Microplastics making their way up to belugas in Arctic through prey, says new study

Breadcrumb Trail Links World News Life Food Almost 80 per cent of the particles found in the stomachs of fish studied come from textiles and clothing that are washed into waterways in the laundry process, the report said. Author of the article: The Canadian Press Hina Alam An inquisitive beluga whale takes a pause from feeding on capelin to view its surroundings in the St. Lawrence-Saguenay Marine Park, near Tadoussac, 450 kilometers northeast of Montreal, in this 2007 file photo. Photo by Robert J. Galbraith /Montreal Gazette Article content VANCOUVER — Hundreds of thousands of tiny bits of plastic waste have been found in the prey of belugas, proving that the pollution in the whales is making its way even to the most remote Arctic waters, a new study says. Advertisement Story continues below This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. Article content In the study, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, researchers looked at five species of Arctic fish that are regular prey of belugas and found 21 per cent of them had microplastic particles in their gastrointestinal tracts. The lead author of the study, Rhiannon Moore, said this finding confirmed that microplastics are moving up the food chain. “It’s a worry because plastic, as we know, is everywhere, and we don’t really know the long-term effect of all the different types of plastic that are ending up in these species,” she said in an interview. Moore, who recently completed a master of science degree at Simon Fraser University and is a zero-waste outreach co-ordinator with the City of Victoria, said many northern animals are encountering environmental change. Advertisement Story continues below This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. Article content “So, we have species that are experiencing the effects of climate change, increased marine traffic, migration patterns — all sorts of changes. And so this is just another … human-made impact that that’s occurring.” Microplastics are contaminants that are less than five millimetres in size. Almost 80 per cent of the particles found in the stomachs of fish studied come from textiles and clothing that are washed into waterways in the laundry process, the report said. There is evidence that tiny bacteria make these fibres their home, increasing their palatability for fish, it added. The study documents microplastics in the stomachs of fish from the Eastern Beaufort Sea, north of Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Alaska. Advertisement Story continues below This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. Article content The latest study builds on the team’s previous work where researchers looked at the bodies of seven belugas from an Indigenous hunt by members of the Inuvialuit community of Tuktoyaktuk in the western Canadian Arctic. That study estimated the whales ingest upwards of 145,000 particles of microplastics a year. Moore said it confirms belugas are likely ingesting the plastics through their prey. “So, before … we were making assumptions and estimations, and now we really know that plastic is in the food that whales eat, and likely other other species.” The latest study said the Arctic deep sea has been identified as a potential source of plastic accumulation. Belugas are known to dive to depths greater than 1,000 metres and spend “significant” time at the sea floor bottom, it said. Advertisement Story continues below This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. Article content “How climate change will influence beluga foraging behaviour and activity in the deep sea, and the associated exposure to plastic debris remains unclear,” the report said. Peter Ross, a senior scientist with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and a co-author of the report, said evidence suggests that microplastics in the Arctic are largely making their way on currents from the Atlantic Ocean. “The Arctic communities are not really big players in contaminating their backyard,” he said. “So, we have yet again another example of a pollutant from the more urbanized and industrialized south moving quickly and readily into the Arctic.” There is “near universal contamination” of the water in the Arctic, he said. Moore said she was “not necessarily surprised” by the findings because of the large quantities of plastic that enter the oceans every year. But she said she is hoping that the discovery spurs people into taking action. “Everyone loves whales, and nobody really wants whales to be threatened in any way,” Moore said. “Whenever you talk about whales and pollution, it tugs on their heartstrings and so you would hope that this would cause people to act and look at daily life choices.” This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2021. Share this article in your social network Advertisement Story continues below This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. Sign up to receive daily headline news from the Montreal Gazette, a division of Postmedia Network Inc. By clicking on the sign up button you consent to receive the above newsletter from Postmedia Network Inc. You may unsubscribe any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link at the bottom of our emails. Postmedia Network Inc. | 365 Bloor Street East, Toronto, Ontario, M4W 3L4 | 416-383-2300 Thanks for signing up! 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Paint flakes most abundant microplastic particles after fibers

A new report suggests that paint flakes could be one of the most abundant type of microplastic particles found in the ocean. As with other types of microplastics, the effect on marine life and the ocean are not yet fully understood.

The study, published in Science of the Total Environment and carried out by the University of Plymouth and the Marine Biological Association (MBA), conducted several surveys across the North Atlantic Ocean and estimated through more than 3,600 collected samples that each cubic metre of seawater contained an average of 0.01 paint flakes. This finding suggests that paint flakes are the second largest type of microplastic particles found in the ocean after microplastic fibres which has a concentration of around 0.16 particles per cubic metre.

The study further estimated that some of the paint flakes also had high quantities of lead, iron as well as copper due to them having antifouling or anti-corrosive properties. The researchers argued that this could further pose a threat to the ocean and the species living in it if they ingest the particles.

“Paint particles have often been an overlooked component of marine microplastics but this study shows that they are relatively abundant in the ocean. The presence of toxic metals like lead and copper pose additional risks to wildlife,” said Dr Andrew Turner, the study’s lead author and associate professor in environmental sciences at the University of Plymouth.

Therefore, paint flakes can be considered the most abundant type of microplastic in the ocean after fibres. And this development needs closer scientific attention as the full effect of the metallic additives on the ocean and its species is not yet fully understood.

For more from our Ocean Newsroom, click here.

Photography courtesy of Unsplash, graphical abstract found here.

