Editorial: A ‘virgin plastics’ tax could help save the oceans

TOUGH, FLEXIBLE and cheap, plastic is essential to modern living. But, much like fossil fuels, the material’s convenience comes at a price. Humans make lots of the stuff, then throw it into the ocean. This is very inexpensive, but it is terrible for the environment and unsustainable for humanity. Now lawmakers are looking at a more aggressive response: taxing “virgin plastics” — that is, new material created from oil rather than from recycled stuff. This would be a rational response to a substantial need.
Scientists reckon that 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year. Among the results is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an accumulation of microplastics, fishing gear, bags, shoes and other debris in the North Pacific Ocean. There is plenty of visible trash, but much of the waste weathers into tiny bits that circulate up and down the water column. Marine animals feed in this plastic soup; they either die or become vectors for these microplastics to enter the food chain — at the top of which sit human beings. Microplastics also gunk up the water to the point that sunlight cannot reach plankton and other key ocean species. The effects are diverse and widespread; scientists warn that plastics are carrying invasive species across the planet. The plastic problem gets worse every day. Researchers have discovered microplastics off California’s famous Monterey Bay; others have found that the amount of marine debris washing up on remote beaches increased by more than 10 times over the course of the 2010s. When lawmakers proposed an ocean cleanliness bill in 2019, they noted that, without change, the amount of plastic would outweigh the fish in the world’s oceans by 2050. This might be a surprise to many consumers who dutifully fill their recycling bins every week. But only about 9 percent of plastic waste is recycled in the United States; the rest ends up burned, which produces greenhouse emissions, or thrown into a landfill. Low oil prices make new plastics cheap to produce, and recent changes in the recycling industry have made recycling operations even less viable. Enter a group of House Democrats, who propose to levy a tax on virgin plastics in single-use products and to invest the proceeds into ocean conservation efforts. Staffers for Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), co-chair of the Senate Oceans Caucus, said that the senator is working on a virgin plastics tax proposal of his own. Activists in California aim to put such a tax up for a vote next year.A virgin plastics tax would encourage businesses and consumers to substitute more environmentally friendly alternatives and boost the recycling industry without direct subsidies. Opponents object that the tax would be regressive — the same objections industry lodged against modest plastic bag and soda taxes. But the virgin plastics tax need not be punishingly high. And Wired’s Matt Simon points out that sufficient alternatives exist in many cases to limit the impact on consumers. Critics also argue that some alternative products, such as paper, might be heavier and cost more in greenhouse emissions to create and transport. Yet as the energy sector steadily decarbonizes, those greenhouse impacts will lessen; meanwhile, the ocean will continue filling with trash. The overwhelming flow of plastic into the ocean requires an assertive and smart response. Taxing virgin plastics ticks both boxes.

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The Post’s View: Every human should be alarmed by the plastic crisis in our oceans

RECYCLING: Sierra Club sues Coca-Cola, plastic water bottlers — Thursday, June 17, 2021 — www.eenews.net

CLIMATE IMPACTS

Their descendants persevered through slavery, the Civil War, and past racism. Now the Gullah/Geechee people of South Carolina face another threat: rising seas and the government actions it triggers.

By Daniel Cusick in Climatewire
Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Briefing Series: new paper published on biodegradable plastics

The third paper in our Briefing Series, ‘Biodegradable plastics: how do we engage with consumers and society?’ is available now

This briefing paper summarises key themes and ideas discussed at our ‘Biodegradable plastics: how do we engage with consumers and society?’ webinar, held on 21st May 2021. This briefing paper presents the views expressed by our panellists who were members of the SAPEA Working Group and other experts.

The webinar is part of a series of events drawing on the SAPEA Evidence Review Report Biodegradability of plastics in the open environment and the associated Scientific Opinion by the European Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors. This webinar, a partnership event between SAPEA and the Royal Irish Academy, was attended by an international audience of over 200 people from 37 countries.

About our Briefing Series

The AE Cardiff Briefing Series has been developed to complement AE Cardiff’s webinar series. Each paper will summarise key points of discussion at each of our webinars, with the aim of providing a useful resource on the topic.

