The world can’t recycle its way out of the plastics crisis

There are an estimated 50 trillion to 75 trillion plastic particles in the world’s oceans and another 8 million to 10 million tons are added every year, with catastrophic impacts on marine wildlife and ecosystems. Damage to these ecosystems from plastic pollution causes an estimated $500 billion to $2.5 trillion a year in economic losses. But the costs don’t stop at the shoreline. Deloitte estimates that in North America alone plastic pollution in rivers and streams costs up to $600 million per year.Nor do impacts end at the waters’ edge. Plastics contaminate commercially harvested fish and shellfish, fishmeal fed to animals, agricultural soils and food crops, tap and bottled water, and the air we breathe. An unfortunate but inevitable consequence of this pervasive pollution is that plastics are also showing up in human bodies: in our waste, lungs, blood, even in the placenta of pregnant people. An unknown but potentially enormous array of toxic chemicals can enter the human body via these plastics.But the volume of toxins leaching from plastic products and particles is dwarfed by the pollutants being released into communities where plastics and petrochemicals are made, and where plastic’s oil and gas feedstocks are pumped from the ground. The risks from this pervasive pollution are particularly acute for the communities that live on the fence lines of these facilities and the front lines of the ongoing buildout of plastic and petrochemical infrastructure.That buildout poses risks not only for the environment and human health, but for the global climate. Because 99 percent of what goes into plastic is fossil fuels, plastics are essentially fossil fuels in another form. As demand for oil and gas in energy and transport declines, fossil fuel producers are looking to plastics as a way to continue profiting from fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency projects that by 2050, more than half of all oil and gas will be used to make plastics and petrochemicals. This has enormous climate impacts. On our present trajectory, plastic production, use, and disposal could emit 56 gigatons of CO2 by 2050 — equivalent to 13 percent of the earth’s entire remaining carbon budget that keeps warming below the critical 1.5 degree Celsius threshold. These impacts would be compounded if plastic pollution disrupts natural carbon sinks in the ocean and soils. Accordingly, the plastics treaty is being hailed as the “most important climate deal” since the Paris Agreement.The scale, scope, and diversity of these impacts explain why negotiators for the new plastics treaty are mandated to address not just plastic waste but the entire lifecycle of plastics, including the production that drives plastic pollution in all its forms, and why that mandate requires binding — not just voluntary — commitments. Put simply, the world cannot recycle its way out of the plastics crisis.Last month, Greenpeace documented that less than 5 percent of all plastics used and discarded in the United States each year are actually recycled. It found that for all but a small subset of plastic products, the real recycling rates are even lower. The Greenpeace investigation proves yet again that for most products and for most communities, plastic recycling is simply a myth.But widespread belief in that myth is not an accident. The plastics industry has long been aware that plastic recycling does not work at any meaningful scale, yet continues to promote it as a solution to the plastic crisis.If this story sounds familiar, it should.Massachusetts was among the first states to launch an investigation into the oil industry’s role in the accelerating climate crisis. That investigation led the state to sue ExxonMobil for misleading the public and investors about the climate risks inherent in its fossil fuel products. In April, California launched a similar investigation into the role of plastic producers in the plastic crisis, beginning with a subpoena to Exxon, also a leading plastic producer. A parallel investigation by Massachusetts could examine the impacts of industry greenwashing on the state, even as legislators advance efforts to address the plastic crisis at state and local levels.But just as confronting climate change demands coordinated national and global action, so too does confronting the plastic crisis. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey have cosponsored the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act, which would represent a vital first step in a national response to plastics pollution.Having failed to learn the lessons from 30 years of failed climate negotiations, the United States is actively promoting the Paris Agreement as a model for the plastic negotiations. Rather than seek ambitious action to confront plastic production, US negotiators are calling for voluntary commitments, a major focus on recycling, and an approach that puts plastic producers at the negotiating table with the countries and communities plagued by plastic pollution. It is also spearheading a coalition of countries seeking to lower ambition for the plastics treaty. This approach has failed in the fight against fossil fuel-driven climate change. And people around the world are living with the accelerating consequences.Markey sits on three Senate committees that will oversee US engagement in these negotiations, including the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As a major coastal state whose people and economy will be affected by the success or failure of the plastic treaty, Massachusetts has a big stake in getting it right. The people of Massachusetts have proven that they are ready to confront corporate deception and demand strong action to confront the climate crisis and the rising impacts of climate change, and have shown they are prepared to act on the root causes of the plastic crisis as well. They should expect nothing less from the government that represents them before the international community.Negotiators should abandon the misplaced trust in the fossil fuel and plastics industry to help solve the problems its products create and its profits demand. The world missed that opportunity at the climate talks. It shouldn’t miss it again on plastics.Carroll Muffett is president of the Center for International Environmental Law.