Wilmington, NC, partners with groups, businesses to cut plastic waste

Tricia Monteleone, left, vice president of Plastic Ocean Project Inc., and Bonnie Monteleone, the group’s executive director, pose during an event in September at Waterline Brewing Co. in Wilmington. Contributed photo by Moe Saur
Wilmington put in place a sustainability program in 2012 that recently has been trying to combat plastic pollution – especially plastic bags — through education and outreach, with the help of a state grant and partnerships with nonprofit organizations.
The sustainability program aims to efficiently manage energy, water and waste, “while cultivating a culture of environmental stewardship throughout city operations to reduce our environmental footprint. We strive to implement fiscally and environmentally sound projects to preserve the quality of life of our community and resources,” according to the city.
Part of the outreach included having the city council approve in September a resolution to reduce plastic waste and support Ocean Friendly Establishments, a nonprofit initiative that encourages businesses and nonprofits to reduce single-use plastics.
David Ingram, Wilmington’s sustainability project manager, who has been in this role since 2015, said in an interview that the resolution ties in nicely with his department’s outreach work funded through a state grant from the 2020 Community Waste Reduction and Recycling Grant Program.
The city was awarded $16,917 with a $3,383 match requirement, totaling $20,300 toward the effort. The grant, which was put in place to help local governments in expanding, improving and implementing waste reduction and recycling programs, is administered by the North Carolina Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service through the Solid Waste Management Outreach Program, according to city officials.
City officials apply for this grant each year. This year, they pitched building the city’s recycling program with a focus on increasing public awareness of waste reduction and recycling and supporting the statewide Recycle Right NC campaign as well as promote the “Mayor’s Plastic Bag Challenge,” an effort to reduce single-use plastic bag usage.
“This year, the focus of that grant was really just a lot of outreach and education in regards to not only Recycling Right, but also promoting the use of reusable bags to help eliminate the use of single-use plastic bags,” Ingram said.
Ingram said the city had used the grant to take numerous steps to educate residents and help them understand what can be recycled, including Recycle Right NC materials. “We really tried to kind of simplify and make it more streamlined,” he said.
The city program also purchased reusable bags to hand out and provided some to the Plastic Ocean Project to distribute at their recent events, Ingram added.
“I would say to this particular grant, the education outreach efforts will be ongoing, and we have quite a few more reusable bags to distribute. We have a lot of messaging just in regard to Recycling Right,” he said.  “Going forward, we hope to collaborate on some other events as well just to continue that messaging.”
Ocean Friendly Establishments is an initiative of the Plastic Ocean Project, which aims to educate the public and help address the global plastic pollution problem.
Plastic Ocean Project Executive Director Bonnie Monteleone told Coastal Review that it didn’t take long to convince the city council to approve a resolution of support for the effort, but COVID-19 delayed progress for more than a year.
“As the saying goes, it takes a village,” Monteleone said, adding Ingram played a major role in bringing the resolution to the city council. Numerous Wilmington Ocean Friendly Establishments committee members joined in the effort along with help from the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.
Monteleone noted that the bag campaign to encourage using reusable bags is in line with the city council’s resolution and with Plastic Ocean Project efforts in general.
“We are in the process of designing a ‘Got your bag’ logo that will be displayed in parking lots and billboards,” Monteleone said. Plastic Ocean Projects is also connecting with grocery stores to provide educational materials and the reusable bags from the city. “We hope to initiate the campaign mid-November that will focus on a positive message.”
Monteleone explained that the Ocean Friendly Establishment program began with just addressing the use of straws, encouraging restaurants to only give them out upon request. “It has now grown into a five-star program. This a perfect example of how one small effort can turn into a movement. We hope the bag campaign will do the same.”
Ocean Friendly Establishments is the brainchild of Ginger Taylor, a volunteer for the Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle program, who saw the need for a solution to plastic straw litter, Monteleone said. Taylor was troubled by the number of straws she picked up in Wrightsville Beach while walking the strand identifying turtle tracks and pitched her idea at a North Carolina Marine Debris Symposium, an annual symposium featuring presentations by environmental and educational groups on different efforts to tackle marine debris.
Through the work of the Plastic Ocean Project, the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and other organizations including the North Carolina Aquarium’s Jeanette’s Pier and nonprofits such as Keep Brunswick County Beautiful, the North Carolina Coastal Federation and Crystal Coast Riverkeepers, Ocean Friendly Establishments now has more than 200 establishments, including businesses, restaurants, breweries and nonprofits. “It’s a great example of the power of one and our very caring communities,” she said.
What makes the Ocean Friendly Establishments program successful is the numerous volunteers that make up many committees along the coast. “They are truly the driving force behind the success of this program as well as the resolutions,” she said.
A self-regulating, community-based certification program, Ocean Friendly Establishments has its own website where volunteers can join committees and businesses can apply for certification.
“It all comes down to using less plastic. Nature did not design plastic and therefore does not know what to do with it, hence it persists in the environment indefinitely. Because it can persist for decades and in some cases centuries, it can wreak havoc on the natural world and sadly is. The solution to plastic pollution is to reduce. If we don’t use it, we can’t lose it,” she said.
Why is plastic a problem?
Ingram told the city council in September that while the city has a long history of being a steward of the coastal environment, “We do recognize that plastic film and single-use plastics represent a contamination in our local environment, as well as our waste stream.”
Ingram said that plastic bags, while they are recyclable, tend to be placed in either curbside recycling or in locations that are not the proper place to drop these items off. When that happens, the bags impede the recycling process at many of the materials recovery facilities. The bags clog the system and force the machinery to be shut down, leading to delays and increased costs.
“This plastic film and bags, as well as straws, represent an enormous impact to our local waterways, when they don’t make it into our recycling or waste stream,” Ingram said. “They break down into small fragments that not only float on the surface of our waters but actually can sink down to the bottom and be very difficult to ever remove from the environment.”
Monteleone said Americans use more than 1 billion plastic bags a year – about 365 bags per person — which in total equals about 12 million barrels of oil.
While these bags can be recycled, many are not and chemicals leech out from the plastic bags and are starting to affect animals. Organisms that convert carbon dioxide into oxygen are compromised because of plastics. “These are getting lost in the environment and wreaking havoc on our marine life. “
About 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water and anything that ends up in the environment has the potential of getting into storm drains and into rivers, which lead to the ocean.