Other papers in the series

‘Research integrity: how can we support and protect early-career researchers in cases of alleged scientific misconduct?’

This briefing paper summarises main points of discussion at our ‘Research Integrity: supporting early-career researchers in cases of alleged scientific misconduct’ webinar, held on 22nd March 2021. At the webinar, our panel of experts explored what happens when an early-career researcher observes a more senior colleague apparently engaging in possible malpractice and what processes are in place to address potential problems and protect those involved. The backdrop to the discussion was a paper by four of the panellists, outlining one possible mechanism for investigating reported cases of possible misconduct. This event was a partnership between the Academia Europaea Cardiff Knowledge Hub, the Young Academy of Europe (YAE), SAPEA and the European Group on Ethics (EGE).

Digital Media in crisis situations: Rethinking their role and function’

This briefing paper encapsulates the key points of our ‘Digital Media in crisis situations‘ webinar, held on 1st March 2021. A panel of experts discussed the role of the digital media on our public debate, attitudes and behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic. The event was a partnership between Academia Europaea, University of Bremen, Cardiff University, SAPEA (Science Advice for Policy by European Academies) and in support of the Welsh Government’s Wales in Germany 2021 initiative.

The information and opinions expressed in all of our briefing documents do not represent the views and opinions of Academia Europaea and its board of trustees. This document is a summary of ideas discussed at the webinar.

Posted 18th June 2021. For further information please contact AECardiffHub@cardiff.ac.uk
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#ChasingPellets: Good Karma Projects and Surfrider Europe in pursuit of plastic pellets in the Mediterranean | Surfrider Foundation Europe

