“We are building an industry that requires us to continue feeding it,” said Jennette Gayer with the group Environment Georgia.The good, the bad and the uglyPlastic has been a blessing and a curse on modern life.It’s light and endlessly malleable. It can be puffed into Styrofoam packing peanuts or formed into a medical device that remains in a body for years. It’s tough enough to store harsh chemicals for decades without breaking down.But the durability that makes it so useful also makes it nearly indestructible without intervention.It takes about 10 grams — less than the weight of two quarters — of polyethylene terephthalate, commonly called PET, to make a half-liter drink bottle. That tiny amount will take anywhere from 70 to 450 years to break down naturally, depending on exposure to sunlight and other factors, according to estimates from a variety of environmental, industrial and scientific groupsCaptionPlastic pollution is a global concern, but there are examples right here in Georgia. Here, trash and plastic pollution cover the banks of the tributary of Proctor Creek in Atlanta. Georgians throw away 1 million tons of plastic each year. Only 9% of total plastic waste in the U.S. gets recycled. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COMRecycling could be the answer to the problem, but it’s complicated for a number of reasons. There are seven categories of plastics that are different on molecular levels. They often can’t be mixed when recycling. And mechanical recycling processes degrade plastic’s composition, limiting its uses.Of the seven categories, only two types of plastics are easily recycled and have ready buyers. There is little market for the rest. So, despite the best intentions of environmentally conscious families, most of the plastics packed into recycling bins are sent to landfills.Another deterrent to recycling is that it has been cheaper to make new plastic.That results in a massive problem. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the U.S. produced 35.7 million tons of plastic in 2018 — the amount increases each year — but only 9% got recycled. About 5.6 million tons were burned to create energy, releasing greenhouse and toxic gases. And 27 million tons were buried in landfills or ended up in gutters, rivers and oceans.It’s an issue that affects big cities, small towns and the companies whose brands are emblazoned on bottles, Styrofoam beer chests and food wrappers that end up floating from the coves of Lake Lanier to the beaches of Tybee Island. Public pressure and fear of regulation have spurred big users like the Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Company to pledge to find alternatives and to invest in recycling, which so far hasn’t yielded much success.Coke invested $60 million in a South Carolina plant that aimed to recycle one type of plastic, polyethylene terephthalate, into new bottles in 2009. But Coke eventually divested itself of the troubled operation in 2011. Other national and international companies have made similar efforts, most of which produced little or poor results.Good intentions and high tech dreamsBob Powell, a Georgia Tech engineering and MBA graduate, founded Brightmark in 2016 with the idea of doing good and doing well by solving environmental problems for profits.The company and its partners started by designing and operating nine industrial-sized processing facilities from Florida to Washington state that collect cow and chicken farm wastes and turn it into natural gas. The gas is sold into local or regional pipelines, and the processed wastes become fertilizer or compost.The company moved into plastics and built its first processing plant last year in Indiana. It is one-quarter the size of the planned Georgia facility and will take in about 100,000 tons of plastic yearly. The Macon plant, which will be situated on industrial land near Middle Georgia Regional Airport and will employ more than 100 people, will haul in 400,000 tons of plastic from the region and surrounding states annually.Brightmark uses chemical processes to break down plastic. It is one of a growing number of new companies moving into that trail-blazing, high-tech niche. Others are Loop Industries in Canada, Agilyx in the U.S. and Nexus Fuels, a smaller Cobb County firm that is financed in part by Cox Enterprises, the parent company of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.Brightmark uses a process called pyrolysis — heating plastic wastes in a closed container with no oxygen to vaporize it. It can mix in all types of plastics, solving one of the problems with recycling.“It’s like a fancy distillery,” said Powell.CaptionPlastic items are conveyed to Brightmark machinery that shreds them into thumb-sized pellets, which will be vaporized with high heat then distilled into an oil that can be used to make diesel fuel, naptha and waxes. Brightmark plans to build a massive plastic processing facility outside of Macon.Credit: Courtesy of BrightmarkCredit: Courtesy of BrightmarkThe plastic vapor is condensed into an oil. The oil will be further refined on site into 20 million gallons of wax and 64 million gallons of low-sulfur diesel fuel and naptha, which can be used to make gasoline, solvents or plastic.