EU lawmakers back ban on 'waste colonialism' plastic exports

What will become of that plastic bottle you just diligently placed in the recycling bin? If you’re reading this from the European Union, there’s a chance it might end up far, far away — possibly fueling an industry associated with serious environmental and health risks.Official figures from statistics agency Eurostat show the EU exported 1.1 million tons of plastic waste to countries outside the bloc in 2021. And according to the European Parliament, around half of all the plastic collected in the EU for recycling is shipped elsewhere, with the number one recipient being Turkey.

The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigated the impact on workers and local communities there. “They’re the ones bearing the brunt of the impacts of what is known to be a hazardous industry.” 

HRW environmental researcher Katharina Rall explained. “People talk to us about the health effects or what they believe are the effects, linked to the work itself, the fact that they’re working in factories where they’re potentially inhaling toxic [air].”

Workers said they lacked access to protective equipment, with some claiming to have worked there since they were children. Rall also noted shoddy enforcement of environmental laws for nearby communities.A house made of recycled plasticTo view this video please enable JavaScript, and consider upgrading to a web browser that supports HTML5 video

Tighter waste rules coming

But if you’re concerned about that plastic bottle, you may be pleased to hear EU waste management laws are due for a reboot.  On Tuesday, a clear majority of the European Parliament voted in favor of banning the export of recyclable plastic waste to non-OECD countries, which includes major recipients like Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia and other former colonies of European powers. 

In 2021, an activist group in Indonesia built an art installation out of plastic wasteImage: Prasto Wardoyo/REUTERS

This goes a step beyond the European Commission’s own proposal from late 2021, which would only allow such exports with prior consent. Outward shipments of non-recyclable, unsorted plastics were already banned in early 2021 to align the bloc with international standards.

A majority of EU lawmakers also supported phasing out shipments to OECD countries, meaning Turkey would be off the cards in the second half of this decade. In addition, non-EU export of all kinds of waste (which totalled 32.7 million tons in 2020) should only be allowed to non-OECD countries if they explicitly agree to take it and show they can deal with it sustainably, the European Parliament explained in a press release.

“We must turn waste into resources in the (EU) common market, and thereby take better care of our environment and competitiveness,” said Pernille Weiss — the center-right European Parliament member who led the report, which was put to the vote on Tuesday — in the statement, the underlying idea of which is that the EU must start to take more responsibility for its own waste, as well as working to reduce it.

Full plastics ban ‘only a matter of time’

With the EU legislature’s stance now clear, the ball passes to the EU member states, who must adopt a position before negotiations on the final legal package can begin.

Rall said it wasn’t yet clear which way the EU national governments would go on the plastics export ban. But for her, it is “only a matter of time” before the EU implements such a ban, not least because of the documented human rights issues.

“At some point there will be very few options left on where to export the waste,” she told DW.

China banned imports in 2017, and Turkey did so temporarily in 2021, Rall explained, while at the same time noting that the practice may be on the rise elsewhere, citing both West and East Africa as new destinations for European, US and Canadian waste exports.

In fact, EU plastic waste exports are on the decline, having peaked in 2014, as figures from Eurostat show. China was for a long time the major recipient of EU plastic waste, a title that passed to Turkey after Beijing introduced its ban on imports in 2017.

Fewer exports means greater responsibility

With exports rules likely to tighten regardless of the exact outcome of EU negotiations, the onus should shift to domestic processing capacity, as well as waste reduction. The EU plastic recycling industry had a turnover of €7.6 billion ($8.2 billion) in 2020, according to industry body Plastic Recyclers Europe, with sorting capacity having significantly increased over the past two decades.European countries are being pressured to up their own recycling effortsImage: Rolf Vennenbernd/dpa/picture alliance

In the past, firming up rules has prompted fears that more plastic would be incinerated or put to landfill. Within the EU, around 40% of plastic is used for energy recovery, 33% is recycled, and 25% is put to landfill, according to the European Parliament.

But Theresa Mörsen of the NGO Zero Waste Europe says changed export regimes would also encourage domestic reform. “If plastic waste is retained inside the EU, it will actually facilitate better sorting and recycling of the existing plastic,” she told DW. It would also encourage member states to enact laws that require greater recyclability, according to Mörsen. “We see a lot of non-recyclable things that end up either being incinerated or exported through illegal channels,” she explained.

For campaigners like Mörsen and Rall, Tuesday’s vote is a clear win. “Another important step towards ending waste colonialism,” said Lauren Weir of the Environmental Investigation Agency.

Edited by: Andreas Illmer, Nicole Goebel

Bundesliga: Reusable cups mandatory in stadiums

Beer from a disposable cup and currywurst with fries on a plastic plate? Those images could soon be a thing of the past in German football stadiums.As early as the Bundesliga’s re-start after the World Cup and winter break, catering operators in stadiums must also offer reusable cups by law, at the same price as the disposable version. 

The new requirements from the Packaging Act have been in force since January 1, 2023. They oblige companies such as restaurants, canteens, supermarkets or cafes that sell takeaway food and drinks to also offer their products in reusable packaging. 

This also applies in football stadiums, right down to the fourth tier of German football. However, in this case only for beverages. For food, stadiums may continue to offer disposable containers for food as the only option if they are made of pure cardboard, wood or aluminum. Most stadiums currently offer paper plates and wooden cutlery. 

According to Environmental Action Germany (DUH), 17 of 18 Bundesliga clubs had voluntarily implemented the new requirements at the start of the season. Schalke 04, the last club in the Bundesliga to switch, also did so on January 1, 2023. Just five years ago, only 10 of 20 clubs in the Premier League used exclusively disposable cups, causing a mountain of waste of more than 8.5 million plastic cups every year. 

Bundesliga leading by example

According to Germany’s Environment Minister Steffi Lemke, this makes Germany a pioneer throughout the European Union. German football also plays a pioneering role internationally in the area of sustainability, expert Tanja Ferkau confirms to DW. A look at the corner flags used to depict global warming in German footballImage: Wunderl/BEAUTIFUL SPORTS/picture alliance

This is because, starting next season, ecological as well as economic and social sustainability criteria will become a mandatory part of the German Football League Association (DFL) licensing process with the goal of becoming the most sustainable league in the world. Some of the criteria could have been stricter, but Ferkau explains that they have to ensure they can also be implemented by a team in the third tier.

The German Football Association (DFB) is also getting involved with several measures and campaigns in the DFB Cup, the Women’s Bundesliga and the 3. Liga. There are “climate logos” on the captain’s armbands, vegan bratwursts or corner flags with the “warming stripes.” These are a visual representation of scientific data from climatologists and are intended to illustrate the issue of global warming.