#ChasingPellets: Good Karma Projects and Surfrider Europe in pursuit of plastic pellets in the Mediterranean Even though Good Karma Projects, a local environmental NGO in Tarragona has been working to make stakeholders face their responsibilities since 2018, and even if Surfrider Foundation Europe has been alerting the European institutions for years on pellet pollution across Europe, no change has been observed so far to put an end to the massive presence of pellets on the beaches close to the industrial area of Tarragona … Such pollution should no longer be ignored:  that’s why Surfrider Europe and Good Karma Projects launch this June 19, the sailing expedition #ChasingPellets. Seeking to assess the impacts of the pollution, between Tarragona and the Balearic Islands, this campaign will be instrumental in alerting citizens and decision-makers and in calling on all actors of the plastic pellet chain to take action to stop polluting nature with these microplastics.Pellets in Tarragona: a Coastal Defenders campaign since 2020  In 2018, a group of Spanish Ocean enthusiasts from Good Karma Projects, an environmental NGO based in Catalunya reported, for the first time, the massive presence of plastic pellets on the beach of La Pineda, in Vila-seca. These small spheres of plastic used as raw materials in the manufacture of most plastic items can be spilled at every stage of the value chain and we know they are handled in huge quantities by the biggest petrochemical complex in Southern Europe, in Tarragona, a few kilometers away from the sea. Never degrading, these plastic pellets (also poetically called “Mermaid Tears“, completely out of touch with the seriousness of their consequences) cause irreversible damage to marine biodiversity: they gradually integrate the food chain through the fish we eat and can also be vectors for the deployment of bacteria and chemical contaminants in aquatic environments.    [embedded content]Because of waves and winds, pellets can be found every day on the beach. Higher amounts can also be observed during meteorological phenomena such as the Filomena storm of January 2021. Good Karma has been observing and monitoring their presence on the beach several times. In 2018, Greenpeace shared that around 120 millions of pellets could be found on the beach. As part of its fight against microplastic pollution and of its advocacy activities towards the European Union, Surfrider Foundation Europe and its Spanish delegation joined Good Karma Projects in Autumn 2020 through its Surfrider Coastal Defenders program, to support this local fight and continue to require a legal response to this pollution from Member States and the European Union, which are much aware of the devastating impacts of this pollution at the EU and global level. Ocean Clean Sweep : the false good deed of the plastic industry? Despite repeated calls from environmental NGOs such as Surfrider Europe to take this pollution seriously and adopt measures – Surfrider Europe published a detailed report last November on this very issue – and strong evidence of industry’s full responsibility, the plastics industry continues to oppose the adoption of a new legislation on plastic pellets. How? By making the case for leaving it to the industry to deal with this pollution through its voluntary initiative called Operation Clean Sweep (OCS). This initiative which provides guidelines for best practices to prevent pellet loss into the environment was initiated by the industry itself. By joining OCS, companies are supposed to commit to respecting a series of best practices on handling pellets and preventing losses. Yet, despite this initiative running for years, pellets are still present, in destructive numbers, in the vicinity of the industrial area of Tarragona, proving Operation Clean Sweep’s incapacity to address the issue effectively, with thousands to millions of pellets continuing to pollute the Mediterranean Sea. Recent discoveries on this pollution caseIn December 2020, after running the first assessments only focusing on the beach of la Pineda, Good Karma Projects with support from Surfrider Europe decided to continue their investigation inland, following the Francoli River, which flows through the petrochemical area. In coordination with Surfrider Europe, Good Karma Projects recently presented the progress of its study during the Spanish National Environmental Congress – CONAMA – held in Madrid at the end of May 2021. “The emission sources of plastic pellets are clear; we have found them in all the streams and rivers located near the companies that produce or handle them. There are significant concentrations of pellets in streams up to 20 km inland.” says Jordi Oliva from Good Karma Projects. #Chasingpellets : a new expedition to continue monitoring pellets throughout the Mediterranean Sea Several kilometers away from Tarragona, in the Balearic Islands, other NGOs such as “Save the med” or “Per la Mar Viva” reported that they were finding significant amounts of pellets on their coasts too. Considering the direction of the Mistral wind which is blowing in this area and the orientation of the Balearics coasts in relation to Tarragona, a question came to the mind of the Good Karma Project and Surfrider teams. Would the pellets found on the beaches of the Balearic Islands be identical to those found in the Francoli river and on the beaches of La Pineda? That’s why Good Karma Projects and Surfrider Foundation Europe launch, this June 19, 2021, the expedition #ChasingPellets. For ten days, Jordi Oliva, Albert Font de Rubinat, both founders of Good Karma Projects and Simon Witt, Head of Surfrider Europe’s Coastal Defenders program will aim to collect pellets present in the Mediterranean using a Manta Trawl, between Tarragona and the Balearic Islands. Accompanied by Marta Sugrañes biologist and oceanographer working on monitoring within Good Karma Projects, the team will bring samples back from their sailing trip which will be analysed with the technical and scientific help of the University of Barcelona.  With the help of Ainhoa Muñoz, a photographer who will share daily pictures of the expedition, the activists will try to show the extent of the damage, demonstrating that the pellets spilled by the Tarragona industrial area are spread at sea, hundreds of kilometers away from their origin.   Beyond informing Spanish and European citizens about this pollution, this expedition aims above all to alert public decision-makers on the ineffectiveness of voluntary initiatives such as Operation Clean Sweep and to urge them to adopt new laws to oblige the whole plastic pellet chain to stop spilling pellets and control their actions. To make it a real success, do not hesitate to share, throughout the trip, our photos and videos under the hashtag #ChasingPellets!    

Bite Size Plastic: How Marine Wildlife Snack on Our Trash

Join the NOAA Marine Debris Program as we celebrate National Ocean Month. This week’s theme is Ocean Science. Do we know if animals snack on plastic? Dive into the science of plastic ingestion to learn more.Millions of tons of debris enter the marine environment each year, including our trash and damaged fishing gear, and can be found at the surface of the water, down to the deepest parts of the ocean. Many marine debris items, especially plastics, are small enough to be ingested, or eaten, by wildlife, an issue of growing concern for the health of hundreds of marine animals. Animals may directly eat marine debris, or it may be consumed with prey that already has a belly full of marine debris. 
A Hawaiian monk seal chews on a single-use plastic bottle found in the Pacific Ocean (Credit: NOAA).Some marine animals are more likely to eat plastic than others. The characteristics of plastic debris, such as color, size, or shape, can attract certain types of wildlife. The amount of marine debris in a certain area and the feeding behaviors of different animals can play a large role in which animals are more likely to eat marine debris. Some animals filter water to consume their food (e.g., baleen whales, mussels, oysters), and can easily eat plastic, most commonly in the form of microplastics, or plastic pieces smaller than 5 mm. Other animals (e.g., birds, fish, turtles, toothed whales) actively search for and capture their food and may accidentally ingest plastic marine debris while eating their prey, which may have also eaten plastic. 