“I think we are on a journey … and we keep getting better and better,” Powell said. Brightmark’s $460 million Georgia plant will keep millions of tons of plastic from going to landfills while making useful products, he said.While it’s not recycling in the true sense, “that is better than where we are right now,” he said.The oil it makes can be processed into new plastics, but that industry is in its early stages of development in the U.S., and Brightmark does not have a buyer with plans to make plastic. Some European companies are beginning to try that. Mondelez International, the food firm, says it will put Philadelphia brand cream cheese in tubs made of recycled plastic by 2022.Powell said, “When we have a customer, we would like to tell the world publicly that we are going to make plastic out of plastic.”Stephen Adams, executive director of the Macon/Bibb County Industrial Authority, said construction on the plant should begin next year. Powell said it could take two to three years to complete.Brightmark has applied for a permit from the state Environmental Protection Division that will allow it to release emissions — including carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, volatile organic compounds and other pollutants — that fall within state and federal guidelines.Emissions in Indiana are roughly equal to what a large hospital would release, according to a study Brightmark paid for.Not solving the problemThe California-based environmental group Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives criticized the new processes, including pyrolysis in a June 2020 analysis.The processes release toxic chemicals into the air and contribute to greenhouse gases by creating fuels. “Rather than limiting production or contributing to circularity, chemical recycling provides an excuse to increase the production and disposal of plastic,” the report says.In the last decade, companies have failed technologically and economically when they’ve tried to use processes like pyrolysis to make new plastics, it says. Those problems continue into the present.Coke made another attempt to find bottles made from recycled plastic and had a contract with Loop Industries, which planned to make them using a similar method. But Coke walked away from the deal last October.“Loop did not satisfy the production milestone within the agreement, and the decision was made to terminate the framework agreement in 2020,” Coke spokesman Scott Leith told the AJC.Late last year, Loop was hit with class-action lawsuits from investors who allege the company made false or misleading statements about its work and misrepresented the results of Loop’s proprietary process. The Securities and Exchange Commission also launched an investigation into the company.A Loop spokesman told the AJC the company had no comment about the allegations or investigation.Powell said Brightmark already sells all the oil it can produce, though he declined to disclose whether the private company is profitable. It has partners such as oil industry giant BP.Gayer, from Environment Georgia, said, “This chemical recycling is not really a solution to the plastic pollution crisis we are facing, and might be seen as a distraction.”She expressed concerns about the $82 million in incentives that Georgia has promised Brightmark to build here, given the newness of the technology and unproven market.Pat Wilson, the head of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said Brightmark already has a plant up and running. The department used experts from Georgia universities to vet the industry. Members from the Macon/Bibb County Industrial Authority visited the Indiana plant.“We have really done our due diligence,” he said.“This is a technology that can be transformational in how we deal with this massive problem of plastics in society,” he said.Producing fuels from plastic is marginally better for the environment than simply burying it, said David Shonnard, a Michigan Technological University professor who is researching pyrolysis of plastics.He said it is feasible but optimistic that maybe half of the plastics the U.S. produces could be processed into fuels or new plastics in five years. Big companies are just beginning to scale up, like the $250 million Eastman Chemical plant in Tennessee, which will chemically break down polyethylene terephthalate into building blocks for new plastic. If plants like that are successful, it could spur more plastic recycling.But the final solution is not just a matter of chemistry. The plastics crisis is a “wicked problem,” Shonnard said — a science term used to describe highly complex problems that involve incalculable risks. And addressing it will require examining social policy, the economics and industrial solutions.Time will tell whether Brightmark and similar ventures will fulfill their promises and the fledgling industry takes wing.“Probably the market is waiting to see whether those are successful or not,” Shonnard said.CaptionJulian Gindi, perched on a fallen tree, empties out a plastic bottle before bagging it up with other trash he and his buddies collected along the banks of the Chattahoochee River.Credit: Joey Ivansco/AJCCredit: Joey Ivansco/AJC
HONOLULU (KHON2) — Plastic trash continues to litter our beaches and ocean. Local environmental groups say they’re concerned the pandemic is making plastic pollution more of a problem, despite City efforts to reduce single-use plastics.
