A blog set out to explore, archive & relate plastic pollution happening world-wide, while learning about on-going efforts and solutions to help break free of our addiction to single-use plastics & sharing this awareness with a community of clean water lovers everywhere!

Friday, July 21, 2017

There’s literally a ton of plastic garbage for every person on Earth

July 19, 2017
More than 9 billion tons of plastic has been produced since 1950, and the vast majority of it is still around.
A new study that tracked the global manufacture and distribution of plastics since they became widespread after World War II found that only 2 billion tons of that plastic is still in use. Seven billion tons is stuck on Earth as garbage in landfills, recycled trash or pollution in the environment, including deep oceans, where it’s been discovered in the mouths of whales and the bellies of dead seabirds that mistook it for food. A small amount is eliminated in incinerators.
As plastic becomes near-indestructible mountains of garbage on land and swirling vortexes of trash on the high seas, humans keep making more. Half of the plastic that people mostly use once and toss away was created in the past 30 years, the study says.
Plastic’s most lucrative market is packaging commonly seen in grocery stores. It could be in front of you right now, in the form of a water bottle, a carryout lunch container, or an iced-coffee or tea cup with its disposable straw.
 Play Video 1:35
Over 9.1 billion tons of plastic have been produced and most of it thrown away
This animation summarizes the production and fate of all plastics ever made. (Carla Schaffer / AAAS)
It’s a miracle product that’s also in your office chair, phone and computer keyboard. The pipes that move water in your building are often plastic. You probably touch plastic to switch on the car radio on the foam plastic dashboard. Plastic is pretty much everywhere humans are at any part of the day, anywhere in the world.
In 1960, plastic accounted for just 1 percent of junk in municipal landfills across the world. As single-package containers led to an explosion in convenience and use, that number grew to 10 percent in 2005. A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated the amount of plastic debris floating in the open ocean at 7,000 to 35,000 tons.
“If current trends continue, the researchers predict over 13 billion tons of plastic will be discarded in landfills or in the environment by 2050,” the American Association for the Advancement of Science said in a statement announcing the new study’s release Wednesday. It was published in the journal Science Advances.
“I think for me that’s the single most surprising thing, the implication of the large growth rate,” said Roland Geyer, one of the authors. Another surprise, he said, is how far the United States lags behind China and Europe in recycling plastic material.
In the study, Geyer wrote, “On the basis of limited available data, the highest recycling rates in 2014 were in Europe (30 percent) and China (25 percent), whereas in the United States, plastic recycling has remained steady at 9 percent.”
Recycling only delays plastic’s inevitable trip to a trash bin. Incineration is the only way to assure that plastic is eliminated, and Europe and China by far lead the United States in that category as well, up to 40 percent compared with 16 percent.
But burning plastic is risky because if the emissions aren’t carefully filtered, harmful chemicals become air pollution. Like other countries, the United States has been slow to enforce regulations on industry emissions.
China is easily the world’s largest producer of plastics, with Europe and North America also looming large as major players, Geyer said. Other Asian nations round out a long list of manufacturers. But consumers are the polluters, and people on every continent participate, from the Arctic to Africa.
Plastic’s vampire-like life cycle is nothing new. What’s new with this research is its use of plastic-production data with “product lifetime distributions from eight different industrial sectors” to build a scientific model that showed “how long plastics are in use before they reach the end of their useful lifetimes and are discarded,” the study said.
Geyer, an associate professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, wrote the study with two colleagues, Jenna Jambeck, an associate professor at the University of Georgia, and Kara Lavender Law, a researcher at the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Mass.
Each of them studied ocean garbage in the past, but Geyer, whose field is industrial ecology, the study of material and energy, suggested the plastics study. “I’m fascinated by materials and the way we use them . . . in particular waste management.”
The scale of the world’s plastic consumption and waste shocked them. “Even we were kind of surprised at the sheer magnitude of plastics being made and used,” Geyer said. He said he hopes politicians, conservationists and consumers will pay attention to what they found.
“My hope is readers will get a sense of the sheer magnitude of the tide of plastics and the plastic-waste challenge we’re facing,” he said. “. . . It’s enormous, and it’s accelerating.”
Unless it’s burned, plastic has nowhere to go but in the ground or the water. “I think most experts agree these polymers . . . are going to be with us for decades if not centuries,” Geyer said.
“I think the danger is permanent global contamination with plastics,” he said. “It’s just going to be everywhere, in the soil, in the ocean, in the sediment of the ocean floor, and it’s just going to accumulate.”
Read more

