EPA finalizes first national recycling strategy

On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized America’s first “national recycling strategy,” which aims to support the agency’s goal of achieving a 50 percent recycling rate by the end of the decade.“Our nation’s recycling system is in need of critical improvements to better serve the American people,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. “Together with the historic investments in recycling from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, the strategy will help transform recycling and solid waste management across the country while creating jobs and bolstering our economy.”The new strategy includes five main objectives — including improving the collection of recyclables and recycling data and reducing contamination in the recycling stream. The EPA also takes a “circular economy” approach, in which a product is sustainably managed throughout its life cycle, from production to disposal or reuse.The new plan places a priority on addressing the impacts of recycling on poor and minority communities, such as incinerators and scrapyards.While the new initiative does not provide extensive policy details, it identifies a number of studies the EPA will conduct — including an assessment of the needs in the recycling infrastructure system and an analysis of policies that could make recycling easier. It also commits the EPA to creating a new goal for reducing the climate impacts of the production, consumption and disposal of waste items; a system that is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.In a statement, the American Chemistry Council trade association welcomed the new strategy. “We look forward to working closely with EPA and Congress to accelerate the expansion and modernization of U.S. recycling,” said Joshua Baca, the organization’s vice president of plastics.“In our efforts to combat the existential threat of climate change, recycling is an important tool to move us toward a more circular economy and truly sustainable future,” Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), co-chair of the Senate Recycling Caucus, said in a statement. “I’m glad that the Biden administration is taking steps to seize this opportunity by launching the EPA’s first-ever national recycling strategy.”But achieving the goal of recycling 50 percent of municipal solid waste by 2030 will be a steep climb. According to a 2020 Government Accountability Office(GAO) report, less than a quarter of waste generated in the United States is collected for recycling. And the EPA estimates that in 2018, the plastic recycling rate was only about 9 percent.The GAO has been recommending federal recycling reforms since at least 2006, when the EPA was aiming for a 35 percent recycling rate by 2008. That target wasn’t met. But the issue took on more urgency in 2018 when the Chinese government limited recycling imports into the country, which had been a primary end point for much of the world’s recyclables and waste — including from the United States.“We’re really building on past efforts around recycling,” said Carleton Waterhouse, deputy assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management. “We are focusing it around our administration’s priorities.”However, some say the final version, released Monday, remains lacking in key areas.“There needs to be a more robust commitment to waste reduction,” said Judith Enck, a former senior EPA official during the Obama administration who now heads the Beyond Plastics advocacy organization. “The problem is that there’s just too much plastic packaging foisted on American consumers.”Center for International Environmental Law President Carroll Muffett agreed, saying that even if the United States moves toward higher recycling rates, it won’t matter if consumption isn’t curbed.“We’re racing a moving target,” he said. “Recycling is not really the solution to the plastics crisis. Until we have national policies that are actually addressing the expansion of single-use disposable plastics that are driving that crisis, I think it’s likely to continue to mask the true source of the problem.”Dating back decades, the plastics industry has indeed used the possibility of recycling to keep its products on the market. For instance, a 1989 account from the industry-supported Council for Solid Waste Solutions noted of its efforts in Iowa that “outright bans on polystyrene packaging were dropped with a promise of recycling by industry.”Muffett also noted that it matters what type of recycling the EPA includes in its national strategy. The agency mentions a much-debated technique called chemical recycling — or advanced recycling — which uses heat or chemicals to convert plastics into either fuel or plastic resin for reuse in manufacturing new products.“Today’s versatile advanced recycling technologies can convert post-use plastics into a range of useful outputs,” reads a pamphlet on the process from the American Chemistry Council, a trade association. “These technologies also offer important environmental benefits, such as diverting valuable materials from landfill, transforming waste into an abundant source of alternative energy, and helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”Critics, however, see the framing as misleading.“Chemical recycling is being held up by the industry as a cure-all,” said Neil Tangri, science and policy director for the advocacy organization Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives. But, he said, the technology often doesn’t work if the recycling stream is dirty. It can be energy-intensive and doesn’t necessarily result in high enough quality plastic resin for repurposing, he added.“You’re calling it recycling,” said Tangri, “but mostly you’re turning plastic into carbon dioxide and waste.”The October 2020 draft of the national recycling strategy did not include any mention of chemical or advanced recycling. But the final version states that “chemical recycling is part of the scope of this strategy and further discussion is welcome.”“Trump didn’t put it in, why would Biden?” Enck said. “That is an embarrassment to the Biden administration and should be removed from the plan.”Waterhouse said the agency included chemical recycling in response to comments the agency received about its draft, but did not represent an endorsement of it.“It’s really a matter of not taking it off the table,” he said. “We should be discussing it.”Overall, Waterhouse called Monday’s announcement a “valuable first step” that will involve further consultation and more detailed policies down the line to address plastics and food waste.Enck, however, said she remains skeptical that the EPA’s current blueprint can move the needle on the world’s waste problems.“I think it’s good they did the plan,” she said. “I just wish it was a better plan.”