“Environmental pioneers” St. Pauli, Bremen and Freiburg 

Some Bundesliga clubs have been engaged with the issue of environmental protection for much longer than others. DUH highlights three: FC St. Pauli, SC Freiburg and Werder Bremen. “These are clubs that have thought about environmental protection from the very beginning, since the late 1990s, when it wasn’t an issue in football at all. They have set trends,” DUH’s head of circular economy, Thomas Fischer, told DW.

Among other things, Freiburg has equipped its stadium with one of the world’s largest solar roofs, uses green electricity and has relied on returnable cups for decades. Werder Bremen is a role model when it comes to sustainable mobility: The public transport connection is exemplary, and there is also an infrastructure for thousands of bicycles that can be parked at the stadium not to mention a good network of footpaths. St. Pauli, meanwhile, selects its partners according to ecological and social criteria.

Alongside energy, transport, emissions and waste, merchandising is one of the most important action areas in football, says Fischer. Sporting goods manufacturers Nike and Puma have already made the switch. They say they use 100 percent recycled polyester for jersey production. At Adidas, the figure is just over 90 percent, but the Bayern Munich jersey is already made exclusively from recycled polyester. According to the DUH, second tier St. Pauli are “environmental pioneers” amongst German teamsImage: Oliver Ruhnke/IMAGO

DUH: “Eastern German clubs need to catch up”

However, Fischer reports that there are also clubs that are very defensive about the issue, such as Schalke 04 or VfB Stuttgart. Many East German soccer clubs also have a lot of catching up to do, he adds. “Dresden, Aue, Chemnitz, Zwickau – they don’t stand out with pilot projects either. There, we’ve always noticed a very defensive attitude.” The reactions of these clubs were often monosyllabic, “sometimes even almost aggressive.” And that’s when he realized, “Okay, they don’t understand.” 

That’s why it’s immensely important that the DFL set targets to create a binding force in the areas of resource management, waste, traffic emissions, merchandising, so “that even those who don’t want to deal with these issues, have to.”

Overall, Fischer believes German football can still go a step further and hopes that green energy, regenerative energies for electricity use and sustainable turf heating will become standard. 

In addition, it could play a big role in terms of mobility. “How do people travel? Can we do without short-haul flights? You don’t have to fly from Berlin to Frankfurt, there’s a good ICE train connection there. Do you need your own fleet of company cars? Maybe you could also ride a bike if you live close by.”

The least that could be done in the near future is to switch to reusable food containers. That would be a another significant step in club’s obligations that would continue to eliminate unnecessary disposable waste week after week.

This article was translated from GermanKick off! – Special: Midseason Review, Part 1To view this video please enable JavaScript, and consider upgrading to a web browser that supports HTML5 video

England is banning some single-use plastics. Activists say it’s a small step

Starting in October, the country will prohibit plastic plates, cutlery and other items. Environmental advocates are pushing for a more comprehensive measure.As England announced over the weekend that it would ban several single-use plastic items, including cutlery and plates, environmental advocates greeted the measure with more of a tepid clap than uproarious applause, seeing it as a better-late-than-never measure that leaves more changes needed.While they were grateful for action, several activists said the move came well after similar measures by England’s neighbors and did not ambitiously address the proliferation of disposable plastic, which ends up in landfills and oceans and takes decades to break down.“It is a step in the right direction,” said Nina Schrank, a senior campaigner for Greenpeace U.K. “But it is a small step.”Starting in October, England will ban single-use plastic plates, trays, bowls, cutlery and some polystyrene cups and food containers. The government said that England uses an estimated 2.7 billion items of single-use cutlery and 721 million single-use plates per year, but that only 10 percent are recycled.England banned plastic straws, cotton swabs and drink stirrers in 2020. In announcing the new ban on Saturday, government officials said they were looking into further measures, including a ban on plastic items including wet wipes and tobacco filters, or mandatory labeling to help people dispose of such items correctly.England’s environmental department said in a statement that the government would be “pressing ahead” with a plan for a deposit return initiative for drink containers, and “consistent recycling collections in England.”Rebecca Pow, an environment minister, said in a statement, “Plastic is a scourge which blights our streets and beautiful countryside, and I am determined that we shift away from a single-use culture.”Governments across the globe have employed single-use plastic bans as a way of reducing plastic, most commonly focused on products, like straws and bags, that can be made from other material.Advocates say that the bans have been largely successful in limiting the targeted types of plastic products, but that a more comprehensive approach is needed. And they say England has fallen behind its peers after Brexit severed Britain from Europe.The European Union approved a ban on single-use plastic items in 2018, which went into effect three years later. England’s neighbors, Scotland and Wales, each banned a similar list of items last year. (Northern Ireland, the fourth constituent country in Britain, has not.)The United States has not banned any single-use plastic products at the federal level, but some cities and states have their own bans on items, including plastic bags and straws. Some states, such as California, have gone further to reduce single-use plastic items, aiming to phase out single-use packaging that is not recyclable or compostable.Environmental advocates say England’s coming ban, which does not include plastic takeout containers, does not go far enough.Tolga Akmen/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesEurope’s ban has had mixed results, with some countries showing more progress than others, according to a report by Seas at Risk, a group based in Brussels. The ban eliminated 10 single-use plastics, but did not stop member countries from going further. The European directive also addresses other common forms of single-use plastics, including takeout food containers, that England did not ban.“If you are only banning some items and overlooking other products, then it is not sufficient,” said Frédérique Mongodin, senior marine litter policy officer at Seas at Risk.As for the timing of the move? “It’s very late,” she said.With the European directive underway, activists are looking beyond individual product bans to measures including the promotion of reusable containers.Ms. Schrank, the Greenpeace official, said many of the largest sources of plastic waste remained untouched, including food and grocery packaging. Snack bags and fruit and vegetable packaging are among the most common items found in plastic waste, she said.Instead of targeting them individually, she said she would like to see an aggressive government target to reduce single-use plastics by 50 percent.“We’re being fed little treats here, when the big real questions are being unanswered,” Ms. Schrank said.Nor is the issue with single-use items limited to plastics. Larissa Copello, consumption and production campaigner for Zero Waste Europe, said replacing single-use plastic with single-use items made of other materials only helped so much.“The issue of single use is not only about plastic, but single-use paper and single-use glass,” she said. “It’s all about the consumption of products that are only used once and thrown away.”For activists in Britain, eyes are on what comes next. Steve Hynd, policy manager at City to Sea, an environmental organization based in Bristol, said the ban was welcomed but “these are very much minimum agreed standards.”“The ban will help England catch up with other countries that already implemented similar bans years ago,” he said. “But for England to be true ‘global leaders’ in tackling plastic pollution like this government claims to be, we need them to go much further.”

