Retired St. James Parish teacher wins global award for pollution fight

Sharon Lavigne never imagined herself an environmental activist. The retired teacher had spent much of her life working with special education students in the St. James Parish public school system.But the idea of another chemical plant being built in her parish, after she had lost acquaintances to cancer that she blames on industrial pollution, spurred her into action in 2018. She began organizing and educating neighbors on the risks, an effort that gained global recognition Tuesday when she was named the North American recipient of the 2021 Goldman Environmental Prize.

Sharon Lavigne, a retired teacher turned community organizer, leads a song with St. John the Baptist Parish residents protesting a proposed grain terminal on May 15, 2021. Lavigne was just named the North American recipient of the 2021 Goldman Environmental Prize. (Photo by Halle Parker, Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate)

Lavigne, 68, had never heard of the award before she learned of her selection in December. She was in disbelief.”I’m doing this to save our community. I’m doing this to breathe clean air and drink clean water. I wasn’t looking for recognition,” the Welcome resident said. “I had no idea people could win awards for this.”Winners receive grant and networking opportunities through the Goldman Environmental Foundation. The foundation also elevates their campaigns and offers legal assistance. A virtual awards ceremony was set Tuesday evening.Lavigne’s group, RISE St. James, claimed its first victory in 2019 when Wanhua Chemical abandoned plans to build a $1.3 billion plastics complex near Romeville. The 10-mile stretch of the Mississippi River between Convent and Lemannville already boasts 17 industrial plants.She and RISE St. James have worked with environmental groups to protest and sue several other plants proposed in the area, such as the $9.4 billion Formosa Plastics complex and $2.2 billion South Louisiana Methanol plant. In 2019, a joint investigation by The Advocate, The Times-Picayune and ProPublica, using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data, found that Formosa and other new industry in St. James since 2015 posed an acute risk for predominantly poor, Black residents along the river.

The chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources and one of his committee colleagues urged President Joe Biden on Wednesday to “p…

Stay up-to-date on the latest on Louisiana’s coast and the environment. Sign up today.

“When the governor of Louisiana came to St. James Parish and announced Formosa Plastics was coming to town, Sharon Lavigne was brave enough to stand up and say no. Sharon said she had a different vision for her historic Black community,” said Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “Her leadership, courage and vision are rewarded today by the Goldman Prize. And she would be the first to say that this is just the beginning.”Lavigne was selected by an international jury for her leadership in addressing “environmental injustice,” said Ilan Kayatsky, the Goldman Environmental Prize’s communications director, “and spearheading a fight that needed to be fought.””With the founding of her organization, RISE St. James, the defeat of Wanhua and a growing community campaign to prevent the encroachment by Formosa Plastics, Sharon has demonstrated – profoundly – why grassroots leadership is so important.”

This article was produced in partnership with The Times-Picayune and The Advocate, which are members of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

When people see she’s won this award, Lavigne said, she hopes it shows people to “stand up for what is right.””If you’re right, everything will fall into place,” she said. Lavigne is the first Louisiana recipient of the Goldman prize since Norco resident Margie Richard won it in 2004 for her work to reduce emissions at Shell Chemical’s plant. She joins five other regional recipients across the world: Africa – Gloria Majiga-Kamoto, who fought single-use plastics pollution in MalawiAsia – Thai Van Nguye, who founded the Save Vietnam’s Wildlife nonprofit to rescue animals from illegal wildlife tradeEurope – Maida Bilal, whose protest led to the cancelation of two hydropower dam projects in Bosnia and HerzegovinaIsland nations – Kimiko Hirata, who leads a campaign to shut down Japan’s coal-burning power plantsSouth and Central America – Liz Chicaje Churay, who worked with partners to create Yaguas National Park in Peru and protect more than 2 million acres of the Amazon River basin rainforest.

United Nations observers said this week that further industrialization in the Mississippi River corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans i…

Purchases made via links on our site may earn us an affiliate commission

Sri Lanka probing deaths of sea animals following ship fire

The carcasses of five dolphins and more than 30 sea turtles have been found along the western coast of Sri Lanka after the burning of a cargo ship near the capital Colombo, sparking concerns that the accident is devastating marine wildlife in the region.
After the Singapore-flagged X-Press Pearl caught fire on May 20 near the harbour, some oil, chemicals and plastic pellets leaked into the sea that is home to several species of large marine mammals. These include the non-migratory blue, humpback and pilot whales; spinner, spotted and bottlenose dolphins; and thresher and whitetip sharks.
There are also hundreds of sea turtles and millions of reef fish in this part of the Indian Ocean, popular for marine tourism, wildlife research and fishing.