According to the Kokua Hawaii Foundation, 70% of ocean plastic waste comes from land.
“Just by virtue of how they’re designed they only get used for 10 minutes and then they’re disposed of,” Kokua Hawaii Foundation’s Jennifer Milholen said. “The way that our waste collection systems are set up and our behaviors a lot of those materials end up in the marine environment, they end up in the land.”
The first phase of Honolulu’s ban on single-use plastic utensils and bags went into effect on April 1, but early fears about surface contamination during COVID-19 led to an increase in single-use plastics for foods, condiments and bento boxes.
What you need to know about the new plastics ban
“There’s been definitely a huge increase in the dependence of single-use plastics and the perception that is the most effective way to be safe and healthy, but I think what the science continues to show over time and what the CDC has recently confirmed is that surface transmission has not and is not a real danger for transmission,” Milholen continued.
More people have also been ordering take-out from their favorite restaurants.
“A lot of them are seeing a five or six-fold increase in what they were spending in food service takeout and disposable containers,” he said.
According to the CDC, generally, the chances of someone contracting COVID after touching an infected surface is 1 in 10,000.
Experts say if you want to make a positive impact on the environment while protecting yourself from getting sick, remember to bring your reusables with you.
“Always remember to bring your reusable bag. I have a reusable straw that I have inside of a utensil set and that utensil allows me to refuse any form of reusable utensils,” Shin said.
On a grander scale, both Milholen and Shin are operating a pilot program as Hawaii’s first full cycle reusable takeout program, funded by a NOAA marine grant. They provide washing stations along with containers that customer can bring back to participating Haleiwa restaurants.
The restaurants are Haleiwa Joes, Cosmic Kitchen, Rajanee Thai and Cholo’s.
“Our big goal is to make it scalable. We want to show that our pilot is something that can be scaled up across Hawaii’s 4,000 restaurants, and eventually statewide,” Milholen said.
Plastic is the most common type of debris floating in the world’s oceans. Waves and sunlight break much of it down into smaller particles called microplastics – fragments less than 5 millimeters across, roughly the size of a sesame seed.
To understand how microplastic pollution is affecting the ocean, scientists need to know how much is there and where it is accumulating. Most data on microplastic concentrations comes from commercial and research ships that tow plankton nets – long, cone-shaped nets with very fine mesh designed for collecting marine microorganisms.
But net trawling can sample only small areas and may be underestimating true plastic concentrations. Except in the North Atlantic and North Pacific gyres – large zones where ocean currents rotate, collecting floating debris – scientists have done very little sampling for microplastics. And there is scant information about how these particles’ concentrations vary over time.
Researchers deploy plankton sampling nets in Lake Michigan.
NOAA, CC BY-SA
To address these questions, University of Michigan research assistant Madeline Evans and I developed a new way to detect microplastic concentrations from space using NASA’s Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System. CYGNSS is a network of eight microsatellites that was launched in 2016 to help scientists predict hurricanes by analyzing tropical wind speeds. They measure how wind roughens the ocean’s surface – an indicator that we realized could also be used to detect and track large quantities of microplastics.
Looking for smooth zones
Annual global production of plastic has increased every year since the 1950s, reaching 359 million metric tons in 2018. Much of it ends up in open, uncontrolled landfills, where it can wash into river drainage zones and ultimately into the world’s oceans.
