Coca-Cola sued for false advertising over sustainability claims

In a complaint filed against the company on Friday, Earth Island Institute, which publishes the Journal, alleges that Coca-Cola’s sustainability-focused statements amounts to greenwashing, or in legal terms, false and deceptive advertising. It points out that despite heavy marketing of its so-called green image, the company is the number one plastic waste generator in the world. Coca-Cola has also been named the number one corporate polluter for three years in a row by the nonprofit Break Free from Plastic’s Global Cleanup and Brand Audit report, which assesses plastic waste collected across dozens of countries.

The lawsuit, which was filed in District of Columbia Superior Court under DC’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act, does not seek damages, but rather aims to put a stop to the beverage giant’s deceptive practices. “With this lawsuit we are simply asking that Coca-Cola be honest with consumers about its plastic use so that consumers can make informed purchasing decisions,” says Sumona Majumdar, general counsel for Earth Island Institute.

In addition to its general sustainability-minded statements, Coca-Cola advertises its recycling initiatives online and is one of hundreds of companies that have signed the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, pledging to help with the plastic pollution crisis and aiming for 100 percent reusable, recyclable, or compostable plastic by 2025. But this pledge, too, falls flat. According to Break Free from Plastic, the company has made little headway towards addressing plastic waste since signing the pledge in 2018. And in fact, the lawsuit alleges, Coca-Cola has actively opposed legislation that would bolster recycling in the US.

As the complaint puts it: “Contrary to Coca-Cola’s representations, the company remains a major plastic polluter, has made no significant effort to transition to a ‘circular economy’ or otherwise operate as a ‘sustainable’ enterprise, and has a long history of consistently breaking its public promises on sustainability goals.”

Ideally, advocates say, Coca-Cola and other beverage companies would green their operations by increasing use of reusable and refillable packaging. They would rely less heavily on producing recyclable packaging and promoting consumer recycling, tactics which have so far proven fairly ineffective at addressing the plastic pollution crisis and which justify continued plastic production.

“We want the Coca-Cola company to stop the greenwashing and false claims, be transparent about the plastic they use, and be a leader in investing in deposit and refill programs for the health of humans, animals, waterways, the ocean, and our environment,” Julia Cohen, co-founder and managing director at Plastic Pollution Coalition, an Earth Island project, says in a statement.

Greenwashing is nothing new. And it isn’t limited to Big Plastic. As consumer attention increasingly pivots to environmental issues, companies are trying more than ever to portray responsible environmental ethics. This tactic is particularly visible in the fossil fuel industry, which has begun increasingly using climate-friendly buzzwords like “net zero” and “carbon neutral” to describe itself while doing little to actually address its enormous climate impact.

Like Big Plastic, Big Oil has been called out for these claims. In 2019, the nonprofit environmental law group ClientEarth sued BP, alleging that the company’s advertising touted low-carbon technologies while nearly all of its spending went towards oil and gas. BP withdrew its ads.

More recently, several environmental nonprofits, including Earthworks, Global Witness, and Greenpeace USA, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over similar practices by another oil and gas company, Chevron. The complaint, filed in March, alleges that Chevron engaged in deceptive advertising by overstating its commitment to reducing fossil fuel pollution and its investments in renewable energy. In April, the city of New York sued Exxon, Shell, BP, and the American Petroleum Institute, similarly alleging greenwashing. Also in April, ClientEarth released a large investigation comparing the advertisements released by ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and several other oil and gas companies, with their overall climate impact and their progress towards reducing that impact. The group found, unsurprisingly, that the two did not align.

“We’re currently witnessing a great deception, where the companies most responsible for catastrophically heating the planet are spending millions on advertising campaigns about how their business plans are focused on sustainability,” Johnny White, one of ClientEarth’s lawyers, told The Guardian.

Perhaps lawsuits like those against BP and now Coca-Cola will help end these great deceptions. At the very least, they will hopefully inform consumers about the true nature of the products they are purchasing.