Sri Lanka is seeking an interim claim of US$40 million (S$53 million) from X-Press Feeders, the ship’s operator, as compensation for firefighting expenses from May 20 through June 1.
Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority (Mepa) has yet to fully assess the cost to wildlife and marine environment.
The Sri Lankan navy said the blaze was caused by the vessel’s chemical cargo, which included more than 22 tonnes of nitric acid and other chemicals, most of which was destroyed in the fire.

For now, there is no oil spill, said Dr Darshani Lahandapura, chair of Mepa. But the burnt-out container ship is sinking, with its bottom touching the shallow seabed.
Environmentalists fear that if oil and any remaining chemicals like sodium dioxide, copper and lead spill out, the rich marine life in the region could be at stake.
In the past week, Sri Lanka’s Department of Wildlife Conservation said carcasses of spinner dolphins, humpback dolphins, turtles and eels have washed ashore in coastal regions up to Colombo and Kosgoda. The department’s director-general Chandana Sooriyabandara said tissue samples have been taken from the dead animals and teams were holding necropsies.
Colombo-based conservation biologist Ranil Nanayakkara said: “The carcasses that wash ashore could be only a fraction of total deaths. Most dead animals will sink to the bottom, be eaten by others or be moved by water currents around the world. We have to do studies, and fast, to know what is happening.”
Based on data the government has released, Dr Nanayakkara has ruled out nitric acid, as it is “not potent enough” to kill animals. “It’s not clear what exactly is the cause of death: toxic chemicals or the vibration from the two or three explosions on the ship,” he said.
Marine biologist Asha de Vos, the founder of Oceanswell, Sri Lanka’s first marine conservation research organisation, warned that not all deaths can be attributed to the ship accident. “It’s important for us to remember that animals die all the time, and their carcasses can be found at sea or washed on beaches throughout the year. Only the necropsies can tell us the cause of death,” she said.
However, all the scientists are worried about the tonnes of plastic pellets covering many beaches, such as Kalpitiya, like heaps of toxic snow. The fish-egg-like pellets are stubborn pollutants that choke marine wildlife and block the digestive tracts of fish that swallow them, thus starving them.
Mr Nanayakkara is afraid that if the pellets travelled in the water columns up the coast, they could wreck the pristine seagrass beds in the Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka, the habitat of dugongs, sharks, rays, seahorses and shrimps, among other creatures.

Adani blasted over ‘toxic’ $4bn plan to use Australian coal to make plastic in India

The owners of the controversial Carmichael mine in Queensland want to build a US$4bn plant in India that would use Australian coal to make plastic. Adani Enterprises, which owns the Carmichael coalmine, said in submissions to Indian authorities the plant will use 3.1m tonnes of coal a year at the plant to make PVC. Critics …

Scientists convert used plastic bottles into vanilla flavouring

Plastic bottles have been converted into vanilla flavouring using genetically engineered bacteria, the first time a valuable chemical has been brewed from waste plastic. Upcycling plastic bottles into more lucrative materials could make the recycling process far more attractive and effective. Currently plastics lose about 95% of their value as a material after a single …

Plastic waste: The Flintshire takeaways switching to reusable containers

Over months of lockdown, takeaway food became a treat like no other for many.Much of it, however delicious, comes with an inconvenient side order – heaps of single-use plastic containers.Tackling this waste is what is driving a new trial called Naked Takeaway, in Flintshire.Several businesses in Mold and Caerwys are now asking customers if they would like their meals delivered in reusable tins – which do not require a deposit but will need to be returned later.”Everyone has loved them. One hundred per cent, I’d say, have said ‘we’d like these tins back’ – they keep the food hotter, they’re better for the environment,” said Chris Ansloos, who runs the Spoons and Forks cafe in Mold.”We do get a few comments about the washing up, but people don’t seem to mind that.”The cafes and restaurants are trusting their clients to bring back the durable containers or have them ready to be picked up the next time they order.”I think there isn’t enough trust nowadays,” said Ms Ansloos, whose customers tend to be regulars, ordering meals such as Sunday dinners and curries week after week. The scheme is backed by local group Mold Plastic Reduction, alongside Mold, Caerwys and Llangollen town councils, and the tins were purchased with a grant from the Welsh government.At the Asia Sensation restaurant, also in Mold, Carmen Lim said she would like to see differently shaped containers available in the future. But introducing the tins made business sense, she said. “The first thing is we save a lot of money on the plastic containers. And the second – it’s more clean. You can recycle it back so it’s more suitable for the restaurant as well.”‘Eyewatering’ litter problemTown councillor Andrea Mearns is a co-founder of the group and said the project had grown from the community wanting action on the “eyewatering” problem of plastic waste.”Mold Town Council organises an annual litter pick and the amount of takeaway containers that was in the litter that volunteers were collecting brought it up as a problem,” she said.With the project up and running at six businesses in the area, she said she hoped lessons learned during this trial would inform other projects, and that the scheme would be adopted by other towns.Takeaways told ‘use less plastic’Over 900 million tonnes of food wasted each yearA key factor, she said, was that the reusable tins were grant-funded, and cost nothing to the businesses.”The biggest barrier, according to the UK restaurant association, is the cost of using environmentally-friendly containers for businesses,” she said.”So it’s massively important that we’re giving these businesses the opportunity to use something that is reusable and fully sustainable.”Related Internet LinksMold Plastic ReductionMold Town CouncilThe BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.

