RECUP: Reusable cups could shake up your morning coffee routine | Grist

Nearly half of the United States population, 150 million other American adults, are coffee drinkers.

Now think about the cups. Unless you’re drinking your brew at home, you’re likelypicking up your java in a paper cup to go.

And that’s the problem across the world: nearly  16 billion paper to-go cups are used every year, which leads to 6.5 million trees being cut down and 4 billion gallons of water being wasted. The inside of most paper to-go cups is also coated in a thin layer of plastic, making them unrecyclable.

With these issues in mind, many places, ranging from small towns in England to New Zealand’s most populated city, have introduced a new solution in recent years: deposit-based reusable cup systems. These systems allow consumers to pay a small deposit, use a reusable to-go cup, made of 100% recyclable polypropylene, and then return it for their cash back after they’ve had their morning brew. One of the largest such schemes in Europe is Germany’s RECUP, which is offered through more than 8,000 partner locations across the country.

Florian Pachaly and Fabian Eckert, the organization’s co-founders, started testing their idea for a deposit-based to-go coffee cup scheme in Rosenheim, near Munich, in 2016, with 12 partner locations. A year later, the pair officially launched RECUP, rolling out to 60 additional partners in more cities. RECUP also began offering reusable bowls, called REBOWLs, for to-go meals last year.

For consumers, a RECUP costs 1€ ($1.18), while a REBOWL costs 5€ ($5.91). Both are returnable for the deposit back. Non-returnable multi-use to-go-cup lids are sold for 30 cents. For cafés and restaurants, RECUP charges a monthly service fee, ranging from 25€ ($29.53) to 45€ ($53.15), plus deposits on each cup or bowl the establishment orders. The breakeven point for businesses is an estimated 12 to-go drinks per day.

ReCUP

The feedback from both partners and consumers has been positive.

Bilal Hosni lives in Mainz, a small city near Frankfurt, where there are more than two dozen RECUP partner locations. He started using RECUPs because he thinks they are a “simple and brilliant” solution to to-go coffee cup waste. “It takes a little bit of effort,” he says. “But the more I know [about] the huge impact solid waste has on the environment, the more I appreciate it.”

But while the program is popular in Germany and elsewhere, it is difficult to gauge just how effective it is. Like with any reusable cup, the impact of its use depends on how many times it will be used over its lifetime, how it will be washed after use, and how it will be disposed of when it wears out. Each of those things, in turn, depends on individual consumer behavior, which is difficult to control. “I think models like RECUP have a great opportunity to control and ensure the environmental impact is as low as possible,” says Jonas Bengtsson, CEO and co-founder at Edge Environment, a sustainability advisory company. “But as often is the case, individual consumer behavior and choices are very important.”

The first hurdle is convincing consumers to use a reusable cup. Researchers in Australia, where a whopping 75 percent of the population drinks coffee every day, are conducting the most comprehensive and up-to-date research on effective ways to reduce to-go coffee cup waste and its knock-on environmental effects. One of those researchers, Sukhbir Sandhu, professor of sustainability and ethics at the University of South Australia, says that programs like RECUP are attractive to customers because of their low cost, convenience, and the “virtue-signaling” they allow consumers to engage in.

Sandhu also says that deposit-based systems work better than those offering small financial incentives to customers who bring their own reusable cups or imposing fees on those who don’t. Those programs are less convenient because they require consumers to carry bulky, messy, could-drip-in-your-bag reusable cups around with them. “The majority of consumers want to do the right thing and make environmentally-friendly choices but are often unwilling to sacrifice convenience,” she explains. “Deposit-based systems enable consumers to do the right thing without having to sacrifice convenience.”

Bengtsson notes that for any new solution to be adopted and used correctly, it should be designed with the consumer experience in mind. “The customer must know how to and actually use the cup or system appropriately. [It should be] intuitive, fun, and rewarding,” he says. Lisa Wernick, a member of RECUP’s PR and communications team, admits that at least part of the reason RECUP has been so successful in Germany is that Germans are already familiar with deposit-based systems, which are common in the country for things like bottled beverages and yogurt containers.

Research published last year by Sandhu and colleagues also shows that strong environmental messaging and the pressure of social norms play significant roles in getting consumers to switch to reusable to-go cups. Many interviewed for the study admitted they were swayed by popular Australian docuseries The War on Waste or by the behavior of their family, friends, or colleagues.

Systems like RECUP deliver on some of the tough questions, though, like water consumption and plastic waste. According to research from Edge Environment, if consumers handwash their reusable cups in hot running water every time they use them, they’re likely to consume more energy and emit more carbon than if they had just used a disposable cup. “It seems models like RECUP can significantly influence [this problem],” says Bengtsson. “They can effectively make sure the washing is done efficiently in bulk.”

ReCUP

When a RECUP starts to wear out after hundreds of washes — they’re built to replace 1,000 disposable cups — or if one breaks, RECUP collects it and transports it to its local production partner for recycling. The organization is also working with Crafting Future and the Institute for Bioplastics and Biocomposites in Hannover to develop a new material for their products that will be less reliant on fossil fuels.

Despite the uncertainties of consumer behavior, experts agree that widespread deposit-based reusable to-go cup systems are a powerful tool for preventing disposable coffee cup use and its negative environmental effects. Based on research from the German Environment Agency, RECUP estimates that its program reduces carbon emissions by 11,000 tons, conserves 1.5 billion liters of water, and saves 43,000 trees every year. Those are results that could be multiplied as more cities and businesses introduce similar programs, including coffee-giant Starbucks, which has promised to offer a deposit-based reusable to-go cup system across stores in 43 countries by 2025.

'Threat to marine biodiversity:' Plastic found in thousands of seabird nests across Europe

Plastic debris found in thousands of nests across the north west of Europe poses a serious threat to seabirds in the region, researchers have warned.A four-year study was led by scientists at the North Highland College’s Environmental Research Institute, part of the University of the Highland and Islands.Observers visiting seabird colonies for other monitoring activities were asked to help gather data as a cost effective and environmentally friendly way to conduct the study.Researchers examined 10,274 nests across the UK, Norway, Iceland, Sweden and the Faroe Islands – with 12% of them found to contain plastic debris.Information was collected from 14 seabird species in 84 colonies between 2016 and 2020.Atlantic puffins were found to be the most affected species, with 67% of their nests found to contain plastic.Entanglement Dr Neil James, a post-doctoral research associate at the Environmental Research Institute, was one of the scientists involved in the project.He said: “Marine plastic pollution is an increasing global environmental issue which poses a threat to marine biodiversity.“Seabirds are particularly affected because of the risk of entanglement or ingestion.“Our study found that a significant number of nests included plastic debris, with some species more likely to incorporate it than others.“As well as providing important information about our seabird populations, this type of study can also reveal valuable insights into the prevalence of plastic in the marine environment.”The results of the study are published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin and can be found online at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2021.112706.Related: Plastic in our oceans may have already changed the planet…foreverSince you are hereSince you are here, we wanted to ask for your help.Journalism in Britain is under threat. The government is becoming increasingly authoritarian and our media is run by a handful of billionaires, most of whom reside overseas and all of them have strong political allegiances and financial motivations.Our mission is to hold the powerful to account. It is vital that free media is allowed to exist to expose hypocrisy, corruption, wrongdoing and abuse of power. But we can’t do it without you.If you can afford to contribute a small donation to the site it will help us to continue our work in the best interests of the public. We only ask you to donate what you can afford, with an option to cancel your subscription at any point.To donate or subscribe to The London Economic, click here.The TLE shop is also now open, with all profits going to supporting our work.The shop can be found here.You can also SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER .

Plastic waste imports are 'unwanted'

Plastic waste imports are ‘unwanted’
Don’t postpone ban, green groups ask

Officials inspect smuggled plastic waste in the cargo container imported from the United States, in Lat Krabang district of Bangkok in 2018. (Police photo)

More than 100 environmental groups have called on the government to prohibit the import of plastic waste and instead encourage the use of domestic plastic waste for recycling as a way to safeguard the environment and promote the circular economy.The network of 107 civil society and environmental activist groups released a joint statement on Thursday demanding agencies formally announce a policy to ban plastic waste imports within the year, as well as amend laws and regulations to seal off legal gaps that allow the use of imported plastic waste in the plastic recycling industry.
The environmental groups are objecting to revisions to a plan to ban plastic waste imports by September 2020 by a subcommittee on plastic waste and electronic waste management.
The subcommittee reversed its resolution and postponed the plastic waste ban for another five years.
Penchom Saetang, director of Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand (Earth), said despite the Industrial Works Department saying that no new plastic waste import licences had been issued, plastic waste was still flowing into the country, brought in by recycling factories in the duty-free zone, indicating a loophole in the regulations.
“We have found imported plastic waste of up to 150,000 tonnes was brought in in 2020, an increase of 2.69 times on the previous year.
“For this year, around 71,000 tonnes of plastic waste are imported into Thailand up until June,” Ms Penchom said.
She said the legal exemptions and postponement of the plastic waste ban allows foreign recycling factories to make a profit from cheap imported plastic waste at a great cost to Thailand’s environment.
This also jeopardises the domestic plastic waste trade and the country’s circular economy goals.
Meanwhile, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Varawut Silpa-archa said the ministry is working with the Pollution Control Department to present a control measure for plastic waste imports to the National Environment Board.
The measure would limit the quota for plastic waste imports this year to 250,000 tonnes, before phasing out that quota by 20% every year until reaching a total ban on plastic waste imports in 2026.

Something is killing gray whales. Is it a sign of oceans in peril?