Global treaty to regulate plastic pollution gains momentum

The simple plastic bag has come to symbolize the world’s growing problem with plastic waste. Yet globally, there are seven definitions of what is considered a plastic bag—and that complicates efforts to reduce their proliferation. Banning bags, along with other plastic packaging, is the most commonly used remedy to rein in plastic waste. So far, 115 nations have taken that approach, but in different ways. In France, bags less than 50 microns thick are banned. In Tunisia, bags are banned if they are less than 40 microns thick.Those kinds of differences create loopholes that enable illegal bags to find their way to street vendors and market stalls. Kenya, which passed the world’s toughest bag ban in 2017, has had to contend with illegal bags smuggled in from Uganda and Somalia. So has Rwanda. Likewise, millions of mosquito nets that Rwanda imported from the United States arrived in plastic packaging for which the chemical content was not disclosed—even after a Rwandan recycler inquired. That rendered them unrecyclable.For global companies like Nestlé, which sells food products in 187 countries, that means complying with 187 different sets of national regulations on plastic packaging.These are but three examples of hundreds of contradictory policies, inconsistencies, and lack of transparency that are embedded in the global plastics trade in ways that make it hard to gain control of the growing accumulation of plastic waste. Not only do definitions differ from country to country, there also are no global rules for such practices as determining which plastic materials can be mixed together in one product; that creates a potential nightmare for recycling. Internationally accepted methods for how to measure plastic waste spilling into the environment don’t exist. Without uniform standards or specific data, the job of fixing it all becomes essentially impossible. Now, help may be on the way. Support is growing for a global treaty to address plastic waste. At least 100 nations have already expressed support for a plastic treaty, and those involved in preliminary talks are optimistic that one could be approved on a pace that could make a difference, much as the 1987 landmark Montreal protocol prevented depletion of the stratospheric ozone.“Fundamentally, governments will not be able to do what they are supposed to do if they can’t count on an international partnership and international framework. It is not going to work,” says Hugo-Maria Schally, head of the multilateral environmental cooperation unit at the European Commission. “It is a concrete problem that asks for a concrete solution and a global agreement will provide that.”Schally’s message to industry is direct: “You can work with public policy (to make) plastic sustainable and that means you can be part of the solution, or you can become defensive and then you’re part of the problem.”A surge in wasteThe primary argument against trying to push a treaty through the United Nations and its 193 member states is that negotiations can drag on for a decade or more, and on the issue of plastics, there is little time to spare. New plastics waste is created yearly at a rate of 303 million tons (275 million metric tons). To date, 75 percent of all plastic ever produced has become waste, and production is expected to triple by 2050. New research this year suggests that the accumulation of plastic waste in the oceans is also expected to triple by 2040 to an average of 32 million tons (29 million metric tons) a year. With numbers like those, it’s no surprise that none of the nations that are the most significant contributors of plastic waste to the environment have been able to gain control of their mismanaged waste. And though global treaties take time, no environmental issue of this magnitude has been significantly addressed without one. Plastic pollution has been on the agenda at the United Nations since 2012. In 2019, when the UN Environmental Assembly last gathered face-to-face in Nairobi, talks about plastic waste were stymied primarily by the United States, which opposed a binding treaty. The only agreement that emerged was an agreement to keep talking.Over the last decade, the ground has shifted dramatically. “In 2015, no country had expressed an interest in pursuing a global treaty,” says Erik Lindebjerg, who is spearheading the World Wildlife Fund’s plastic waste campaign from Oslo. He helped oversee publication of The Business Case for a UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution, a report prepared in partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which details how a treaty could solve an assortment of business problems. “In one sense, we’ve reached a saturation point, so you suddenly see impacts everywhere.”Industry also has reversed its opposition.  “We have evolved our position as the situation has evolved,” says Stewart Harris, an American Chemistry Council executive speaking on behalf of the International Council of Chemical Associations, a global chemistry association of which the ACC is a member. “We were concerned with the binding element of a global [treaty]. We felt we weren’t ready for that yet,” he says. “And now that’s changed. Now we do believe a global instrument is needed to help us achieve the elimination of waste in the environment and help companies achieve voluntary commitments.”What’s on the negotiating table Preliminary talks are already underway, all aimed at the next in-person meeting in Nairobi, where hopes are high that agreement can be reached to move ahead with treaty discussions.Scandanavian nations traditionally have run talks about plastic waste, with Norway, as current president of the UN Environmental Assembly, taking the lead. But other groups of nations have been meeting and pushed the conversation forward. Ecuador, Germany, Ghana, and Vietnam have held several sessions, with another planned for September. Small island nations, inundated by drifting plastic waste and with much to lose in climate change, have conducted preliminary talks of their own.The overarching goal of early talks has been to set a specific date to eliminate plastic from spilling into the oceans. The rest of the agenda is centered around four topics: a  harmonized set of definitions and standards that would eliminate inconsistencies such as the definition of a plastic bag; coordination of national targets and plans; agreement on reporting standards and methodologies; and creation of a fund to build waste management facilities where they are most needed in less developed countries.Christina Dixon, an oceans specialist at the Environmental Investigation Agency, an environmental nonprofit based in London and Washington, says that the existing methods for managing the plastic marketplace are not sustainable. “We need to find a way to look at plastic with a global lens. We have a material that is polluting throughout its lifecycle and across borders. No one country is able to address the challenge by itself.”The power of the public—and of dialoguePublic opinion is also prompting change. Plastic pollution ranks as one of the three most-pressing environmental concerns, along with climate change and water pollution, according to a 2019 survey included in the Business Case for a UN Treaty report. Young activists who took to the streets in 2019 to protest lack of action on climate have been paying attention to plastic waste. Multiple industry studies show that Gen Z and Millennials are pushing makers of consumer products towards sustainability practices.Then, there’s a simple matter that the opposing sides are now talking to each other. In 2019, Dave Ford, a former advertising executive whose company had been hosting corporate leaders on expensive trips to Antarctica, Africa and the like, decided to host a four-day cruise and talkathon from Bermuda to the Sargasso Sea for 165 people working on plastic waste. The passenger roster ranged from executives at Dow Chemical to Greenpeace. In a move designed to get maximum publicity, a Greenpeace activist roomed with a Nestlé executive in what became known on board as the Sleeping With The Enemy moment. The ploy worked. Many members from the cruise are still talking to each other and tensions that had been building eased. Ford has since founded the Ocean Plastics Leadership Network and recruited additional activists and industry executives to join the conversation.“What we’re trying to do is get all the parties historically fighting each other to understand where everybody sits,” Ford says. “In a lot of cases, they might be closer than they think.”