Researchers first documented plastic debris in the oceans in the 1970s. Today, it accounts for an estimated 80% to 85% of marine litter.
The radars on CYGNSS satellites are designed to measure winds over the ocean indirectly by measuring how they roughen the water’s surface. We knew that when there is a lot of material floating in the water, winds don’t roughen it as much. So we tried computing how much smoother measurements indicated the surface was than it should have been if winds of the same speed were blowing across clear water.
This anomaly – the “missing roughness” – turns out to be highly correlated with the concentration of microplastics near the ocean surface. Put another way, areas where surface waters appear to be unusually smooth frequently contain high concentrations of microplastics. The smoothness could be caused by the microplastics themselves, or possibly by something else that’s associated with them.
By combining all the measurements made by CYGNSS satellites as they orbit around the world, we can create global time-lapse images of ocean microplastic concentrations. Our images readily identify the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and secondary regions of high microplastic concentration in the North Atlantic and the southern oceans.
Tracking microplastic flows over time
Since CYGNSS tracks wind speeds constantly, it lets us see how microplastic concentrations change over time. By animating a year’s worth of images, we revealed seasonal variations that were not previously known.
This animation shows how satellite data can be used to track where microplastics enter the water, how they move and where they tend to collect.
We found that global microplastic concentrations tend to peak in the North Atlantic and Pacific during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer months. June and July, for example, are the peak months for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Concentrations in the Southern Hemisphere peak during its summer months of January and February. Lower concentrations during the winter in both hemispheres are likely due to a combination of stronger currents that break up microplastic plumes and increased vertical mixing – the exchange between surface and deeper water – that transports some of the microplastic down below the surface.
This approach can also target smaller regions over shorter periods of time. For example, we examined episodic outflow events from the mouths of the China’s Yangtze and Qiantang rivers where they empty into the East China Sea. These events may have been associated with increases in industrial production activity, or with increases in the rate at which managers allowed the rivers to flow through dams.
These images show microplastic concentrations (number of particles per square kilometer) at the mouths of the Yangtze and Qiantang rivers where they empty in to the East China Sea. (A) Average density year-round; (B) short-lived burst of particles from the Qiantang River; (C and D) short-lived bursts from the Yangtze River.
Evans and Ruf, 2021., CC BY
Better targeting for cleanups
Our research has several potential uses. Private organizations, such as The Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit in The Netherlands, and Clewat, a Finnish company specializing in clean technology, use specially outfitted ships to collect, recycle and dispose of marine litter and debris. We have begun conversations with both groups and hope eventually to help them deploy their fleets more effectively.
Our spaceborne imagery may also be used to validate and improve numerical prediction models that attempt to track how microplastics move through the oceans using ocean circulation patterns. Scholars are developing several such models.
A solar-powered barge that filters plastic out of water, designed by Dutch NGO The Ocean Cleanup, deployed in the Rio Ozama, Dominican Republic, in 2020.
The Ocean Cleanup, CC BY
While the ocean roughness anomalies that we observed correlate strongly with microplastic concentrations, our estimates of concentration are based on the correlations that we observed, not on a known physical relationship between floating microplastics and ocean roughness. It could be that the roughness anomalies are caused by something else that is also correlated with the presence of microplastics.
One possibility is surfactants on the ocean surface. These liquid chemical compounds, which are widely used in detergents and other products, move through the oceans in ways similar to microplastics, and they also have a damping effect on wind-driven ocean roughening.
Further study is needed to identify how the smooth areas that we identified occur, and if they are caused indirectly by surfactants, to better understand exactly how their transport mechanisms are related to those of microplastics. But I hope this research can be part of a fundamental change in tracking and managing microplastic pollution.
[The Conversation’s science, health and technology editors pick their favorite stories. Weekly on Wednesdays.]