Some species, such as sea cucumbers, even prefer to eat plastics and will choose to feed on them over their regular food. Invertebrates, or animals without a backbone, not only ingest microscopic plastic pieces, but they can also increase the breakdown of plastic marine debris. For example, some invertebrates dig into foam floats, which may cause tiny pieces of plastic to break apart and produce enormous amounts of microplastic debris!
A deceased Laysan albatross lies on the ground in Midway Atoll, with an exposed stomach filled with debris it ingested around its coastal habitat (Credit: NOAA).Research highlighted in a NOAA report reviewing marine debris ingestion by wildlife, showed that birds, marine mammals, and turtles are more likely to ingest marine debris over fishes, including sharks. Fishes and sharks are less likely to ingest debris as they become older and larger and become more efficient at capturing their prey, which makes them less likely to accidentally consume debris while hunting for food. Research has confirmed that all seven species of sea turtles have eaten debris, as well as an estimated one-third of all sea bird species. Many marine mammals are also known to eat debris, ranging from microplastics to plastic sheets and bags, but are harder to study because of laws protecting these species.  
A large bundle of thin plastic film weighing nearly 600 pounds on a remote shoreline in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (Credit: NOAA).When an animal eats plastic marine debris, it can be difficult to see the damage it does to their bodies. Debris can block or tear the digestive system of an animal, as well as cause problems for the way their body functions by affecting their nutrition and development, or even cause infections. Research has shown that sharp objects and sheet plastic, such as single-use plastic bags and plastic packaging, appear to cause the most damage to larger marine wildlife in the shortest amount of time. After an animal swallows debris, it can feel full, which might keep them from eating and getting the nutrients they need from food. Marine debris and the chemicals in plastics can also impact the function of an animal’s immune or reproductive systems, but this is difficult to monitor on marine wildlife.

Unfortunately, the effects of marine debris ingestion are not very well understood. Scientists are working to better understand how often wildlife ingests marine debris, as well as the ways it impacts the health of animals and their communities. Luckily, you can do something to help! Since marine debris is created by humans, we are also the solution. Learn how you can help reduce marine debris in our ocean and Great Lakes by making meaningful changes to the amount of waste you produce, and cleaning up your local environment.

Sign the Petition

Balloons are pretty, festive, and fun, but released outdoors they can be lethal to birds, turtles, whales, and many others. Balloons released either on purpose or unintentionally are carried by winds to the ocean. Ultimately, balloons fall from the sky and litter beaches, waterways, estuaries, and the vast ocean. More than unsightly, these balloons harm wildlife by entanglement (especially balloons with ribbons and strings) or ingestion when animals mistake them for food.Marine balloon litter is well-documented and is a growing problem in waterways worldwide. In fact, 70,055 balloons were collected by volunteers cleaning NJ’s beaches and shorelines on just 40 days during the 20-year period (1999-2019) of Clean Ocean Action’s biannual Beach Sweeps. Further, a recent study* in the leading ocean policy journal Marine Policy ranks balloons as #3 of the 20 deadliest trash items in the ocean (i.e., plastics bags, bottles). 
A bill, A4322, introduced by NJ Assembly Members Houghtaling (NJ-11) and Downey (NJ-11), prohibits the intentional outdoor release of balloons throughout the state, and requires better control of outdoor balloons. 
In signing this petition, I state that:  

I am not anti-balloon, just anti-balloon litter, and I want to protect wildlife from this needless painful, harmful, and lethal threat;
I personally pledge not to release, or cause to be released, any balloons outdoors; and,
I support A4322 as an important step toward reducing the harmful impacts of balloons on marine life.  

