Posted on Categories Sustainable LivingTags , ,

Nearly all countries agree to stem flow of plastic waste into poor nations

Emily Holden, THE GUARDIAN

Almost all the world’s countries have agreed on a deal aimed at restricting shipments of hard-to-recycle plastic waste to poorer countries, the United Nations announced on Friday.

Exporting countries – including the US – now will have to obtain consent from countries receiving contaminated, mixed or unrecyclable plastic waste. Currently, the US and other countries can send lower-quality plastic waste to private entities in developing countries without getting approval from their governments.

Since China stopped accepting recycling from the US, activists say they have observed plastic waste piling up in developing countries. The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (Gaia), a backer of the deal, says it found villages in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia that had “turned into dumpsites over the course of a year”.
Runaway consumption: 2tn drinks containers being used every year
Read more

“We were finding that there was waste from the US that was just piled up in villages throughout these countries that had once been primarily agricultural communities,” said Claire Arkin, a spokeswoman for Gaia.

The legally binding framework emerged at the end of a two-week meeting of UN-backed conventions on plastic waste and toxic, hazardous chemicals that threaten the planet’s seas and creatures. The pact comes in an amendment to the Basel convention. The US is not a party to that convention so it did not have a vote, but attendees at the meeting said the country argued against the change, saying officials didn’t understand the repercussions it would have on the plastic waste trade.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/10/nearly-all-the-worlds-countries-sign-plastic-waste-deal-except-us

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , ,

Fight against plastic pollution targets a hidden source: Our clothes

Denise Chow, NBC NEWS

The plastic bottles, straws and grocery bags that wash ashore on beaches are some of the most visible signs that society’s intoxication with plastic is taking a toll on the environment. But scientists say there is another source of plastic pollution that is just as pervasive and even more difficult to clean up — and it’s hiding in our clothes.

Most clothing contains synthetic fabrics such as polyester or nylon that are essentially constructed from thin plastic fibers. These fabrics have become fixtures in closets around the world because they are durable and cheap to make. Stretchy, sweat-wicking workout clothes, water-resistant rainwear and fleece sweaters are all made of synthetics — not to mention many T-shirts, dresses and jeans that contain a cotton-synthetic blend.

These tiny bits of plastic pose a daunting environmental challenge. As so-called microfibers shed off clothing, they eventually end up in the ocean, where they can be ingested by fish and other seafood that humans eat.

“This is the microplastic pollution that we don’t talk about as much because it’s unseen, but these microfibers are everywhere,” said Sarah-Jeanne Royer, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. “We’ve sampled them at the North Pole, in Antarctica, at the top of mountains and even at the bottom of the Mariana Trench — everywhere in the world.”

Most microfiber pollution occurs when people wash their clothes. A 2016 study by researchers at the University of Plymouth in the U.K. estimated that up to 700,000 microfibers could be released in a single load of laundry, roughly equivalent to the surface area of a pack of gum.

Read more at https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/fight-against-plastic-pollution-targets-hidden-source-our-clothes-ncna1000961

Posted on Categories Sustainable LivingTags , , , ,

Single-use plastics need comprehensive federal legislation

Julia Stein, LEGAL PLANET

Plastic pollution appears to be arising ever more frequently in the news. Companies like Starbucks have announced voluntary steps to rid their stores of plastic straws. China is wielding its “National Sword” policy, which places restrictions on the amount and type of plastic waste it will accept from abroad, which has prompted cries for improvements to recycling technologies and infrastructure in the United States. A young entrepreneur designed a floating boom intended to rake up debris from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—a large accumulation of plastic debris and other waste floating in the Pacific Ocean—but it returned to port in pieces in early January, battered by unrelenting wind and waves, indicating the challenges of ocean cleanup.

All this attention is warranted: There are trillions of pieces of plastic debris in the oceans, and over 700 species—including 84 percent of sea turtle species—have been impacted. Marine wildlife can mistake plastic debris for food, and necropsies of birds, sea turtles, and whales have shown stomachs full with plastic. Plastic pollution affects humans as well: Plastic has made its way into our food, our table salt, and our drinking water. Chemicals used in plastic, like bisphenol A, have been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, and adverse developmental consequences in children.

Comprehensive federal legislation to address single-use plastics does not yet exist in the United States. Instead, the conversation has focused on encouraging foreign governments to control plastic waste, making improvements to recycling and waste management infrastructure, and promoting voluntary steps industries can take to improve plastic products and reduce waste.

Missing from that conversation is a critical piece of the puzzle: reducing consumption of single-use plastic at the source to limit the amount of plastic trash Americans generate. To reduce single-use plastics more effectively, Congress must step in and regulate through source control.

Source control is important for a number of reasons. Less than 10 percent of the world’s plastic waste is recycled, and many kinds of single-use plastic waste, like thin plastic bags and Styrofoam, cannot be recycled entirely.