Kitchener mother finds “sneaky plastics” in household waste

WATERLOO REGION — When Rebecca McIntosh of Kitchener signed up for the zero waste challenge, the married mother of two found “sneaky plastics” among the garbage she never thought about before.McIntosh didn’t know it, but she had been “wishcycling” — assuming a container or bag could be recycled, so it was tossed into the blue box.But during the zero waste challenge, she scrutinized every piece of garbage her family produced. The five-day challenge, run by the Kitchener charity Reep Green Solutions, is to have each member of the household produce no more waste than what a single Mason jar can hold.“We think we lead a low-waste lifestyle, but until you pay attention you don’t really know where all your waste comes from,” said McIntosh.She long believed ice cream containers could be recycled. Wrong: they contain plastic between the cardboard-like layers and are not recyclable. Cardboard alone and most plastics on their own can be recycled, but not when combined into a single product. “That was eye-opening,” said McIntosh.McIntosh and her family have done the challenge twice. The real benefit is looking closely at the garbage produced, and thinking about ways to reduce it.“We made changes afterwards,” said McIntosh. “Now we buy ice cream in a full, plastic container that is recyclable, or a glass one.”The UN Environment Assembly voted in March 2022 to end plastic pollution, and forge an international legally binding agreement by the end of 2024.When Canada was chairing the G7 group of advanced economies in 2018, it called for reducing the use of plastic. It spent years developing new regulations.Ottawa’s first phase of a multi-year program to eliminate plastics came into effect about a month ago with a ban on importing or manufacturing six plastic items: plastic checkout bags, cutlery, stir sticks, straight straws, chopsticks and takeout containers. Businesses have until Dec. 20, 2023, to use up existing inventories and start using replacements.Beginning in June, plastic ring carriers can no longer be made or imported into Canada. Businesses have a year to use up existing supplies, but beginning in June 2024, ring carriers will be banned.The government will also prohibit the export of plastics in the six categories by the end of 2025, making Canada the first among peer countries to do so internationally, says a federal government statement.The video “The Story of the Sea Turtle with the Straw” inspired millions of people to stop using plastic straws.screen shot from the viral video: The story of the sea turtle with straw in it’s nostril.Over the next decade, the world-leading ban will eliminate an estimated 1.3 million tonnes of hard-to-recycle plastic waste and more than 22,000 tonnes of plastic pollution, which is equivalent to over a million garbage bags full of litter, says the statement.But if you don’t eat fast food, the federal ban will have little impact.“We don’t drink bottled water, we don’t use plastic straws, the single-use plastics are not something we had a lot of in our lives anyway,” said McIntosh.For McIntosh and her family, “sneaky plastics” are the problem.“It was more the hidden plastics, the ice cream container with plastic layers, or even meat packaging you think is a paper material but it is actually plastic, so it’s garbage,” said McIntosh.Plastics pollution is so widespread, microscopic plastics are showing up in human blood, poop and placenta.But Jennifer Lynes Murray, a University of Waterloo professor who teaches business and environment, social marketing and enterprise strategies for social accountability, has worked for more than a decade on one of biggest generators of single-use plastic waste — concerts, sporting events and festivals.For a decade Murry worked with artists and musicians, venues and promoters to ban the use of plastic cups at venues. Instead, the fans can bring refillable containers, and free water is provided at filling stations. The Hillside Festival in Guelph has adopted many green initiatives, said Murray.The federal government successfully battled other, huge environmental challenges.In the 1980s Ottawa negotiated an acid rain reduction treaty with the U.S. that reversed the acidification of many lakes in Ontario and Quebec.In the 1970s an international treaty was approved in Montreal to eliminate chlorofluorocarbons from aerosol sprays. The harmful chemicals caused huge holes in the ozone layer. As a result, the holes are shrinking and will be closed entirely in about 20 years.The same thing can happen with plastics, said Murray.“We lived without plastics prior to the 1950s, so there are definitely ways we can live without them again,” said Murray.“It is a three-pronged challenge — how willing are people to make the changes, how available are the alternatives and how will the government encourage that through policies and regulations?” said Murray.She watched a single image galvanize the public — a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose. The 2015 pictures and video showed researchers removing a plastic straw that was embedded in the turtle’s nostril.“It created this whole movement, and within a year nobody was using plastic straws and it was really widespread as well,” said Murray. “When you get the momentum, things can happen quickly.”Canada needs to ban a lot more plastics than the six items associated with takeout food, and it needs to act more quickly, said Sarah King, the Vancouver-based head of the Oceans and Plastics Campaign for Greenpeace.“The current ban covers less than three per cent of the plastic waste we generate in Canada,” said King.The blue box program is as widely loved as it is deeply flawed, she said, and only encourages and enables more widespread use of plastics.“Recycling we know is not the solution to the plastic waste and pollution crisis,” said King. “This whole idea of plastic recycling is a myth. because many people across this country have come to learn that less than nine per cent of plastic is recycled in Canada.”King said PVC, the black plastic pipe, should also be banned. Polystyrene — a white, spongy material widely used for coffee cups and clamshell takeout containers — should be banned as well, she said.Polystyrene “is highly polluting in its production. And due to the nature of the material, when it ends up in the environment it breaks apart very easily and spreads,” said King.SHARE:

Investors sit on a plastic waste ticking bomb

MILAN, Jan 13 (Reuters Breakingviews) – Investors should worry about a rising plastic tide. The pandemic and a war in Ukraine have focused money managers’ attention on supply chain disruption and energy security risks. Yet as the world continues to drown in packaging waste, the public and private sectors may come after big users like PepsiCo (PEP.O), Coca-Cola (KO.N) and Mars.Four years after the consumer goods giants signed up to voluntary reduction targets under the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, progress is disappointing. Ellen MacArthur Foundation data shows that the packaging employed by companies like PepsiCo, Mars and Coca-Cola increased its usage of virgin plastic, made from fossil fuels rather than recycled materials, by 5%, 3% and 11% respectively between 2019 and 2021. That makes it unlikely they can meet their commitments to curb its use by 5%, 20% and 25% by 2025.Big plastic users are also making insufficient progress in using recycled material. The latter amounts to just 10% of plastic packaging used by pact signatories. Reusable containers, the most environmentally friendly form of packaging, amounted to only 1.2% of the total in 2021, and that figure is decreasing.Despite citizens’ effort to sort out used plastic for collection, especially in Europe, only 9% actually gets recycled each year, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says. In the United States 73% of plastic waste ends up in landfills, where it takes up to 500 years to decompose. The rest gets incinerated or washes up on developing countries’ shores. That will only worsen as annual demand of about 450 million tonnes a year is expected to treble by 2060.Solving the plastic challenge is complex and expensive. Plastic comes in different types that cannot be bundled together. Certain materials or additives make it difficult to recycle. Substituting plastic with biodegradable material can be expensive. Using recycled plastic, while less energy-intensive than creating virgin plastic, can cost more overall.Yet, having pledged to act, big corporates are in a vulnerable position. Danone (DANO.PA) is facing a legal challenge over its plastic use. In March, 175 governments agreed to work out binding laws to end plastic pollution by end-2024. Around 70% of citizens surveyed last year in 34 countries want new anti-plastic rules.European investors’ greater focus on sustainability means they are more likely to hassle domestic laggards. But if governments decide to implement mandatory recycling quotas, rival U.S. late-starters would suffer the most. In a worst-case scenario, companies could face a collective $100 billion annual bill if lawmakers ask them to cover waste management costs in full, the PEW Charitable Trusts says.For investors, plastic inaction could become toxic.Reuters GraphicsFollow @LJucca on Twitter(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own. Updates to add graphic.)CONTEXT NEWSRepresentatives of 175 countries endorsed in March a landmark resolution to develop international legally binding instruments to end plastic pollution. Negotiations on the new legal instruments kicked off on Nov. 28 with the aim of finalising a binding agreement by 2024.Germany will ask makers of products containing single-use plastic to contribute to the cost of collecting litter in streets and parks from 2025 by paying into a central fund managed by the government. In 2008 the Netherlands introduced a packaging waste management levy.Corporate signatories of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment launched by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the U.N. Environment Programme in 2018, which include PepsiCo, the Coca-Cola Company, Nestlé, Danone and Unilever, are likely to miss several if not all of their targets for tackling plastic pollution. That’s according to progress report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation published in November.Collective use of virgin plastic by the signatories of the anti-plastic pact has risen 2.5% year-on-year to 11.9 million metric tonnes in 2021, bringing it to the same level it stood at in 2018. Meanwhile, the share of reusable plastic in packaging has fallen to an average 1.2% of total, the report showed.Editing by George Hay, Streisand Neto and Oliver TaslicOur Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.Opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which, under the Trust Principles, is committed to integrity, independence, and freedom from bias.