Good eggs: Eggs can be used to filter microplastics and salt out of water, research finds | Euronews

Eggs can be used to filter microplastics and salt out of water, researchers have discovered.The humble egg is a staple at breakfast tables around the world.But it could prove an unlikely ally in the battle against plastic pollution, scientists at Princeton University have found.According to their ground-breaking new research, freeze dried and super-heated egg whites can remove salt and microplastics from seawater with 98 per cent and 99 per cent efficiency respectively.“The egg whites even worked if they were fried on the stove first, or whipped,” said Sehmus Ozden, first author on the paper published in Materials Today.How can scientists use egg whites to filter water?Egg whites are a complex system of almost pure protein.When they are freeze dried and heated to 900 degrees Celsius in an environment without oxygen, they form an interconnected structure of carbon strands and graphene sheets.This ‘aerogel’ structure acts like a very tightmesh sieve, sifting nasty microplastics or salt out of the water.You’ve got to break a few eggs to filter microplasticsThe scientists tried a number of different options before they got to eggs.Professor Craig Arnold – one of the researchers on the paper – found inspiration for the experiments during a lunchtime faculty meeting.”I was sitting there, staring at the bread in my sandwich,” he said.”And I thought to myself, this is exactly the kind of structure that we need.”The team initially tried to use bread mixed with carbon to filter microplastics. None of these methods worked very well, so the researchers kept removing ingredients.”We started with a more complex system, and we just kept reducing, reducing, reducing, until we got down to the core of what it was,” Arnold said,“It was the proteins in the egg whites that were leading to the structures that we needed.”Are egg whites a scalable solution to microplastic pollution?Microplastics – tiny particles of plastic up to 5mm long – are everywhere. According to a recent study, people inadvertently consume up to five grams of micro and nano-plastics every week.The phenomenon could have dangerous health implications.The tiny particles linger in human blood, lodge in the organs, and pollute foetuses. Emerging research suggests they may be able to induce carcinogenesis in cells, the process that triggers cancerous mutations.Eggs alone are not going to solve this problem – humans have produced more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic since the 1950s. But if the research group can refine the fabrication process, they could help with water purification on a larger scale.While store-bought eggs could form part of the solution, the researchers are also looking into producing synthetic proteins with the same filtering qualities.It could have significant benefits, Ozden says – not least being significantly cheaper than existing options.“Activated carbon is one of the cheapest materials used for water purification. We compared our results with activated carbon, and it’s much better,” he said.

Coke is a sponsor of the Cop27 climate talks. Some activists aren’t happy

The decision to include Coca-Cola as a major sponsor of this year’s United Nations climate summit in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, has angered many climate activists, who cite a recent report that says the company’s production of plastics is increasing.The beverages giant, which was named the world’s leading polluter of plastics in 2021, has increased its use of new plastics since 2019 by 3 percent to 3.2 million tons, according to an annual report issued this month by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which has united 500 organizations in a “global commitment” to reduce plastic waste.Activists note that the majority of plastics are manufactured using fossil fuels like crude oil, coal and natural gases. The British government, which hosted the previous round of global climate talks last year in Glasgow, took a stricter approach to corporate responsibility issues, barring fossil fuel companies from sponsorship arrangements.A delegate from last year’s conference, Georgia Elliott-Smith, called to revoke Coke’s corporate sponsorship in an online petition, which garnered more than 238,000 signatures in the lead-up to the summit.“Plastic is suffocating our planet and, year after year, one company leads the pack of polluters — Coca-Cola,” Ms. Elliott-Smith wrote on the petition’s webpage.“Coca-Cola spends millions of dollars greenwashing their brand, making us believe that they are solving the problem,” she said, adding that “behind the scenes,” the company had “a long history of lobbying to delay and derail regulations that would prevent pollution, keeping us addicted to disposable plastic.”In an email, a Coca-Cola representative, who did not give their name, said the company shared the goal of eliminating  waste from the ocean and appreciated efforts to raise awareness about this challenge.“While we recognize that we have more work to do, we believe that effective climate solutions will require all of society to be involved including governments, civil society and the private sector,” the press officer said.The company says it plans to make its packaging recyclable worldwide by 2025, according to its Business & Environmental, Social and Governance Report, published last year. Coca-Cola also produced 900 prototype bottles in 2021 made almost entirely of plant-based plastic, excluding the cap and the label.But the progress report released by the MacArthur Foundation this month has cast doubt on its environmental ambitions, revealing that the target of shifting all packaging to reusable, recyclable, or compostable packaging by 2025 will “almost certainly” not be met.“The report clearly shows that voluntary commitments from companies to address plastic pollution have failed,” said Graham Forbes, a global project leader focused on plastics at Greenpeace. “Instead of tackling the plastic pollution crisis, big brands like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Mars actually increased the amount of plastic they create since the EMF Global Commitment was launched in 2018.”