Friday, May 5, 2017

This is how hundreds of tons of plastic trash end up in Arctic Ocean

Published in the LA Times by  Sean Greene Contact Reporter Environmental Science, May 2, 2017

Plastic fragments
A photo collage shows plastic fragments found in the Arctic Ocean. While plastic debris was scarce in most of the Arctic waters, it reached high concentrations in areas of the Greenland and Barents seas. (Andres Cozar)

Plastic trash is now so ubiquitous that researchers have found hundreds of tons of it floating in the Arctic Ocean.

It may not sound like much, but it’s a surprising amount given the area’s sparse population. The researchers who measured the plastic debris in the waters near the north pole described it as “widespread and abundant,” according to a study last month in the journal in Science Advances.

“We already knew that the marine plastic pollution was high at tropical and temperate latitudes,” said study leader Andrés Cózar, an ecologist at the University of Cadiz in Spain. “Now, we also know that the plastic waste is extending up to the poles.”

Cózar and his colleagues estimated that 63% of the ice-free Arctic Ocean is “slightly polluted” with various types of plastic debris, including fishing line, microbeads and fragments of plastic products. Of the plastic trash that makes it to the Arctic, 95% of the plastic “dead ends” in either the Greenland Sea or the Barents Sea, north of Scandinavia.

Although the world’s other ocean “garbage patches” are significantly larger than the plastic accumulation in the Arctic, the average concentrations of plastic found there were comparable to those found in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans.

In a 2014 study, Cózar and his team estimated those oceans contain 10,000 to 35,000 tons of plastic pollution, which almost never fully decomposes on its own. Their latest findings suggest 3% of that global total is floating in the Arctic.

The researchers estimate hundreds of thousands of tiny plastic pieces are floating on the surface of the Arctic Ocean

In 2013, researchers aboard the Tara Oceans expedition who were working with Cózar sampled 42 sites of ice-free ocean around the Arctic Circle. Using mesh nets, they skimmed for bits of plastic floating on the surface and for debris suspended in the ocean depths.

Scientists lower nets into the water to collect plankton and microplastics.
Scientists lower nets into the water to collect plankton and microplastics. (Anna Deniaud / Tara Expeditions Foundation)
In their analysis, the researchers estimated that between 100 and 1,200 tons of plastic is floating in the Arctic Ocean — a wide range to be sure, but one that could be narrowed with future study.

The vast majority of the debris was plastic fragments, including buoyant pieces of foam and manufactured items made from polyethylene and polypropylene. (The researchers estimated that 300 billion plastic items would weigh about 400 tons.)

The researchers also found fishing line and plastic microbeads, tiny granules that are added to toothpastes, facial scrubs and cosmetics. Microbeads are too small for the filters used in wastewater treatment plants, so when they’re washed down the drain they wind up in rivers, lakes and oceans, Cózar said.

The research team also found very few remains of plastic bags and wrappers. These types of plastic may be quicker to sink because their larger surface areas attract organism growth, which weighs the material down.

Over time, the sun causes plastic that’s floating on the ocean surface to degrade into tiny pieces called microplastics. The debris found in the Arctic was especially small, suggesting it traveled a long way to get there.