Los Alamos lab aids efforts to reduce plastic pollution

Plastic is everywhere, and hardly anyone can get through a day without using it.Mass-produced and mass-consumed, plastics generate mountains of trash in landfills, littering public areas and fouling the ocean — partly because much of it isn’t practical to recycle.Los Alamos National Laboratory is part of a consortium developing a technology to rapidly break down discarded plastic at the molecular level into components that can be used to create other materials, such as nylon.The year-old research and development effort has been dubbed BOTTLE. The program was launched in November.Early research has led to identifying enzymes that can biodegrade plastic noticeably within several days, versus the several hundred years it normally would take for the material to decompose.Now the teams want to accelerate the decomposition, because breaking down the plastic in days is not nearly fast enough, lab scientist Taraka Dale said.“So what we’re shooting for is really observable changes and degradation in a matter of, ideally, hours,” said Dale, who leads the lab’s BOTTLE program. “So that you can, in theory, put this in an industrial process eventually.”

Chris Francisco, superintendent at the Buckman Road Recycling and Transfer Station, points out tin and plastic in the bales of mixed recyclables being transported to a different facility to be broken down.

Jim Weber/The New Mexican

The process would be fairly straightforward for users, she said.A vendor would grind up plastic trash and load it with the enzymes into a tank partially filled with water.The enzymes would break down and dissolve the plastic into the liquid. They would then transform the molecules into polymers for higher-grade products, such as carpets and clothing.Dale likened it to dismantling a brick house, and instead of simply reusing the bricks, you turn them into boards for a different purpose.The company could sell the raw material to a manufacturer, Dale said.This conversion of throwaway items and scraps into higher-quality goods, such as fabrics, would be “upcycling,” she said.That’s in contrast to downcycling, when plastics are mechanically processed and put into lower-grade products, such as trash bags.It might take a decade before this technology can be applied in the real world, Dale said.“I’d love to say we think it could be sooner, but there’s a lot of science still to do,” she said.With the growing plastic waste problem, scientists working on the project feel driven to make headway as soon as possible, she added.Plastic production has skyrocketed since the end of World War II, creating vast amounts of cast-off materials that are extremely slow to decompose.A plastic beverage bottle takes an estimated 450 years to biodegrade. A solid plastic object such as a toothbrush needs 500 years. A straw won’t break down for 200 years.A study published last year by Science Advances estimated that in 2016 the U.S. generated the most plastic waste in the world at 42 million metric tons and also put the most plastic pollution into the ocean — an estimated 1.1 million to 2.2 million metric tons.Plastic trash in the ocean can add to the floating, sprawling patches of garbage that resemble islands. The more detrimental effect is below the surface, with the plastic killing fish and marine mammals that ingest or become ensnared in it.In New Mexico, plastic waste contributes to litter strewn along roadsides and in parks, forests and arroyos. State health and transportation managers have described the state’s litter problem as chronic.And of the plastic trash that is disposed of properly, only a portion can be recycled.

Gabriel Pena, left, and Jose Majano sort through the flow of mixed recyclables to pull out things like batteries and pressurized cans last week at the Buckman Road Recycling and Transfer Station. 