Global treaty to regulate plastic pollution gains momentum

The simple plastic bag has come to symbolize the world’s growing problem with plastic waste. Yet globally, there are seven definitions of what is considered a plastic bag—and that complicates efforts to reduce their proliferation. Banning bags, along with other plastic packaging, is the most commonly used remedy to rein in plastic waste. So far, 115 nations have taken that approach, but in different ways. In France, bags less than 50 microns thick are banned. In Tunisia, bags are banned if they are less than 40 microns thick.Those kinds of differences create loopholes that enable illegal bags to find their way to street vendors and market stalls. Kenya, which passed the world’s toughest bag ban in 2017, has had to contend with illegal bags smuggled in from Uganda and Somalia. So has Rwanda. Likewise, millions of mosquito nets that Rwanda imported from the United States arrived in plastic packaging for which the chemical content was not disclosed—even after a Rwandan recycler inquired. That rendered them unrecyclable.For global companies like Nestlé, which sells food products in 187 countries, that means complying with 187 different sets of national regulations on plastic packaging.These are but three examples of hundreds of contradictory policies, inconsistencies, and lack of transparency that are embedded in the global plastics trade in ways that make it hard to gain control of the growing accumulation of plastic waste. Not only do definitions differ from country to country, there also are no global rules for such practices as determining which plastic materials can be mixed together in one product; that creates a potential nightmare for recycling. Internationally accepted methods for how to measure plastic waste spilling into the environment don’t exist. Without uniform standards or specific data, the job of fixing it all becomes essentially impossible. Now, help may be on the way. Support is growing for a global treaty to address plastic waste. At least 100 nations have already expressed support for a plastic treaty, and those involved in preliminary talks are optimistic that one could be approved on a pace that could make a difference, much as the 1987 landmark Montreal protocol prevented depletion of the stratospheric ozone.“Fundamentally, governments will not be able to do what they are supposed to do if they can’t count on an international partnership and international framework. It is not going to work,” says Hugo-Maria Schally, head of the multilateral environmental cooperation unit at the European Commission. “It is a concrete problem that asks for a concrete solution and a global agreement will provide that.”Schally’s message to industry is direct: “You can work with public policy (to make) plastic sustainable and that means you can be part of the solution, or you can become defensive and then you’re part of the problem.”A surge in wasteThe primary argument against trying to push a treaty through the United Nations and its 193 member states is that negotiations can drag on for a decade or more, and on the issue of plastics, there is little time to spare. New plastics waste is created yearly at a rate of 303 million tons (275 million metric tons). To date, 75 percent of all plastic ever produced has become waste, and production is expected to triple by 2050. New research this year suggests that the accumulation of plastic waste in the oceans is also expected to triple by 2040 to an average of 32 million tons (29 million metric tons) a year. With numbers like those, it’s no surprise that none of the nations that are the most significant contributors of plastic waste to the environment have been able to gain control of their mismanaged waste. And though global treaties take time, no environmental issue of this magnitude has been significantly addressed without one. Plastic pollution has been on the agenda at the United Nations since 2012. In 2019, when the UN Environmental Assembly last gathered face-to-face in Nairobi, talks about plastic waste were stymied primarily by the United States, which opposed a binding treaty. The only agreement that emerged was an agreement to keep talking.Over the last decade, the ground has shifted dramatically. “In 2015, no country had expressed an interest in pursuing a global treaty,” says Erik Lindebjerg, who is spearheading the World Wildlife Fund’s plastic waste campaign from Oslo. He helped oversee publication of The Business Case for a UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution, a report prepared in partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which details how a treaty could solve an assortment of business problems. “In one sense, we’ve reached a saturation point, so you suddenly see impacts everywhere.”Industry also has reversed its opposition.  “We have evolved our position as the situation has evolved,” says Stewart Harris, an American Chemistry Council executive speaking on behalf of the International Council of Chemical Associations, a global chemistry association of which the ACC is a member. “We were concerned with the binding element of a global [treaty]. We felt we weren’t ready for that yet,” he says. “And now that’s changed. Now we do believe a global instrument is needed to help us achieve the elimination of waste in the environment and help companies achieve voluntary commitments.”What’s on the negotiating table Preliminary talks are already underway, all aimed at the next in-person meeting in Nairobi, where hopes are high that agreement can be reached to move ahead with treaty discussions.Scandanavian nations traditionally have run talks about plastic waste, with Norway, as current president of the UN Environmental Assembly, taking the lead. But other groups of nations have been meeting and pushed the conversation forward. Ecuador, Germany, Ghana, and Vietnam have held several sessions, with another planned for September. Small island nations, inundated by drifting plastic waste and with much to lose in climate change, have conducted preliminary talks of their own.The overarching goal of early talks has been to set a specific date to eliminate plastic from spilling into the oceans. The rest of the agenda is centered around four topics: a  harmonized set of definitions and standards that would eliminate inconsistencies such as the definition of a plastic bag; coordination of national targets and plans; agreement on reporting standards and methodologies; and creation of a fund to build waste management facilities where they are most needed in less developed countries.Christina Dixon, an oceans specialist at the Environmental Investigation Agency, an environmental nonprofit based in London and Washington, says that the existing methods for managing the plastic marketplace are not sustainable. “We need to find a way to look at plastic with a global lens. We have a material that is polluting throughout its lifecycle and across borders. No one country is able to address the challenge by itself.”The power of the public—and of dialoguePublic opinion is also prompting change. Plastic pollution ranks as one of the three most-pressing environmental concerns, along with climate change and water pollution, according to a 2019 survey included in the Business Case for a UN Treaty report. Young activists who took to the streets in 2019 to protest lack of action on climate have been paying attention to plastic waste. Multiple industry studies show that Gen Z and Millennials are pushing makers of consumer products towards sustainability practices.Then, there’s a simple matter that the opposing sides are now talking to each other. In 2019, Dave Ford, a former advertising executive whose company had been hosting corporate leaders on expensive trips to Antarctica, Africa and the like, decided to host a four-day cruise and talkathon from Bermuda to the Sargasso Sea for 165 people working on plastic waste. The passenger roster ranged from executives at Dow Chemical to Greenpeace. In a move designed to get maximum publicity, a Greenpeace activist roomed with a Nestlé executive in what became known on board as the Sleeping With The Enemy moment. The ploy worked. Many members from the cruise are still talking to each other and tensions that had been building eased. Ford has since founded the Ocean Plastics Leadership Network and recruited additional activists and industry executives to join the conversation.“What we’re trying to do is get all the parties historically fighting each other to understand where everybody sits,” Ford says. “In a lot of cases, they might be closer than they think.”

