who could come up with an alternative.

As Susan Freinkel tells the tale in her book, Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, an amateur inventor named John Wesley Hyatt took up the challenge. His new material, celluloid, was made of cellulose, the polymer found in all plants. Hyatt’s company boasted that it would eliminate the need “to ransack the Earth in pursuit of substances which are constantly growing scarcer.” Besides sparing at least some elephants, celluloid also helped change billiards from solely an aristocratic pastime to one that working people play in bars.

That’s a trivial example of a profound revolution ushered in by plastic—an era of material abundance. The revolution accelerated in the early 20th century, once plastics began to be made from the same stuff that was giving us abundant, cheap energy: petroleum. Oil companies had waste gases like ethylene coming out the stacks of their refineries. Chemists discovered they could use those gases as building blocks, or monomers, to create all sorts of novel polymers—polyethylene terephthalate, for example, or PET—instead of working only with polymers that already existed in nature. A world of possibilities opened up. Anything and everything could be made of plastic, and so it was, because plastics were cheap.

They were so cheap, we began to make things we never intended to keep. In 1955 Life magazine celebrated the liberation of the American housewife from drudgery. Under the headline “Throwaway Living,” a photograph showed a family flinging plates, cups, and cutlery into the air. The items would take 40 hours to clean, the text noted—“except that no housewife need bother.” When did plastics start to show their dark side? You might say it was when the junk in that photo hit the ground.

Six decades later, roughly 40 percent of the now more than 448 million tons of plastic produced every year is disposable, much of it used as packaging intended to be discarded within minutes after purchase. Production has grown at such a breakneck pace that virtually half the plastic ever manufactured has been made in the past 15 years. Last year the Coca-Cola Company, perhaps the world’s largest producer of plastic bottles, acknowledged for the first time just how many it makes: 128 billion a year. Nestlé, PepsiCo, and others also churn out torrents of bottles.

The growth of plastic production has far outstripped the ability of waste management to keep up: That’s why the oceans are under assault. “It’s not surprising that we broke the system,” Jambeck says. “That kind of increase would break any system not prepared for it.” In 2013 a group of scientists issued a new assessment of throwaway living. Writing in Nature magazine, they declared that disposable plastic should be classified, not as a housewife’s friend, but as a hazardous material.

In recent years the surge in production has been driven largely by the expanded use of disposable plastic packaging in the growing economies of Asia—where garbage collection systems may be underdeveloped or nonexistent. In 2010, according to an estimate by Jambeck, half the world’s mismanaged plastic waste was generated by just five Asian countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka.

“Let’s say you recycle 100 percent in all of North America and Europe,” says Ramani Narayan, a chemical engineering professor at Michigan State University who also works in his native India. “You still would not make a dent on the plastics released into the oceans. If you want to do something about this, you have to go there, to these countries, and deal with the mismanaged waste.”

A LIFETIME OF PLASTIC: The first plastics made from fossil fuels are just over a century old. They came into widespread use after World War II and are found today in everything from cars to medical devices to food packaging. Their useful lifetime varies. Once disposed of, they break down into smaller fragments that linger for centuries.

Total: 448 million tons produced in 2015

Growth in Asia: As the economies in Asia grow, so does demand for consumer products—and plastics. Half the world’s plastics are made there, 29 percent in China.

The legacy of World War II: Shortages of natural materials during the war led to a search for synthetic alternatives—and to an exponential surge in plastic production that continues today.  The largest market for plastics today is for packaging materials. That trash now accounts for nearly half of all plastic waste generated globally; most of it never gets recycled or incinerated.

DURABLE CHAINS: Plastics are polymers: Long-chain molecules made of repeating links, or monomers. The chains are strong, light, and durable, which makes them so useful—and so problematic when they’re disposed of carelessly. Chemical reactions Heat, pressure, and catalysts drive reactions that link the monomers. The monomers that are synthesized into plastics are usually derived from fossil fuels such as crude oil and natural gas.

END PRODUCTS: PET is one of the most widely used polymers. Methanol, a by-product of PET synthesis, is typically incinerated.
By Laura Parker, National Geographic
June 2018
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Kenya brings in world’s toughest ban on plastic bags: four years jail or $40,000 fine + Update

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

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/aug/28/kenya-brings-in-worlds-toughest-plastic-bag-ban-four-years-jail-or-40000-fine

 

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.