Environmental groups push for Pittsburgh plastic bag ban

Environmental advocacy nonprofit PennEnvironment released a letter Wednesday signed by 100 Pittsburgh businesses and organizations in support of a plastic bag ban, an ordinance expected to come before City Council later this fall.“We estimate this policy has the potential to prevent 108 million plastic bags from entering our waste stream in our environment each year,” said Ashleigh Deemer, deputy director of PennEnvironment. “These signers represent businesses, community organizations, and nonprofits, and every Pittsburgh City Council district.”The letter is part of Penn Environment’s broader campaign to pass a plastic bag ordinance in Pittsburgh, an effort the organization successfully undertook in Philadelphia, where a plastic bag ban took effect July 1.The Pittsburgh ordinance has been under discussion for several years. It was delayed by a 2019 Pennsylvania legislature ban on municipal plastic bag ordinances, provoking a lawsuit led by Philadelphia and other municipalities. Then in May, in anticipation of the end of the ban on plastic bag bans, Pittsburgh City Council passed a resolution to introduce a plastic bag ordinance.Though most of the letter’s 100 signatories are small businesses and organizations, some larger retailers are preparing for a potential ban. Whole Foods does not use plastic bags—and in 2019, Giant Eagle announced plans to phase out single-use plastic bags by 2025.In March, PennEnvironment released the results of a survey showing microplastics were found in every Pennsylvania waterway tested. Film microplastics, which are fragments from plastics bags, were found in all three of Pittsburgh’s rivers, including the Allegheny River, from which Pittsburgh draws its drinking water.“It’s estimated that people consume about a credit card’s worth of plastic each week,” Deemer said. “Once microplastics are in our environment and in our water, there’s really no effective way to remove them. So the best thing that we can do is stop plastic pollution at the source and plastic bags are one source of microplastics.”Plastic bag bans in several hundred other cities have had mixed results. In particular, early-adopting cities like Austin and Chicago found that banning only thin plastic bags pushed large retailers in particular to offer customers thicker-gauge plastic bags touted as reusable, resulting in higher plastic use than before the bans. Other retailers offered paper bags, which come with environmental impacts of their own.Deemer said PennEnvironment has been working with City Councilor Erika Strassburger’s office to make policy recommendations as they draft the ordinance, to help avoid some of the unintended consequences experienced in other cities.“In terms of making sure that this doesn’t create a bigger plastic problem and encourage thicker plastic bags, it’s all in the definition that’s in the bill,” Deemer said. “We want to make sure that the definition of plastic bag in this bill is just ‘blown-film extrusion.’ It’s the way that the plastic bags are made, no matter the thickness of the plastic, so that we’re not trading thin plastic for thick plastic.”Deemer said they are also advocating for the ordinance to define acceptable paper bags as ones made of post-consumer recycled paper. Both the “blown-film extrusion” language and the precision of post-consumer recycled paper bags are part of the model ordinance PennEnvironment developed for Pennsylvania municipalities considering plastic bag ordinances.It is not clear what provisions will be included in the Pittsburgh ordinance. In July, in an interview on WESA’s the Confluence, Strassburger said the Pittsburgh ordinance may include both a ban on plastic bags and a fee on paper bags. This strategy is among the best practices recommended by the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit ocean protection organization.In a release, Strassburger said she plans to introduce the plastic bag ordinance this fall.

Democrats weigh first nationwide fee on plastic in U.S. budget negotiations

Bales of hard-to-recycle plastic waste are seen piled up at Renewlogy Technologies in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., on May 17, 2021. REUTERS/George FreyWASHINGTON, Sept 29 (Reuters) – U.S. congressional Democrats are considering including the first federal fee to tackle plastic pollution in the multitrillion-dollar reconciliation bill, a proposal that is drawing opposition from the plastics and petrochemical industry.Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Representative Tom Suozzi are in talks with other Democrats to include their REDUCE Act as a source of revenue in the reconciliation bill. It would impose a 20-cent-per-pound fee on virgin – or new – plastic for single-use products such as plastic bags and beverage containers.The proposal is among a slew of money raisers being considered by the White House and Democrats to pay for a package that includes provisions aimed at tackling climate change and expanding the public safety net. The measure, which Democrats aim to pass without Republican support, is a pillar of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda.White House officials declined to comment. But two sources familiar with the Biden administration’s thinking said it is reluctant to back the plastics fee because it could drive up costs for consumers.More than 90% of plastic produced gets dumped or incinerated because there is no cheap way to repurpose it, according to a 2017 study by researchers from UC Santa Barbara, the University of Georgia and Woods Hole published in the journal Science Advances.The REDUCE Act would compel plastic producers to use more recycled content and direct revenue toward a fund to support recycling and address plastic marine debris and other pollution.”That pollution chokes our oceans, hastens climate change, and threatens Americans’ well-being, and it’s the plastics industry that should cover the cost of the damage,” Whitehouse said.The American Chemistry Council (ACC), which represents some of the largest plastics and petrochemical companies, launched an ad campaign this month opposing the prospective fee, saying the measure would raise the cost of consumer goods.ACC spokesman Matthew Kastner said the group has also been lobbying lawmakers to reject the idea and is “beginning to engage the White House.”Reporting by Valerie Volcovici and Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Peter CooneyOur Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Maritime rope could be adding billions of microplastics to the ocean every year

New research compared a variety of synthetic ropes commonly used in the maritime industry. Credit: University of Plymouth

The hauling of rope on maritime vessels could result in billions of microplastic fragments entering the ocean every year, according to new research.