Read more at https://legal-planet.org/2019/02/28/single-use-plastics-need-comprehensive-federal-legislation/

Posted on Categories Sustainable LivingTags , ,

Op-Ed: Berkeley declares war on throwaway culture

Annie Leonard & Martin Bourque, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Any American school kid can recite the common wisdom for tackling our massive plastic trash problem: reduce, reuse, recycle.

But it’s not that simple.

Addressing plastic pollution has to focus far more on reducing and reusing. It is simply not a problem we can recycle our way out of.

People assume that when they toss plastic packaging into a bin, it will get collected, recycled and finally transformed into another plastic product. This is a convenient fiction, actively promoted by the plastic industry.

The reality is that much of the plastic tossed into bins ends up in landfills, or it gets shipped overseas to countries that lack infrastructure to deal with it properly.

Plastic was never recycled at a high level, and it’s even worse since 2018, when China closed its doors to imported mixed plastic waste. U.S. recyclers have shifted exports to countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, but those countries lack the capacity to handle the volume we’re sending, which has brought them new environmental problems.

Moreover, despite our willingness to move plastic waste around the world, only about 9 percent of the plastic ever made has been recycled. We just keep making more of the stuff. If your bathtub was overflowing, you wouldn’t immediately reach for a mop — you’d first turn off the tap. That’s what we need to do with single-use plastics.

Berkeley recently passed a law that moves us a step closer to that, and it’s something that should be replicated across the country. The ordinance does not simply ban plastic foodware, leaving businesses to replace it with other throwaway materials: It rejects throwaway culture altogether.

Beginning immediately, Berkeley will require that accessory items such as utensils, straws, lids and sleeves be provided by request only and that food vendors have compost bins for all customers. In January 2020, the city will also require that all disposable takeout foodware be Biodegradable Products Institute-certified compostable and that vendors charge 25 cents for hot and cold takeout cups. If a customer brings a reusable cup, the charge is not applied. And by July 1, 2020, the ordinance will require that all eat-in dining be on reusable foodware.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/9250139-181/leonard-and-bourque-berkeley-declares

Posted on Categories Sustainable LivingTags , ,

The era of easy recycling may be coming to an end

Maggie Koerth-Baker, FiveThirtyEight

For those of us who spent most of our lives painstakingly separating plastic, glass, paper and metal, single-stream recycling is easy to love. No longer must we labor. Gone is the struggle to store two, three, four or even five different bags under the kitchen sink. Just throw everything into one dumpster, season liberally with hopes and dreams, and serve it up to your local trash collector. What better way to save the planet?

But you can see where this is headed.

Americans love convenient recycling, but convenient recycling increasingly does not love us. Waste experts call the system of dumping all the recyclables into one bin “single-stream recycling.” It’s popular. But the cost-benefit math of it has changed. The benefit — more participation and thus more material put forward for recycling — may have been overtaken by the cost — unrecyclable recyclables. On average, about 25 percent of the stuff we try to recycle is too contaminated to go anywhere but the landfill, according to the National Waste and Recycling Association, a trade group. Just a decade ago, the contamination rate was closer to 7 percent, according to the association. And that problem has only compounded in the last year, as China stopped importing “dirty” recyclable material that, in many cases, has found no other buyer.

Most recycling programs in the United States are now single stream. Between 2005 and 2014, these programs went from covering 29 percent of American communities to 80 percent, according to a survey conducted by the American Forest and Paper Association. The popularity makes sense given that single-stream is convenient and a full 66 percent of people surveyed by Harris Poll last October said that they wouldn’t recycle at all if it wasn’t easy to do.

Some experts have credited single stream with large increases in the amount of material recycled. Studies have shown that people choose to put more stuff out on the curb for recycling when they have a single-sort system. And the growth of single-stream recycling tracks with the growth of recycling overall in this country.

But it also pretty closely tracks with skyrocketing contamination rates.

Read more at https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-era-of-easy-recycling-may-be-coming-to-an-end/

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , ,

We made plastic. We depend on it. Now we’re drowning in it.

Laura Parker, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE

If plastic had been invented when the Pilgrims sailed from Plymouth, England, to North America—and the Mayflower had been stocked with bottled water and plastic-wrapped snacks—their plastic trash would likely still be around, four centuries later.

If the Pilgrims had been like many people today and simply tossed their empty bottles and wrappers over the side, Atlantic waves and sunlight would have worn all that plastic into tiny bits. And those bits might still be floating around the world’s oceans today, sponging up toxins to add to the ones already in them, waiting to be eaten by some hapless fish or oyster, and ultimately perhaps by one of us.

We should give thanks that the Pilgrims didn’t have plastic, I thought recently as I rode a train to Plymouth along England’s south coast. I was on my way to see a man who would help me make sense of the whole mess we’ve made with plastic, especially in the ocean.

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.