 Market traders and shoppersTraders and shoppers alike have had to rethink the way they go about their daily business.

“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.

Unwrapped unemployment

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.”

A sprawling waste site littered with plasticPlastic dumped on waste sites like these is easily blown about and ends up in waterways and in places where it is ingested by unsuspecting animals.

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.

James Wakibia

. . . 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.

READ FULL ARTICLE AT:

https://www.dw.com/en/visiting-kenya-a-year-into-its-plastic-bag-ban/a-45254144

 

We Know Plastic Is Harming Marine Life. What About Humans?

There often are tiny bits of plastic in the fish and shellfish humans eat. Scientists are racing to figure out what that means for our health.

In a laboratory at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, in Palisades, New York, Debra Lee Magadini positions a slide under a microscope and flicks on an ultraviolet light. Scrutinizing the liquefied digestive tract of a shrimp she bought at a fish market, she makes a tsk-ing sound. After examining every millimeter of the slide, she blurts, “This shrimp is fiber city!” Inside its gut, seven squiggles of plastic, dyed with Nile red stain, fluoresce.

All over the world, researchers like Magadini are staring through microscopes at tiny pieces of plastic—fibers, fragments, or microbeads—that have made their way into marine and freshwater species, both wild caught and farmed. Scientists have found microplastics in 114 aquatic species, and more than half of those end up on our dinner plates. Now they are trying to determine what that means for the health of humans.

So far science lacks evidence that microplastics—pieces smaller than one-fifth of an inch—are affecting fish at the population level. Our food supply doesn’t seem to be under threat—at least as far as we know. But enough research has been done now to show that the fish and shellfish we enjoy are suffering from the omnipresence of this plastic. Every year five million to 14 million tons flow into our oceans from coastal areas. Sunlight, wind, waves, and heat break down that material into smaller bits that look—to plankton, bivalves, fish, and even whales—a lot like food.

Fish caught by children who live next to a hatchery on Manila Bay in the Philippines live in an ecosystem polluted by household waste, plastics, and other trash. Whether microplastics ingested by fish affect humans is unknown, but scientists are looking for answers.PHOTOGRAPH BY RANDY OLSON

Experiments show that microplastics damage aquatic creatures, as well as turtles and birds: They block digestive tracts, diminish the urge to eat, and alter feeding behavior, all of which reduce growth and reproductive output. Their stomachs stuffed with plastic, some species starve and die.

In addition to mechanical effects, microplastics have chemical impacts, because free-floating pollutants that wash off the land and into our seas—such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and heavy metals—tend to adhere to their surfaces.

Chelsea Rochman, a professor of ecology at the University of Toronto, soaked ground-up polyethylene, which is used to make some types of plastic bags, in San Diego Bay for three months. She then offered this contaminated plastic, along with a laboratory diet, to Japanese medakas, small fish commonly used for research, for two months. The fish that had ingested the treated plastic suffered more liver damage than those that had consumed virgin plastic. (Fish with compromised livers are less able to metabolize drugs, pesticides, and other pollutants.) Another experiment demonstrated that oysters exposed to tiny pieces of polystyrene—the stuff of take-out food containers—produce fewer eggs and less motile sperm.

The list of freshwater and marine organisms that are harmed by plastics stretches to hundreds of species.

It’s difficult to parse whether microplastics affect us as individual consumers of seafood, because we’re steeped in this material—from the air we breathe to both the tap and bottled water we drink, the food we eat, and the clothing we wear. Moreover, plastic isn’t one thing. It comes in many forms and contains a wide range of additives—pigments, ultraviolet stabilizers, water repellents, flame retardants, stiffeners such as bisphenol A (BPA), and softeners called phthalates—that can leach into their surroundings.

Some of these chemicals are considered endocrine disruptors—chemicals that interfere with normal hormone function, even contributing to weight gain. Flame retardants may interfere with brain development in fetuses and children; other compounds that cling to plastics can cause cancer or birth defects. A basic tenet of toxicology holds that the dose makes the poison, but many of these chemicals—BPA and its close relatives, for example—appear to impair lab animals at levels some governments consider safe for humans.