Pollution Toxic ‘forever chemicals’ are contaminating plastic food containers Harmful PFAS chemicals are being used to hold food, drink and cosmetics, with unknown consequences for human health Tom Perkins Fri 9 Jul 2021 06.00 EDT Many of the world’s plastic containers and bottles are contaminated with toxic PFAS, and new data suggests that it’s probably …
The waste plastic deluge fouling the world’s beaches could be more than just an eyesore. It could be a toxic timebomb.
LONDON, 8 July, 2021 − European researchers have warned that the wave of pollution engulfing the globe could be nearing a tipping point. The waste plastic deluge could become an irreversible crisis.
Somewhere between 9 and 23 million tonnes of polymers get into the rivers, lakes and seas of the world every year. Even more may be getting into the terrestrial soils and by 2025 − unless the world changes its ways − these levels of pollution will have doubled.
And, the researchers warn, the uncertain and as yet unknown effects of weathering on such volumes of plastic could bring what has been called “a global toxicity debt” as drinking bottles, bits of fishing gear, coffee cups and carrier bags become covered with microbial life; as plastic particles foul the sea’s surface, become suspended in the water column, and build up in the sediments of the ocean.
Plastic waste has now been found everywhere: on the world’s highest mountains, in the deepest oceanic trenches, on the beaches of desolate islands in the Southern Ocean, in the Arctic ice, and in the tissues of living creatures, from seabirds to whales.
Worsening climate crisis
“Right now we are loading up the environment with increasing amounts of poorly reversible plastic pollution. So far we don’t see widespread evidence of bad consequences but if weathering plastic triggers a really bad effect we are not likely to be able to reverse it,” said Matthew Macleod of Stockholm University in Sweden.
“The cost of ignoring the accumulation of persistent plastic pollution in the environment could be enormous. The rational thing to do is act as quickly as we can to reduce emissions of plastic into the environment.”
Professor Macleod and colleagues warn in the journal Science that alongside threats to wildlife, and the potential hazard of environmental poisoning, there could be a number of other hypothetical consequences.
Plastic pollutants could exacerbate climate change by disrupting the traffic of carbon between the natural world and the atmosphere, and they could heighten biodiversity loss in the already over-fished oceans.
Researchers do not yet know of the long-term non-toxicological effects of plastic pollution on carbon and nutrient cycles, soil and sediment fertility, and biodiversity. Nor has there been any assessment of the potential for delayed toxic effects as the plastic polymers are altered by weathering.
“The rational thing to do is act as quickly as we can to reduce emissions of plastic into the environment”
And if there are such effects, then they could persist, to trigger what the scientists call a “tipping point”, long after people have stopped discarding plastic waste into the environment.
“The world promotes technological solutions for recycling and to remove plastic from the environment. As consumers, we believe that when we properly separate our plastic trash, all of it will magically be recycled,” said Mine Tekman, of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, and a co-author.
“Technologically, recycling of plastic has many limitations, and countries that have good infrastructures have been exporting their plastic waste to countries with worse facilities. Reducing emissions requires drastic actions, like capping the production of virgin plastic to increase the value of recycled plastic, and banning the export of plastic waste unless it is to a country with better recycling.”
And her colleague Annika Jahnke of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany warned: “In remote environments, plastic debris cannot be removed by cleanups, and weathering of large plastic items will inevitably result in the generation of large numbers of micro- and nano-plastic particles as well as leaching of chemicals that were intentionally added to the plastic and other chemicals that break off the plastic polymer backbone.