Cities are not only tackling COVID, but its pollution, too

All around the world the remnants of a global pandemic are testing the resolve of governments and private firms to rid the planet of its waste.The River Thames, the tidal artery that squiggles through central London, holds up a mirror to life on dry land: scraggly remains of fir trees float by after Christmas; in the first days of a fresh year, bobbing champagne bottles hint at recent revelry.Lara Maiklem, author of “Mudlark: In Search of London’s Past Along the River Thames,” scours the shoreline for artifacts such as coins, tokens, buckles and potsherds, some dating to the period of Roman rule. Loosed from pockets or heaped as infill, these are the flotsam of centuries lived on London’s streets.“I find stuff because humans are litterbugs,” Ms. Maiklem said. “We’ve always been chucking things into the river.”But lately Ms. Maiklem is encountering a type of garbage she hadn’t seen there before: the remnants of Covid 19-era personal protective equipment (or P.P.E.), particularly masks and plastic gloves bloated with sand and resting in the rubbly silt.Ms. Maiklem once counted around 20 gloves while canvassing 100 yards of shoreline. She wasn’t surprised; if anything, she had feared the shore would be even more inundated with pieces that had flown from pockets or trash cans or swirled into the Victorian sewers. Happily, Ms. Maiklem said, the carpet of Covid-inspired trash at the edge of the Thames wasn’t nearly as plush as it is elsewhere.A protective face mask in the sand on Tel Aviv’s beach in April.Jack Guez/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesPlastic gloves, face masks and other waste in waters off Antibes, France.Operation Mer Propre, via Associated PressP.P.E. litter is fouling landscapes across the globe. Dirtied masks and gloves tumbleweed across city parks, streets and shores in Lima, Toronto, Hong Kong and beyond. Researchers in Nanjing, China, and La Jolla, Calif., recently calculated that 193 countries have generated more than 8 million tons of pandemic-related plastic waste, and the advocacy group OceansAsia estimated that as many as 1.5 billion face masks could wind up in the marine environment in a single year.Since January, volunteers with the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup have plucked 109,507 pieces of P.P.E. from the world’s watery margins.Now, across the litter-strewn planet, scientists, officials, companies and environmentalists are attempting to tally and repurpose P.P.E. — and limit the trash in the first place.Slipping out of pockets, falling off wrists or blowing out of trash cans, face masks are littering streets across the globe, including in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. Kevin Lamarque/ReutersTrash surveys and cleanupsTodd Clardy, a marine scientist in Los Angeles, sometimes counts the P.P.E. he sees on the 10-minute walk from his apartment in Koreatown to the Metro station. One day this month, he said, he spotted “24 discarded masks, two rubber gloves and loads of hand sanitation towelettes.” Sometimes he sees them atop grates that read, “No Dumping, Drains to Ocean.”Dr. Clardy suspects some masks simply slip from wrists. “Once it falls on the ground, people probably look at it like, ‘Huh, I’m not wearing that again.’” Breezes likely free some from trash cans, too. “The bins are always full,” Dr. Clardy added. “So even if you wanted to put it on top, it would fly away.”Dr. Clardy’s accounting isn’t part of a formal project, but there are several such undertakings underway. In the Netherlands, Liselotte Rambonnet, a biologist at Leiden University, and Auke-Florian Hiemstra, a biologist at Naturalis Biodiversity Center, keep a running count of masks and gloves littering streets and canals. They track animals’ interactions with the castoff gear.Among their documented examples are an unfortunate perch trapped in the thumb of a phlegmy-looking latex glove, and birds weaving P.P.E. into nesting materials, risking entanglement. “Nowadays it would be difficult to find a coot nest in the canals of Amsterdam without a face mask,” Ms. Rambonnet and Mr. Hiemstra wrote in an email.The researchers maintain a global website, Covidlitter.com, where anyone can report animal and P.P.E. incidents. Dispatches include sightings of a brown fur seal tangled in a face mask in Namibia; a mask-snarled puffin found dead on an Irish beach; and a sea turtle in Australia with a mask in its stomach. Back home, the researchers, who also lead canal cleanups in Leiden, worry P.P.E. trash will increase now that the Dutch government has reinstated mask requirements.“Every weekend we encounter face masks — new ones and old, discolored ones,” Ms. Rambonnet and Mr. Hiemstra wrote. “Some are barely recognizable, and blend in with autumn leaves.”A discarded plastic glove on the pavement in London in March 2020.Daniel Leal-Olivas/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesA macaque monkey playing with a face mask in Malaysia in October 2020.Mohd Rasfan/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesCleanup efforts are also underway in London, where staff members and volunteers with the environmental group Thames21 count and collect trash from the river’s banks. In September, the group closely surveyed more than a kilometer of shore and found P.P.E. at 70 percent of their study sites — and notably clustered along a portion of the Isle of Dogs, where 30 pieces pocked a 100-meter stretch.