Pivet's plastic phone case could biodegrade within 2 years

Most plastics take hundreds of years to decompose. This one, from case maker Pivet, harnesses the power of hungry microbes.Michael Pratt doesn’t want to change the way you take out the trash. Instead, he wants to change what happens to trash when it ends up in a landfill or the middle of the ocean.  Pratt is the founder of Pivet, a new company that makes smartphone cases. You might think it’s a crowded field, however, not only is Pivet a Black-owned business in an industry that has shown little progress with diversity, but its plastic cases are also unusual. Unlike most plastics that take hundreds of years to decompose, Pivet’s cases can biodegrade in around two years, according to the company. The plastic in Pivet’s cases is embedded with a proprietary material called Toto-Toa. This material is comprised of natural and non-toxic ingredients, but Pivet wouldn’t specify those ingredients as it’s currently seeking intellectual property protection. This mixture purportedly speeds up the natural biodegradation process by attracting micro-organisms when the case enters microbe-rich environments, like landfills or oceans. (No, it won’t start to biodegrade when you’re still using the case.) These microbes colonize on the surface of the case and then break the plastic down into its raw components.“We don’t think that plastic is bad in general,” says Pratt. “We think what happens to plastic in its end of life is where the problem is. When we’re done with it, we have no idea how to properly dispose of it without harming the planet.”New MaterialsIn the US, more than 90 percent of plastic is never recycled. So instead of simply making a recyclable phone case or one made with recycled materials, Pratt and his team developed the Toto-Toa material to avoid placing the burden of recycling on the consumer. Buyers can throw out the case as normal when it’s no longer needed without worrying about harming the environment to the same degree. 

Your clothes spew microfibers before they’re even clothes

The clothing supply chain releases some 265 million pounds of microfibers that wash into the environment each year.You probably know by now that when you wash a load of synthetic clothes, like yoga pants or moisture-wicking sweatshirts, tiny bits of them tear loose and flush out to a wastewater treatment facility, which then pumps them out to sea. A single load of laundry releases perhaps millions of these microfibers (technically a subspecies of microplastics, defined as bits smaller than 5 millimeters). So it’s no wonder that scientists are finding the particles everywhere they look, from the deepest seas to what’s no longer a pristine Arctic.And now it turns out that your clothes are polluting the planet with microplastic before they’re even clothes. A new report from the Nature Conservancy picks apart the textile supply chain—from the manufacturer who makes synthetic yarn from little pellets of plastic, to the factory that stitches together the clothes—to estimate that this pre-consumer process releases 265 million pounds of microfibers each year. That’s the equivalent of one full T-shirt escaping into the environment for every 500 that come off the production line.These microfiber emissions could grow by over 50 percent in the next decade, as the business of synthetic textiles continues to boom. “Almost all of us, every single day, wake up, reach into a drawer or into our closet, and put on something that at least in part is made from synthetic textiles,” says Tom Dempsey, director of the Oceans Program at the Nature Conservancy of California and a coauthor of the new report. “We have a real problem, not just in capturing these microfibers pre-consumer, as well as in our homes and wastewater facilities, but also in how to dispose of the microfibers we do capture.”Treatment facilities actually catch between 83 and 99.9 percent of microfibers flowing out of our washing machines and the factories that make synthetic clothing. But humanity is producing such astounding quantities of the stuff that even catching 99.9 percent isn’t good enough. Oodles of them are able to escape filtering and end up in the environment. In the case of clothing factories, “wet processes” like the dyeing of fabrics and the prewashing of finished clothes in enormous machines create microfiber-rich wastewater, which is then sent to a treatment facility. Some of the microfibers get stuck in the solid human waste that these facilities turn into “sludge,” which is then slathered on agricultural fields as fertilizer. One 2016 paper calculated that by doing so, North Americans could be loading their fields with up to 330,000 tons of microplastics each year. “I think of that as just a big catch-and-release program for microfibers,” Dempsey says.And sludgy microplastics aren’t staying on those fields. When soils dry out, winds scour the dirt and blow microfibers around the world. So much microplastic is swirling around the atmosphere that each year the equivalent of 120 million plastic bottles is falling just on 11 national parks and other protected areas in the western US. (Plastic rain is the new acid rain.) Additionally, the treated water from our washing machines and textile mills, complete with microfibers that eluded filtering, gets pumped out to sea, where currents transport the particles around the globe.Recently, scientists have been doing controlled experiments to show how variables like detergent and temperature influence how many microfibers