Scooping plastic out of the ocean is a losing game

Article body copy
A garbage truck turns off the road, engine rumbling, brakes wheezing, and the smell of rot trailing in its wake. The truck stops short and starts to reverse—beep, beep, beeping down a boat launch. With salt water lapping at its rear tires it stops, opens its tailgate, and dumps its load of cups, straws, bottles, shopping bags, fishing buoys, and nets.
A minute later, this plastic waste is floating away on a journey to pollute the ocean and poison the food chain. As the garbage truck drives away it passes another truck preparing to back down the ramp. And another pulling into the marina—one of an endless stream of garbage trucks, each lining up to dump its own load of plastics.
It doesn’t happen like this, of course, but eight million tonnes of plastic does end up in the ocean every year—the equivalent of a garbage truck’s–worth every minute. And the rate is increasing. If nothing changes, the amount of plastic sloshing around the ocean could double in 10 years. By 2050, that mass of plastic could exceed the weight of all the fish in the sea.
The costs to society and the environment are huge. A study by the consultancy firm Deloitte shows that, every year, up to 1,000,000 seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die after ingesting or being entangled by plastic. Microscopic bits of plastic are working their way up the food chain, including in the seafood we eat. Plastic floating around the ocean carries invasive species that compete with or prey on native species. And when it washes onto beaches, plastic pollution affects tourism and devalues real estate. In its examination for 2018, Deloitte pegged the price of ocean plastic pollution at US $6-billion to $19-billion. That’s cheap compared with another study, which calculated the cost at up to $2.5-trillion per year, or $33,000 per tonne. None of that accounts for plastic’s costs to human health. Yet along its production cycle from oil and gas refining to use and disposal, plastic produces chemical emissions that have been linked to hormone disruption and cancer.
It’s enough to motivate teenage entrepreneurs, philanthropists, corporations, nonprofit organizations, governments, university students, and afflicted communities around the world to take action. Their ideas are seemingly as diverse as the species living in the sea: a Korean program pays fishermen to collect plastic at sea. In Baltimore, Maryland, the cartoonish Mr. Trash Wheel skims up to 17 tonnes of garbage out of the city’s harbor in a day. Inspired by the plankton-filtering ways of the whale shark, Singapore-based Drone Solutions created the WasteShark, an autonomous drone that sucks up floating bits of plastic in harbors. Chinese and Australian researchers are exploring the potential to use nanotechnology to pull microplastics out of the water in wastewater treatment facilities. Other efforts range from collecting old nets at harbors, to making plastic itself a currency to incentivize its collection, to using multimillion-dollar booms to skim plastic from the ocean’s surface, to volunteers diving to the seafloor to clean it up. There’s little doubt these efforts are well intentioned. But they are not all equal.
There is a harsh reality that all of us concerned with the mounting ocean plastic problem must confront: the vast majority of the plastic in the ocean is too small or too out of reach to ever be cleaned up. It is suspended in the water column, settled on the ocean floor, or degraded into microscopic particles that are difficult to detect, let alone collect.
That realization is vital. With the plastic pollution problem growing increasingly dire, and with so many potential solutions on offer—all competing for limited funding, resources, and public support—it is more urgent than ever to focus on the approaches that are most likely to succeed.