“I don’t remember seeing any face masks until the pandemic; they weren’t on our radar,” said Debbie Leach, the group’s chief executive officer, who has been involved since 2005. Ms. Leach’s team sends the P.P.E. to incinerators or landfills, but small bits are surely left behind because the trash “releases plastics into the water that can’t be retrieved,” she said.Researchers in Canada recently estimated that a single surgical-style mask on a sandy shoreline could unleash more than 16 million microplastics, far too small to collect and haul away.A sign at a school in Santiago, Chile, reminded passersby to throw away their Covid trash. Esteban Felix/Associated PressAnti-litter campaignsRoaming sandy swaths along Chile’s coast, Martin Thiel, a marine biologist at the Universidad Católica del Norte in Coquimbo, saw plenty of signs asking visitors to mask up — but few instructions about ditching used coverings. To his frustration, masks were scattered, swollen with sand and water and tangled in algae. “They act a little like Velcro,” he said. “They very quickly accumulate stuff.”But a few beaches, including one in Coquimbo, had trash cans designated specifically for P.P.E. Unlike oil-drum-style alternatives nearby, some had triangular tops with tiny, circular openings that would deter rummaging and prevent wind from tousling the garbage.In a paper published in Science of the Total Environment this year, Dr. Thiel and 11 collaborators recommended that communities install more purpose-built receptacles like these, as well as signs reminding people to consider the landscape and their neighbors, human and otherwise. “We think there is more to the story than, ‘just protect yourself,’” said Dr. Thiel, the paper’s lead author.Houston has already started. In September 2020, the city launched an anti-litter campaign partly aimed at P.P.E. Featuring images such as a filthy mask on grass, the posters read “Don’t Let Houston Go to Waste” and encouraged residents to “Do the PPE123,” choreography that entailed social distancing, wearing masks and throwing them away.Early in the pandemic, “we weren’t sure if [P.P.E.] was a safety concern and would spread Covid around the city,” said Martha Castex-Tatum, the city’s vice mayor pro tem, who spearheaded the initiative. As a clearer picture of transmission emerged, the effort “became a beautification project,” she said. The images were plastered on billboards, sports stadium jumbotrons and trash-collection trucks. Council members handed out 3,200 trash grabber tools and urged residents to use them.One use for discarded masks: Stuff them into plastic bottles, where they could be transformed into “ecobricks.” Young people in La Paz, Bolivia, participated in a campaign in October.Martin Alipaz/EPA, via ShutterstockRecycling effortsAs the pandemic bloomed across South Africa, shoppers grabbed fistfuls of wet wipes as they entered stores, draping the cloths over shopping cart handles while roaming aisles, said Annette Devenish, marketing manager at Sani-touch, a brand that supplies many national Shoprite Group supermarkets with wipes for customer use. Sani-touch found that usage soared 500 percent early on and has fallen, but still hovers above prepandemic figures.Environmentalists often rail on wet wipes, many of which snarl sewer systems when they are flushed down drains and degrade into microplastics that drift through food webs. (Thames21, for instance, is backing newly proposed legislation that would ban all wipes containing plastic.)Ms. Devenish said that manufacturers ought to focus on making them recyclable or compostable, and this fall Sani-touch launched a project to give used wipes a second life. Customers can drop off cloths before leaving the store; recycling companies will turn the polypropylene cloths into plastic pallets for use in Sani-touch’s manufacturing facilities.Fashioned from many materials, including metal and elastic, single-use masks can be harder to recycle, Ms. Devenish said, but she hopes they can be stuffed into plastic bottles to become “ecobricks,” low-cost building blocks of benches, tables, trash bins and more.P.P.E. recycling schemes are also advancing elsewhere. In the Indian city of Pune, the CSIR-National Chemical Laboratory is teaming up with a bio-medical waste facility and private companies to pilot ways to transform head-to-toe protective wear into plastic pellets used to manufacture other goods. (None are yet being made and sold, “but hopefully soon,” wrote Harshawardhan V. Pol, a principal scientist, in an email.)In fall 2020, the Canadian government asked companies to pitch ideas for recycling P.P.E. or making it compostable. The government may funnel up to $1 million eachtoward a few prototypes.Preventing P.P.E. from polluting urban environments will be a boon to the spaces where residents have sought solace. “In stressful times, people seek out these places, but they’ve been pretty bad about taking rubbish and trash away with them,” said Ms. Leach of Thames21. “Masks blow hither and thither,” she added, “and finally come to rest when they hit a patch of water,” grass or sidewalk, where they too often remain.