“So, plastic in the environment is a constantly moving target of increasing complexity and mobility. Where it accumulates and what effects it may cause are challenging or maybe even impossible to predict.” − Climate News Network
SuppliedA microplastic fragment found in a shellfish in Bay of Plenty. The fragment came from a single-use plastic.Microplastics have been found in extremely high levels across the Bay of Plenty moana. Tiny plastic particles have been found in shellfish and sediment. University of Waikato master of science student Anita Lewis found the particles in every sediment sample she took from across the region, between Tauranga Harbour and the eastern coast to Maketu and Ōpōtiki. There was not one area sampled where microplastics were not present and particularly high levels were found in shellfish, including tuatua, cockles and wedge shells. These findings come a week after the Government announced plans to ban some single-use plastic products, such as plates, bags, cotton buds and drinking straws by 2025. READ MORE:* Plummeting crayfish numbers in small marine reserves leads to call for more protection in Hauraki Gulf* Kiwis possibly breathing in tiny pieces of plastic after particles found in air* Plastic in our drinking water could spread disease, World Health Organisation warns* We eat a ‘credit card’ size worth of plastic each weekRNZBottle-fed babies are ingesting millions of tiny microplastic particles a day. Lewis said her research findings were alarming, illustrating the impact plastics were having not only on our marine environment, but potentially human health. “Kaimoana gathering in New Zealand is common practice and this research is showing microplastics and nano-plastics are now bioaccumulating in our food chain.” The highest number of plastics in Macomona (wedge shells) was about 1.1 particles per gram of sample tissue in the Tuapiro Point and Maketu Estuary. Elevated levels were also found in Waipapa Bay cockles with 1.2 particles per gram of tissue and Matakana Island tuatua with 2.3 particles per gram of tissue.SuppliedUniversity of Waikato Master of science student Anita Lewis’s work is one of only three pieces of research undertaken on microplastics in New Zealand. “That’s a lot if you take it per gram of tissue.” She said banning single use plastics was an important step, but more advancements were needed particularly for fibre plastics. “What we wear is synthetic and it’s actually made of plastic, so those fibres shed in our washing machines and then they go to the waste water treatment plant, which only catch macro plastics. “Microplastics slip through the membranes… and due to abrasion exit in the treated water as more nano plastics than microplastics.SuppliedA microplastic fibre. In her sediment study she found that fragments, such as plastic bags and earbuds – that the Government wants to ban – only makes up 23 per cent of plastic pollution whereas fibres make up 75 per cent. Tuatua fibres made up 52 per cent of plastic pollution and in cockles 50 per cent. “Fibres are really the biggest problem. “There needs to be some serious changes in water treatment plants and washing machines.” Lewis’ findings will be presented to the New Zealand Marine Society Conference at Waikato University’s Tauranga campus on Thursday.
The companies that make packaged household goods, from dish soap to shampoo, have been complicit in creating a society addicted to single-use plastic. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.
[Source Photo: allanswart/iStock]
By STUART LANDESBERG 4 minute
By Catarina Demony3 Min ReadLISBON (Reuters) – New measures to reduce plastic waste in the European Union have drawn fire from environmental campaigners who say they do not go far enough, while manufacturers worry the rules could lead to different standards being adopted across the bloc.Slideshow ( 2 images )In an effort to reduce pollution, the EU banned a range of single-use plastic products on Saturday, including straws, plates, cutlery and cotton bud sticks and said drinking bottles must contain more recycled plastic.The directive, which also requires member states to reduce consumption of certain single-use items, came into force in 2019 but member states had until July 3 to turn it into national law.“Single-use plastic is the symbol of today’s throw-away society, and phasing them out constitutes an obvious first step to fight plastic pollution,” said Frédérique Mongodin, from NGO Seas At Risk. “Yet we cannot rely on the sole political will of national governments.”Only eight member states have informed the European Commission of measures put in place to transpose the directive, according to the Commission’s database. Most have adopted “bare minimum requirements” or are missing some of the required measures, Zero Waste Europe said.In others, such as Poland and Bulgaria, the transposition of the directive into national law is still in progress or has not started.Plastics manufacturers have also criticized the new rules, which they say risk fragmenting the market if some