The different categories of microplastics found in the Arctic Ocean.
The different categories of microplastics found in the Arctic Ocean. (Andres Cózar)
'Extraordinary levels' of pollution have contaminated even the deepest parts of the Pacific Ocean »

Currents in the Atlantic act as a ‘conveyor belt’ for floating bits of plastic

Due to the small size of the debris and the region’s low population, the researchers involved in the new study suspected that much of the Arctic’s plastic pollution must be coming from distant sources.

To test this, they retraced the debris’ possible path to the Arctic using data from 17,000 satellite buoys spread across the world’s oceans. The data revealed that floating plastic gets caught up in the North Atlantic in a stretch of a deep-ocean current called the thermohaline circulation.

The thermohaline acts as a global conveyor belt powered by the temperature and salinity differences between the warm waters near the equator and the icy Arctic Ocean.

Locations and plastic concentrations of the sites sampled. The white area shows the extension of the polar ice cap in August 2013, and green curves represent the North Atlantic Subtropical Ocean Gyres and the Global Thermohaline Circulation poleward branch.
Locations and plastic concentrations of the sites sampled. The white area shows the extension of the polar ice cap in August 2013, and green curves represent the North Atlantic Subtropical Ocean Gyres and the Global Thermohaline Circulation poleward branch. (Andres Cózar)

Ocean currents carry warm surface water into the Arctic via a “gateway” between Iceland and Scotland. When ice forms in the northern seas, the water that remains becomes saltier. This denser seawater sinks and flows back south, into the ocean basins near the equator.

As plastic pollution from the East Coast of the United States, northwestern Europe and the United Kingdom converges into a central ocean gyre in the Atlantic, the garbage accumulates on the surface and gets swept up in this slow-moving conveyor belt. It’s also possible, the study authors note, that busy shipping lanes between North America and Europe contribute some amount of plastic debris.

The floating plastic’s ports of call? The Greenland Sea and Barents Sea, which the authors called “a dead end for this plastic conveyor belt.”

In these areas, rising temperatures have reduced summer sea ice levels and created a layer of freshwater that seems to stop the advance of the plastic debris. However, it’s possible — depending on the density of the plastic items — that some of the debris could be forced toward the bottom of the ocean, Cózar said.

Since the “accumulation zones” in the Greenland and Barents seas are fed by drifting debris from lower latitudes, the amount of plastic pollution in the Arctic is likely to keep growing — even if Europe and North America managed to stop depositing trash in the ocean altogether. This will be especially noticeable on the seafloor, which Cózar called “the final destination” of marine plastic.

What this means for the Arctic

The accumulation of plastic in the ocean — especially in the Arctic — is a worrying sign, Cózar said.

“The range of marine plastic size is so wide that any organism, from plankton to whales, could ingest plastic debris,” Cózar said.

Many seabirds, for example, mistake decaying plastic for food. Animals that partake in a plastic-heavy diet could suffocate, or starve to death because they miss out on crucial nutrients.

Plankton and microplastics.
Plankton and microplastics. (Anna Deniaud / Tara Expeditions Foundation)

On Norway’s Svalbard Islands, gull-like birds called northern fulmars feed by snatching prey from the water’s surface. Most of the fulmars sampled were found to have eaten an average 15 pieces of plastic per animal — a level that far exceeds the ecological goals set for the region.

In the Pacific Ocean, scientists found evidence of plastic accumulating in Antarctic fur seals that ate contaminated fish.

As climate change warms the Arctic and melts sea ice into open ocean, the conveyor belt of plastic will likely continue even further north.

“We have been using plastic for only a few decades, but the problem has reached a global scale in such a limited time frame,” Cózar said. “The production and consumption of plastic will likely continue to rise ... so this will become a global chronic problem without urgent actions to achieve a sustainable use of the plastic materials.”
A seal lies on an iceberg in front of the research vessel Tara.
A seal lies on an iceberg in front of the research vessel Tara. (Anna Deniaud / Tara Expeditions Foundation)

Ocean plastic. Billionaire Kjell Inge Rokke donates high-tech vessel to the scientific community

Published in LifeGate 03 MAY 2017 by  ANDREA BAROLINI

The research vessel will be launched in 2020 and will be equipped with state-of-the-art technologies to control ocean plastic pollution. The project is in collaboration with WWF.