‘Forever chemicals’ expose need for systemic changes

Going back in time can reveal how far we still have to progress. In researching per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) for a recent article series, I found myself ricocheting between the present and the 1950s and 1960s. That was when the vast class of fluorinated compounds commonly dubbed “forever chemicals” first came into widespread use, morphing from wartime applications to a cluster bomb of consumer and industrial uses. 
The pesticide industry was also “a child of the Second World War,” biologist Rachel Carson wrote in her magnum opus “Silent Spring,” published 60 years ago last fall. Synthetic insecticides had “no counterparts in nature,” she observed, yet “we have allowed these chemicals to be used with little or no advance investigation of their effect” on ecosystems or ourselves. Like pesticides, PFAS shot from laboratory to market without thorough safety testing, endangering public health and wildlife.
Despite subsequent advances in environmental legislation over the intervening decades, the U.S. approach to chemical regulation remains largely unchanged. We are still subjected to what Carson aptly termed an “appalling deluge of chemical pollution.” 
Catering to corporations
Writing in The New Yorker shortly after Carson’s death in 1964, E.B. White noted a “basic flaw in our regulatory machinery. American justice holds the accused person innocent until proved guilty; somehow this concept has crept over into industry, where it doesn’t belong, and has been applied to products of all kinds. Why should a poison dust or spray… enjoy immunity while there is any reason to suspect that it may endanger the public health or damage the natural scene?”
Congress had a chance to correct this fundamental injustice when it enacted the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976, but it let corporate priorities prevail. The law instructed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to adopt those regulations “least burdensome” to industry, and it permitted continued use of roughly 60,000 chemicals (including the earliest ‘legacy’ PFAS) without review of their health risks. 
An effort to strengthen TSCA in 2016 encountered strong industry pushback and accomplished only minimal reform, according to a recent ProPublica report. The workload of the agency’s chemical division grew markedly as it strove to undertake more chemical reviews, but its funding remained stagnant. 
Greatly increasing the funding and staffing of EPA’s chemicals division would certainly improve chemical oversight, observed Kyla Bennett, an ecologist and lawyer who directs science policy for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a nonprofit that supports whistleblowers and is pushing the EPA to protect consumers from PFAS in fluorinated plastic containers. “EPA doesn’t have the money, the bodies and the right expertise,” she said, nor does it have adequate time for evaluating new chemicals given a tight, statutory cutoff. The metric for success is “how many of these [approvals] they’ve gotten out in 90 days, not how well they’re protecting human health.”  
“The whole system is broken,” Bennett added, due to corporate capture of the regulatory process — a dynamic she said persists under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Supervisors cycle from the agency to industry and back, and whistleblowers report that EPA managers change scientific conclusions, delete critical information and expedite approval of new chemicals to appease manufacturers. 
Corporations are mandated to submit studies documenting safety risks, but in 2019 the agency stopped sharing those publicly and made the data difficult for their own staff to access, whistleblowers report. According to Bennett, even some safety data sheets — designed to inform workers and consumers of hazards—are now heavily redacted. Or, in place of where the form should appear in the database, there’s a blank page with a single word: “sanitized.”  
A decade before the EPA was established, Carson had already observed the deference given to chemical manufacturers in what she called “an era dominated by industry, in which the right to make a dollar at whatever cost is seldom challenged.” Now, it appears that ‘right’ is almost never challenged: Among 3,835 new chemical applications submitted in the five years leading up to July 2021, journalist Sharon Lerner reported, EPA’s division of new chemicals did not decline a single one.
‘Regrettable substitutions’ 
Presented with clear evidence in 2001 that PFAS were endangering human health, the EPA negotiated a voluntary phaseout with some leading manufacturers for two PFAS compounds (among an estimated 4,700 in commercial use). In place of those ‘legacy’ compounds, the EPA permitted manufacturers to produce a second generation (“GenX”) of PFAS even though industry studies had demonstrated their health risks, Lerner revealed. 
GenX is a classic case of a “regrettable substitution,” what Harvard University public health professor Joseph Allen defines as “the cynical replacement of one harmful chemical by another equally or more harmful in a never-ending game being played with our health.” 
Industry always has the upper hand in this whack-a-mole “game” due to the sheer volume of new chemicals generated. The U.N. Environmental Programme reports that in 1965, a new chemical substance was registered on average every 2.5 minutes. Now, it’s every 1.4 seconds. The EPA is mandated to test 20 new chemicals a year but it’s failing to meet even that modest target. 
The Precautionary Principle 
Europe, in contrast, is moving away from the whack-a-mole approach to chemical management. According to the European Environmental Bureau, the European Commission plans to implement “a group approach to regulating chemicals, where the most harmful member of a chemical family defines legal restrictions for the whole family. That should end an industry practice of tweaking chemical formulations slightly to evade bans.” 
For more than a decade, Europe has applied a common-sense restraint known as the Precautionary Principle in chemical regulations — requiring industries to assess risks and share data on hazards before substances go to market. Whereas in the U.S., chemicals are readily approved and only withdrawn when there is irrefutable evidence of human harm, often after decades of use.
While questions remain about the timeline and resources for implementing Europe’s new chemicals “Restrictions Roadmap,” the European Union has already banned about 2,000 chemicals since adopting a more precautionary approach. An additional 5,000 to 7,000 chemicals could be banned by 2030 under the new roadmap. 
Paring back to essential uses and increasing transparency
Maine is pioneering a path that a growing number of scientists and policy specialists advocate — banning all PFAS except those deemed — in the language of LD 1503 — “essential for health, safety or the functioning of society and for which alternatives are not reasonably available” (such as critical medical devices). 
A recent study found that alternatives exist for many consumer uses, but that options for industry substitutes are harder to assess—given a culture that keeps much production information proprietary. Far too often, companies use their right to confidential business information “as a cloak to keep things from the public and that’s wrong,” Bennett said.
3M, a leading manufacturer of PFAS, knew about the health risks of its formulations for half a century, evidence in lawsuits has revealed. Recently, the corporation announced plans to phase out PFAS manufacturing and use by 2025, but lack of transparency around how it defines and formulates these chemicals makes the outcome ambiguous. Its action comes in the face of mounting pressure from investors and tens of billions in anticipated litigation settlements as communities around the globe seek damages from chemical manufacturers for poisoned waters and health impacts that begin even before birth, resulting in “pre-polluted babies.” 
Chemical corporations may not adopt greater transparency until forced to. But governments working to regulate and remediate PFAS can show the way. For the most part, Maine is making a good-faith effort to share information openly: posting data on sludge and septage sites to be tested, results from landfill leachate tests and public drinking water supply tests, updates on the status of the state’s well-testing, and recorded meetings of the PFAS Fund Advisory Committee. 
The state could further improve information-sharing by hiring an ombudsperson to field residents’ questions and concerns, creating a more intuitive and readily linked web interface, and openly strategizing how to address the vast gap that remains between needs for PFAS water testing and treatment and agency capacities. Residents I interviewed in hard-hit areas voiced frustration over not having anyone to advocate for them within state government, feeling they were “put on the back burner” and might be left on their own without further help.  
With Maine now mandating PFAS reporting from manufacturers, state agencies will need to resist the regulatory “corporate capture” evident at the federal level. 
Open sharing on the part of government is essential on practical grounds — to expedite getting clean water to those still drinking PFAS, to facilitate a rapid transition to new product formulations, and to keep people informed about rapidly evolving science and policy. 
More fundamentally, transparency can help to right a pernicious wrong. PFAS pollution represents a devastating betrayal of people who placed their faith in government to protect them and in corporations to consider the greater good. Choices made over decades in corporate board rooms, EPA offices and the halls of Congress violated that public trust.
“Who has decided — who has the right to decide — for the countless legions of people who were not consulted…,” Rachel Carson wrote about the indiscriminate use of toxic chemicals. In the case of PFAS, a small cadre chose the allure of big profits over the well-being of the world. If we hope to reverse those priorities in the years ahead, those who were “not consulted” will need to speak out.

October start set for ban in England of single-use plastic tableware

October start set for ban in England of single-use plastic tableware Sale by retailers and food outlets in England of single-use plastic tableware to be banned but not ‘shelf-ready pre-packaged food’ containers Single-use plastic plates, cutlery and a range of other items will be banned in England from October, to curb their “devastating” impact on …