Here’s something you can’t ignore, says tampon plastics activist

Here’s something you can’t ignore, says tampon plastics activist Ella Daish to hand Procter & Gamble giant Tampax applicator, made from 1,200 discarded contributions A British environmental activist is stepping up her campaign against single-use plastics in period products by calling on the world’s bestselling manufacturer of tampons to make greener alternatives. Ella Daish, the …

Despite deals, plans and bans, the Mediterranean is awash in plastic

The Mediterranean is considered to be one of the world’s most polluted bodies of water due to waste disposal problems in many countries bordering the sea, as well as the intensity of marine activity in the region.There are several existing policies and treaties in place aimed at regulating plastics and reducing plastic pollution in the Mediterranean, but experts say more international cooperation is needed to tackle the problem.Citizen science organization OceanEye has been collecting water samples to measure the amount of microplastics present in the surface waters of the Mediterranean. MARSEILLE, France — Pascal Hagmann lowered a manta trawl — a ray-shaped, metal device with a wide mouth and a fine-meshed net — off the side of his sailboat and into the blue waters off the coast of Marseille, France. Then he motored around at 3 knots. The manta trawl skimmed along the surface, taking in gulps of seawater and catching whatever was floating inside it.
“Maybe there will be [plastic], maybe not, you never know,” Hagmann, founder and CEO of the Swiss citizen science NGO OceanEye, told me in September as he steered his 40-foot (12-meter) sailboat, Daisy. “It depends on the surface currents and also on the weather forecast.”
Pascal Hagmann, founder and CEO of the Swiss citizen science NGO OceanEye, deploying a manta trawl off the coast of Marseille, France. Image by Elizabeth Claire Alberts for Mongabay.
After 30 minutes, Hagmann and Laurianne Trimoulla, OceanEye’s communication manager, tugged the manta trawl back on board. They took it apart and inspected the net.
“This blue here definitely is one,” said Trimoulla, pointing with the end of a screwdriver at a small piece of plastic. “And then there is a film — packaging wrap.”
Back at harbor, Hagmann went below deck to look at the sample under a microscope. He gestured to the eyepiece. “Have a look,” he said.
I squinted through the lens. There was a collage of plankton, blue threads of plastic fishing line, and white and green plastic particles. Some of these were nurdles, raw plastic pellets used as feedstock to manufacture an array of plastic products, from drink bottles to plastic bags to car parts.
“This is the point that I think is really frightening,” Hagmann said. “This pollution is just everywhere.”
The Mediterranean is considered to be one of the most polluted bodies of water in the world, with hundreds of tons of plastic blowing into the sea, mainly from land, every single year. One study published in 2015 in PLOS ONE put the amount of plastic pollution in the surface waters of the Mediterranean on par with what’s found in the accumulation zones of the five subtropical ocean gyres, including a collection of debris in the North Pacific gyre that’s known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
A number of governments and intergovernmental organizations are trying to address this issue with policies and treaties that would hold companies and nations responsible for the plastic they use, transport and discard. But as of yet, none of these efforts seem to be stemming the tide of plastic steadily pouring into the Mediterranean.
A manta trawl deployed off the side of OceanEye’s sailboat, Daisy, in September 2021. Image by Elizabeth Claire Alberts for Mongabay.
‘Plastic trap’
About 20% of the plastic swirling around the Mediterranean comes from the vessels that crisscross the sea year-round, as well as from fishing and aquaculture activities, according to a 2018 WWF report. The other 80% comes from the land, the report says. Mercedes Muñoz, who manages activities related to plastic pollution at the IUCN, a global conservation authority, said the land-based plastic pollution is largely due to inconsistent waste management schemes.
“The collection of municipal solid waste is still a significant issue in most south Mediterranean countries,” Muñoz told Mongabay in an interview via phone and email. “Only a few countries have reached full waste collection coverage.”
For instance, one study found that Lebanon, which has 225 kilometers (140 miles) of Mediterranean coastline, only properly disposes of 48% of its waste. The rest is dumped outside landfills or burned, and as a result, much ends up in the sea. A 2018 NPR report even found that developers in Lebanon have been deliberately dumping thousands of tons of trash into the sea as a way to reclaim land from the ocean.