Blue whales swallowing 95 pounds of plastic daily, scientists estimate

Blue whales, the largest creatures on Earth, are ingesting 10 million pieces of microplastic daily, scientists estimate.
With plastic waste rapidly accumulating in the world’s oceans, researchers sought to gauge how much is consumed by humpback, fin, and blue whales off the U.S. Pacific Coast. All three feed by gulping up mouthfuls of krill and other tiny creatures and then pushing the seawater out through a bristle-like filter called a baleen. In the process, they are prone to swallowing large amounts of plastic.
Scientists estimated the weight of plastic ingested by tracking the foraging behavior of 65 humpback whales, 29 fin whales, and 126 blue whales that were each tagged with a camera, microphone, and GPS device that had been suction-cupped to their back.
Accounting for the concentration of microplastics off the Pacific Coast, scientists estimate that humpbacks whales who favor krill over fish likely consume around 4 million microplastic pieces each day, or up to 38 pounds of plastic waste. Fin whales swallow an estimated 6 million pieces each, amounting to as much as 57 pounds of plastic. And blue whales eat an estimated 10 million microplastic pieces, or up to 95 pounds of plastic waste. The findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.
“They’re lower on the food chain than you might expect by their massive size, which puts them closer to where the plastic is in the water,” Matthew Savoca, a marine biologist at Stanford University and a coauthor of the study, said in a statement. “There’s only one link: The krill eat the plastic, and then the whale eats the krill.” While other marine creatures are at risk of consuming microplastics, Savoca said, “The unique concern for whales is that they can consume so much.”
Why Bioplastics Will Not Solve the World’s Plastics Problem

Microplastics, tiny pollutants plague Pennsylvania rivers, streams

Microplastics are everywhere, even in Pennsylvania’s cleanest waterways.According to a new report by the activist and research group PennEnvironment, tests for the presence of microplastics conducted in 50 of some of the cleanest streams and waterways throughout the commonwealth found the pollutants present in every single one.Microplastic pollution was found in all high-quality waterways tested in a study led by environmental advocacy group PennEnvironment with analysis by researchers at Drexel University.A new report by the group shows the extent of the proliferation of plastic residue throughout the environment from various sourcesRepresentatives from local advocacy groups and PennEnvironment gathered at Monocacy Park to discuss the report and push for greater environmental regulation against easily discarded plasticsLocal representatives from the Sierra Club, Bethlehem Environmental Advocacy Council and Monocacy Creek Watershed Association on Wednesday joined those from PennEnvironment to discuss the report and how it pertains to local waterways and the environment in the Lehigh Valley at Monocacy Park.Microplastics are plastic pieces less than 5mm long, or smaller than a grain of rice.They have been found in people’s lungs, blood and excrement after being ingested. They have even been found in the deepest parts of the ocean and on the top of Mount Everest. Scientific studies theorize that its proliferation may pose health risks to wildlife and humans due to toxins within plastics in addition to being a widespread pollutant.“Plastic doesn’t biodegrade,” PennEnvironment Field Director Flora Cardoni said. “So while something like an apple core or a piece of paper will break down into organic compounds and components over time, plastic doesn’t do that. Instead, plastic just breaks into smaller and smaller pieces.”
PennEnvironment is the statewide chapter of the advocacy group Environment America.Fifty waterways were selected among what the state Department of Environmental Protection deems to be Exceptional Value, High Quality and Class A Cold Water Trout streams. Water samples were collected from them in 2021 and 2022 by PennEnvironment staff and partners, then analyzed by environmental researchers at Drexel University.In the Lehigh Valley, waterways such as the Lehigh River, Little Lehigh Creek, Saucon Creek, Bushkill Creek, Monocacy Creek and more were examined. Each was found to contain different microplastic fragments, fibers or films – often residue from discarded or degraded plastic products such as clothing, hard plastics, bags, flexible packaging and cosmetic products.Different types of pollutants were found in different waterways, but all had some form of microplastic pollution.That was in spite of the report’s observation that many waterways had little to no visible litter at the point of access.“It’s alarming how plastics have invaded all facets of our lives and are present in many forms in all 50 waterways tested,“ Monocacy Creek Watershed Association board member Michael Harrington said
Even though some plastics may be recycled, there are logistical and legal barriers to the process. A recent report from Greenpeace claims only about 5% of plastics recycled are turned into new products.“The Monocacy and many other waterways in the Lehigh Valley are impacted by urbanization and development,” Sierra Club digital organizer Rachel Rosenfeld explained at the event.“The creek runs through the city of Bethlehem and has regularly flooded in more densely populated parts of town during heavy rainfall events. Stormwater runoff carries its materials over impervious surfaces like plastic waste, excess nutrients and sediment.”Plastic bag bans already are being implemented in parts of Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, and other states including New York.“Plastic itself has only been around since the 1950s,” Cardoni said. “We didn’t really think of all the consequences that might have. I believe it’s just been a bigger problem as more and more of our life becomes plastic, as we have moved from a glass milk jug to a plastic bottle.“Even Snapple has moved from glass to plastic. Plastic bags are everywhere, except for in places that are banning them.”To address the issue, the advocacy and research group recommended phasing out single-use plastics, passing producer responsibility laws that shift the burden of waste onto product manufacturers and sellers, updating the recycling law Act 101 to improve Pennsylvania’s recycling capabilities and reducing the use of so-called “fast fashion,” which often are produced with plastics.The group also calls on lawmakers to end subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and plastics producers.You can view the full report here, as well as a map of sampling locations’ data.Read more from our partners, WLVR.