SAN IGNACIO, Mexico — For thousands of years, the gray whales of the eastern Pacific have undertaken one of the longest annual migrations of any mammal — starting in the cold waters of the Arctic, then down past the densely populated coasts and beaches of California before finally finding refuge in the warm, shallow estuaries of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. Only to turn around and head back north a few weeks later.Starting in December 2018, this magnificent migration took a fatal turn.The bodies of California gray whales began washing up along the protected inlets of Baja, where gray whales come every spring to nurse their young and mate. The first to die was a young male, beached along the shore of Isla Arena, in Guerrero Negro Lagoon. Two days later, the decomposing body of a young female was found sloshing in waves along a beach in Ojo de Liebre Lagoon, just a few miles south of the first.Then, on Jan. 4, 2019, three more young whales were found dead, all of them severely decomposed, in the same lagoon.A gray whale pushes her calf to the surface as visitors reach into the water to pet them in San Ignacio Lagoon, Baja California.“We’d never seen anything like that before,” said Ranulfo Mayoral, 56, son of Pachico Mayoral, one of the earliest proprietors of the region’s whale-watching ecotourism businesses. “This is a safe place for whales. It’s not where they die.”What Mayoral was witnessing was the start of a leviathan die-off that, for 2½ years, has alarmed legions of whale watchers and perplexed scientists up and down the western coast of North America. Gray whales are known for being hardy and resilient — “the jeeps of the ocean,” as retired U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration biologist Wayne Perryman calls them — but something has gone badly wrong.Scientists are now scrambling to figure out what is killing these 40-foot-long marine mammals. The “what” is anything but obvious.Some scientists believe there may be too many whales for the population to sustain itself. Others say this explanation of “overcapacity” and “natural causes” overlooks the gantlet of hazards that grays now face — including ecosystem alteration, ship strikes, entanglement in fishing gear, plastics pollution, disease, ocean acidification and loss of kelp forests.A whale-watching group gets a view of a gray whale “spy hopping” in San Ignacio Lagoon, Baja California, Mexico. The term refers to when a whale sticks its head above the water, possibly to get a view of surrounding objects. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)Then there is climate change, which is melting ice sheets in the Arctic, altering oceanic currents, warming water temperatures and potentially changing the food supply for whales and other creatures.Researchers, however, agree on one key point: It is essential that science identify the key cause. Gray whales are a conservation success story — having survived commercial whaling and rebounded from near extinction with the help of wildlife protection laws. Their ups and downs are important indicators for the health of the oceans.“Like other top predators, gray whales are sentinels of the North Pacific,” said Sue Moore, an affiliate professor with the Center for Ecosystem Sentinels at the University of Washington. She notes that, while their current populations are far from being imperiled, these whales could be telling us something with implications for all marine creatures, and humans too.Since 2019 until July 29 this year, 481 whales have stranded along the beaches of North America, including 69 in California. Though it’s possible the die-off is part of a natural cycle, if the trend continues, “well, that’s the kind of thing that keeps me up at night,” said John Calambokidis, senior research biologist and cofounder of the Cascadia Research Collective, a marine mammal research center based in Olympia, Wash.As 2020 started, many scientists hoped it could be a breakthrough year in unraveling what was killing whales in such large numbers. In March, however, COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, and the world — including broad swaths of scientific inquiry — shut down. Flights were canceled, hotels shuttered, people were anchored to their homes, and science in all sectors ground to a halt.Ocean and marine mammal biologists were prevented from congregating in boats. They couldn’t directly study ocean and food conditions. Aerial survey missions were called off. Laboratories shut down and beaches were closed, limiting the number of scientists who could perform necropsies.Yet where the professionals had to pull back, amateurs — including retired experts and non-PhD observers — poured in. Dedicated whale watchers set out to observe the oceans and document, as best they could, the crisis off their coasts. They attempted to fill in knowledge gaps and, ultimately, recorded whale behaviors not previously documented or observed by scientists.These lay sleuths saw whales feeding in strange places and at unusual times of the year. And in some cases, they noted whales that seemed to forego the migration altogether.A gray whale swims into Los Angeles Harbor on Feb. 23, 2021. It’s not unusual for gray whales to stay in the harbor for a few weeks in February and March before migrating farther north toward Alaska. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)Were these new behaviors? Or had the pandemic created openings for a new type of observation of these whales?“I guess that old adage applies here,” said Scott Mercer, a retired whale biologist living in Point Arena who spent nearly every day of 2020 with his wife, Tree, monitoring and recording the whales as they migrated, ate and played off the Northern California coast. “The more you know, the less you know,” he said.“Let’s just hope we figure this out before it’s too late.”Balvi Vasquez pets and talks to a gray whale in San Ignacio Lagoon, Baja California, on Feb. 16, 2021. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)First hint of troubleIn 2019, things got weird.Beginning in January, Baja researchers and tour operators noticed gray whales were arriving there about two weeks later than usual. Nearly a quarter seemed atypically skinny — with their blowholes sunken into their backs like deflated, skin-covered bowls — and their vertebrae protruding along their spines.They also noticed very few mother-calf pairs — a pattern seen in Baja 20 years ago, the last time there was a significant die-off of gray whales. It was a worrisome indication that something was wrong.As the whales started to leave the lagoons on their normal northern migration, they began to die.As they were perishing in large numbers, the whales were also acting strangely.In spring 2019, dozens started appearing in San Francisco Bay — some lingering, some acting as if they were trying to feed. Although their presence delighted urban dwellers, it alarmed others, including Bill Keener, a whale expert at the Sausalito-based Marine Mammal Center, who has studied whales for years.“It was amazing to see them here, so close … but really concerning too,” he said. Like the researchers in Baja, he hadn’t seen anything like this since the last time hundreds of gray whales stranded, in 1999. During that period, which stretched through to 2000, 24 whales died in the bay.Farther north, on Alaska’s Kodiak Island, a biologist for the Sun’aq Tribe started collecting reports documenting gray whales swimming far up coastal rivers, or rolling around in the shallow surf where the waves break. They were scooping up sand and sediment with their 8-foot-long jaws — sucking in the mud and creating craters along the ocean floor as they searched for sediment-dwelling amphipods, the small, shrimp-like creatures that are the whales’ food of choice.”Spy hopping” is a behavior exhibited by cetaceans, such as the gray whale above, and some sharks. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)Sun’aq Natural Resource Director Matthew Van Daele was both thrilled and amazed to see the whales at such an intimate distance. But like Keener, it also left him feeling uneasy.“It was crazy. They were right there. On the beach,” he recalled. “That’s not where they usually feed.”For the last two years, similar oddities have been reported along the whales’ migration route, including in Mexico’s San Ignacio Lagoon, where a Times team this February observed whales feeding along the shallow beaches.“Weird,” said Daniel Aguilar, a guide at Antonio’s Ecotours and son of the proprietor, Antonio Aguilar. “They don’t usually do that kind of thing.”Deborah Fauquier, a veterinary medical officer for the National Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, said the annual number of strandings along the west coast of North America has steadily decreased since 2019. However, the number of deaths is still abnormally high, with 172 in 2020 and 92 so far this year.Fauquier said it’s daunting to figure out the cause of such a large mortality. Even determining the cause of a single whale’s death is a major undertaking, she added.Over the last three years, NOAA has reported that 268 of the whales it analyzed were discovered in a state of advanced decomposition, making it impossible to tell what happened. Other variables made it difficult to pinpoint a single cause of death. For instance, all whales are highly sensitive to unnatural ocean noises. Such noises — for instance, seismic air guns or revving outboard engines — could have driven startled or frightened whales into shipping lanes, where they then got hit.Scott and Tree MercerScott Mercer, left, a whale biologist in New England, relocated to the Pacific Coast with his wife, Tree Mercer, right. During the pandemic, they spent nearly every day monitoring whales and recording data from a bluff near Point Arena Lighthouse in Mendocino County. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)Along California’s northern coast, Scott and Tree Mercer have helped to fill the data void. For the last 15 months, the couple have taken a nearly daily excursion to the Mendocino Headlands in their minivan. Wearing matching blue windbreakers and carrying folding chairs and binoculars, they perch themselves on a bluff overlooking the crashing waves below, and scan the horizon for whales and other ocean life.They used to spend the summer in Maine, where they once lived full time — Scott as a marine biologist, who flew aerial surveys for the New England Aquarium and wrote three books about whales; Tree as a biology teacher.Mendocino HeadlandsGray whales can be seen from the Mendocino Headlands, where observers like Scott and Tree Mercer say they have observed gray whales year-round. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)In 2020, the pandemic anchored them in California — giving them more time to monitor the Northern California coastline.It wasn’t always easy getting out there; during spring 2020, sheriff’s deputies enforcing shelter-in-place rules regularly shooed away the couple. But they persevered, sometimes playing a little cat-and-mouse with the deputies.And as spring turned to summer, they began to notice things they’d never before seen — or expected to see. They started seeing gray whales nearly every day of the year — not just during the migration. Was this behavior related to the die-off? Were these whales eschewing the migration to forage locally? Or, as Scott Mercer put it, “Are we seeing things that had just never been recorded and observed?”Gray whales are far more abundant and less threatened than the right whales that are Mercer’s specialty. Still, the early stages of the West Coast die-off were unsettling.The two newcomers watched as the area’s kelp forests have progressively disappeared, and they documented the changed timing of the gray whales’ migration. Based on their data, the number of migrating whales had dropped from a high of roughly 1,100 in 2015 to a 2019 low of about 800.But was it just some form of natural variation? Scientists note that Eschrichtius robustus — the scientific name for gray whales — have long shown themselves to be resilient, and adaptable.“They’re opportunistic feeders,” said Moore, the University of Washington biologist, noting that they feed throughout the ocean water column — from the sediment to the surface. “They don’t call them robustus for nothing.”Back from the brink of extinctionGray whales were once found in oceans worldwide, with an estimated peak population along the eastern Pacific of roughly 26,000.Whale hunting history1700s-1800sAs whale hunting boomed in the 18th and 19th centuries, gray whales were spared the early slaughter. They lacked the kind of high-value blubber, bone and oil that nearly doomed their counterparts, such as sperm whales.They undertook enormous journeys, and still do. In 2015, one radio-tagged female traveled from the Russian-held seas of Sakhalin Island (where a small population of western north Pacific gray whales still lives) to Mexico and back in 172 days, logging almost 14,000 miles — at that time, the longest recorded migration of any mammal.In past centuries, other populations of grays were known to comb the Atlantic coastlines: On the western side, they summered along Labrador, on the Canadian island of Newfoundland, and Greenland, swimming south to Florida for the winter; in the east, they congregated around Iceland and the Svalbard archipelago during the feeding months, traveling to the Mediterranean and North Africa for rest and relaxation.A small population of roughly 200 still roams the western Pacific waters, from Russia’s Sakhalin Island, where ExxonMobil has a major development, south to the Korean Peninsula.San Ignacio BayMexico’s Baja Peninsula, including places like San Ignacio Lagoon, provide warm, shallow estuaries where gray whale mothers come each year to nurse their calves, as other adults arrive to mate. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)It didn’t take long for fishermen in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula to begin noticing the return of these leviathans.“Initially, they were afraid of the whales,” said Pancho Mayoral, a tour boat operator and brother of Ranulfo Mayoral. “They’d hit their oars in the water if the whales came too near, or banged them on the side of the boats to frighten them away.”Ranulfo MayoralRanulfo Mayoral is a guide with Pachico’s Ecotours, one of the first whale tour businesses in San Ignacio Lagoon. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)Among Baja tour operators, legend has it that Pancho and Ranulfo’s father, Pachico Mayoral — then just a 31-year-old fisherman who lived with his five kids and his wife in San Ignacio Lagoon, 560 miles southeast of Tijuana — was the first to realize the whales were friendly.Soon, he was taking a small number of intrepid tourists and researchers out to see them.Before long, his neighbors also saw a business opportunity. Together, they established a nascent ecotourism business — with visitors from across the world coming to interact with the ballenas.A playful gray whale comes close to a boat of visitors and turns on his side to see. Whales are drawn to boats by the hum of their outboard motors, Baja guides say. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)In 1988, the Mexican government named the region a protected biosphere. In 1993, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Mexican government limits the number of boats allowed in the lagoon at any given time to 16, restricts the amount of time each boat can spend on the water and regulates fishing to certain times of the year.Reaching San Ignacio Lagoon requires a five-hour, bumpy drive from the nearest city with a commercial airport, Loreto. In early 2020, just as the coronavirus was circulating the globe but shutdowns had not begun, scores of tourists were making the drive every day.“Baaa-leee-naaa! Baaa-leee-naaa!” sang a Baja-based Italian tour guide, Giuliana, who was balancing precariously in a panga, in early March 2020. As she sang, Giuliana and her four guests scrambled from one side of the 15-foot boat to the other, reaching out to caress a curious, playful female gray whale and her calf.Visitors interact with a gray whale and her mother in San Ignacio Lagoon. Some believe the whales are attracted to higher-pitched voices. (Video by Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)The tourists “come here and they touch them, and they start to cry. Or they break into song,” said Ranulfo Mayoral, who has watched tourists interact with whales for most of his life. “The people come here for this out-of-body, almost extraterrestrial experience. They go crazy.”Yet in this part of Baja, like elsewhere worldwide, the pandemic has crushed many small tourism businesses — including the Mayorals’, which was closed in mid-March 2020 and has remained shuttered. During a visit in February this year, this typically bustling resort area resembled a ghost town, with empty cabanas and tumbleweeds blowing around the dirt roads.Even so, the San Ignacio Laguna Ecosystem Science Program, a research team that has tracked the whales for 14 years in the lagoon, continued to collect data.In 2021, the researchers once again showed that gray whales had decreased in number and arrived roughly two weeks late.On a beach in the lagoon — one where tourists once stopped to eat prepacked lunches — a young male, newly dead, lay in the surf, his carcass snacked upon by a coterie of gulls and crabs, as a flock of vultures looked on.A gantlet of ocean perilsThe lagoons of Baja have long served as gray whale sanctuaries, especially for younger ones at risk of attacks by orcas, their main predators. But as they journey up the coast to the Arctic’s northern Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea, they face an array of hazards beyond those they historically navigated.Hugging the coast past California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, migrating whales must circumvent cargo ships, military vessels, fishing gear and recreational craft, especially near big port cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle.Over the last 30 years, global shipping experts estimate maritime traffic has more than tripled. Some projections forecast it could grow 1,200% more by 2050.Beachgoers look at a decomposing gray whale while visiting Muir Beach on April 17, 2021. Scientists from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif., found evidence the whale had been struck by a vessel. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)In a study published this year, a research team found that a variety of whales face risk of ship strikes. That was illustrated in May, when two fin whales came to port in San Diego, plastered to the hull of an Australian warship.But of all whales in the Pacific, grays are the most likely to be struck by ships, the study concluded. “Risk appeared greatest during south- and northbound migration when much of the gray whale population is moving through waters near shore” — places with “high vessel densities,” the study found.According to a NOAA database, 205 gray whales were killed by vessels between January 2016 and December 2020 in the eastern Pacific.Possibly because their feeding patterns are changing, gray whales are showing up more frequently and in greater numbers in confined bodies of water, such as San Francisco Bay — where 12 this year have been found dead since early March — and the ports of Southern California.Researchers, such as Calambokidis, think the whales may be looking for new food sources — digging through the shallow sediments of the protected inlets along their migration route, including San Francisco Bay, Long Beach Harbor and Washington’s Salish Sea.Ships, boats and submarines can also harm whales indirectly. As their motors and engines whir and their numbers increase, these vessels add to a cacophony of underwater sounds.“Whales are born into this din,” said Brandon Southall, a whale expert based out of Aptos, Calif. “Most of their lives they are now saturated in human noise.”Studies show this din can disrupt communication among gray whales and other marine mammals, and in extreme cases, can cause hearing loss and depressed immune systems, making them more vulnerable to disease.Gray whales don’t emit melodious sounds like those of the symphonic humpbacks, recordings of which are often heard echoing throughout New Age salons and yoga studios. Instead, they squeeze out “croaks,” “burps” and conga-like “bongs,” which describe some of the species’ six distinct calls.Those calls — and the ability to hear them — are essential for the survival of these creatures, especially for mothers trying to find their calves and working with them to locate food or avoid predators.“There’s a lot impacting these whales,” said Fauquier, the NOAA veterinarian. But she acknowledges it’s difficult to draw a direct cause and effect.A gray whale pushes her calf to the surface in San Ignacio Lagoon. In 2019 and 2020, researchers noticed a big drop-off in mother-calf pairs in Baja lagoons — a pattern seen when there was a significant die-off of gray whales 20 years ago. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)Orcas — also known as killer whales — are part of this gantlet, but they’ve posed serious threats to whales long before modern times. Scientists are still studying this predator-prey relationship but say there’s little evidence that orca attacks are increasing.Another unknown peril is disease — a fatal virus or bacteria that is being transmitted among gray whales. Research indicates that whales can become susceptible to pathogens if their immune systems are compromised by other stressors, including noise, boat traffic and polluted runoff.Although pandemic-related lab closures have kept Fauquier from analyzing all the tissue samples collected from strandings last year, she thinks disease may be playing a role and testing will help to rule out common diseases seen in whales, such as a viral infection known as cetacean morbillivirus or a biotoxin exposure from harmful algae blooms.“We are hoping to have a better idea by the end of summer or fall,” she said.On their annual migrations, gray whales must also run through an obstacle course of whale-watching tours, ubiquitous from Baja up to Alaska and beyond. This spring in San Ignacio Lagoon, The Times saw tour boat passengers stick their fingers and hands in whale blowholes and mouths, and kiss their eyes and cheeks.Fauquier said it is unlikely humans can pass diseases, such as the coronavirus, along to the whales. But it still isn’t healthful to stick fingers in the leviathans’ orifices.Habituation — whales becoming too accustomed to human interaction — is another concern.Evidence suggests whale and dolphin populations decrease where whale watching has started. Researchers have also observed different swimming and diving patterns when cetaceans are followed by boats and people. In addition, blood and fecal analyses show elevated levels of stress hormones in animals followed by boats.This spring, a Times photographer spotted a kayaker and two paddle boarders approaching a gray whale swimming in Los Angeles Harbor.A dog in a life preserver, attached to a leash, jumped off one paddle board and swam toward the whale.The whale dived down — disappearing as the spectators drew near.