a household washing machine shakes loose. But the textile pre-consumer process hasn’t been studied until now. “The production phase is still this real black box,” says microplastics scientist Lisa Erdle, manager of research and innovation at the 5 Gyres Institute, which advocates for action on ocean plastic pollution. “We know that there are higher microfiber emissions for new garments compared to old. So it definitely is not a surprise that the pre-consumer textile manufacturing phase could be a major source of emissions.”But why worry about invisible little bits of plastic escaping into the environment? Because microfibers (and microplastics in general) have thoroughly infiltrated Earth’s ecosystems. Just as a sea turtle might choke on a big piece of plastic like a shopping bag, so too might small animals, like the planktonic creatures that make up the base of the oceanic food web, have their digestive systems clogged with tiny plastics. And when microfibers soak in water, they leach their component chemicals. While it’s still too early to know the extent of the impact these chemicals have on marine species, scientists worry that they could be harmful for any number of them.In fairness to synthetic microfibers, natural fibers aren’t faultless here either. “There’s a whole range of chemicals that are applied even to natural materials to give them different properties,” says Erdle. Clothing made from them is treated with dyes, of course, but also other substances to impart durability or waterproofing.Scientists like Erdle are scrambling to better understand the effects of microplastics, especially when it comes to potential threats to human health. Researchers consistently find the particles in shellfish and other seafood that people consume. They’re in our water and in the air you’re breathing right now. One study earlier this year calculated that adults and children consume an average of 883 and 553 particles a day, respectively.But the good news is that when it comes to pre-consumer microfiber pollution, there are actually business incentives for the clothing industry to clean up its act. Many factories actually treat their own wastewater in order to recycle it. If they can also sequester those microfibers and dispose of them properly (i.e., not spread them on fields), they can be socially and fiscally responsible. “What companies are finding is that by doing this, they actually save on water costs and utility bills that are associated with sewage,” says Sam Israelit, chief sustainability officer at the management consultancy Bain & Company and a coauthor of the new report. “And that reduction pays for the investments.”“If we were able to scale these solutions across the sector,” adds Dempsey, “we think we could reduce the upstream microfiber loss by something approaching—or maybe even greater than—90 percent relative to the current loss rates.”And not to shift the blame and responsibility to you, the consumer, but there are a few little things you can do too. You can wash your clothes in special bags or use a washing machine ball that grabs the fibers. There’s even a special filter called a Lint LUV-R that you can attach to your washing machine, which one study showed captures 87 percent of fibers.But at the end of the day, we just need clothes that don’t shed so many damn fibers. Indeed, some clothing manufacturers are exploring potential innovations that would reduce shedding, such as using different kinds of materials or spinning synthetic yarn in different ways. “It’s a fine balance to reduce fiber loss without compromising on the performance that’s required out of that material,” says Sophie Mather, executive director of the Microfibre Consortium, a nonprofit founded by the outdoor gear industry to explore solutions to fiber fragmentation. (The consortium wasn’t involved in this new report, but it is collaborating with the Nature Conservancy on a road map for research into fiber release from textiles.)A waterproof jacket needs to stay waterproof, for example, and stretchy yoga pants need to expand without tearing. “It’s not just about slapping a chemical finish on and saying, ‘We put this treatment on it. It’s going to stick the fibers in, and they’re not going to come out,’” says Mather. “I think that’s a very short-sighted view. It’s more about really understanding the intricacies of how that fabric has been put together in the first place.”It’s not likely that all of Earth’s people will suddenly go back to wearing only all-natural fibers like wool and cotton—synthetic materials are too useful. But the microfiber pollution problem is also too big to not tackle immediately. “I think the great upside here is that, unlike so many other conservation challenges, solutions really do exist right now,” says Dempsey. “The power of some of these brands, and the potential for some of these brands to make change within their own supply chain, is massive.”More Great WIRED Stories📩 The latest on tech, science, and more: Get our newsletters!One man’s amazing journey to the center of a bowling ballThe long, strange life of the world’s oldest naked mole ratI’m not a robot! So why won’t captchas believe me?Meet your next angel investor. They’re 19Easy ways to sell, donate, or recycle your stuff👁️ Explore AI like never before with our new database🎮 WIRED Games: Get the latest tips, reviews, and more🏃🏽‍♀️ Want the best tools to get healthy? Check out our Gear team’s picks for the best fitness trackers, running gear (including shoes and socks), and best headphones