countries stick to the EU requirement for 30% of recycled content in plastic drinking bottles by 2030 and others go for more ambitious targets.The result could be that some manufacturers might have to produce different products for different countries, which would not be economically viable, one industry source said.In an industry statement, Plastics Europe, which represents manufacturers, called on the Commission to ensure the guidelines are not open for interpretation so member states do not end up adopting different rules.A Commission spokesperson said it has been “monitoring the transposition process and will provide member states with guidance and assistance where needed.”Reporting by Catarina Demony in Lisbon; Additional reporting by Kate Abnett in Brussels; Editing by James Mackenzie and Kate Abnett
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Taiwanese architect and engineer Arthur Huang wanted to do something to help. As the construction industry across the world ground to a halt, putting many of his projects on hold, Huang turned his attention to solving the urgent need for medical supplies and hospital space.Based in Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, Huang is the co-founder and CEO of Miniwiz — a company that takes different types of waste and transforms them into over 1,200 materials that can be used for construction, interiors and consumer products. With the pandemic affecting shipments of conventional materials, Huang found an alternative that’s never in short supply. “We have been building medical parts, medical components and a medical modular ward system all out of local trash,” he says.The result is the Modular Adaptable Convertible (MAC) ward — the world’s first hospital ward built out of recycled materials, according to Miniwiz. It was designed by the company in partnership with the Fu Jen Catholic University Hospital in Taipei, and may begin to admit patients as early as June. The walls of the MAC ward are lined with panels made from 90% recycled aluminum, and insulation made from recycled polyester. Cupboard handles and clothes hooks are made from recycled medical waste such as PPE. A portable version can be built from scratch in 24 hours, Huang says, allowing it to be transported to places with high medical need. “I think that [the] pandemic forces us to become very innovative to come up with the solutions to adapt to the current situation,” he says.One man’s mission to make treasure out of trash
The plastic food containers, coffee cups and cutlery that came with all that take-away during lockdown are now off the table as the EU gives single-use plastics the bin.
The great packaging purge has begun. Ten single-use plastic (SUP) products that for years have blighted Europe’s beaches will be largely banned from July 3 as the EU’s Single-Use Plastics Directive of 2019 comes into force. Plastic cotton bud sticks, cutlery, plates, straws, stirrers, balloon sticks and polystyrene drink and food vessels cannot be sold as of Saturday. Also getting binned are oxo-degradable plastic bags that are marketed as biodegradable but which, according to the EU, break down into microplastics that long remain in the environment. These disposable plastics make up around 70% of marine litter in Europe. Cafes and restaurants will now be forced to stock cups and straws made of bamboo, cellulose or other biodegradable materials. But not all has been outlawed as part of the plastics reforms. SUP bags, bottles, beverage and food containers for immediate consumption, packets and wrappers, tobacco filters, sanitary items and wet wipes will still instead be restricted, while producers will have to pay for the clean-up and institute awareness campaigns about their environmental impact. The end goal is an EU circular economy model via which any remaining disposable plastics will be reusable or recyclable by 2030. Here are five things to know about the EU’s plans for a plastic-free future. 1. How the new plastic regime will be implemented EU Member States have drawn up their own laws to implement the Single Use Plastics Directive. Some have even decided to add to the list of banned SUPs. As part of France’s ‘law on the circular economy and the fight against waste’ adopted in February 2020, most fruit and vegetable packaging will also be banned, as will plastic tea bags, confetti and plastic toys offered as part of kids menus. Europe’s battle with marine plastic pollution: Some of the 22 kilograms (48.5 pounds) of plastic found in its belly of a sperm whale found dead off Sardinia in 2019 In Germany, measures approved in Novemberadded EPS polystyrene food containers to the SUPs included in the directive. In Luxembourg, SUPs have been banned from being sold at festivals from July 3. In Greece, meanwhile, they’ve been outlawed from use in government agencies since February, the first ban of its kind. Other countries like Italy and Belgium are also introducing a plastics tax or levy to disincentivize the use of plastics. It might all appear haphazard, but in line with the European Green Deal, all EU member states must ultimately fall in line with a waste and pollution-free circular economy model in which any SUPs are sustainably re-used and recycled by the end of the decade. 