* “Using expert elicitation to estimate the impacts of plastic pollution on marine wildlife,” Marine Policy, Volume 65, March 2016, Pages 107-114, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2015.10.014 

Plastic pollution: China starts tackling colossal problem

Issued on: 17/06/2021 – 17:25

China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of plastic products. For years, most of it has ended up in poorly managed landfills, which go on to pollute the environment and oceans. But a series of new laws in effect since January 2020 aim to significantly reduce plastic pollution over five years by phasing out single-use plastic, encouraging research and development of plastic alternatives and improving waste management and recycling. So are these goals realistic and is China willing to kick its plastic addiction? Our correspondents report.

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Programme prepared by James Vasina

Retired St. James Parish teacher wins global award for pollution fight

Sharon Lavigne never imagined herself an environmental activist. The retired teacher had spent much of her life working with special education students in the St. James Parish public school system.But the idea of another chemical plant being built in her parish, after she had lost acquaintances to cancer that she blames on industrial pollution, spurred her into action in 2018. She began organizing and educating neighbors on the risks, an effort that gained global recognition Tuesday when she was named the North American recipient of the 2021 Goldman Environmental Prize.

Sharon Lavigne, a retired teacher turned community organizer, leads a song with St. John the Baptist Parish residents protesting a proposed grain terminal on May 15, 2021. Lavigne was just named the North American recipient of the 2021 Goldman Environmental Prize. (Photo by Halle Parker, Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate)

Lavigne, 68, had never heard of the award before she learned of her selection in December. She was in disbelief.”I’m doing this to save our community. I’m doing this to breathe clean air and drink clean water. I wasn’t looking for recognition,” the Welcome resident said. “I had no idea people could win awards for this.”Winners receive grant and networking opportunities through the Goldman Environmental Foundation. The foundation also elevates their campaigns and offers legal assistance. A virtual awards ceremony was set Tuesday evening.Lavigne’s group, RISE St. James, claimed its first victory in 2019 when Wanhua Chemical abandoned plans to build a $1.3 billion plastics complex near Romeville. The 10-mile stretch of the Mississippi River between Convent and Lemannville already boasts 17 industrial plants.She and RISE St. James have worked with environmental groups to protest and sue several other plants proposed in the area, such as the $9.4 billion Formosa Plastics complex and $2.2 billion South Louisiana Methanol plant. In 2019, a joint investigation by The Advocate, The Times-Picayune and ProPublica, using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data, found that Formosa and other new industry in St. James since 2015 posed an acute risk for predominantly poor, Black residents along the river.

The chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources and one of his committee colleagues urged President Joe Biden on Wednesday to “p…

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“When the governor of Louisiana came to St. James Parish and announced Formosa Plastics was coming to town, Sharon Lavigne was brave enough to stand up and say no. Sharon said she had a different vision for her historic Black community,” said Anne Rolfes, director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “Her leadership, courage and vision are rewarded today by the Goldman Prize. And she would be the first to say that this is just the beginning.”Lavigne was selected by an international jury for her leadership in addressing “environmental injustice,” said Ilan Kayatsky, the Goldman Environmental Prize’s communications director, “and spearheading a fight that needed to be fought.””With the founding of her organization, RISE St. James, the defeat of Wanhua and a growing community campaign to prevent the encroachment by Formosa Plastics, Sharon has demonstrated – profoundly – why grassroots leadership is so important.”

This article was produced in partnership with The Times-Picayune and The Advocate, which are members of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

When people see she’s won this award, Lavigne said, she hopes it shows people to “stand up for what is right.””If you’re right, everything will fall into place,” she said. Lavigne is the first Louisiana recipient of the Goldman prize since Norco resident Margie Richard won it in 2004 for her work to reduce emissions at Shell Chemical’s plant. She joins five other regional recipients across the world: Africa – Gloria Majiga-Kamoto, who fought single-use plastics pollution in MalawiAsia – Thai Van Nguye, who founded the Save Vietnam’s Wildlife nonprofit to rescue animals from illegal wildlife tradeEurope – Maida Bilal, whose protest led to the cancelation of two hydropower dam projects in Bosnia and HerzegovinaIsland nations – Kimiko Hirata, who leads a campaign to shut down Japan’s coal-burning power plantsSouth and Central America – Liz Chicaje Churay, who worked with partners to create Yaguas National Park in Peru and protect more than 2 million acres of the Amazon River basin rainforest.