Studying the impacts of marine microplastics on the health of humans is challenging because people can’t be asked to eat plastics for experiments, because plastics and their additives act differently depending on physical and chemical contexts, and because their characteristics may change as creatures along the food chain consume, metabolize, or excrete them. We know virtually nothing about how food processing or cooking affects the toxicity of plastics in aquatic organisms or what level of contamination might hurt us.

The good news is that most microplastics studied by scientists seem to remain in the guts of fish and do not move into muscle tissue, which is what we eat. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, in a thick report on this subject, concludes that people likely consume only negligible amounts of microplastics—even those who eat a lot of mussels and oysters, which are eaten whole. The agency reminds us, also, that eating fish is good for us: It reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, and fish contain high levels of nutrients uncommon in other foods.

That said, scientists remain concerned about the human health impacts of marine plastics because, again, they are ubiquitous and they eventually will degrade and fragment into nanoplastics, which measure less than 100 billionths of a meter—in other words, they are invisible. Alarmingly these tiny plastics can penetrate cells and move into tissues and organs. But because researchers lack analytical methods to identify nanoplastics in food, they don’t have any data on their occurrence or absorption by humans.

And so the work continues. “We know that there are effects from plastics on animals at nearly all levels of biological organization,” Rochman says. “We know enough to act to reduce plastic pollution from entering the oceans, lakes, and rivers.” Nations can enact bans on certain types of plastic, focusing on those that are the most abundant and problematic. Chemical engineers can formulate polymers that biodegrade. Consumers can eschew single-use plastics. And industry and government can invest in infrastructure to capture and recycle these materials before they reach the water.

In a dusty basement a short distance from the lab where Magadini works, metal shelves hold jars containing roughly 10,000 preserved mummichogs and banded killifish, trapped over seven years in nearby marshes. Examining each fish for the presence of microplastics is a daunting task, but Magadini and her colleagues are keen to see how levels of exposure have changed over time. Others will painstakingly untangle how microbeads, fibers, and fragments affect these forage fish, the larger fish that consume them, and—ultimately—us.

“I think we’ll know the answers in five to 10 years’ time,” Magadini says.

By then at least another 25 million tons of plastic will have flowed into our seas.

June 2108

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/06/plastic-planet-health-pollution-waste-microplastics/

Plastic pollution: How one woman found a new source of methane gas hidden in plastic waste

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.

on the beach         Image copyright OLIVIER POIRION

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.”

plastic waste         Image copyright SARAH-JEANNE ROYER
 Image caption Plastic waste washed up in a Hawaiian bay

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.”

plastic          Image copyright SARAH-JEANN ROYER

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.”

plastic         Image copyright SARAH-JEANNE ROYER
 Image caption Plastic debris from the tsunami in Japan is still causing problems in Hawaii

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

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-45043989?SThisFB&fbclid=IwAR2PPafrNBIg_V2Zual3IjO6ApYyMsr32rISZnRByZarz96D2tUhyVFkMaI

 

Cutlery you can eat: One company’s approach to the plastic pollution problem

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.

His edible cutlery is made from millet, rice and wheat flours and was the first of its kind when it was developed in 2010. Today, Peesapaty is one of several players in the edible cutlery game, a burgeoning niche that’s created buzz among consumers but received lukewarm reception from environmentalists. 

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.

The company said it has expanded to smaller spoons for soups and desserts as well as small bowls and pots. (Bakey’s)

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 vegan edibles come in three different flavours — plain, sweet, and spicy — and have a shelf life of about three years. If users don’t feel compelled to eat their cutlery at the end of their meal, the spoons and forks will naturally decompose within four to five days — if they’re not eaten by an animal first. But the edible cutlery cannot be reused.
Narayana Peesapaty’s company Bakey’s produces edible cutlery he says tastes like crackers. ( Bakey’s)

Delivery problems

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.

And since the Bakey’s cutlery is only made in India,  it must be shipped or flown to other countries, where plastic cutlery could be made or sourced locally.  The company sold 2.5 million spoons last year to catering companies in India and has several hundred international customers.

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.”

See also:

Plastic microbeads will be banned in Canada, effective mid-2018 + Update

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

READ FULL ARTICLE AT:

Plastic microbeads will be banned in Canada, effective mid-2018

UPDATE:

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 

FULL ARTICLE at: https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/most-toiletries-with-microbeads-no-longer-for-sale-in-canada-1.3997003

Costa Rica bans single-use plastics + Update

Costa Rica wants to become the world’s first country to achieve a comprehensive national strategy to eliminate single-use plastics by 2021.