One of the best-known and best-funded efforts, the Ocean Cleanup, is instructional in understanding not only the size of the ocean plastic problem, but also the challenge of cleaning it up.
Founded in 2013 by then-18-year-old Boyan Slat, the nonprofit has raised more than $35-million to clean up the five gyres, convergence zones in the world’s oceans where plastic tends to concentrate. Slat’s first target is the North Pacific’s infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The Ocean Cleanup has tested multiple iterations of its plastic-catching booms. Though the project has seen some success in capturing plastic waste, a fundamental flaw plagues the approach. Photo by Abaca Press/Alamy Stock Photo
Slat’s plan is to harness the currents and the wind to herd the bigger floating pieces of plastic into horseshoe-shaped booms. Just as windblown trash gets ensnared in a fence, the plastic should get trapped in the booms until a boat can come to haul the debris to shore. Sounds simple. But after its first two pilot projects failed to gather trash, the Ocean Cleanup is years behind schedule. With a successful test of its third design in 2019, the organization says it is back on track to deploy 60 of its devices in all the world’s oceans within the next decade. In 2018, it estimated it could clean up 50 percent of the plastic in the ocean by 2023. It’s an audacious claim that many doubt is possible (not just because, by 2021, the organization had yet to deploy any operational booms). Yet Slat notes he has hired more than 100 staff and experts to help develop the project’s signature booms. He also likes to say that, sometimes, tackling big problems requires an outside perspective and a venture capitalist’s attitude.
“Rather than doing many small things that you hope add up, it’s much more effective to work on projects that are high risk and high reward,” he told Digital Trends in 2019. “If one of them works, you can actually solve the whole problem, or at least a large part of it.”
Through its trials, the Ocean Cleanup has helped spread awareness of the problem of plastic pollution. The organization has improved the scientific understanding of the kinds of plastic in the ocean and where it’s coming from. But from its inception, independent scientists have been critical of the Ocean Cleanup. Some expressed concerns about the unintended harm the booms could pose to marine life, such as pelagic fishes, sea turtles, and marine mammals. A well-discussed issue has been the booms’ effects on the neuston, a little-known community of organisms that lives in the ocean gyres. The neuston includes animals, plants, and microorganisms—like the Portuguese man-of-war, sea snails, and the sail jellyfish—that drift with the wind and currents. Neuston and plastic debris, maneuvered by the same forces, occur in the same areas. Collecting the plastic means collecting neuston, with unknown consequences for the open-ocean food chain.
Sail jellyfish and other neuston, creatures that are carried around the ocean by the wind and currents, are at risk of being ensnared by the Ocean Cleanup’s booms. Photo by Flip Nicklin/Minden Pictures
But a more direct concern for the Ocean Cleanup’s goal of cleaning up the five gyres is just how difficult it is to trap plastic in the open ocean. While there is plenty of plastic floating on the surface of the North Pacific gyre, even more is out of reach, suspended in the water column and degraded into tiny pieces that slip right through the booms.
Sönke Hohn, a biologist specializing in mathematical modeling at the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research in Germany, is one of the Ocean Cleanup’s many skeptics. Last year, in collaboration with researchers in the United Kingdom and Germany, Hohn published an analysis of what it would take for the Ocean Cleanup to collect only the floating plastic in the largest five gyres. Hohn and his colleagues took the current amount of plastic in the ocean, added annual inputs, and compared it with how much plastic the Ocean Cleanup’s successful pilot collected. In the project’s 20-year estimated timeline, Hohn’s math showed that the Ocean Cleanup’s efforts would have no noticeable effect on the amount of plastic in the ocean. To clean up a fraction of one percent of the total, the Ocean Cleanup would have to run nonstop until 2150. Even when Hohn artificially increased the fleet to 200 booms, the project still only recovered five percent of the floating plastic.
“That was with an optimistic scenario,” Hohn says.
Logistics aside, Hohn also worries about the optics of the Ocean Cleanup’s efforts. If the project even appears to be working, the rest of us could feel absolved from action, he says. “The media and the public love the story of a young guy coming along to save the ocean,” Hohn says. “We like to think: he’s solved the problem. We don’t have to change anything. The truth is, we can’t rely on technology to clean up the ocean.”
Like many of his colleagues in marine plastic research, Hohn thinks the whole principle of cleaning up the ocean is misguided.

In July 2020, the Pew Charitable Trusts and Systemiq released a report called Breaking the Plastic Wave. Yonathan Shiran, the project director and author of an accompanying scientific study, compares cleaning up ocean plastic with mopping up a flooding house.
“First you have to turn off the source of the water,” says Shiran, “then you wipe up the floor. I do worry [cleanup efforts] are distracting us from the real solution—closing the tap.” No cleanup effort is cheaper and more effective than preventing plastic from entering the environment, the study found.
The cleanup quest is so futile, says John Hocevar, the ocean projects lead for Greenpeace USA, that he’d like to see every dollar earmarked for cleanup worldwide redirected to fixing the leaks. “We’re making the problem worse at a pace that far exceeds what we can possibly clean up,” he argues. “We need to close the tap as quickly as possible. Then I’ll be more excited to clean up the mess.”
But closing the tap may be an even more monumental task. In rich countries, cutting off the flow of plastic into the sea will require policy changes to encourage better waste management, a circular plastics industry, banning single-use plastics, and incentivizing reusable options. In poorer places, it requires all that and more widespread waste management.
People living in lower-income countries generally produce far less plastic waste per capita, but the Pew study found that two billion people are currently living without waste collection. With nowhere to put it, Shiran says, they’ll often dump their garbage in the street where rain and wind wash it into rivers, which eventually carry it to the ocean. Surveys of plastic at sea, combined with studies looking at ocean currents and drift patterns, show that more than 80 percent of the plastic in the ocean first bobbed down a river—a quarter of it down just 10 rivers, mostly in Asia. A growing population means that the number of people without garbage services will nearly double by 2040, compounding the problem. Expanding waste collection services to everyone would be nearly impossible, says Shiran.
Plastic debris tends to accumulate in a handful of key sites, such as in harbors and along beaches. Imaginechina Limited/Alamy Stock Photo
Knowing the leak is unfixable, at least for now, strengthens the argument for mopping up in the meantime.
“We don’t say, The oil spill is too big to clean up, so why bother,” says Susan Baer, the executive director and cofounder of Clear Blue Sea, a nonprofit working on a fleet of what are basically ocean-going Roombas. “Leaving that much plastic in the ocean is detrimental to human health and the health of the ocean. Every animal in the sea will eat whatever plastic it can fit in its mouth,” Baer says.
“Cleanup efforts are an important piece of the puzzle, right up until they’re not needed,” adds Chloé Dubois, cofounder of Ocean Legacy Foundation, a Canadian nonprofit that organizes beach cleanups and recycles marine debris among other activities. “They remove bigger pieces of plastic before they become impossible to clean up. They also help shift the narrative and public behavior. That’s what drives policy changes.”
So even if we are going to follow Hocevar’s lead and put as much time and money as we can into closing the plastic leak, that still leaves us in the same spot: figuring out which of the many competing cleanup efforts deserve our funding, support, and attention.
But the struggles of the Ocean Cleanup, and the realization that most plastic in the ocean—small, sunken, and degraded—is nearly impossible to collect, are insightful. Taken together, they lead us to a stance shared by many experts: that the best way to clean up the ocean is to stop trying to clean up the ocean.