Norwegian billionaire Kjell Inge Rokke announced on 2 May that he will fund the construction of a high-tech research vessel. The ship will be donated to the scientific community with the aim of detecting and monitoring the presence of plastic in oceans.

“I want to give something back to society”

Rokke is considered Norway’s second richest man, with 2 billion dollars of assets. “I want to give the lion’s share of what I have earned back to society. This ship is part of that,” he told daily newspaper Aftenposten. This move marks a turning point in his life. Indeed, Rokke made his fortune thanks to the fishing industry and, most of all, hydrocarbons.

nave norvegia plastica
The vessel that will be donated to the scientific community to control plastic pollution at sea ©Rosellinis four-10/Wwf Norway

The 181-metre-long vessel will host a crew of 30 people and a 60-strong research team. It will be built in collaboration with WWF and is scheduled to be launched in 2020. Thanks to state-of-the-art technologies aboard, the vessel will make researches on ocean microplastics easier. “This vessel will be able to take marine research to a completely new level. Finding solutions has never been more urgent,” said Nina Jensen, the head of WWF Norway.

Ocean plastic in the Arctic

The issue of plastic pollution in oceans, which is increasingly affecting marine life and ecosystems, has got back in the spotlight after the release of a study published in the journal Sciences Advances. The research confirms the presence of plastic debris in the Arctic Ocean and defines the area a dead-end for floating plastic.

Also, the study highlights how the presence of plastic in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans was previously assessed by detailed researches, but it has been confirmed off Greenland, North Cape and in the Barents Sea only now. In the Arctic there are smaller amounts of plastic debris than, say, in the Mediterranean Sea, but that doesn’t mean are less worrying.

rifiuti plastica mare

Plastic waste on a beach in Prestwick, Scotland © Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Scientists suggest that the Arctic could be home to up to 1,200 tonnes of plastic debris. They still don’t know the impact plastic has on sea beds as they managed to assess only floating plastic, but they claim many debris have sunken or have been trapped in the ice cap.

Featured image: Norwagian billionaire Kjell Inge Rokke with Head of WWF Norway Nina Jensen ©Ilja C. Hendel/WWF Norway

Paradise Lost: Hawaii Home to One of the World's Dirtiest Beaches

Published in Sputnik news February, 5 2017

The tropical islands of Hawaii are known for its beautiful white beaches and crystal clear blue waters. It's hard to imagine that one of these picturesque far-flung holiday destinations is also considered to have one of the dirtiest beaches in the world.

Kamilo Point, a beach in the rural Ka'u district of the Big Island of Hawaii, is a wasteland according to experts. Despite its pockets of lava rock and beautiful natural wildlife, the ocean's currents are so powerful that the winds deposit thousands of pounds of man-made trash on the beach every year.

Kamilo, also known as "plastic beach," has been know to host hair brushes, cigarette lighters, shards of plastic as well as water bottles, all of which wash up on the beach every week.

Experts claim it's the graveyard for the world's junk and a powerful reminder of what plastic can do, if not recycled or discarded of correctly.

The Hawaii Wildlife Fund (HWF), discovered that in one weekend alone in April, over 15,000 pounds worth of trash, nylon nets and fishing line was collected from Kamilo beach.

So why is there so much trash on Kamilo beach and where is it all coming from?

​Well, it appears the Kamilo is relatively close to the eastern Pacific garbage patch, which is part of the massive convergence of marine litter known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The easternmost concentration of trash is midway between the Californian coast and the eastern shores of Hawaii.

The trash that ends up on Kamilo beach is a result of oceanic and atmospheric pressures that push the items in the ocean — such as sea life, pollution and tiny pieces of plastic — into one general area.