Lake Tahoe is filled with trash. I went diving with the crew whose mission is to clean it up

The first pull of the day was a Corona bottle, its label scraped off by the coarse sand just off the shore of South Lake Tahoe. How long it had been there was anyone’s guess.A freediver in the floating cleanup crew unearthed it from the sand — only about 12 feet deep here — and surfaced to dump it in a green floating trash raft named Darlene.

The ingenious ancient technology concealed in the shallows

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It was a cool spring morning on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island when the ground began to buckle and heave. On the Richter scale, the earthquake reached a magnitude of 7.3 at a place called Forbidden Plateau. Seventy-five years later, it still holds the title as the most powerful onshore quake ever recorded in Canada. In nearby communities, brick walls fell and three-quarters of all chimneys collapsed. Two casualties were recorded that day: one man died of heart failure and another drowned after his dinghy was overturned by a wave generated when a piece of land gave way and thundered into the sea. For a while, that seemed like the end of the story. But over time, the changes wrought by the quake revealed a mystery that had lain hidden for generations—long enough to be forgotten.
Twenty-two kilometers from the quake’s epicenter, locals started noticing wooden stakes appearing in the intertidal zone of Comox Harbour on the east side of Vancouver Island. They ranged in size from the width of an adult’s thumb to the width of an arm, but stuck out little more than ankle high from the sand and mud. Locals pondered the mystery; many assumed they were the leavings of some relatively recent industrial activity, or a fishing scheme abandoned by immigrants from Japan.
In 2002, Nancy Greene, then an undergraduate anthropology student, walked among the barnacle-encrusted stakes and thought she’d found a fascinating subject for her senior project at Malaspina College (now Vancouver Island University). She had lived in the area since 1978, raised her children here, and was up for a new challenge. Little did she know it would consume countless hours, span more than a decade, or eventually reveal the largest unstudied archaeological feature yet found on the Pacific Northwest coast—one that would tell a remarkable tale of human ingenuity and adaptation in an era of climate change.