Turkey is known to be the biggest contributor to plastic pollution in the Mediterranean, allowing about 144 metric tons to enter the sea every day, according to the WWF report.
Trash piled on a beach in Algeria. Image by Belgueblimohammed2013 / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Once plastic has entered the Mediterranean Sea, it tends to stay there because of the sea’s semi-enclosed shape and the currents that only move water out via a deep-water layers. It’s a “plastic trap,” as the WWF report puts it.
Plastic will also change shape, breaking into smaller and smaller pieces. Any fragment smaller than 5 millimeters, about three-sixteenths of an inch, is considered a microplastic. Some of these microplastics will remain in the surface waters, while others will drift through the water column, travel with the currents and settle on the seafloor.
“The concentration [of plastic pollution] in the Med is pretty bad,” Lucile Courtial, executive director of Monaco-based NGO Beyond Plastic Med, told Mongabay in a phone interview. “If we don’t act on it, it will [become] much worse.”
A 2020 report released by the IUCN, to which OceanEye contributed data, suggests that the Mediterranean has already accumulated nearly ​​1.2 million metric tons of plastic. A recent United Nations report says that 730 metric tons of plastic waste end up in the Mediterranean Sea every single day, and that plastic could outweigh fish stocks in the near future. However, some experts say there is an ongoing need for more data to understand if plastic pollution in the Mediterranean is increasing or decreasing.
The WWF report also suggests that plastic pollution is costing the EU fishing fleet about 61.7 million euros ($70.7 million) every year because of a “reduction in fish catch, damage to vessels or reduced seafood demand due to concern about fish quality.”
Trash piled on a beach in Rhodes, Greece. Image by Pxfuel (CC0 license).
‘Gaps in the whole chain’
One of the most rigorous agreements in place to address the global issue of plastic pollution is the Basel Convention, the U.N. treaty formulated in 1989 to regulate the international shipment of hazardous waste. In 2019, an amendment to the Basel Convention added plastic to the other kinds of waste the convention regulates, with changes scheduled to take effect in 2021.
Rolph Payet, executive secretary of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions, said the amendment allows countries to holds companies accountable for any plastic they transport or trade through the enactment of national laws and norms.
“We identify gaps in the whole chain because some people are saying, ‘Yes, we are disposing, we are doing very well,’” Payet told Mongabay in September at the IUCN Congress in Marseille. “But then we find the bottles in the ocean, right? So this will help to narrow down where the problems are and help … companies be more accountable in terms of their waste.”
However, a major gap in the effectiveness of the Basel Convention is the fact that the United States has not yet joined the Basel Convention, despite being a major exporter of hazardous waste, including plastic, worldwide. Right now, the U.S. is the only major nation that has not implemented the Basel Convention.
Payet said that the U.N. plans to use OceanEye’s data, as well as other global data sets, to help establish a baseline for the amount of plastic in the Mediterranean that can be used in the future to determine if the Basel Convention is having a positive impact on the regulation of plastic. However, he added that it may take a few years before these effects can be seen since countries are still working to implement the new rules.
Another policy aiming to address the issue of plastic pollution in the Mediterranean is the Regional Plan on Marine Litter Management (RPML), which was adopted by contracting parties to the Barcelona Convention, including the European Union, in 2013. In short, the plan legally requires parties to “prevent and reduce marine litter and plastic pollution in the Mediterranean” and to remove as much existing marine litter as possible.
Microplastics mixed with organic matter in the net of a manta trawl. Image by OceanEye.
Then there’s the European Union’s recent ban on many kinds of single-use plastics, including cotton bud sticks, cutlery and beverage stirrers, as part of the EU’s transition to a “circular economy.” When EU member states cannot ban these items, they need to implement an “ambitious and sustained reduction,” according to the directive.
But are countries abiding by these policies and enforcing them? Courtial said these are tricky questions to answer.
“In general, we need regulations and guidelines and these kinds of treaties so that countries actually try to [achieve] the goals that are there,” she said. “The main problem … is that there is no real way of enforcing the countries to actually respect it, and implement the different actions or activities.”