According to Carey Morishige, formally of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations' Marine Debris Program, it is like a "soup of pollution," which includes plastic debris, that floats freely on the ocean's surface and then ends up on the beach.

As the most easterly island, Kamilo Point and the larger Ka'u coast on Hawaii island have always acted as the perfect colander for items drifting across the ocean.

Megan Lamson, a survey diver for the state's Division of Aquatic Resources, said that the area is prone to the collection of more rubbish due to the powerful currents.

"Kamilo itself means 'whirling, swirling, twisting currents," Lamson said.

Lamson also pointed out that Kamilo's pollution problem can only be handled at a global level.

"The solution is not to encourage more people to come to Kamilo to clean up. The solution will come with [humans] reducing our dependence to plastics, especially single-use items that we can do without."

And with an estimated 8 million metric tons of discarded plastics turning up in the ocean every year, experts say humans are the only ones who can stop it from pouring into the sea.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Cleanup Nets 50 Tons of Ocean Trash Near Hawaii

Published in Courthouse News, April 17, 2017 by Nicholas Fillmore

Marine debris being loaded into cargo containers at Midway Atoll. (Holly Richards/USFWS)

HONOLULU (CN) – Federal agencies and the state of Hawaii removed 50 tons of garbage from the newly expanded Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument this month during an annual multi-agency cleanup.

Twelve shipping containers holding an estimated 100,000 pounds of derelict fishing gear, bottles, lighters and plastics were loaded onto the charter vessel Kahana and shipped to Honolulu. The garbage will be cut up and incinerated for electricity at the Covanta Honolulu/H-POWER plant.

The annual cleanup of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands is headed by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Island Marine Debris Program in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Hawaii’s Division of Land and Natural Resources-Forestry and Wildlife division, and the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

Since the program began in 1996, some 985 tons of debris have been removed from the monument. At Midway and Kure atolls, plastic debris is found in albatross nests along the beach and often consumed by the chicks. Endangered green sea turtles also mistake plastic for their main food source, jellyfish. And marine mammals die after becoming entangled in discarded fishing gear.

According to regional coordinator Mark Manuel, removal efforts are accomplished “with two hands and lots of backs.” Barges carrying heavy machinery cannot be brought in because their drafts are too deep in the shallows, so 17-19 foot inflatables are used and abandoned fishing nets – often twined around coral heads – are hauled up by hand.

Purse-seine nets found in Papahanaumokuakea do not appear to be local, Manuel said, nor does much of the trash cleared. Weather events associated with El Nino tend to push the North Pacific gyre – an area formed by four prevailing ocean currents in which garbage from across the Pacific collects – south. The gyre then deposits debris along the 1,500-mile Northwest Hawaiian Island chain which, virtually pristine otherwise, acts to comb detritus out of the ocean.

Researcher Capt. Charles Moore first discovered the so-called “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” in 1999, when he sailed his catamaran through the rarely traveled gyre.

“As I gazed from the deck at the surface of what ought to have been a pristine ocean, I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic,” Moore wrote in an essay for Natural History. “It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot.”

Plastic takes centuries to biodegrade, breaking down into smaller pieces along the way. These fragments easily find their way into the food chain, Moore said, “adding to the increasing amount of synthetic chemicals unknown before 1950 that we now carry in our bodies.”

Research also implicates plastic in mammalian endocrine disruption. The resulting “feminization” of animal species threatens population collapse.

Complicating the picture, according to Moore – whose Algalita Organization is a pioneer in the study of ocean plastic – is the discovery of pre-manufacture microscopic plastic beads called “nurdles” in the water, suggesting that the problem is not just a post-consumption phenomenon.

The NOAA Marine Debris Program has led efforts to research, prevent and reduce the impacts of marine debris. Authorized by Congress through the Marine Debris Act in 2006, its staff supports projects “in partnership with state and local agencies, tribes, non-governmental organizations, academia, and industry. The program also spearheads national research efforts and works to change behavior in the public through outreach and education initiatives.”