On the eastern slopes of the Beaufort Range, rain and meltwater flow down the Puntledge and Tsolum Rivers and converge in the Courtenay River before reaching Comox Harbour. These sheltered waters are part of the Salish Sea, which stretches from British Columbia’s Inside Passage down to Washington State’s Puget Sound. People have been living off the bounty of this marine environment ever since they began arriving in the region near the end of the last ice age, about 13,000 years ago. Comox Harbour lies within the protected waters of a broad, gently sloping estuary that covers an area of 9.6 square kilometers, slightly bigger than Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California. It is the traditional territory of speakers of the extinct Pentlatch language, whose descendants form part of the 342-member K’ómoks First Nation, which along with the communities of Courtenay and Comox now surround the harbor.
Map data by OpenStreetMap via ArcGIS
There had always been a few bits of wood poking up through the sand and mud of Comox Harbour, but after the quake of 1946, thousands of stakes emerged across vast stretches of the intertidal zone. This was likely a result of liquefaction, a phenomenon in which shaking reduces the strength of the sediment and leads to erosion. Subsequent periods of dredging near the mouth of the river may have also contributed to the process. It was clear the stakes formed patterns, but just what those patterns represented was a puzzle until quite recently. In her interviews with members of local Indigenous communities, Nancy Greene found only one clue: a K’ómoks elder said that her grandmother told her the stakes were used to catch salmon, and that families owned specific weirs and were tasked with maintaining them.
Cory Frank, manager of the K’ómoks Guardian Watchmen, encountered the stakes as a child and also pondered the mystery. But when he asked his elders what they were, they didn’t seem to know. What was well known were the frequent battles that took place in the harbor before colonization. Those foolish enough to attempt a raid on the people living here, or their rich resources, faced harsh consequences. “What we did with people like that was chop their heads off, put them on a spear, toss them in the sand, and leave them as a reminder for other people not to come.”
Frank clearly relishes relaying the tale, a testament to the abundance of salmon and the tenacity of the people protecting their claim to Comox Harbour. Now, as the history of the stakes is becoming known, he says they are a source of pride in his community.
Nancy Greene studying the massive fish trap complex in Comox Harbour on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Photo courtesy of Nancy Greene
Uncovering that history required hands-on research. In 2003, after surveying the entire estuary, Greene pulled on her gumboots and set out with pin flags and a laser theodolite to take geolocations of stakes across an area encompassing a total of approximately 30 hectares. She enlisted her husband, retired geologist David McGee, and a team of volunteers to help find and mark the stakes while trying to outrun the incoming tide. Because not all tides are created equal, she had to account for variations in how much area a tide exposed, available light, and weather. After months of reconnaissance, then weeks of recording geolocations, she recalls that first moment seeing the information they had collected displayed on a computer screen. Suddenly, those individual nubs of Douglas fir and western red cedar became 900 little black points on a field of white—like a photographic negative of stars in the nighttime sky. Patterns began to emerge and repeat. It took months of analysis, she says, before she began to realize what they represented—the remains of an immense, highly coordinated, and sophisticated fish trap system, the largest such system discovered in North America, if not the world.

Think Hotel California for fish—they can easily check in, but they can never leave. Such is the purpose of fish traps, ingenious systems for catching wild fish and practicing fishery management the world over. Fish weirs, like the ones that appeared in Comox Harbour, are a specific kind of fish trap built as an obstruction across a river or tidal waters. Fish seeking shallows, or spawning grounds farther upstream, swim in with the tide and can’t escape. The ancient technology relied on a deep and intimate knowledge of local fish behavior.
Evidence suggests that complex hunter-gatherer cultures around the world invented fish traps independently at different places and times. Unlike wooden stakes, rock assemblages used in other fish weirs are difficult to date, but radiocarbon dating of adjacent middens (piles of fish bones and shells) offers a kind of proxy. Some of the oldest confirmed traps in North America are on mainland British Columbia at the mouth of the Fraser River (4,500 to 5,280 years old) and in Maine (5,770 years old). The oldest-known fish traps, between 9,000 and 7,000 years old, were found in northern Europe. But the technology is probably far older. A line of stones found on the shore of an ancient lake in the Kenya Rift is reminiscent of the fish weirs used by the local people in modern times. It dates to the time of Homo erectus or at least 490,000 years ago. If this was indeed a weir, it would mean the technology predates modern humans.
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At high tide, fish would be directed inside the traps; as the tide receded, they were stranded inside. Animation by School District 17 Indigenous Education and Fox & Bee Studio
The scale and complexity of the fish weirs found in Comox Harbour is staggering. Multiple traps were likely in use at the same time and, collectively, would catch immense quantities of fish. Over the course of her research, published in the Canadian Journal of Archaeology in 2015, Greene and her team recorded the position of 13,602 stakes. Radiocarbon dating of 57 stakes revealed ages ranging from 1,300 to just over 100 years old. Greene, now a research archaeologist, conservatively estimates there are approximately 150,000 to 200,000 stakes in the harbor, which represent the remains of more than 300 fish traps. She knows of no other site approaching this scale of stake density.
In Comox Harbour, the patterns of the stake alignments reveal two distinct designs: one heart-shaped and one chevron-shaped. In both designs, removable lattice panels were likely lashed to the stakes to act as fences designed to lead the fish into the traps during high tide. When migrating fish encountered the barrier, they were directed into an opening at the crease between either the lobes of the heart or the wings of the chevron. As the tide receded, the fish inside the trap were stranded. The heart-shaped design mirrors historical fish weirs found in other sites along the Pacific Northwest coast, the east coast of North America, and coasts in other parts of the world. Depending on the height of the tide, the traps could have also served as holding ponds to keep fish alive in shallow water until people were ready to collect and process the catch. After the people had all they wanted, they removed the panels to allow fish to pass.
The stakes from the heart-shaped traps correspond with the earlier dates returned from radiocarbon dating. They ranged in age from 1,240 years old to a little over 840 years old. Because of their proximity to nearby middens, and the preponderance of herring bones in those middens, Greene suggests the people of Comox Harbour used heart-shaped traps to catch herring. They built, operated, and maintained those traps during a prolonged era of warm temperatures and frequent droughts—an era that was coming to an end.
The people changed the shape of the fish traps to adapt to changing ocean conditions. Illustration by David McGee and Mercedes Minck
On the east coast of Vancouver Island, there was a marked increase in precipitation around 850 years ago. As the air got cooler and ocean temperatures dropped, fish ranges shifted. The archaeological record reflects these changes. After using and maintaining the heart-shaped traps for over four centuries, local people abruptly replaced them with the chevron-shaped design. Greene found no evidence of a period of trial and error. Knowledge of this new design probably already resided within the local population, or they quickly obtained it. “There were heart-shaped traps, and then there were chevron-shaped traps,” she says. “There were no traps in between.” It was a rapid technological adaptation to an altered climate.
The new chevron-shaped traps, which worked on the same principle of corralling schooling fish into a holding pen, were designed to catch much larger fish—up to 30 times the mass of herring. Local people built the traps to take advantage of a species multiplying exponentially in the cooler temperatures, a species that would come to support the very foundation, stability, and fluorescence of culture in Comox Harbour and all along the Pacific Northwest coast—a complex and sophisticated society that did not rely on agriculture. For the next five centuries, the people of Comox Harbour expanded, rebuilt, and maintained those traps for catching salmon.