A 'Bubble Barrier' is trapping plastic waste before it can get into the sea

“The Bubble Barrier” was developed as a simple way to stop plastic pollution flowing from waterways into the ocean. An air compressor sends air through a perforated tube running diagonally across the bottom of the canal, creating a stream of bubbles that traps waste and guides it to a catchment system. It traps 86% of the trash that would otherwise flow to the River IJ and further on to the North Sea, according to Philip Ehrhorn, co-founder and chief technology officer of The Great Bubble Barrier, the Dutch social enterprise behind the system.Commissioned by the municipality of Amsterdam and the region’s water authority, the Bubble Barrier was installed in October 2019 in under five hours. Ehrhorn says the idea is to catch plastic without having a physical barrier like a net or boom blocking the river, which could disrupt aquatic life or interfere with shipping.
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Trash is lifted to surface, and guided to a catchment system.
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To minimize noise, the compressor is located 50 meters away from the barrier, in a repurposed shipping container, and is powered by Amsterdam’s renewable energy.Ehrhorn says that while the bubble curtain can trap plastics down to 1 millimeter in size, the catchment system only retains objects that are 10 millimeters and larger. Small drifting aquatic life can get caught in the bubble curtain’s current, but with time is able to pass through the catchment system, according to Ehrhorn. He adds that an independent third party is currently assessing the movement of fish around the Bubble Barrier.’Like a jacuzzi’With a background in naval architecture and ocean engineering, Ehrhorn, who is from Germany, first conceived the Bubble Barrier when he spent a semester abroad in Australia, studying environmental engineering. At a wastewater treatment plant, he saw how oxygen bubbles were used to break down organic matter. “It was like a jacuzzi,” says Ehrhorn. “And what I noticed is that some of the plastic that people had flushed down the toilet was collecting in one corner.” This observation sparked his thesis and later the technology behind the Bubble Barrier. Unbeknownst to Ehrhorn, three Dutch women were working on the exact same idea in Amsterdam. Anne Marieke Eveleens, Saskia Studer and Francis Zoet were at a bar one evening discussing plastic pollution when they looked at the bubbles in their beer glasses and inspiration struck.By chance, a friend of Ehrhorn’s saw their pitch video for a competition inviting solutions for removing plastic from the environment. “We connected and found that we have the same vision and mission,” remembers Ehrhorn. “So I handed in my thesis and moved to the Netherlands the next day.” Together, the four turned a simple idea into a fully fledged Bubble Barrier pilot in the River IJssel. The plastic problemUp to 80% of ocean plastic is thought to come from rivers and coastlines. Ehrhorn says much of the plastic in Amsterdam’s Westerdok canal comes from trash bags that local residents leave outside their homes. If the bags tear, wind and rain can carry trash into the canal.Read: Could mealworms help solve our plastic crisis?Globally, 11 million metric tons of plastic waste flows into the oceans every year, where it can suffocate and entangle some aquatic species. Plastic debris less than five millimeters in length, known as microplastics, can also affect marine life. Often mistaken for food, microplastics are ingested and have been found in zooplankton, fish, invertebrates and mammalian digestive systems.Seabird conservation ecologist Stephanie B. Borrelle is the Marine and Pacific Regional Coordinator for BirdLife International. Her research on plastic pollution has found that even with “ambitious commitments currently set by governments,” we could release 53 million metric tons of plastic waste into the world’s freshwater and marine ecosystems by 2030. As a member of the Plastic Pollution Emissions Working Group, a team of self-described “scientists, policy wonks and conservation practitioners,” Borrelle has also researched the Bubble Barrier.”It was a really interesting one for us to look at, mostly because other types of barriers placed into aquatic environments can be a bit problematic in the way they interact with ecological functioning and animals moving through that system,” she says. Borrelle has some reservations about the technology; she questions how suitable the system would be for wide rivers and in developing economies, with a pump that needs continuous electricity and occasional maintenance, and she notes that heavy bits of plastic may not be lifted up by the bubbles. Read: How NASA technology can help save whale sharks — the world’s largest fish”Also, if you’ve got a large amount of traffic going through, that’s going to disrupt the plastic accumulation,” Borrelle says, adding that boats plowing through the barrier could potentially drag plastic along. “There are certain limitations, but as I see it, it’s an important part of the toolbox we have to address plastic that’s already in the environment,” she says. “The thing about plastic pollution is that there is no one single solution to fixing it. Once it’s in the environment, it’s about trying to get it from every angle you possibly can.”For the moment, the Great Bubble Barrier team works with Amsterdam’s water authority and the Plastic Soup Foundation NGO to analyze what kind of plastic has been caught and identify its sources, to help develop new policies around plastic waste.Amsterdam’s water authority empties the catchment system’s 1.8-meter by 2-meter basket three times a week. The contents are sent to a waste processor for sorting, and suitable materials are recycled. Ehrhorn says that the pandemic means they haven’t been able to quantify how much plastic the Bubble Barrier has caught to date.The startup, which is for-profit, plans to install more Bubble Barriers across the Netherlands, in Portugal and in Indonesia. It says the installation cost and energy use depends on the location and the flow of the river.Beyond keeping plastic from our oceans, the system could help change attitudes. Because the waste inside the catchment system is easily visible to passersby, Ehrhorn believes it helps people realize how much waste is ending up in our waterways; in this way, the barrier also acts as an educational tool to discourage waste and littering. “It concentrates on the trash that would otherwise flow off unseen and underwater even,” he says. “It literally brings to the surface, [that] which was otherwise never seen.” #video_1606835203041{margin:20px 0;}#video_1606835203041 video,#video_1606835203041 img{margin: 0; position: relative; width: 100%;}.cap_1606835203041{-webkit-font-smoothing:antialiased;padding:0 0 5px 5px; font-size:16px; color:#595959;}.cap_1606835203041:before{content:””;display: block;height: 1px;margin-top: 10px;margin-bottom: 10px;width: 80px;background-color: #C5C5C5;}.cap_1606835203041 >span{color:#C5C5C5;}@media(orientation:landscape){.video_1606835203041{display:block;}.Mvideo_1606835203041{display:none;}}@media(orientation:portrait){.Mvideo_1606835203041{display:block;}.video_1606835203041{display:none;}}
This story has been updated to correct the name of the River IJ and location of the IJsell.