Trying to live a day without plastic

On the morning of the day I had decided to go without using plastic products — or even touching plastic — I opened my eyes and put my bare feet on the carpet. Which is made of nylon, a type of plastic. I was roughly 10 seconds into my experiment, and I had already committed a violation.Since its invention more than a century ago, plastic has crept into every aspect of our lives. It’s hard to go even a few minutes without touching this durable, lightweight, wildly versatile substance. Plastic has made possible thousands of modern conveniences, but it has come with downsides, especially for the environment. Last week, in a 24-hour experiment, I tried to live without it altogether in an effort to see what plastic stuff we can’t do without and what we may be able to give up.Most mornings I check my iPhone soon after waking up. On the appointed day, this was not possible, given that, in addition to aluminum, iron, lithium, gold and copper, each iPhone contains plastic. In preparation for the experiment, I had stashed my device in a closet. I quickly found that not having access to it left me feeling disoriented and bold, as if I were some sort of intrepid time traveler.I made my way toward the bathroom, only to stop myself before I went in.“Could you open the door for me?” I asked my wife, Julie. “The doorknob has a plastic coating.”She opened it for me, letting out a “this is going to be a long day” sigh.My morning hygiene routine needed a total revamp, which required detailed preparations in the days before my experiment. I could not use my regular toothpaste, toothbrush, shampoo or liquid soap, all of which were encased in plastic or made of plastic.Fortunately, there is a huge industry of plastic-free products targeted at eco-conscious consumers, and I had bought an array of them, a haul that included a bamboo toothbrush with bristles made of wild boar hair from Life Without Plastic. “The bristles are completely sterilized,” Jay Sinha, the company’s co-owner, assured me when I spoke with him the week before.Instead of toothpaste, I had a jar of gray charcoal-mint toothpaste pellets. I popped one in, chewed it, sipped water and brushed. It was nice and minty, though the ash-colored spit was unsettling.I liked my shampoo bar. A shampoo bar is just what it sounds like: a bar of shampoo. Mine was scented pink grapefruit and vanilla, and lathered up well. According to shampoo bar advocates, it is also cheaper than bottled shampoo on a per-wash basis (one bar can last 80 showers). Which is good, because the plastic-free life can be expensive. Package Free, a sleek outlet in the NoHo neighborhood of Manhattan that abuts Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop store, sells a zinc and stainless-steel razor for $84 (as well as “the world’s first biodegradable vibrator”).An array of plastic-free items in the reporter’s bathroom.Jonah Rosenberg for The New York TimesA plastic-free morning shave, thanks to a razor made of zinc and steel.Jonah Rosenberg for The New York TimesA wool sweater knitted by hand completed the day’s outfit.Jonah Rosenberg for The New York TimesTaking a blogger’s advice, I mixed a D.I.Y. deodorant out of tea tree oil and baking soda. It left me smelling a little like a medieval cathedral, but in a good way. Making your own stuff is another way to avoid plastic, though it does require another luxury: free time.Before I was done in the bathroom, I had broken the rules a second time, by using the toilet.Getting dressed was also a challenge, given that so many clothing items include plastic. I had ordered a pair of wool pants that promised to be plastic free, but they had not arrived. In their stead, I chose a pair of old Banana Republic chinos.The tag said “100 percent cotton,” but when I had checked the day before with a very helpful Banana Republic public relations representative, it turned out to be a little more complicated. The main fabric is indeed 100 percent cotton, but there was plastic lurking in the zipper tape, the internal waistband, woven label, pocketing and threads, the representative told me. I cut my thumb trying to slice off the black brand label with an all-metal knife. Instead of a Band-Aid — yes, plastic — I used some gummed paper tape to stop the bleeding.Happily, my underwear did not represent a plastic violation — blue boxers from Cottonique made of 100 percent organic cotton with a cotton drawstring in place of the elastic (which is often plastic) waistband. I had found this item via an internet list of “14 Hot & Sustainable Underwear Brands for Men.”For my upper body, I lucked out. Our friend Kristen had knitted my wife a sweater for a birthday present. It had rectangles of blue and purple, and it was 100 percent merino wool.“Could I borrow Kristen’s sweater for the day?” I asked Julie.“You’re going to stretch it out,” Julie said.“It’s for planet Earth,” I reminded her.Plastics Present and PastThe world produces about 400 million metric tons of plastic waste each year, according to a United Nations report. About half is tossed out after a single use. The report noted that “we have become addicted to single-use plastic products — with severe environmental, social, economic and health consequences.”I’m one of the addicts. I did an audit, and I’d estimate that I toss about 800 plastic items in the garbage a year — takeout containers, pens, cups, Amazon packages with foam inside and more.Before my Day of No Plastic, I immersed myself in a number of no-plastic and zero-waste books, videos and podcasts. One of the books, “Life Without Plastic: The Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Avoiding Plastic to Keep Your Family and the Planet Healthy,” by Mr. Sinha and Chantal Plamondon, came from Amazon wrapped in clear plastic, like a slice of American cheese. When I mentioned this to Mr. Sinha, he promised to look into it.I also called Gabby Salazar, a social scientist who studies what motivates people to support environmental causes, and asked for her advice as I headed into my plastic-free day.“It might be better to start small,” Dr. Salazar said. “Start by creating a single habit — like always carrying a stainless-steel water bottle. After you’ve got that down, you start another habit, like taking produce bags to the grocery. You build up gradually. That’s how you make real change. Otherwise, you’ll just be overwhelmed.”“Maybe being overwhelmed will bring some sort of clarity?” I said.“That’d be nice,” Dr. Salazar said.Must avoid: All of these items, which are part of the reporter’s everyday life, contain plastic.Photographs by Jonah Rosenberg for The New York TimesAdmittedly, living completely without plastic is probably an absurd idea. Despite its faults, plastic is a crucial ingredient in medical equipment, smoke alarms and helmets. There’s truth to the plastics industry’s catchphrase from the 1990s: “Plastics make it possible.”In many cases it can help the environment: Plastic airplane parts are lighter than metal ones, which mean less fuel and lower CO2 emissions. Solar panels and wind turbines have plastic parts. That said, the world is overloaded with the stuff, especially the disposable forms. The Earth Policy Institute estimates that people go through one trillion single-use plastic bags each year.The crisis was a long time coming. There’s some debate over when plastic entered the world, but many date it to 1855, when a British metallurgist, Alexander Parkes, patented a thermoplastic material as a waterproof coating for fabrics. He called the substance “Parkesine.” Over the decades, labs across the world birthed other types, all with a similar chemistry: They are polymer chains, and most are made from petroleum or natural gas. Thanks to chemical additives, plastics vary wildly. They can be opaque or transparent, foamy or hard, stretchy or brittle. They are known by many names, including polyester and Styrofoam, and by shorthand like PVC and PET.Plastic manufacturing ramped up for World War II and was crucial to the war effort, providing nylon parachutes and Plexiglas aircraft windows. That was followed by a postwar boom, said Susan Freinkel, the author of “Plastic: A Toxic Love Story,” a book on the history and science of plastic. “Plastic went into things like Formica counters, refrigerator liners, car parts, clothing, shoes, just all sorts of stuff that was designed to be used for a while,” she said.Then things took a turn.