Construction of the fish traps began above the high-tide line in the temperate rainforest. The people of Comox Harbour selected saplings then cut, trimmed, and pointed them. They waited for a favorable low tide, then measured, spaced, and drove the stakes into the intertidal sand and mud using pile drivers before the tide came rolling back in. Examples of pile drivers from the Pacific Northwest coast include some with handles and others with ergonomic thumb and finger grips etched into the stone. They repeated the process dozens of times, likely over numerous tide cycles, in order to create a single chevron-shaped salmon trap. Once the stakes were secure and the lattice panels were lashed in place—but before any salmon were taken—tradition dictates the people would pay respect.
At the waters’ edge, a shaman would stand on a platform with his face painted red and eagle down in his hair—a symbol of peace and welcome. He would shake his ceremonial rattle and sing, then head out in his canoe. He would harpoon several salmon and put aside the first one he caught. The entire community would stand on the beach and watch, anticipating his return. When he came ashore, he would sing to and honor the first salmon by sprinkling it with eagle down. Once it was cooked and the feast complete, fishing could begin.

As salmon arrived in the harbor, in search of the freshwater surge from the Courtenay River and the spawning sites upstream, some encountered wooden panels that formed a barrier forcing them through the narrow opening of a trap. One by one, the salmon followed each other inside, where they found themselves directed back along the wings of the pen, unable to escape.
During the salmon run, numerous fish traps would be in operation around the harbor. Men of high-status or lineage probably controlled access to the traps. Traditionally, in cultures along the Pacific Northwest coast, men were responsible for catching fish. Women and young children most often processed fish; slaves, who were considered genderless, were also likely given this task. The traps worked day and night, in concert with the tide, until either the salmon run subsided, or the people had their fill. They would then remove the panels and store them for the next run or season.
The people of Comox Harbour designed their traps to be semi-permanent. This allowed for the selective catch of salmon while the panels were in place; once the panels were removed, the rest of the fish could easily pass between the bare stakes to spawn in the rivers and streams beyond. An example of just such a panel, nearly six meters long and radiocarbon dated to the late 14th century, was discovered in Comox Harbour. The traps were highly consistent in form and were likely built using standardized units of measurement. One series of three linked traps, which may have been in use at the same time, stretched over a distance of more than three football fields (320 meters). The traps ensured both the fish and the fishery thrived.
The remains of a removable fence were found in the harbor a few years ago. Photo courtesy of Genevieve Hill
Greene suspects the fishery in and around Comox Harbour would have supported a high population density. She believes the enormous number of fish caught and processed here would go to feeding not only the local people over the coming winter months; they likely traded fish up and down the coast and across the Salish Sea. Prior to the smallpox epidemic of 1862, there were about 30,000 Indigenous people living along the coast of British Columbia’s Inside Passage. The fishery at Comox Harbour may have been the center of cultural activity in the northern Salish Sea for at least 1,300 years.
Deidre Cullon, an archaeologist and adjunct professor in the geography department at Vancouver Island University, works for the Laich-Kwil-Tach Treaty Society. She has studied Pacific Northwest fish traps and wrote her doctoral dissertation on the relationship between Pacific Northwest peoples and salmon. “What I find,” she says, “is that the more we do and the more we learn, the more questions we have.”
Cullon, like Greene, found it challenging to obtain any information about historical fish traps in the Indigenous communities she surveyed. Why has the cultural memory of these features and this technology all but vanished? She points to a “perfect storm” blowing out the flame of cultural memory.
The smallpox epidemic of 1862 claimed the lives of half the Indigenous people on the coast of British Columbia. In that catastrophe, not only were keepers of knowledge lost; entire communities were abandoned. Lost, too, was the need for a high-production fishery—there were far fewer mouths to feed.
“And then, right on the heels of that, the Canadian government chose to support commercial fishing for canneries,” Cullon explains. The government declared the traps illegal and sent their fisheries officers to destroy them. This was followed by the advent of the notorious residential school system, in which Indigenous children were removed from their families by the government and religious institutions and taken to far-off boarding schools, effectively separating them from their communities, language, and culture. This resulted in a profound disruption in the transfer of traditional knowledge, including the purpose and use of fish traps.
As the tide recedes in the harbor today, remains of the stakes poke out of the estuary. Photo courtesy of Nancy Greene
Although the ways and means of fishing changed, salmon retained their place at the heart of Indigenous society on the Pacific Northwest coast. Among many First Nations on this coast, it was taboo to toss salmon remains on a rubbish heap, as was done with herring and shellfish. People released the remains of salmon into the sea out of respect for what they considered nonhuman kin.
“The ocean was the water of life,” Cullon explains. “It had resurrection properties that allowed them to be reincarnated so that they can then return to the human world the following year.” In the Indigenous belief system, this respect and these traditions ensured the salmon’s return.
But for over a generation now, the number of salmon returning to the coast of British Columbia has fallen sharply, due to more than a century of commercial fishing and development. In addition, climate change is threatening the ecosystem itself. This strikes at the heart of both Indigenous communities and society as a whole. If not the continued return of the salmon, what will the future bring?

On the Pacific Northwest coast, and around the world, change is underway again. On a bright summer day in 2020, a fisherman hauled in evidence little more than 80 kilometers south of Comox Harbour. He was fishing for salmon but described his catch as “a meter long and all muscle and all teeth.” It was a Pacific barracuda, an aggressive, predatory species common in the subtropical waters off Baja California, over 2,000 kilometers to the south. William Cheung, the Canada Research Chair in Ocean Sustainability and Global Change at the University of British Columbia, says that warmer-water fish, such as barracuda and ocean sunfish are arriving in local waters with increasing frequency. He predicts a future in which sardines, a fish more associated with Southern California, will become common on Canada’s west coast.
Cheung’s research also opens a window into the past. He can corroborate the shift in ocean surface temperatures approximately 850 years ago, temperatures that favored salmon. And now, he sees another shift underway. After centuries of relative stability, ocean surface temperatures will likely continue to rise on the coast of British Columbia over the next 30 years. His projections suggest this warming will bring a 30 percent decline in sockeye salmon, but that’s only part of the story. Episodic marine heatwave events, such as the Blob, will exacerbate this baseline temperature increase—doubling the impact on fish like salmon.
Cheung says the temperature increases he’s seeing now are resulting in changes that are beyond what people have experienced before. He’s concerned that adapting to those changes will be less straightforward in the future. What’s certain is that unprecedented change in the global marine ecosystem is taking place, and human-induced climate change is one of the primary drivers.
The archaeological record shows the people of Comox Harbour used and adapted their fishing technology to help provide a nutritious food source and to ensure the sustainability of natural systems. They organized their society around it. Today, as climate change accelerates, and we continue the exploitation of global fish stocks to or beyond their capacity, modern society is leaving evidence of our commercial fishing philosophy in intertidal zones, on beaches, and adrift on and littering the bottom of the sea—much of it plastic. But on British Columbia’s central coast, just north of Vancouver Island, the Heiltsuk Nation is looking back to a traditional technology to help safeguard the future of their fishery.
The fish traps extend over the 9.6-square-kilometer harbor. Photo courtesy of Nancy Greene
William Housty, conservation manager for the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department, says evidence of ancient stone fish traps and cedar stake fish weirs is found throughout Heiltsuk territory.
“It’s not like throwing a net in the water and catching every salmon that’s swimming by,” he says of the old traps and weirs. They represent what he calls a brilliant technological approach because they were adapted on a creek-by-creek basis, which allowed for intimate knowledge and management focused on sustainability. Now, he says, the technology has proved to be invaluable for research.
Today, biologists commonly use weirs for monitoring fishery health, but the technology is rarely used in the Indigenous territories where it evolved. In 2013, the Heiltsuk Nation built a fish weir, based on a traditional design, on the Koeye River, an important salmon-bearing stream. It has allowed local people to identify, tag, and release salmon; to understand critical relationships between rates of salmon survival and spawning; and to monitor stream temperature fluctuations—in short, to assess the health of the ecological system.
“I think it’s genius,” Housty says of the technology that has a history of being adaptable to climate change. “One, to be able to feed yourself; two, to be able to maintain ecological diversity in the watersheds and stream systems; and three, just being mindful and respectful of the salmon themselves and making sure that we’re giving them the opportunity to spawn and come back—knowing full well that, in previous times, salmon were the main staple of our ancestors.”
The salmon caught in the new Heiltsuk weir are not yet used for food or ceremonial purposes. That will only happen once local managers are confident sustainability objectives have been met. Housty looks forward to that day. When it arrives, he says the first fish taken will be welcomed with honor and respect.