Boris Johnson calls Cornish ocean cleaning couple 'an inspiration'

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MerMade launches recycling bins made with 100% certified ocean plastic for World Oceans Day

MerMade is rising from the sea with 65-gallon recycling bins made from fully traceable, certified ocean plastic sourced from Oceanworks. In this case, the plastic waste was collected from waters around Costa Rica. And each bin, made with 3.5 pounds of ocean plastic for World Oceans Day on June 8 (and beyond), comes with a 10-year warranty.

World Oceans Day comes via the United Nations as a time set aside “to raise global awareness of the benefits humankind derives from the ocean and our individual and collective duty to use its resources sustainably.”
The MerMade bins come from a Los Angeles-based startup that bills itself as “a creative collective that helps people reimagine traditional plastic products by using certified ocean plastic.”

A first batch of 111 blue bins, made by local partner Rehrig with distinctive teal lids, can be found in the wild throughout Southern California at local surf shops, schools and private residences, the company says. One claim to fame: It’s the first-ever bin to use ocean plastic in a trash-can mold.

“We hope to expand our placements and see our MerMade bins on curbs at private homes, businesses, and at events and festivals nationwide,” says Tessa Hayward, one of MerMade’s cofounders. At Lollapalooza 2021? Maybe.

Hayward helped create the startup in 2019 with fellow ocean lovers Matt Hartz, Matt Lanzdorf and Jesse Blatz, colleagues at LA-based advertising agency Team One. They pitched the ocean plastic recycling bin idea for an agency Launch an Idea program, won $25,000 and used it as seed money to start the company.

A close-up of the MerMade recycling bins, made with Oceanworks-sourced ocean plastic, launched for … [+] World Oceans Day.

Matt Hartz

Why a Recycling Bin?
You may have heard of ditching the plastic straw to help curb ocean plastic pollution. Hayward says the bins are about thinking bigger when it comes to how people can help curb plastic pollution. The 3.5 pounds of Oceanworks plastic that goes into each MerMade bin is equal to 3,000 straws, Hayward says. Similar products like ocean plastic traffic cones, shopping carts and more may be on the horizon.
“Our goal is a lofty one—to get millions of pounds of plastic out of the ocean—and possibly inspire other companies to reimagine their products using ocean plastic along the way,” she says.
Oceanworks sources plastic waste from eight marine collection zones around the globe, including Costa Rica.
“Oceanworks guidelines set the requirements for a supplier and its material to be listed as Oceanworks Guaranteed,” Hayward explains. “They focus on five categories: collection area compliance, environmental stewardship, social impact, business compliance, and recycling processes and segregation.”

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of waste to be claimed. Less than 10% U.S. plastic is reportedly recycled and plastic production is expected to double over the next two decades. Hayward notes that an estimated 17.6 billion pounds of plastic enters the marine environment every year, which is roughly equal to dumping a garbage truck full of plastic into the oceans every minute.
How to Get One
MerMade is accepting applications for bin batches on its website. Single bins are available for individuals and local business owners who reside in select service areas in Southern California. Bulk batches are available for order and delivery across the United States and worldwide.
For a limited time while supplies last, SoCal individuals and business owners in select service areas can apply for a complimentary MerMade bin, Hayward says. Bulk pricing varies by size and shipping requirements but individual bins will go for about $100 after the complimentary window closes (comparable in price to bins available at big-box stores).

World Oceans Day 2021: Why‌ ‌is‌ ‌there‌ ‌so‌ ‌much‌ ‌plastic‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌ocean?‌

Sign up to the Independent Climate email for the latest advice on saving the planet Get our free Climate email The planet is drowning in plastic pollution. Plastic has been found at the bottom of the world’s deepest ocean trench and lodged deep in Arctic sea ice.  During the 1990s, the world became addicted to …