Disposable plastic glasses       Plastic cutlery

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

https://www.ecowatch.com/costa-rica-ban-single-use-plastics-2470233949.html

 

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

https://thecostaricanews.com/use-of-plastics-in-public-institutions-of-costa-rica-is-restricted-from-now-on/

Plastic and traces of hazardous chemicals have been found in Antarctica

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.

 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.

The samples were collected during a three-month expedition to the Antarctic aboard the Greenpeace ship, Arctic Sunrise, from January to March 2018.
Pinterest
The samples were collected during a three-month expedition to the Antarctic aboard the Greenpeace ship, Arctic Sunrise, from January to March 2018. Photograph: Christian Åslund/Christian Åslund / Greenpeace

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

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/06/antarctica-plastic-contamination-reaches-earths-last-wilderness

 

Latin America and the Caribbean bids goodbye to plastic bags

On 30 May, Chile became the first South American country to approve a nationwide ban on single-use plastic bags, garnering congratulations from around the world for its efforts to beat plastic pollution ahead of World Environment Day on 5 June.

In 2017, under the presidency of Michelle Bachelet, the country banned the use of plastic bags in 100 coastal communities. But the government of current President Sebastián Piñera decided to take things one step further, proposing to the Congress to extend the measure nationwide.

The ban will come into force in one year’s time for major retailers and in two years’ time for smaller businesses.  “Today we are more prepared to leave a better planet to our children, grandchildren and the generations to come,” said Piñera.

Several other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are using taxes, bans, and technological innovation to restrict the production and consumption of plastic bags and reduce their harmful impact on oceans and marine species.

It is estimated that the world consumes each year up to 5 trillion plastic bags, mostly made of polyethylene, a low-cost polymer derived from petroleum, which takes at least 500 years to degrade. Only 9 percent of all plastic waste is recycled.

Plastic bag and bird
Plastic pollution is harmful to birds and other wildlife. (Shutterstock)

Latin America and the Caribbean – home to the Amazon Basin, the Patagonian highlands, and a dense concentration of coral reefs – is incredibly rich in biodiversity.

Governments around the region have been delivering bold pollution-beating policies. Antigua and Barbuda was the first country in the region to ban plastic bags in 2016. Soon after, Colombia passed a similar ban, and in 2017 applied a tax to large plastic bags, while ordering changes to their design with the aim of achieving greater resistance and reusability.

The measure has helped reduce plastic bag consumption by 35 percent and raise a total of 10,460 million Colombian pesos (about $3.6 million), says Andrés Velasco, vice minister of Finance and Public Credit of Colombia.

The tax began at 20 Colombian pesos for each plastic bag in 2017, and will increase 10 pesos each year until reaching 50 pesos in 2020 – equivalent to approximately $0.02.

Colombia’s neighbor, Panama, became at the beginning of 2018 the first country in Central America to ban polyethylene bags. The country is also drawing up a national plan to combat marine litter.

The Panamanian legislator Samir Gozaine, one of the supporters of the law, says that the mentality of the population is changing and more and more people are choosing reusable or biodegradable bags, such as cardboard or thread bags.

“Similar legislation has been passed by a growing number of countries in the world, so yes, we can say that we are moving forward in the battle against plastic bags,” says Gozaine.

Costa Rica adopted a national strategy to drastically reduce the use of disposable plastics by 2021, while in the Caribbean, Belize, Bahamas and Bermuda have passed or are drafting laws to eradicate single-use plastics.

Ecuador aims to transform the remote Galápagos Islands into a plastics-free archipelago: no more plastic straws, bags or bottles will be sold or used after 21 August of this year.

In Peru, several bills on the issue of plastic bags are debated in Congress. The most recent, prepared by the Government, seeks to reduce the consumption of this product by 35 per cent during the first year of implementation.

In the cities

The region’s three biggest cities – Mexico City, São Paulo and Buenos Aires – have also joined the fight against plastic bags. The Mexican capital was one of the first to do so. In August 2009, the capital city government reformed the Solid Waste Law and prohibited stores from dispensing bags free of charge.