After its own research showed plastic’s freshwater source, the Ocean Cleanup in 2015 diversified and started working on the Interceptor, a river boom system that funnels garbage into an anchored collection barge. The organization has installed three Interceptors: in the Klang River in Malaysia, in the Ozama River in the Dominican Republic, and in the Cengkareng drain in Indonesia. A fourth is in the works for the Mekong River in Vietnam. The organization is aiming to place an Interceptor in the 1,000 most polluted rivers by 2025.
The Ocean Cleanup’s Interceptor program recognizes the riverine source of most marine plastic waste and tries to catch it nearer to the source. Photo by Frans Blok/Alamy Stock Photo
But rivers are transportation corridors. To avoid conflicts with boats, the Interceptor only extends partway into the river. Plenty of trash slips by. When it does, it tends to collect in harbors. These sites, experts suggest, are ideal locations for concerted, targeted efforts—like the England-based Water Witch.
In the 1960s, Francis Caddick designed a boat custom made to clean up the water around the dock in Liverpool. More than 50 years later, the family-run company has evolved as marine litter has changed. “In our infancy, our vessels mostly worked clearing wood and vegetation,” says Jackie Caddick, the company director. “Now I would say a good 90 percent of what we remove is plastic, and we have developed our vessels to deal with this.”
The company’s largest dredger can skim up to a tonne of litter every three minutes, gathering up to 100 tonnes a day. Port authorities, marinas, and resort areas operate Water Witch dredgers in 200 locations worldwide.
Cleanup efforts, such as the Water Witch, that focus on key hotspots like harbors and beaches can collect plastic much more efficiently than projects focused on cleaning the open ocean. Photo by Elizabeth Leyden/Alamy Stock Photo
Another place plastic tends to accumulate is on beaches. Experts like the Ocean Legacy Foundation’s Dubois and Marcus Eriksen, the chief scientist with 5 Gyres, an environmental research organization, say that beach cleanups are another effective way to tackle the plastic problem. Cleaning shorelines may not be flashy enough to draw a lot of attention, but doing so prevents plastic that has washed ashore from returning to the ocean where it can sink to the bottom, or from degrading in the sun and breaking into tiny pieces that are impossible to clean up.
Though humble, beach cleanups have impact. Over the past 27 years, volunteers have cleaned nearly 45,000 kilometers of Canadian waterways as part of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. The 2019 effort removed 160 tonnes of litter. In the northern Gulf of Alaska, a similar project, run by Gulf of Alaska Keeper, has cleaned up more than 2,400 kilometers of coastline since 2006, gathering more than 1,300 tonnes of plastic. That’s with just one crew working only during the summer. Imagine what similar efforts could do with the Ocean Cleanup’s $35-million. Even Greenpeace’s Hocevar, who favors better garbage collection over all efforts, says volunteer beach cleanups should continue, because they provide a link between the public and the plastic problem.
An even more concentrated source of plastic debris is the 500,000 to 1,000,000 tonnes of commercial fishing gear that gets lost at sea every year, says Eriksen. By weight, this ghost gear makes up a large percentage of the garbage cleaned off beaches in Alaska—up to 70 percent in one analysis—and at least 46 percent of the large plastic objects floating in the ocean, according to a study by the Ocean Cleanup. This ghost gear is especially damaging, because as well as polluting the ocean, it continues to kill marine life.
Research shows that a majority of floating plastic will, within a few years, wash up on a beach. Collecting it there prevents the plastic from breaking down or reentering the ocean. Photo by David Pereiras/Alamy Stock Photo
The good news is, compared with other industrial sources of plastic, fishing gear is fairly easy to collect or prevent from being lost. Several programs have set up free dump bins at docks to make it easier and cheaper for fishers to safely dispose of old gear. Bureo, a California-based company, buys aging nets from South American fishermen and turns them into skateboards and sunglasses. And Fishing for Litter, a program run by KIMO International, a European pollution prevention and ocean health NGO, plays to fishermen’s desire for sustainability. Since 2004, the program has encouraged commercial fishermen to gather ghost gear and other litter they find at sea and dump it in bins KIMO has set up at ports around Europe. Between 2016 and 2017, nearly 1,000 vessels gathered 470 tonnes of ocean plastics along with their catch—voluntarily.
“We’re aiming to change behavior for the long term, so that fishers are seen as part of the solution to marine litter,” says Arabelle Bentley, KIMO’s executive secretary. For fishers, she says, “it’s a feel-good factor.”
That desire to be part of the solution unites all cleanup efforts. But passion can be misplaced. The unfortunate reality is that there is no key to cleaning up the ocean. The solution is not flashy or sensational. It’s not an entrepreneur with a big idea—a person we can look to as the one who will solve the problem. It’s the boring stuff: when you use plastic, dispose of it properly. If you want to do more, help clean up a river, harbor, or beach. But really, we need to slow the flow of garbage trucks. Because right now, they’re speeding up. We are using more plastic every year. By 2050, the garbage trucks could be unloading every 15 seconds instead of every minute. We don’t have all that long before the ocean is teeming with more plastic than fish.