Courtial added that it’s difficult to coordinate an effort between the 22 countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, especially as the countries are in different stages of economic development.
“Some of the countries have more problems trying to feed their people, so dealing with plastic waste is really not a priority,” she said. “That’s what makes it really difficult.”
Experts are placing a lot of hope in a possible U.N. treaty that would legally require parties to address the entire life cycle of plastics, from production to disposal.
Muñoz says this treaty would be a “great step forward and very needed” since there needs to be more international cooperation on the issue.
“We always say that the Earth is just one big ocean,” she said. “What happens on one side will probably have some impact on another part. So we need international commitments that are aligned and they’re working together to reduce the problem.”
But the U.N. treaty has yet to come to fruition — and it is also not clear how effective it would be at stopping plastic from spilling into the Mediterranean.
Hagmann looking at a microplastic sample through a microscope. Image by Elizabeth Claire Alberts for Mongabay.
‘That’s why we carry on’
 While research shows that the Mediterranean holds a considerable amount of plastic, some experts say more data is needed to fully understand the complexities of the issue. For instance, Hagmann said there’s still not enough data to understand how plastic pollution is dispersed across the Mediterranean and how the levels of pollution might change over time.
The need for this data is what motivated Hagmann to repurpose his recreational sailboat to become a citizen science vessel 10 years ago, and start cruising through the Mediterranean with a manta trawl to collect samples from the water’s surface. He also recruited a network of volunteers operating 10 other vessels to gather additional plastic pollution data, not only in the Mediterranean, but also in the Arctic and Atlantic.
Hagmann, who has an engineering background, says OceanEye’s mission is to contribute data to intergovernmental organizations that are monitoring plastic pollution and actively working on solutions. Already, OceanEye’s data have been used by the European Commission, United Nations and the IUCN in their databases and reports.
Hagmann and his volunteers focus on surface trawls, using the sampling protocol formulated by environmental scientist Marcus Eriksen, co-founder of the California-based plastic pollution research institute 5 Gyres.
Microplastic samples ready to be processed at OceanEye’s lab in Geneva. Image by OceanEye.
In June and July, Hagmann and a small crew sailed Daisy around the Adriatic Sea, taking some data samples near coastlines and others in open water, depending on weather conditions and cargo routes. Then, in September, immediately following the IUCN Congress in Marseille, the OceanEye crew sailed through the central Mediterranean to collect additional samples. So far, only the samples from the Adriatic expedition have been processed at OceanEye’s lab in Geneva.
Hagmann said the processed samples contain “particularly high concentrations of plastic” of more than a million particles weighing 1,000 grams per square kilometer, or about 91 ounces per square mile. But the final results, he said, still need further interpretation and analysis by outside experts.
“We provide the data … and then it’s [out of] our hands,” said Trimoulla of OceanEye. But she said she’s optimistic that the organization’s work will have a positive effect, arguing that the more data they provide to various bodies, the bigger the impact these bodies can muster.
“That’s why we carry on,” she said. “We have to.”
Citations:
Alessi, E., & Di Carlo, G. (2018). Out of the plastic trap: saving the Mediterranean from plastic pollution. Retrieved from WWF Mediterranean Marine Initiative website: http://awsassets.panda.org/downloads/a4_plastics_med_web_08june_new.pdf
Boucher, J., & Billard, G. (2020). The Mediterranean: Mare plasticum. Retrieved from IUCN website: https://portals.iucn.org/library/sites/library/files/documents/2020-030-En.pdf
Cózar, A., Sanz-Martín, M., Martí, E., González-Gordillo, J. I., Ubeda, B., Gálvez, J. Á., … Duarte, C. M. (2015). Plastic accumulation in the Mediterranean Sea. PLOS ONE, 10(4), e0121762. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0121762
Mediterranean Action Plan and Plan Bleu. (2020). Retrieved from United Nations Environment Programme website: https://planbleu.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/SoED_full-report.pdf
Banner image caption: Trash-filled plastic bags in the ocean. Image by SMR / Pixahive (CC0 License)
Elizabeth Claire Alberts is a staff writer for Mongabay. Follow her on Twitter @ECAlberts.
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Scotland to ban plastic straws and polystyrene food boxes from June