Jim Weber/The New Mexican

Two of the seven basic types of plastic are marketable enough to recycle, and the others are either too low-grade or are mixed with toxic chemicals that render them difficult to reuse, said Randall Kippenbrock, executive director of the Santa Fe Solid Waste Management Agency.One of the desirable types is PET, the clear plastic used in beverage bottles, and the other is high-density polyethylene, used for milk jugs, shampoo bottles and other household containers, Kippenbrock said.Those plastics are sold to mills and vendors in the Southeast, he said.But plastic wrappers, shopping bags, cups, squeezable bottles, Styrofoam, loose scraps and anything that’s soiled are weeded out and sent to the landfill.“There’s really not a market for those,” Kippenbrock said.The discarded plastic waste makes up only 0.5 percent of the 11,000 tons of trash, including cardboard, metal and paper, that the Buckman Recycling Center receives in a year, he said.Still, that adds up to 550 tons of plastic that gets passed to the landfill. And that’s just the recycling center’s rejected materials and not the plastic trash going directly from households to the dumpsite.Kippenbrock said someone from the lab talked to his regional recycling group about the volume of their waste a couple of years ago. He believes it probably was related to this research project.“The regional group that I’m part of is very much in favor of supporting LANL and what they’re trying to accomplish,” Kippenbrock said.Kippenbrock said he hopes the new technology would be applied to the lower-quality, less desirable plastics because those aren’t being reused.The consortium’s BOTTLE webpage shows the technology could be used on a wide array of plastic products, including items now deemed nonrecyclable.The list also includes textiles, fibers, foams and various food and beverage packaging.Conservationists contend recycling has had limited success in reducing trash flow because it’s cheaper to make fresh plastic, made of oil and hydrocarbons, than repurpose discarded plastic.Dale said that’s why increasing the plastic’s grade is important — it makes recycling more profitable.The consortium is made up of five national labs and five universities. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is the lead entity.Each plays a unique role.For instance, Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee looks for new micro-organisms. Argonne National Laboratory outside Chicago employs computer modeling to identify new building blocks for polymers.Los Alamos’ key contribution is its “smart microbial cell technology,” Dale said.It can test an enzyme’s effectiveness in breaking down a plastic by fluorescent color-tagging the molecules the plastic is shedding, she said. The more molecules it throws off, the faster it’s degrading and the better the enzymes are working.The system can screen as many as 100,000 variants in one experiment, versus the one to 100 that other labs were testing at a time, she said.“It really gives us a chance to do things truly orders of magnitude faster,” Dale said.Dale said she thinks the consortium’s research will coincide with the work of other scientific teams, and that the widespread public interest in reducing plastic waste will provide an impetus to tackle the problem.“It may have the potential for really big impact,” Dale said of the larger effort. “And I expect BOTTLE to be a part of it.”

UNDP World Oceans Day celebration calls for innovation in achieving a sustainable ocean economy

New York – The ocean or ‘blue’ economy represents some $2.3 trillion in market goods and services, from fisheries to tourism to shipping; if the ocean were an economy, it would be the world’s fifth largest.  But our ocean faces unprecedented threats from pollution, overfishing, habitat loss, invasive species and climate change. Collectively, these ocean threats represent nearly $1 trillion in annual socioeconomic losses and threaten the livelihoods and food security of millions of people. The global agenda for moving towards sustainable ocean use is captured in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, Life Below Water, and its ten targets.  Four of the SDG 14 targets came due in 2020, another in 2025, making SDG 14 among the most ambitious of all the SDGs.

It is widely understood that achieving the SDG 14 agenda requires moving away from business as usual towards transformational change in the responsible sectors. Such transformations need to include the introduction and scaling up of innovative approaches – technological but also policy, regulatory, economic and financial. Towards this end, in 2020 UNDP with support from Sweden and Norway, launched the Ocean Innovation Challenge (OIC), seeking to identify, finance and mentor innovations that are replicable, scalable, sustainable and potentially transformational.

On Tuesday, June 8, World Oceans Day, the United Nations Development Programme hosted “A Conversation with the 2020 UNDP Ocean Innovators” which highlighted a suite of inspirational ocean protection and restoration projects UNDP is supporting through the Ocean Innovation Challenge.  These innovations were selected through the OIC’s 2020 global call for proposals on SDG 14.1, reduce marine pollution, that received over 600 submissions from a wide range of public, private and civil society stakeholders.

Featured speakers included Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden, His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon of Norway, Deputy Prime Minister Per Bolund of Sweden, the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on the Ocean Ambassador Peter Thomson, UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner, and Norad Director General Bård Vegar Solhjell. His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon of Norway moderated a conversation with the first cohort of Ocean Innovators on marine pollution.

Crown Princess Victoria emphasized the interconnectedness of the ocean SDG with all the other SDGs: “For a very long time the seas have given us humans what we need to survive. But now, with climate change, pollution, and overfishing we are at a point where the ocean depends on us. It is time for us to give back before it is too late.”  Ambassador Thomson commended the OIC for supporting innovations “that are inspired by nature and act for nature’s well-being”. Deputy Prime Minister Bolund underscored the importance of the OIC approach to “ocean and coastal restoration and protection (that) sustain livelihoods and the blue economy”.  UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner, noted that “the Ocean Innovation Challenge is precisely the kind of initiative which understands that it is in human ingenuity that the greatest hope for the 21st century lies.”