Push to curb plastics use on cruise ships

By Stavros Nikolaou

The deputy ministry of shipping and Cypriot scientists are joining forces to develop greater environmental awareness about plastic pollution from cruise ships.
According to an announcement, the Cypriot-inspired project received the important BeMed 2020 award from the BeyondPlasticMediterranean foundation, supported by the Prince Albert Foundation of Monaco, which each year awards the best proposals for action, aimed at reducing pollution of the Mediterranean.
The shipping ministry has supported this project from the beginning, with the aim of minimising marine plastic pollution and its effects on public health, the marine environment, and coastal tourism, with targeted actions in cruise tourism.
The aim is to involve the entire cruise industry, both workers and passengers. Agreed actions include field measurements with specific cruise ship waste characterisation methods, information campaigns as well as participatory solutions that will minimise the use of disposable plastics and improve their management.
“The Covid-19 pandemic that plunged the planet into a health crisis first and then a social and economic vortex has highlighted the importance of such a troubled environment to the ability of our societies to respond to threats of this magnitude to public health,” the announcement said. “An environmentally degraded planet has a reduced immune system”.
Oceans and seas are said to play a key role in the maintenance and proper functioning of the planet’s immune system, and they are drowning in rubbish, especially plastics, as people expect them to continue to support the planet and supply oxygen, raw materials and food.
It also pointed out that the resumption of the cruise industry, after almost two years offers a unique opportunity for a more ‘green’ development of the sector within the framework of the European Green Deal.
Before the pandemic, the Mediterranean cruise sector was on the rise and about 28 million cruise passengers visited ports in the area in 2018. It is expected that with the end of the pandemic, the cruise industry will return to these levels and continue to grow.
“As the number of cruises increases so does the waste generated by cruise ships, adversely affecting the environment,” the announcement said. The most common type of waste collected annually by ships is plastics, thus ranking them at the top of marine litter.
In addition, disposable plastics account for more than 70 per cent of total marine litter, posing a serious threat to marine ecosystems and human health, and at the same time causing serious economic damage to tourism and shipping.

Environmental groups urge Senate to pass bill banning single-use plastics in the Philippines

Disposable plastic bags
MANILA, Philippines — Environment groups have challenged the Senate to urgently pass a measure that would regulate the production and use of single-use plastics, after the House of Representatives approved a counterpart bill last week.
House Bill No. 9147, or the Single-Use Plastic Products Regulation Act, sailed through the third and final reading on July 28, with 190 affirmative votes and no objections.
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Environment groups called the approval of the House bill a critical “first step” in the right direction, particularly in curbing the country’s plastic pollution problem.
“This also sends a strong message to plastic manufacturers that they have a responsibility to significantly reduce their contribution to the plastics problem and transition to alternative delivery systems,” said Marian Ledesma, Greenpeace Philippines campaigner.FEATURED STORIES
Following the bill’s approval, the Senate should respond with a version that promotes genuine solutions to plastic pollution, said environment and health watchdog Ecowaste Coalition.
Their counterpart measure, the group said, should not promote “dirty” solutions, such as incineration or the burning of wastes to be turned into energy.
Several bills on the regulation of single-use plastics have been filed in the Senate since 2019, Ecowaste said. None have moved beyond the committee level.
Data from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, however, showed that at least 488 local governments have passed ordinances banning single-use plastics, the group added.
“We only have a few weeks left in the legislative calendar, and with the 2022 national elections fast approaching, we believe that now is the right time to pass the national regulation on single-use plastics,” said Coleen Salamat, Ecowaste’s campaigner.
“Our environment and communities cannot afford to go back to start with this bill in the new Congress,” she added.
During the Department of Science and Technology-hosted joint conference on Friday, upcycling surfaced as an accessible and implementable solution “while we are working on the other alternatives … especially for the sachet problem,” according to Jonathan Co of Sentinel Upcycling Technologies.
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Co’s business is focused on manufacturing products made of single-use packaging waste transformed into durable materials, such as school and monobloc chairs.
Through the Pateros residents’ purchase of four upcycled sorting bins, a total of 1,200 pieces, or 2.4 kilograms, of single-use plastic sachets were kept away from polluting oceans and landfills.

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Plastic Free July press conference highlights important legislation

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, State Rep. David Gomberg, State Rep. Janeen Sollman, the Surfrider Foundation, the Oregon Coast Aquarium, Environment Oregon, and Oceana united at a press conference Friday, July 23, at the Oregon Zoo to draw attention to the plastic pollution crisis and the recent legislative measures offering solutions.In response to the approximately 22 billion plastic bottles that Americans throw away each year, Merkley announced that a National Bottle Bill would soon be introduced in Congress. As part of an effort to focus collective action around the crisis, Merkley has also introduced a federal resolution to make July “Plastic Pollution Action Month.” This furthers the momentum of an existing international movement called “Plastic Free July,” which challenges individuals to reduce their plastic use.“Many of us were taught the three R’s—reduce, reuse, and recycle—and figured that as long as we got our plastic items into those blue bins, we could keep our plastic use in check and protect our planet,” said Merkley, who serves as the chair of the Environment and Public Works subcommittee overseeing environmental justice and chemical safety, which has jurisdiction over the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act. “But the reality has become much more like the three B’s—plastic is buried, burned, or borne out to sea. The impacts on Americans’ health, particularly in communities of color and low-income communities, are serious. Plastic pollution is a full-blown environmental and health crisis, and it’s long past time that we do everything we can to get it under control.”