Turtle injured by ocean pollution to return home after 8 years of rehabilitation

CAPE TOWN – A turtle severely injured by ocean pollution will finally return to its habitat after eight years of rehabilitation. Bob the turtle suffered major brain damage after eating plastic and other pollution. He’s been recovering at the two oceans aquarium since 2014 and in January he will start his long-awaited swim to freedom. The conservation coordinator at the aquarium, Talitha Noble, said they’ve seen an increase in turtles with plastic pollution-related injuries.“Even though the issues that our turtles are facing in the ocean are caused by humans. Turtles embody resilience and hope. We want to protect the ocean he’s going back into, we know that just by everyone making small changes, down the line that will make a big impact. Say no single-use plastic, do beach cleanups.” In a bid to create awareness, beach volleyball players in Cape Town for an international tournament on Tuesday splashed around with Bob.Team USA’s professional beach volleyball player Sarah Schermerhorn said it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience: “Bob got a little close to me and he was feeding and I was like ‘aaaahhhh’ at first for a second, but it was really cool to see that he was interested in what was going on around him.”

Plastic pollution robs fish of nutrients

As plastic litter degrades in the sun, it breaks down into tiny pieces that are then consumed by the wildlife. Image: NOAA By Nicoline Bradford Researchers at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee have discovered that plastic pollution makes yellow perch less nutritious. Microplastics are pieces of plastic smaller than five millimeters, about the width of …

Scientists scour global waters testing ocean plankton and pollution

After a near two-year “Microbiome” mission around the world, scientists said on Saturday they had gathered thousands of samples of marine micro-organisms in a bid to better understand ocean plankton and pollution.The survey was carried out from the 33-year-old Tara research schooner, which returned to her home port of Lorient on France’s western coast at the weekend.From Chile to Africa, via the Amazon and the Antarctic, nearly 25,000 samples were collected over the 70,000-kilometre route.”All this data will be analyzed,” Tara Ocean Foundation director Romain Trouble told a press conference.”Within 18 months to two years we will start to have the first discoveries from the mission,” he said.At the base of the food chain, micro-organisms were the “invisible people of the sea”, accounting for two-thirds of marine biomass, said Trouble.”They capture atmospheric CO2 (carbon dioxide) and supply half of the oxygen we breathe.”Trouble said the mission sought to find out how it all works.”How do all these marine viruses, bacteria, micro-algue manage to interact to produce oxygen?””And how will that change tomorrow with climate change and pollution?”The Tara team paid particular attention to the impact on the oceans of the river Amazon, which has a water flow rate of 200 million liters per second.They wanted to test a theory that deforestation and the spread of agriculture has increased nitrate fertilizer discharge, leading to an abundance of toxic algae along river banks and coasts, particularly in the Caribbean.The 22-month odyssey also sought to trace the sources of plastic pollution at river mouths, to understand distribution and the types of material involved.The mission was Tara’s 12th global journey and involved 42 research institutions around the world.Next spring, Tara sets off to research chemical pollution off European coasts.