The discussion moderated by Crown Prince Haakon explored the inspiration and ambition behind each of the Innovators.  Three OIC projects, in Comoros, Costa Rica and the Maldives, seek to introduce national level Extended Producer Responsibility schemes to close the loop on ocean plastics pollution by shifting the burden from consumers and municipalities to the plastics producing companies.  A project in Southeast Asia will work with the textiles sector to reduce microfibre shedding from textiles manufacturing.  A partnership with Duke University will create a globally accessible database of best practice in plastics pollution reduction policy approaches.  In the Philippines, Fortuna Coolers is introducing cooling boxes manufactured from waste coconut husks as a substitute for highly polluting polystyrene coolers.  Lastly, two projects are combating ocean nutrient pollution, one through the application of digital tools to optimize wastewater treatment in Cape Verde, the other through the sustainable culture of kelp seaweed as an organic substitute for highly polluting and carbon intensive industrial fertilizer.

In his closing remarks, Norad Director General Solhjell expressed his optimism for humanity’s capacity for transformational change. He underscored Norway’s significant commitment to innovation for ocean sustainability: “To make transformational change, innovation is key and that kind of transformational change is what we need to deal with the great challenges that we are facing with the ocean. To have transformational change you need innovation. And that is the key reason we have partnered with Sida and with UNDP to create this challenge.”

In March 2021, the OIC launched its second call for proposals on sustainable fisheries (SDGs 14.4, 14.7, 14.b); at the end of the call in early May, close to 300 proposals had been received.  Following a detailed and rigorous vetting process, UNDP’s 2021 Ocean Innovators will be announced in late 2021; interested parties can find out more at the OIC website and on social media:



Asia supermarkets:banana leaves for packaging instead of plastics

Listen to this Article Now

June 10th 2021

By Norvisi Mawunyegah

Supermarkets in Vietnam have implemented an initiative of banana leaves instead of plastic as a packaging means. Rimping Supermarket in Chiangmai, Thailand earned praise on Facebook for coming up with the eco-friendly packaging after a local firm featured it on their page last week.

The idea, which was an instant hit among netizens, soon caught the attention of Vietnamese supermarkets.

Big supermarket chains in Vietnam, such as Lotte Mart, Saigon Co-op, and Big C, have all started to follow in the Thai store’s footsteps by experimenting with banana leaves as a packaging alternative in their stores as well.

A representative from the Lotte Mart chain shared that they are still in the testing phase but are planning to replace plastic with leaves nationwide very soon. Aside from wrapping vegetables and fruits, the grocery chain intends to also use the leaves for fresh meat products.

Customers have since been applauding the effort.

“When I see vegetables wrapped in these beautiful banana leaves I’m more willing to buy in larger quantities,” a local customer named Hoa was quoted as saying, “I think this initiative will help locals be more aware of protecting the environment.”

According to VN Express, the use of the leaves as packaging is a welcome addition to the numerous other efforts establishments in Vietnam are experimenting with to reduce plastic waste. Big C, for instance, already offers biodegradable bags made with corn powder in its stores. With Vietnam ranking number four in the world for the most amount of plastic waste dumped into the ocean, such efforts are of the utmost importance.

A recent report highlighted the incredible amount of plastic waste by Vietnamese people, disposing of about 2,500 tons of plastic waste per day. As a Vice report noted, banning or reducing single-use plastic bags in supermarkets is a growing trend in Asia. Just recently, South Korea banned the use of disposable plastic bags, requiring supermarkets and other commercial establishments to provide recyclable containers to customers. Singapore supermarkets have also been launching campaigns informing the public on the need to reduce plastic bag use. Meanwhile, Taiwanese shops have started charging for single-use plastic bags to discourage customers from using them.

Meanwhile, China has seen a 66% drop in plastic bag use in over a decade since banning the use of ultra-thin plastic bags in 2008.

Total Views:

Ocean largely littered with takeaway food and drink items, study finds

Almost half of the litter found in the world’s oceans is plastic made by takeaway food and drinks, new research has shown. In the first comprehensive study of its kind, researchers from 15 institutions in 10 countries analysed 12m data points from 36 global data sets on litter pollution, discovering that plastic accounts for 80 …

Marine Conservation Society

Every year, as part of Plastic Free July, we help our supporters to look closely at their buying habits and help them to make informed choices to cut out single-use plastic. We give you great tips, fantastic facts and easy guides so you, your colleagues and classmates can start to think more about what you …