Buenos Aires went a step further: starting from 1 January 2017, all of the city’s supermarkets were prohibited from using or selling disposable plastic shopping bags.

Buenos Aires
Supermarkets in Buenos Aires are banned from distributing disposable shopping bags. (Pixabay)

Before the law, 500 million plastic bags per year were used in the city, according to Eduardo Macchiavelli, the Minister of Environment and Public Space in the Argentine capital.

A lot of these bags would end up in the city’s waterways, triggering floods, a situation that changed “notoriously” after the implementation of the law, Macchiavelli said. A similar ban is also in force in other Argentine cities including Rosario, Pinamar and Bariloche. “It is necessary for large cities to take an active role, since being the most densely populated, they generate a greater impact on the environment,” says Macchiavelli.

In São Paulo, the government approved a law prohibiting the free distribution of plastic bags in shops in 2011. However, the measure was suspended for several years due to legal claims, until its implementation was finally endorsed by the Brazilian justice system in 2015.

According to data from the City Council of São Paulo, the consumption of disposable bags was reduced by up to 70 percent during the first year of the implementation of the law.

UN Environment’s Clean Seas campaign aims to drastically reduce the consumption of disposable plastics and eradicate the use of microplastics that pollute the world’s oceans. Twelve countries in the region are part of the campaign:  Barbados, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Grenada, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, Dominican Republic, Saint Lucia and Uruguay.

 

June 2, 2018

https://www.unenvironment.org/ru/node/21818

Vancouver City Council bans plastic straws and white foam containers

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.

If businesses do not hit target reduction rates by 2021, the city can implement stronger measures such as a full ban. The target rates have not yet been finalized.

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

Vancouver city council bans plastic straws and white foam containers

 

Plastic Bag Found at the Bottom of the Mariana Trench – the World’s Deepest Ocean Trench

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

READ FULL ARTICLE AT:

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/05/plastic-bag-mariana-trench-pollution-science-spd/

Additional information from: The Telegraph

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/05/09/worlds-deepest-plastic-bag-found-bottom-mariana-trench-highlighting/ May 10, 2018

 

See also:

Arctic sea ice contains huge quantity of microplastics, reveals new analysis

Plastic and traces of hazardous chemicals have been found in Antarctica

https://oceanchampions.ca/1563-2/ ‎

 

The Average Person Ingests 70,000 Microplastics Each Year

So along with fat, protein, and carbohydrates, your body is also getting a steady dose of plastic waste.

That’s the conclusion reached by a team of UK-based researchers in a new report published in Environmental Pollution.

To investigate this phenomenon, the researchers placed petri dishes with sticky surfaces next to dinner plates in three homes in the UK. After 20 minutes, the dishes accumulated an average of 14 microplastics.

The team then extrapolated the size of the petri dish to match a dinner plate and the food on it. They determined that each meal attracts around 100 particles from broken down synthetic fabrics, carpets, car tires, clothing, and more.

It’s an alarming finding that adds to a growing body of research on how plastic contaminates the world.

The average US sample of tap water contains 4.8 fibers of plastic, compared with an average of 1.9 fibers in Europe, according to research by Orb Media. Bottled water, meanwhile, has more than twice as many particles on average.

All of this consumed plastic could have negative health effects, according to the UN, which classifies some components of plastic as carcinogens.

micrplastic image.jpgEnvironmental Pollution of Microplastics

Plus, when plastic is floating in the environment, it becomes a magnet for pollutants.

This latest research was initially conceived to study the level of plastic contamination in seafood, according to IFLS. The home analysis was meant to act as a control, but it turned out that home environments had far more plastic contamination.

“These results may be surprising to some people who may expect the plastic fibers in seafood to be higher than those in household dust,” said study author Dr Ted Henry in a statement. “We do not know where these fibers come from, but it is likely to be inside the home and the wider environment.”

The study, of course, would need to be done on a much larger scale for more definitive results, but its conclusion contributes to a portrait of a world awash in plastic.

Between 1950 and 2015, an estimated 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic were created, the equivalent of 1 billion elephants, according to a report published in Science Advances. If current trends continue, 12 billion metric tons of plastic waste will exist in the world by 2050. That’s 1.6 metric tons, or the size of midsize car, for every human on the planet.