“Where we really started to get into trouble is when it started going into single-use stuff,” Ms. Freinkel said. “I call it prefab litter.”The outpouring of straws, cups, bags and other ephemera has led to disastrous consequences for the environment. According to a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, more than 11 million metric tons of plastic enter oceans each year, leaching into the water, disrupting the food chain and choking marine life.Close to one-fifth of plastic waste gets burned, releasing CO2 into the air, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which also reports that only 9 percent of plastics are recycled. Some aren’t economical to recycle, and other types degrade in quality when they are.Plastic may also harm our health. Certain plastic additives — such as BPA and phthalates — may disrupt the endocrine system in humans, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Worrying effects may include behavioral problems and lower testosterone levels in boys and lower thyroid hormone levels and preterm births for women.“Solving this plastic problem can’t fall entirely on the shoulders of consumers,” Dr. Salazar told me. “We need to work on it on all fronts.”It’s EverywhereEarly in my no-plastic day, I started to see the world differently. Everything looked menacing, like it might be harboring hidden polymers. The kitchen was particularly fraught. Anything I could use for cooking was off-limits — the toaster, the oven, the microwave. Even leftovers were a no-go. My son waved a plastic baggie filled with French toast. “You want some of this?” Yes, I did.Instead, I decided to go foraging for raw food items.I left my building using the stairs, rather than the elevator with its plastic buttons, and walked to a health food store near our apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.When I go shopping, I try to remember to take a cloth bag with me. This time, I had brought along seven bags of varying sizes, all of them cotton. I also had two glass containers.At the store, I filled up one of my cotton bags with apples and oranges. On close inspection, I noticed that the each rind had a sticker with a code. Another likely violation, but I ignored it.At the bulk bins, I scooped walnuts and oatmeal into my glass dishes using a (washed) steel ladle I had brought from home. The bins themselves were plastic, which I ignored, because I was hungry.Scooping walnuts into a glass container with a steel ladle brought from home.Jonah Rosenberg for The New York TimesIt is not easy to pay without using plastic. Even paper currency may have synthetic ingredients.Jonah Rosenberg for The New York TimesGlass container? Bamboo fork? Cotton towel? Wooden chair? Check, check, check, check.Jonah Rosenberg for The New York TimesI went to the cashier. At which point it was time to pay. Which was a problem. Credit cards were out. So was my iPhone’s Apple Pay. Paper money was another violation: Although U.S. paper currency is made mainly of cotton and linen, each bill likely contains synthetic fibers, and the higher denominations have a security thread made of plastic to prevent counterfeiting.To be safe, I had brought along a cotton sack full of coins. Yes, a big old sack heavy with quarters, dimes and pennies — about $60 worth that I had withdrawn from Citibank and my kids’ piggy banks.At the checkout counter, I started stacking quarters as quickly as I could between nervous glances at the customers behind me.“I’m really sorry this is taking so long,” I said.“That’s OK,” the cashier said. “I meditate every morning so I can deal with turmoil like this.”He added that he appreciated my commitment to the environment. It was the first positive feedback I’d received. I counted out $19.02 — exact change! — and went home to eat my breakfast: nuts and oranges on a metal cookie tray, which I balanced on my lap.A couple of hours later, in search of a plastic-free lunch, I walked to Lenwich, a sandwich and salad shop in my neighborhood. I arrived early in the afternoon, toting my rectangular glass dish and bamboo cutlery.“Can you make the salad in this glass container?” I asked, holding it up.“One minute please,” the man behind the counter said, tersely.He called over a manager, who said OK. Victory! But the manager then rejected my follow-up request to use my steel scooper.After lunch, I headed to Central Park, figuring that this was a spot in Manhattan where I could relax in a plastic-free environment. I took the subway there, which scored me more violations, since the trains themselves have plastic parts and you need a MetroCard or smartphone to get through the turnstiles.At least I didn’t sit in one of those plastic orange seats. I had brought my own: an unpainted, fold-up Nordic-style teak chair, hard and austere. It’s what I had been using at the apartment to avoid the plastic-tainted chairs and couches.Fellow riders took little notice of the man in the wooden chair.Jonah Rosenberg for The New York TimesI plopped my chair down near a pole in the middle of the car. One guy had a please-don’t-talk-to-me look in his eyes, but the other passengers were so buried in their phones that the sight of a man on a wooden chair didn’t faze them.Walking through Central Park, I spotted dental floss picks, a black plastic knife and a plastic bag.Back home, I recorded some of my impressions. I wrote on paper with an unpainted cedar pencil from a “Zero Waste Pencil tin set” (regular pencils contain plastic-filled yellow paint). After a while, I went to get a drink of water. Which brings up perhaps the most pervasive foe of all, one I haven’t even mentioned yet: microplastics. These tiny particles are everywhere — in the water we drink, the air we breathe, in the oceans. They come from, among other things, degraded plastic litter.Are they harmful to us? I talked with several scientists, and the general answer I got was: We don’t know yet. “I think we’ll have an improved understanding in the next few years,” said Todd Gouin, an environmental research consultant. But those who are extra-cautious can use products that promise to filter microplastics from water and air.I had bought a pitcher by LifeStraw that contains a membrane microfilter. Of course, the pitcher itself had plastic parts, so I couldn’t use it on the Big Day. Instead, the night before, I spent some time at the sink filtering water and filling up Mason jars. Our kitchen looked like it was ready for the apocalypse.The water tasted particularly pure, which I’m guessing was some sort of a placebo effect.I wrote for a while. Then I sat there in my wooden chair. Phone-less. Internet-less. Julie took some pity on me and offered to play a game of cards. I shook my head.“Plastic coating,” I said.At about 9 p.m., I took our dog for her nightly walk. I was using a 100 percent cotton leash I bought online. I had ditched the poop bags — even the sustainable ones I found were made with recycled or plant-based plastic. Instead, I carried a metal spatula. Thankfully, I didn’t have to use it.Using the stairs after shopping, to avoid the elevator, which has plastic parts.Jonah Rosenberg for The New York TimesThe first draft of this article was written with a plastic-free pencil by candlelight.Jonah Rosenberg for The New York TimesCouldn’t use the bed (plastic).Jonah Rosenberg for The New York TimesAt 10:30 p.m., exhausted, I lay down on my makeshift bed — cotton sheets on the wood floor, since my mattress and pillows are plasticky.I woke up the next morning glad to have survived my ordeal and be reunited with my phone — but also with a feeling of defeat.I had made 164 violations, by my count. As Dr. Salazar had predicted, I felt overwhelmed. And also uncertain. There was so much that remained unclear, even after I had been studying this topic for weeks. What plastic-free items really made a difference, and what is mere green-washing? Is it a good idea to use boar’s-hair toothbrushes, tea tree deodorant, microplastic-filtering devices and paper straws, or does the trouble of using those things make everyone so bonkers that they actually end up damaging the cause?I called Dr. Salazar for a pep talk.“You can drive yourself crazy,” she said. “But it’s not about perfection, it’s about progress. Believe it or not, individual behavior does matter. It adds up.“Remember,” she continued, “it’s not about plastic being the enemy. It’s about single-use as the enemy. It’s the culture of using something once and throwing it away.”I thought back to something that the author Susan Freinkel had told me: “I’m not an absolutist at all. If you came into my kitchen, you would be like, what the hell? You wrote this book and look at how you live!”Ms. Freinkel does make an effort, she said. She avoids single-use bags, cups and packaging, among other things. I pledge to try, too, even after my not wholly successful attempt at a one-day ban.I’ll start with small things, building up habits. I liked the shampoo bar. And I can take produce bags to the grocery. I might event pack my steel water bottle and bamboo cutlery for my trips to Lenwich. And from there, who knows?And I’ll proudly wear the “Keep the Sea Plastic Free” T-shirt that I bought online in the days leading up to the experiment. It’s just 10 percent polyester.