United Nations observers said this week that further industrialization in the Mississippi River corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans i…

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Sri Lanka probing deaths of sea animals following ship fire

The carcasses of five dolphins and more than 30 sea turtles have been found along the western coast of Sri Lanka after the burning of a cargo ship near the capital Colombo, sparking concerns that the accident is devastating marine wildlife in the region.
After the Singapore-flagged X-Press Pearl caught fire on May 20 near the harbour, some oil, chemicals and plastic pellets leaked into the sea that is home to several species of large marine mammals. These include the non-migratory blue, humpback and pilot whales; spinner, spotted and bottlenose dolphins; and thresher and whitetip sharks.
There are also hundreds of sea turtles and millions of reef fish in this part of the Indian Ocean, popular for marine tourism, wildlife research and fishing.

Sri Lanka is seeking an interim claim of US$40 million (S$53 million) from X-Press Feeders, the ship’s operator, as compensation for firefighting expenses from May 20 through June 1.
Sri Lanka’s Marine Environment Protection Authority (Mepa) has yet to fully assess the cost to wildlife and marine environment.
The Sri Lankan navy said the blaze was caused by the vessel’s chemical cargo, which included more than 22 tonnes of nitric acid and other chemicals, most of which was destroyed in the fire.

For now, there is no oil spill, said Dr Darshani Lahandapura, chair of Mepa. But the burnt-out container ship is sinking, with its bottom touching the shallow seabed.
Environmentalists fear that if oil and any remaining chemicals like sodium dioxide, copper and lead spill out, the rich marine life in the region could be at stake.
In the past week, Sri Lanka’s Department of Wildlife Conservation said carcasses of spinner dolphins, humpback dolphins, turtles and eels have washed ashore in coastal regions up to Colombo and Kosgoda. The department’s director-general Chandana Sooriyabandara said tissue samples have been taken from the dead animals and teams were holding necropsies.
Colombo-based conservation biologist Ranil Nanayakkara said: “The carcasses that wash ashore could be only a fraction of total deaths. Most dead animals will sink to the bottom, be eaten by others or be moved by water currents around the world. We have to do studies, and fast, to know what is happening.”
Based on data the government has released, Dr Nanayakkara has ruled out nitric acid, as it is “not potent enough” to kill animals. “It’s not clear what exactly is the cause of death: toxic chemicals or the vibration from the two or three explosions on the ship,” he said.
Marine biologist Asha de Vos, the founder of Oceanswell, Sri Lanka’s first marine conservation research organisation, warned that not all deaths can be attributed to the ship accident. “It’s important for us to remember that animals die all the time, and their carcasses can be found at sea or washed on beaches throughout the year. Only the necropsies can tell us the cause of death,” she said.
However, all the scientists are worried about the tonnes of plastic pellets covering many beaches, such as Kalpitiya, like heaps of toxic snow. The fish-egg-like pellets are stubborn pollutants that choke marine wildlife and block the digestive tracts of fish that swallow them, thus starving them.
Mr Nanayakkara is afraid that if the pellets travelled in the water columns up the coast, they could wreck the pristine seagrass beds in the Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka, the habitat of dugongs, sharks, rays, seahorses and shrimps, among other creatures.

Adani blasted over ‘toxic’ $4bn plan to use Australian coal to make plastic in India

The owners of the controversial Carmichael mine in Queensland want to build a US$4bn plant in India that would use Australian coal to make plastic. Adani Enterprises, which owns the Carmichael coalmine, said in submissions to Indian authorities the plant will use 3.1m tonnes of coal a year at the plant to make PVC. Critics …