Read more at https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/06/plastic-planet-waste-pollution-trash-crisis/

Posted on Categories Sustainable LivingTags , , , , , ,

California wages war on plastic

Rosanna Xia, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

It took years of activist campaigns to turn the plastic bag into a villain, and hard-fought legislation to reduce its presence in oceans and waterways. Now, environmentalists and lawmakers are deploying similar tactics against a new generation of plastic pollutants.

There are drinking straws, which as a viral video shows can get stuck in a sea turtle’s nose. The hundreds of thousands of bottle caps that wind up on beaches. And the microfibers that wash off polyester clothes, making their way into the ocean, the stomachs of marine life and ultimately our seafood.

Each is the subject of statewide legislation under debate in Sacramento, as California again considers new environmental law that’s at once pioneering and controversial.

Their action comes as plastic takes center stage as the environmental concern du jour.
There could be more plastic by weight than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050, according to a widely cited World Economic Forum report. A recent UC Davis study sampled seafood sold at local markets in Half Moon Bay and found that one-quarter of fish and one-third of shellfish contained plastic debris.

Read more at http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-california-plastic-pollution-20180528-story.html

Posted on Categories Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , ,

Straw Wars! Bay Area push to ban plastic straws picks up steam

Amel Ahmed, KQED

Oakland is now the latest Bay Area city to consider a proposal to bar food vendors from serving plastic straws unless requested.

Councilmember Abel Guillen, who introduced the proposal in March, says the legislation is part of broader effort in the city to reduce environmental waste. In 2006, Oakland adopted a policy called the Zero Waste Strategic Plan, which aims for a 75 percent reduction by 2010.

“To make further progress on our waste-reduction goals and shift our culture away from single-use products, my ordinance will focus on ‘by request only’ use and better enforcement of existing legislation,” said Guillen in a statement.

Berkeley is considering similar legislation that would go one step further by banning single-use plastic straws altogether. Meanwhile straw-upon-request ordinances are already in place in Alameda, Davis, Manhattan Beach and Santa Cruz.

Local environmental advocates say that anti-plastic straw ordinances would eliminate a key source of pollution in San Francisco Bay.

“Plastic straws and stirrers are big culprits in trashing San Francisco Bay and our oceans,” David Lewis, the executive director of Save the Bay, told the San Francisco Chronicle last year.

Read more at https://www.kqed.org/science/1923141/straw-wars-bay-area-push-to-ban-plastic-straws-picks-up-steam

Posted on Categories Local Organizations, Sonoma CoastTags , , ,

Bodega lab scientist Susan Williams was key voice for conservation, mentor to students worldwide

Julie Johnson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Susan Williams was a Bodega Bay marine biologist and professor whose scientific expertise was instrumental in a decadeslong effort to expand federal protections for North Coast marine ecosystems.

She directed the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory and served as a key advisor to California lawmakers working to protect coastal waters from oil and gas development. Her research showed how ocean health is connected to the wellbeing of coastal communities and humanity at large, and her ability to communicate simply about complicated science made her an essential adviser, said former U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a Petaluma Democrat who relied on Williams’ counsel in her battles for environmental protections.

“What a loss for our country and our oceans and everybody that has ever met her,” said Woolsey, who served in Congress until 2013. “She was able to put words to science and make it real.”

Willams, 66, was the lone fatality Tuesday in a six-vehicle crash on Lakeville Highway in Petaluma, where her Toyota Prius was struck head-on by Chevrolet Silverado pickup that authorities said crossed over into her lane.

Williams studied seagrass and coral reefs at the Bodega Marine Laboratory, and her research documented the impacts of warming ocean waters and human activity. Her studies covered the impact of invasive species brought into ports and the prevalence of plastic in the sea.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8257601-181/bodega-lab-scientist-susan-williams?utm_source=Boomtrain&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pd_daily&utm_source=Boomtrain&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pd_daily

Posted on Categories Sonoma Coast, Sustainable LivingTags , ,

The ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ is ballooning

Livia Albeck-Ripka, THE NEW YORK TIMES

In the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii, hundreds of miles from any major city, plastic bottles, children’s toys, broken electronics, abandoned fishing nets and millions more fragments of debris are floating in the water — at least 87,000 tons’ worth, researchers said Thursday.

In recent years, this notorious mess has become known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling oceanic graveyard where everyday objects get deposited by the currents. The plastics eventually disintegrate into tiny particles that often get eaten by fish and may ultimately enter our food chain.

A study published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports quantified the full extent of the so-called garbage patch: It is four to 16 times bigger than previously thought, occupying an area roughly four times the size of California and comprising an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of rubbish. While the patch was once thought to be more akin to a soup of nearly invisible microplastics, scientists now think most of the trash consists of larger pieces. And, they say, it is growing “exponentially.”

“It’s just quite alarming, because you are so far from the mainland,” said Laurent Lebreton, the lead author of the study and an oceanographer with the Ocean Cleanup Foundation, a nonprofit that is developing systems to remove ocean trash and which funded the study. “There’s no one around and you still see those common objects, like crates and bottles.”

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/22/climate/great-pacific-garbage-patch.html