Activists sue French food firm Danone over use of plastics

Activists sue French food firm Danone over use of plastics Corporate responsibility lawsuit begun by NGOs accusing Evian brand owner of ‘failing’ to address environmental footprint Danone, the French yoghurt and bottled water company, is being taken to court by three environmental groups who accuse it of failing to sufficiently reduce its plastic footprint. The …

Venice’s lagoon of 2,000 lost boats: the true cost of dumping small vessels

Venice’s lagoon of 2,000 lost boats: the true cost of dumping small vessels For decades, the city’s wetland has been used as a landfill for discarded wrecks, leaking microplastics and pollutants and posing a risk to others on the waterPaolo Cuman points to a rusty boat, half-sunk in Venice’s lagoon. “It has been there for years,” he says, laughing. “When I manage to have her removed, I’ll open a bottle of good wine.” Hunting abandoned boats is a hobby for Cuman, the coordinator of the Consulta della Laguna Media, a grassroots group monitoring the health of the lagoon. Once he’s found the boats, he maps them and pressures the authorities to remove them.For decades, the Venetian lagoon – the largest wetland in the Mediterranean – has been used as a landfill by people wanting to get rid of their boats. An estimated 2,000 abandoned vessels are in the lagoon, scattered over an area of about 55,000 hectares (135,900 acres). Some lie beneath the surface, others poke above the water and some are stranded on the barene – the lowlands that often disappear at high tide.The wrecks are a threat to other vessels – a boat’s engine may be damaged if it passes over them. But they are an even bigger threat to the ecosystem, leaking chemicals, fuel and microplastics as the boats disintegrate in the water.Authorities seldom remove these wrecks; bureaucracy is slow and dealing with the city’s boat graveyards is a long way down the priority list. That’s why a group of boating enthusiasts and environmentalists, including Cuman, are trying to force action.On a hot summer day, the lagoon, which is only a few miles away from the crowded streets of Venice, feels like a world away. Sailboats zigzag across the water, cormorants fly past and flamingos wade in the shallows, while fish leap in and out of the water.Only the wrecks of abandoned vessels mar the scene. For the most part they are small, low-powered motorboats, or burci – transport boats widely used in Venice. These are “owned by ordinary people”, says Cuman.He spots the relic of a vessel: “See this fishing boat? I remember when it used to bring the fish to Mestre [his neighbourhood] 40 years ago! Looks like it has been discarded for three decades at least,” he says.The practice of illegally abandoning vessels in the lagoon dates back to the 1950s, when trucks began to replace boats for commercial purposes. “In the past, the large shipping companies abandoned the burci here, creating boat cemeteries,” says Giovanni Cecconi, president of Venice Resilience Lab, an environmental group that has contributed to mapping the lagoon.“There are boats that have been abandoned for 20 or 30 years that are in very bad condition,” says Davide Poletto, executive director of the Venice Lagoon Plastic Free organisation. These release chemical contaminants as they break down, he says.Modern boats tend to have fibreglass hulls, which release microplastics as they decompose. A big concern is anti-fouling paints, which are intended to keep slime, barnacles and other creatures off the boats. Some of these, such as tributyltin, are now banned because of their toxic effects on marine life. Even the boats’ furnishings and upholstery contain chemicals that may contaminate the water.To a Venetian, owning a boat is almost like owning a car. But while a car might end up in a salvage yard, disposing of an unserviceable boat is complicated and expensive. Venice lacks the infrastructure to deal with unwanted boats; few facilities take them so many choose to abandon them.The Venice lagoon is controlled by 26 different entities, which means it is not always clear who has responsibility.‘A search for ourselves’: shipwreck becomes focus of slavery debateRead more“Even if a local policeman sees an abandoned boat on a sandbank, he cannot intervene to remove it, because it is not his jurisdiction,” says Paolo Ticozzi, a city councillor who says he has asked authorities to create a disposal site for abandoned boats, but has yet to receive an answer.Consulta della Laguna Media says it is the only organisation mapping the wrecks, and that it only covers the northern part of the lagoon.No attempt has been made to quantify the environmental impact of the vessels, according to Venice Lagoon Plastic Free.“No one has thought of analysing the damage caused by boats that have been there for 20, 30 or even 40 years,” says Poletto. The association has funding to remove some of the wrecks and plans to collect and examine some of the sludge at those sites.Venice is far from the only boat graveyard. About 3m shipwrecks of all kinds are scattered across the world, according to Unesco. In the UK, hundreds of boats lie abandoned along the coasts of Devon and Cornwall, according to a BBC report, which called the practice “the fly-tipping of the maritime world”.In the US, a Washington state programme has removed about 900 abandoned boats from rivers since 2002. In 2021, Virginia created a working group to “coordinate an examination of the issues” around abandoned and derelict vessels.“The situation must be evaluated case-by-case,” says the bioscientist Prof Monia Renzi. “Obviously, a boat that has just been sunk should be recovered, if technically possible, because it could release a large number of contaminants even from parts we don’t normally think of, like upholstery.”It can be different for vessels that have been lying on the sea – or riverbed for many decades, where an ecosystem has formed around the ships: “Marine sedimentation above the wreck limits the spread of contaminants,” says Renzi, adding that removing some of the oldest wrecks could cause further damage.When it comes to Venice’s lagoon, however, the best solution is usually to remove the wrecks regardless of their age, says Renzi, especially because shallow waters make recovery easier.Bulky material like boats can reduce the water’s natural circulation, she says, damaging the wider ecosystem – the less water circulates, the more pollutants will stick around. These environments are “already under pressure, because they are highly exploited for fishing, so the possible transfer of contaminants can be extremely critical”, she says. It risks further damaging fish populations.In Venice, however, activists have won a small victory. The authority responsible for water management in the Venetian lagoon, the Magistrato alle Acque, has agreed to remove some vessels in the coming months.Cuman welcomes the news, but says a lot remains to be done.It is not only a problem for the environment, he says, but also of transport within the lagoon: “Unbound boats are at the mercy of the wind and the current. If you pass over a sunken or semi-sunken boat, it can break the engine, causing considerable damage,” says Cuman. Broken-off boat parts floating on the currents can also cause accidents hundreds of miles from the wreck, he says.Cuman wants more people to join his wreck-spotting missions. “If I convince others in this community to join me, then there will be a Venetian patrolling every spot of the lagoon. Ignoring us will become impossible.”TopicsEnvironmentShipwreckedVenicePollutionfeaturesReuse this content