2. Plastic drink bottles still allowed While the plastics directive deals with a lot of throwaway plastic items that end up on Europe’s coasts, it does not ban some of the 1.3 billion plastic drink bottles that are sold daily around the world. Made of PET, these fossil-based plastic containers are, however, one of the few that can be recycled and used to make new bottles, packaging or fibers. The problem remains that only 65% of PET bottles in Europe are collected for recycling, and the rest will take hundreds of years to decompose. The SUP directive sets a collection target of 90% recycling for PET bottles by 2029 (with an interim target of 77% by 2025). These bottles should also contain at least 25% recycled, as opposed to virgin, plastic by 2025 And manufacturers who sell PET bottles now also have more stringent accountability as part of the “extended producer responsibility” mandate included in the directive. Based on the “polluter pays” principle, producers will have to cover the cost of waste management clean-up as well as raising awareness about the environment impact of the product and the most sustainable disposal methods. 3. Some alternatives to plastic Natural polymers that have not been chemically modified are exempt from the directive. Any plastics created from modified natural polymers, or fossil or synthetic feedstocks, are effectively banned. The winners here will be a range of new sustainable materials that are not considered chemically modified. These include regenerated cellulose, which is used to create viscose, lyocell and cellulosic films. The most abundant biopolymer on our planet, regenerated cellulose is used to create a strong, transparent and completely biodegradable film or sheet that is largely impermeable to oils and greases. A long-used food packaging material before the introduction of oil-based plastics, cellulose is back. Meanwhile, biodegradable cotton bud sticks will typically be made from compostable bamboo, meaning they can be disposed of in the normal organic waste. All that SUP cutlery is also likely to be replaced by completely compostable, 100% biodegradable bamboo that is cheap and fast to grow. That said, when implementing the SUP directive, countries like France and Belgiun have banned the labeling of products as “biodegradable” because it can be a form of greenwashing that encourages packaging consumption. 4. Cigarette butts also on the list Article 8 of the EU Single Use Plastics Directive specifies that tobacco producers have to foot the bill for the clean-up of cigarette butts containing plastic filters. Made with cellulose acetate, a polymer that breaks down in the environment very slowly, some 4.5 trillion butts are discarded annually, making it the most littered item on the planet. But the EU’s SUP directive is forcing producers to label the butts and packets to create awareness as opposed to an outright ban. Activists want plastic butts to simply be outlawed — which won’t happen until 2027 when the list of banned SUPs will be updated. In September 2020, anti-plastic campaigners collected 142,000 cigarette butts from streets across the Netherlands. “Communication campaigns do not solve the issue,” said Karl Beerenfenger from By the Ocean we Unite, which co-organized the clean-up. “We must change the product itself. Cigarette filters only serve as a marketing tool to sell more cigarettes. We want to get rid of the plastic cigarette filter altogether.” But so far there are no plans to ban butts. Sustainable filters could be an interim solution, with the company Green Butts pitching its water dispersable filter to the EU Commission on social media, claiming its product biodegrades in days and is produced with sustainable natural fibers. 5. ‘Pandemic plastics’ yet to be included The SUPs ban exempts medical-related plastics, including the masks and gloves that have become so widespread during the pandemic. In addition to the many types of packaging made from long-lasting SUPs for these pandemic response products, these materials have ended up as waste on both land and in marine environments, with potentially harmful impacts on ecosystems, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA). “Imports of face masks into the EU more than doubled compared with business as usual before the pandemic,” said the EEA. The increase happened while EU production was also increasing. With around 170,000 additional tons of these plastic-based face masks introduced into the EU during the first six months of the pandemic, calls are growing to find alternatives. But so far, pandemic plastics are not addressed by the new SUP rules: “Notably, the directive on single-use plastics does not even apply to single-use plastic products used in the health sectors, such as single-use gloves, gowns and masks,” said Justine Maillot from Zero Waste Europe in a statement.