Arctic sea ice contains huge quantity of microplastics, reveals new analysis

Scientists have found an unprecedented number of microplastic frozen in Arctic sea ice, demonstrating the alarming extent to which they are pervading marine environments.

Analysis of ice cores from across the Arctic region found levels of the pollution were up to three times higher than previously thought.  Each litre of sea ice contained around 12,000 particles of plastic, which scientists are now concerned are being ingested by native animals.

Scientists collected Arctic ice samples while on board the German research icebreaker Polarstern, seen here above the Lomonosov Ridge in the central Arctic Ocean

Scientists collected Arctic ice samples while on board the German research icebreaker Polarstern, seen here above the Lomonosov Ridge in the central Arctic Ocean ( Alfred-Wegener-Institut/Rüdiger Stein )

Based on their analysis, the researchers were even able to trace the tiny fragments’ paths from their places of origin, from fishing vessels in Siberia to everyday detritus that had accumulated in the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

“We are seeing a clear human imprint in the Arctic,” the study’s first author, Dr Ilka Peeken, told The Independent. “It suggests that microplastics are now ubiquitous within the surface waters of the world’s ocean,” said Dr Jeremy Wilkinson, a sea ice physicist at the British Antarctic Survey who was not involved with the study.

“Nowhere is immune.”

AWI scientist Julia Gutermann analysing an Arctic sea ice core for microplastic particles in a lab at the AWI Helgoland (Tristan Vankann)

Dr Peeken and her team at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research collected ice core samples over the course of three expeditions on the research icebreaker Polarstern.  Their voyages covered five regions along the Transpolar Drift and Fram Strait, which channel sea ice from the Central Arctic to the North Atlantic.

Not only is polar sea ice acting as a store for ocean plastic that could potentially be released as global temperatures get warmer due to climate change, the movement of sea ice could be depositing microplastics in areas that were previously plastic-free.

The researchers analysed their samples using a device known as a Fourier-transform infrared spectrometer.  This enabled them to examine the ice cores layer by layer and in great detail, working out the origins of even the tiniest shards of plastic.

“What is interesting also is you have very localised sources – ship paint particles and cigarette butts and stuff like that,” said Dr Peeken. “We also see polyethylene, a very light polymer which is found in really high numbers particularly in the Central Arctic. We think that there is an incoming flow from the Pacific so that could show that is coming from that region.

“We see a large impact of plastic pollution coming from the urban areas – a lot is coming from the Atlantic and from the Pacific.”

In their paper, published in the journal Nature Communications, the scientists speculate that this polyethylene could originate from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Gyre. . . .

In ice cores collected in Siberia, the predominant forms of microplastic included paint particles from ships and nylon waste from fishing nets.

Over half the microplastic particles trapped in the ice were less than a twentieth of a millimetre wide, meaning they could easily be ingested by small Arctic creatures.

“While we don’t yet know the full extent of the impact of microplastics on the health of the marine environment or humans, the growing body of evidence suggests microplastic pollution is a contaminant of environmental and economic concern,” said Dr Pennie Lindeque, lead plastics scientist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who was not involved with the study.

“As microplastics can look like prey for marine animals and are small in size they may be eaten by a wide range of species, from zooplankton – small animals at the base of the food web –  to seabird and whales, potentially impacting marine ecosystems and the food chain.”

Other scientists welcomed the research as “a benchmark study” that demonstrated the extent to which plastics both big and small have covered the world.  However, given the scale of the global plastic crisis, they said its conclusions did not come as a surprise.

Professor Richard Thompson, an ocean plastic researcher at the University of Plymouth who first coined the use of the term microplastics, said this study builds on work he conducted to establish their concentration in Arctic ice.  “The study reinforces what is already clear to many marine scientists – that plastic debris is a highly persistent form of contamination that can accumulate in considerable concentrations even in remote locations far from the likely points of entry to the ocean. What is increasingly clear is the urgency with which we need to take steps to halt the flow of plastic debris to the ocean.

“A key priority in my view is interdisciplinary research focused on delivering appropriate evidence to inform industry and policy on the most appropriate solutions.”

By Josh Gabbatiss, Science Correspondent, Independent

April 14, 2018

https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/plastic-pollution-arctic-sea-ice-microplastics-ocean-environment-a8319951.html