Merkley discussed the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act (S. 984/H. R.2238), which he led on introducing in the U.S. Senate, with Rep. Alan Lowenthal (CA) introducing in the House. The bill is a comprehensive piece of federal legislation that would fundamentally shift the plastic pollution problem by offering source reduction measures and extended producer responsibility, addressing chemical recycling, and calling for reusable and compostable alternatives.The press conference featured a bottle installation by Re:Solve NW and a California Condor made out of plastic marine debris by Washed Ashore, beautifully illustrating the need for solutions to the plastic crisis.While many of the plastic pollution bills failed in Oregon’s 2021 Legislative Session, state leaders are still committed to taking action.“Public beaches and returnable bottles are a critical part of Oregon’s remarkable legacy,” said Rep. Gomberg. As a coastal legislator, I know we still have a long way to go to address the scourge of plastic and foam debris. But sadly, too many other parts of the country are further behind. Americans throw away over 20 billion plastic bottles a year. An estimated 33 billion pounds of plastic enter the marine environment each year, devastating the world’s oceans. Much of this plastic waste comes from single-use plastics—packaging, food containers, or disposable foodware and other items that are typically used and thrown away, putting an immense burden on local governments to handle the waste. We can do better! I’m proud to stand here today with Sen. Merkley and to support his efforts to promote responsible recycling.”

“A big reason why plastic pollution is on the rise is because producers are absolved of all responsibility for where their products end up, leaving you and me with limited choices when buying consumer goods and then footing the bill for managing the waste. That fundamentally has to change,” said Oregon State Rep. Janeen Sollman (HD 30). “Producer responsibility programs work because they change the incentives that make wastefulness so cheap.””In 2020, 88% of the items removed during Surfrider beach cleanups were made of plastic,” said Bri Goodwin, Oregon field manager with Surfrider Foundation. “Surfrider volunteers dream about the day they no longer need to host beach cleanups to protect the environment. Stopping plastic pollution at its source is the only way this dream will ever become reality. We commend Sen. Merkley for leading the way at the federal level to end the plastic pollution crisis.”“Plastic pollution has created a global health crisis for wildlife, ecosystems and humans,” said Amy Cutting, Oregon Zoo interim director of animal care and conservation. “Plastic entanglement and ingestion pose a grave threat to many species, including the critically endangered California condor. Reducing the sources of plastic pollution will help protect all life and the ecosystems we depend on, and we applaud Sen. Merkley’s leadership in this effort.”“Mitigating plastic pollution at its source is vital for the protection of our marine ecosystems,” said Grace Doleshel, youth programs coordinator for the Oregon Coast Aquarium. “Together, we can facilitate change and foster environmental stewardship. Together, we can assure that Oregon’s beauty and wildlife are here to cherish for generations to come.””Nothing we use for a few minutes should be allowed to pollute our oceans and rivers and threaten wildlife for centuries,” said Celeste Meiffren-Swango, state director with Environment Oregon. “Momentum is growing across the country to reduce plastic pollution and it’s heartening to see Oregon’s own Sen. Merkley leading the effort in Congress.””Single-use plastics are harming sea turtles, whales, dolphins, and other marine animals at an alarming rate,” said Sara Holzknecht, field representative at Oceana. “With the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, Sen. Merkley is leading the national charge to protect our oceans and communities from the growing plastic pollution crisis.”

Record levels of harmful particles found in Great Lakes fish

A record-setting fish was pulled from Hamilton Harbor at the western tip of Lake Ontario in 2015 and the world is learning about it just now. The fish, a brown bullhead, contained 915 particles—a mix of microplastics, synthetic materials containing flame retardants or plasticizers, dyed cellulose fibers, and more—in its body. It was the most particles ever recorded in a fish.”In 2015 we knew a lot less about microplastics and contamination in fish. I was expecting to see no particles in most fish,” Keenan Munno, then a graduate student at the University of Toronto, told EHN. Every sampled fish had ingested some particles. Munno’s 2015 master’s work has spun out into six years’ worth of research, including the new Conservation Biology paper that reports these findings. Related: Plastic pollution, explainedThe findings point to the ubiquity of microplastics and other harmful human-made particles in the Great Lakes and the extreme exposure some fish experience—especially those living in urban-adjacent waters. While direct links between microplastics and fish and human health are still an issue of emerging science, finding plastics within fish at such high amounts is concerning.

Great Lakes plastics problem

A nylon fiber removed from a brown bullhead in Lake Ontario. The red line represents one millimeter. (Credit: Keenan Munno)

A fragment of blue high density polyethylene removed from a brown bullhead in LakeOntario. The red line represents one millimeter. (Credit: Keenan Munno)

Researchers collected fish from three locations in both Lake Superior, Lake Ontario and the Humber River (a tributary of Lake Ontario). In all they gathered 212 fish and 12,442 particles.In Lake Ontario, besides the record-setting bullhead, white suckers from Humber Bay and Toronto Harbor had 519 and 510 particles, respectively. A longnose sucker from Mountain Bay in Lake Superior had 790 particles. In the Humber River even common shiners, minnows which rarely get to eight inches long, had up to 68 particles. “It was obviously concerning,” said Munno, now a research assistant at University of Toronto. She extracted and counted all the microplastics and other particles from the fish’s digestive tracts by hand. That includes all 915 record-setting particles.”You feel bad for the fish that’s eaten that much plastic,” Munno said. Of the human-made particles found in the group of fish, 59% were plastics in Lake Ontario, 54% in Humber River, and 35% in Lake Superior.This new study is part of a growing and concerning body of research on plastics in the Great Lakes. In a 2013 study, researchers sampled Great Lakes surface water and found an average of 43,000 microplastic particles per square kilometer. Near major cities they measured concentrations of 466,000 microplastics per square kilometer.Recent research estimated that Great Lakes algae could be tangling with one trillion microplastics.”Globally, 19-21 million tonnes of plastic waste were estimated to enter aquatic ecosystems in 2016,” the study’s authors wrote. That number is expected to double by 2030.

Microplastics’ impacts on humans

Beach plastic litter in Norway. (Credit: Bo Eide/flickr)
“I’ve been studying microplastics for a long time and this is the study that blew me away,” Chelsea Rochman, a coauthor on the study and University of Toronto professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, told EHN.Rochman began her microplastics research in the trash gyres in the ocean. There she’d find microplastics in one out of 11 fish and usually only a couple of pieces in a single fish. While the findings were concerning, some people said the threat to animals was well into the future. “We’re finding that there are concentrations of microplastic in certain areas in the environment where the concentrations are so high that the animals might be at risk today,” Rochman said.Still unpublished research from Rochman’s lab by a colleague of Munno’s will show that microplastics can travel from the digestive tract to the fillets of the fish. Microplastics in fish fillets could be one way they get to humans.While research hasn’t drawn robust links between microplastics and specific health problems in humans, they’ve been connected to neurotoxicity, metabolism and immunity disruption, and cancer in other laboratory tests, Atanu Sarkar, a professor of environmental and occupational health at Memorial University of Newfoundland, told EHN. Microplastics accumulate in the organs of mice exposed to them.Even if they’re not eaten by people, fish used as fertilizer or pet food can spread microplastics throughout the environment far from aquatic ecosystems, he said.Rochman has worked to mitigate plastic pollution in Lake Ontario with the U of T Trash Team. The Trash Team and its partners have installed filters on washing machines to capture plastic microfibers and sea bins, which capture microplastics in the lake.”In one sea bin sample—a 24-hour sample, one bin—we find hundreds of microplastics,” Rochman said. The laundry filters likely capture one million in a month.While microplastics continue to flood the Great Lakes, each one caught and removed is a small step in the right direction.Banner photo: Anglers on Lake Ontario. (Credit: Ian Muttoo/flickr)
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