Ocean Cleanup struggles to fulfill promise to scoop up plastic at sea

VICTORIA, Canada, Sept 16 (Reuters) – Docked at a Canadian port, crew members returned from a test run of the Ocean Cleanup’s system to rid the Pacific of plastic trash were thrilled by the meager results — even as marine scientists and other ocean experts doubted the effort could succeed.The non-profit, launched in 2013 amid buoyant media coverage, hopes to clear 90% of floating plastic from the world’s oceans by 2040. But the group’s own best-case scenario — still likely years away — envisions removing 20,000 tonnes a year from the North Pacific, a small fraction of the roughly 11 million tonnes of plastic flowing annually into the oceans.And that amount entering the ocean is expected to nearly triple to 29 million tonnes annually by 2040, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.The Ocean Cleanup, funded by cash donations and corporations including Coca-Cola (KO.N), as well as in-kind donors like A.P. Moller-Maersk (MAERSKb.CO), had fixed assets over $51 million (43 million euros) at the end of 2020.During 120 hours of deployment last month, System 002 — or “Jenny” as the crew nicknamed it — scooped up 8.2 tonnes of plastic, or less than a garbage truck’s standard haul. The Ocean Cleanup spokesperson Joost Dubois described the amount as “on the high end of our estimates” and emphasized that it was still just in the test phase.”I think they’re coming from a good place of wanting to help the ocean, but by far the best way to help the ocean is to prevent plastic from getting in the ocean in the first place,” said Miriam Goldstein, director of ocean policy at the Center for American Progress think tank.”Once plastic has gotten into the open ocean, it becomes very expensive and fossil-fuel intensive to get it back out again.”GARBAGE GYREThe Ocean Cleanup’s first target is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the world’s largest swirling mass of marine debris spanning 1.6 million square kilometers in the North Pacific between California and Hawaii. The group estimates the patch holds at least 79,000 tonnes of plastic.If the flow of plastic into the ocean continues unabated, the seas will contain more plastic mass than fish by 2050, according to the World Economic Forum.The Ocean Cleanup, created by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat when he was 18, initially planned on using an autonomous floating system driven by wind, waves and currents to remove plastic. But that first system, named Wilson, bobbed ineffectively alongside the garbage until it ultimately broke. A later design, System 001B, was more efficient, but the team estimated they would need 150 such systems to clear the patch at a high cost.With the Jenny system, two fuel-powered Maersk vessels tow the 520-meter wide horseshoe-shaped catchment system across the ocean surface. An underwater camera helps make sure marine life does not become entangled.”Jenny has outperformed everything we’ve done so far,” Dubois said of the recent six-week trials, during which the system picked up plastics small as 1 centimeter in diameter.The Ocean Cleanup hopes eventually to deploy 10 to 15 expanded-range Jennys — powered by 20 to 30 ships — to operate round the clock 365 days a year at the garbage patch. At that scale, organizers say, the effort could recover between 15,000 and 20,000 tonnes of plastic a year, though it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars.The group regrets its reliance on ships that release climate-warming greenhouse emissions. The Ocean Cleanup is purchasing carbon credits to offset the heavy fuel use and noted that Maersk is experimenting with less-polluting biofuels. “Preferably we would have done something without any carbon footprint,” Dubois said.Maersk told Reuters that, because of the patch’s harsh and remote location, large vessels were needed to assist Jenny’s operations.”We see the value in not just the outcome of Ocean Cleanup’s programs, but also the iterative learning process,” said Robin Townley, head of special project logistics at Maersk.’WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THE TRASH YOU COLLECT?’Prone to seasickness, the Ocean Cleanup’s founder Slat does not often venture out onto the open ocean.”The plastic that is already in the ocean — accumulated in those garbage patches — is not going away by itself,” Slat told Reuters. “It has to be removed if we want to return to clean oceans.”Marine scientists have long lambasted Slat’s vision. Marcus Eriksen, co-founder of the 5 Gyres Institute, a plastic pollution research organization in California, expressed frustration that “this downstream, end-of-the-line narrative (is) still (getting) a lot of attention.”He noted the group’s funding comes from companies “that are actually making the products and packaging. They don’t really like the preventative story because it impacts their bottom line.”Coca-Cola, ranked as the world’s largest plastic polluter by environmental groups, helps fund the Ocean Cleanup’s side initiative of using solar-powered “interceptors” to catch plastic in Asian and Caribbean riverways before it reaches the ocean.”We’ve been clear that we want to be part of the solution in addressing the critical issue of packaging waste, rather than part of the problem,” said Ben Jordan, senior director of environmental policy for Coca-Cola. “We’re making progress, but we still have much further to go.”Coca-Cola has committed to reduce the use of new plastic in its packaging by 20% in the next four years. read more While Eriksen said river cleanup was a more worthwhile goal, he bristled at the involvement of a company that is producing 3 million tonnes of plastic packaging a year. “It’s exactly that sort of greenwashing narrative.”The effort’s other confounding issue? “What do you do with the trash you collect?” Eriksen said.The small plastic haul from the System 001B was used to make $200 sunglasses, sold on the Ocean Cleanup’s website.In the future, the Ocean Cleanup hopes to partner with consumer brands to reuse salvaged plastic, Dubois said, though “we may have to incinerate” some.Reporting by Gloria Dickie; Editing by Katy Daigle and Lisa ShumakerOur Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Formosa pays $2.8M in air pollution fines at its Point Comfort plant