Plastics Scotland to ban plastic straws and polystyrene food boxes from June Scottish ministers fear raft of measures could be undermined by delay to parallel action in England Severin Carrell Scotland editor @severincarrell Thu 11 Nov 2021 10.50 EST Last modified on Thu 11 Nov 2021 11.01 EST The sale of plastic straws, cutlery and …

Report casts doubts on petrochemical growth in Appalachia

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — A report released Wednesday by the Ohio River Valley Institute says that changing market forces are likely to impede the growth of the petrochemicals industry across Appalachia.

The report, “Poor Economics for Virgin Plastics: Petrochemicals Will Not Provide Sustainable Business Opportunities in Appalachia,” points to several factors that will hamper the expansion and development of new petrochemical complexes across the region.

Among these are environmental concerns from consumers and investors over pollution caused by petrochemicals such as polyethylene – the core feedstock produced by ethane “cracker” plants.

The future of food shopping might be plastic-free

Two years ago, efforts to kick the country’s plastic addiction were on fire. Municipalities around the country were implementing plastic bag taxes, while mainstream shoppers embraced reusable grocery bags and flocked to the bulk aisles for foods like beans and nuts.However, all that came to a halt when stopping the spread of COVID-19 became the country’s top priority. Almost overnight, grocery stores closed their bulk-shopping sections, coffee shops stopped filling reusable coffee mugs, and individually wrapped everything took center stage.Now, signs are emerging that the fight against plastic is getting back on track. One of the most notable of those signs came from Kroger last month, when the nation’s largest grocery chain announced it was expanding an online trial with Loop, an online platform for refillable packaging, to 25 Fred Meyer store locations in Portland, Oregon.While consumer reuse models “got punched in the face” by the pandemic, Loop’s Tom Szaky said the demand is still there, and mainstream grocery stores are going to need to find a way to meet it.Kroger plans to offer a separate Loop aisle in these stores. The products, which will include a mix of items in food and other categories, can be bought in glass containers or aluminum boxes. When they’re empty, customers return the containers to the store to be cleaned and used again. Originally scheduled for this fall, the launch has been postponed to early 2022 because of supply chain challenges, but a spokesperson said they will continue to work with their brand partners to consider items that can be added to expand the program over time.The partnership is a heartening sign after a tough year, said Tom Szaky, CEO and founder of TerraCycle, the company behind the Loop initiative. “Overall, I was very worried that the pandemic would shift the conversation away from waste,” Szaky told Civil Eats. “It didn’t slow down. In fact, the environmental movement’s only gotten stronger.” While consumer reuse models—reusable grocery bags, refillable coffee mugs—“got punched in the face,” he said, it was mainly because retailers stopped allowing them for safety reasons.And while Loop’s growth was slowed by the pandemic, it was for the same factors that upended many companies’ plans—not because interest was drying out, said Szaky. The demand is still there, he adds, and he’s bullish on the idea that mainstream grocery stores are going to need to find a way to meet it.The Kroger–Loop partnership could be the first true test of this theory. It’s the latest in a steady string of new partnerships for Loop, but until now all of the company’s U.S. packaging partners have been in other categories, such as cosmetics and cleaning products. Loop does work with a number of food companies outside the country, including Woolworths in New Zealand, Tesco in the U.K., Aeon in Japan, and Carrefour in France. Szaky says they’re also working with a grocery store in France to bring reusable packaging to fish and meat. Loop, which also works with Walgreens in the U.S. and fast food chains McDonald’s, Burger King, and Canada-based Tim Hortons, expects nearly 200 stores and restaurants worldwide to be selling products in reusable packages by the first quarter of 2022, according to the Associated Press, up from a dozen stores in Paris at the end of last year. Some experts in the space are convinced that more will follow.“It’s just a matter of time before other companies come on board,” says Colleen Henn, founder of All Good Goods, a plastic-free pantry subscription business based in San Clemente, California that sells food in reusable glass jars and paper bags. “Once somebody does it, people start to see, ‘Oh, avoiding single-use plastic is] not that complicated.’ Because it’s really not.”She would know. Henn didn’t spend the last year adapting her business; she first launched her seemingly improbable business model during—and really because of—the pandemic. She had grown frustrated that the country’s waste-reduction initiatives were falling by the wayside. “I went online and tried to find a store that shipped food to your door without plastic, and I couldn’t find it. So I created it,” said Henn.All Good Goods specializes in pantry goods like beans and pasta, nuts and dried fruit, and growth has been strong and steady since the launch. She increasingly fields phone calls from other stores looking for advice on how to avoid plastic in their operations, and as she engages with more companies, she’s optimistic that she will have a trickle-up effect within the industry. “I reach out to brands [we’re considering carrying] and see what their wholesale options are; if they’re not paper-based, if they’re not backyard-biodegradable, we move on,” said Henn.