The Hawaii Nets to Energy Program is one example of that partnership.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Will Consumers Pay More for Recycled Ocean Plastic?

Published in the Environmental Leader - March 23, 2017 by Jessica Lyons Hardcastle 

beach plastics

In a move that could increase consumer awareness about marine plastic pollution — and thus, consumer willingness to pay more for products made from recycled marine plastic — recycling company TerraCycle plans to expand its beach cleanup programs to collect up to 1,000 tons of plastic waste globally.

Earlier this year TerraCycle, in partnership with Procter & Gamble and Suez, developed the world’s first recyclable shampoo bottle made from up to 25 percent recycled beach plastic. The Head & Shoulders shampoo bottle will debut in France this summer.

TerraCycle told Plastics News that the partners have major expansion plans.

The initial beach cleanups collected 15 tons of material in Europe; Brett Stevens, vice president of material sales and procurement at the recycling company, told the publication that the company plans to expand collection efforts to North America and Asia.

“The collection goals we’ve set forth in total approach I would say probably 500 to 1,000 tons coming off beaches over the next 12 months,” Stevens said. “It is very much not a fad. I think that we’re investing the staff and resources and building our programs with our partners, making this a long-lasting impact.”

TerraCycle’s statements come as other leading companies are turning their attention to plastic waste ending up in oceans and other waterways.

Last month Dell said it has developed the technology industry’s first packaging trays made with 25 percent recycled ocean plastic content. In January, Unilever CEO Paul Polman called on the consumer goods industry to address ocean plastic waste and employ circular economy models to increase plastic recycling rates. Adidas is also working to solve the problem of plastic pollution in oceans by turning this waste stream into new material for its shoes.

But as environmental groups like Greenpeace and circular economy advocates like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation have shown in recent reports, more needs to be done. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, one-third of the plastic packaging used globally ends up in oceans and other fragile ecosystems. An earlier study by the foundation found there could be more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050.

However, as Waste Dive reports, the cost associated with collecting and cleaning marine plastic for reuse in products and packaging means virgin material is cheaper. “A coordinated global campaign that can demonstrate the path from cleaning beaches to putting new products on store shelves might help drive consumer interest in paying a little more for packaging made from this content.”

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Film Looks at Plastics in the Oceans

Published in VOA Science and Health on March 20, 2017

Plastic sludge and garbage, a blight on the world’s oceans.

Eight million metric tons of plastic wind up each year in the oceans, harming marine life and entering the food chain.

A film crew traveled the globe to document the rubbish, producing a new documentary film called A Plastic Ocean that looks at the problem, and its solutions.

Julie Andersen of the Plastic Oceans Foundation said what is seen is just the tip of the problem.

“Half of the waste actually sinks to the bottom, some plastic sinks to the bottom, and what remains on the surface actually breaks down," Andersen said.

The filmmakers found trash in ocean gyres, the circulating currents that trap large concentrations of pollution in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans, home of what some have called a plastic island.

“What we found in the center of the Pacific was not a floating island of plastic. What we found was a plastic smog that permeated all the water," Andersen said.

The debris infects the food chain, sometimes visibly, and more so at the microscopic level, where the plastic particles interact with other pollutants.

Adam Leipzig, producer of A Plastic Ocean, said, “Heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, industrial runoff. It acts like magnets. These toxins hitchhike on the plastic, and when seafood ingests the plastics, those toxins offload into the fatty tissues.”

Those fish are then consumed by other sea life and by people.

China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam are the worst plastic polluters. The United States, although a leader in recycling, is in the top 20, since it produces and consumes so much plastic.

There are efforts around the world to address the problem, including at this newly opened recycling center in Lebanon.

But Andersen said there is more people can do.

“Cut back on single-use plastics, straws, plastic cups, plastic water bottles, plastic bags and find alternatives like reusable materials," she said.

She said healthy oceans are essential to our survival.