Formosa Plastics Group has agreed to pay $2.85 million in fines for violating federal air pollution laws after a series of fires and explosions at its petrochemical manufacturing plant in Point Comfort.The company also agreed to improve its risk management program to resolve nearly two dozen alleged violations of the Chemical Accident Prevention Provisions of the Clean Air Act at the plant.More:Embattled ex-congressman Blake Farenthold finds safe harbor at the Port of Port LavacaThe Environmental Protection Agency began an investigation into Formosa following a series of fires, explosions and accidental releases at the plant from May 2013 through October 2016.Several workers during that time suffered second- and third-degree burns and chlorine inhalation that required hospitalization. The incidents also resulted in property damage and the release of extremely hazardous substances.The Clean Air Act requires companies to identify potential hazards, maintain safe facilities and minimize the consequences of accidental releases. The measure was put into place by Congress following a 1984 release of methyl isocyanate in Bhopal, India, which left more than 3,400 people dead and another 200,000 people injured.”Formosa repeatedly failed to comply with the chemical accident prevention provisions of the Clean Air Act at the Point Comfort plant, repeatedly placing their workers, neighbors and the environment in danger,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This settlement will ensure Formosa’s compliance with essential regulations intended to protect workers and the community as well as help prevent dangerous chemical releases from occurring in the future.”More:Texas Commission on Environmental Quality fines Formosa for plastic pellets pollutionHeadquartered in Livingston, New Jersey, Formosa operates a 2,500-acre petrochemical plant in Point Comfort that consists of 16 units, including those used to produce polypropylene and ethylene dichloride.Construction of its Polypropylene III Unit, or PP III, would add a third olefins unit, a propane dehydrogenation unit, a low density polyethylene resin plant, another high density poly ethylene resin plant and an additional polypropylene line.The expansion work is expected to last two years.Groups and activists in recent years have fought to prevent Formosa Plastics from building one of the world’s largest plastics plants in St. James Parish, Louisiana. They described the latest settlement as a letdown.“This settlement is a joke. Pocket money for Formosa Plastics, who has made billions of dollars off the resources of Calhoun County, Texas, and the backs of the workers,” said Diane Wilson, the lead plaintiff in the successful water pollution lawsuit against Formosa Plastics. “How many worker deaths, worker injuries and communities destroyed do we have to witness at Formosa?”Chris Ramirez writes about energy, commerce and all things business. Support local coverage like this by checking out our subscription options and special offers at Caller.com/subscribe  Related headlinesMore:Judge rules against Formosa Plastics in pollution case, calling company ‘serial offender’More:Lowering the floor: How Texas ports adjust as demand climbs, cargo ships get biggerMore:Here are the environmental projects Formosa Plastics’ $50 million settlement will fund

Goa's Sal River contaminated by microplastics; fish, shellfish laced with polymers

Representational image(IANS)Water, sediments and biota (animal and plant life) in the Sal river—a major water body in South Goa—are contaminated with microplastics (MPs), the most common being black MPs which are caused by the abrasion of motor vehicle tyres on road surfaces, a study has revealed.The first such study conducted in the Sal river by scientists and researchers attached to the National Institute of Oceanography and Academy of Scientific and Innovative Research, both in Goa, and the School of Civil Engineering, Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT), has also revealed the presence of three major polymers: polyacrylamide, a water-soluble synthetic linked to the mining industry; ethylene-vinyl alcohol used in packaging; and polyacetylene, an electrical conductivity agent.Among the biota, the study covered the examination of samples of shellfish, finfish, clams and oysters.Fringed by fast-paced real estate development, the Sal river, whose course runs through the coastal areas of the district before meeting the Arabian Sea by the picturesque Betul beach, is also a major source of livelihood for the local fisherfolk community.”Interestingly, MPs found in all the three matrices, water, sediment and biota from the Sal estuary were dominated by fibres (55.3 per cent, 76.6 per cent and 72.9 per cent, respectively), followed by fragments, films and other plastics. The prominent ubiquity of fibres in all three matrices suggests a variety of sources of MPs, most likely including domestic sewage, effluents from industries and laundry,” the study states.”Fragments were the second most abundant micro-debris in water (27 per cent) and biota (16.6 per cent). They mostly originate from the degradation/weathering of larger plastic pieces such as packaging materials, plastic bottles and other macro-plastic litter, which are often directly discarded into the estuarine environment,” the study adds.The research also found transparent spherical beads in the waters of the river along with sediments containing polypropylene, polyamide, polyacrylamide polymers.”These could originate from personal care products, textiles and wastewater treatment plants. Notably, no such beads were found in the shellfish and finfish samples,” it says.AdvertisementThe most commonly found MPs were plastics which were black in colour (43.9 per cent), which the study claims “might have come into the environment due to abrasion of tyres on the road surfaces as regular wear and tear”.The study, according to the researchers, was carried out to understand the abundance of MPs in the estuarine environment and how the particles find their way into seafood “through which humans may also be exposed”.As per the research, an average Indian consumes 10 kg of seafood per annum.”The average number of MPs in shellfish found in the present study is 2.6 MPs/g. Accordingly, the estimated annual intake of MPs from shellfish alone per capita for Goa would be 8084.1 particles per year per person. Shellfish, therefore, poses a possible threat in terms of consumption, as it is a local delicacy and also consumed by the many tourists in the area,” the study says.One of the top tourist states in the country, Goa is well known for its beaches and nightlife, as well as the variety of seafood on offer in the state’s coastal restaurants.The research comes a month after the NIO, one of the top marine research institutes in the country, indicated the presence of microplastics in government tap water supplied in Goa following research conducted along with a Delhi-based environmental consultancy firm.Reacting to the study, the state government in a rebuttal had questioned the NIO on why the central government’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research had not approached the state government for collaboration during the study.**
The above article has been published from a wire agency with minimal modifications to the headline and text.