26,000 tons of plastic waste, PPE from COVID pandemic pollute ocean

Some 8 million metric tons of pandemic-related plastic waste have been created by 193 countries, about 26,000 tons of which are now in the world’s oceans, where they threaten to disrupt marine life and further pollute beaches, a recent study found.The findings, by a group of researchers based in China and the United States, were published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal. Concerns had been raised since the start of the coronavirus pandemic that there would be a boom in plastic pollution amid heightened use of personal protective equipment and rapid growth in online commerce. The study is among the first to quantify the scale of plastic waste linked to the health crisis.The cost of the increase in plastic waste has been keenly felt by wildlife. As of July, there were 61 recorded instances of animals being killed or disrupted by pandemic-linked plastic waste, according to a Dutch scientist-founded tracking project. Among the widely publicized examples are an American robin that was found wrapped up in a face mask in Canada and the body of a perch wrapped in the thumb of a disposable medical glove that was found by Dutch volunteers; National Geographic called the latter the first documented instance of a fish being killed by a glove.Although only about 30 percent of all covid cases were detected in Asia as of late August, the region was responsible for 72 percent of global plastic discharge, the study found. The researchers said this was due to higher use of disposable protective equipment, as well as lower levels of waste treatment in countries such as China and India. By contrast, developed economies in North America and Europe that were badly hit by the coronavirus produced relatively little pandemic plastic waste.The situation was worsened by the suspension or relaxation of restrictions on single-use plastic products globally. New York state’s ban on single-use plastic bags, which took effect in spring 2020, was only enforced that fall.“Better management of medical waste in epicenters, especially in developing countries, is necessary,” the researchers wrote, while also calling for the development of more environmentally friendly materials.“Governments should also mount public information campaigns not only regarding the proper collection and management of pandemic-related plastic waste , but also their judicial use,” said Von Hernandez, global coordinator of Break Free From Plastic, an advocacy group. “This includes advocating the use of reusable masks and PPEs for the general public … especially if one is not working in the front lines.”Much plastic waste enters the world’s oceans via major rivers, according to the researchers, who found that the three waterways most polluted by pandemic-associated plastic were all in Asia: The Shatt al-Arab feeds into the Persian Gulf; the Indus River empties into the Arabian Sea; and the Yangtze River flows to the East China Sea.”Given that the world is still grappling with COVID 19, we expect that the environmental and public health threats associated with pandemic related plastic waste would likely increase,The study said that the leading contributor of plastic discharged into oceans was medical waste generated by hospitals, which accounted for over 70 percent of such pollution. Scraps of online shopping packaging were particularly high in Asia, though it had a relatively small impact on global discharge.Modeling by the scientists indicates that the vast majority of plastic waste produced as a result of the pandemic will end up either on sea beds or beaches by the end of the century. In addition to becoming possible death traps for coastal animals, plastic buildup on beaches can increase the surrounding temperature, making the environment less hospitable to wildlife. And as plastic degrades over time, toxic chemicals may be released and moved up the food chain.