Sperm counts on the decline due to plastics

Recent studies show that fertility in both male and female has decreased over the past few decades. According to research, this is linked to the effects of toxic chemicals in plastics that have gone unregulated. Plastics contain hazardous chemicals, including endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that threaten human health.

In most African countries, a majority of the people use plastic products daily. Most used plastic items include plates, cups, toys, shampoo bottles, food packaging tins, and office equipment.

Unbeknownst to many, some of the products contain harmful chemicals and additives that negatively impact their health and the environment. It’s hard to control the exposure of some of the additives in plastic for they occur during the entire life span of the products, from the manufacturing process to the consumer contact, recycling, to waste management and disposal. This makes it even harder for circular economy to thrive for it turns toxic if the plastics recycled contain toxic chemicals.

Waste recycling

Many of these additives are known to interfere with hormone functioning thus are commonly referred to as endocrine disrupting chemicals. These chemicals are deadly and life threatening. The can cause cancer, diabetes, liver, metabolic disorders, alterations to both male and female reproductive development, infertility and neurological impacts.

According to research, young women today at 25 are less fertile than their grandmothers were when they were 45. The number of sperms per milliliter of semen has dropped more than 50 per cent among men in western countries in just under 40 years. Some of the known chemicals that leach from plastic and threaten general health include the phthalates, PFAS, flame retardants, dioxins and UV-stabilisers.

Children spend a significant amount of time on the ground in indoor areas having hand-to-mouth contact and playing with contaminated toys. Regulations are needed in ensuring some of the additives are not used for they are costing the lives of many children.

Although waste recycling is a good practice, it should not apply to waste containing toxic chemicals and additives. The burden of plastics needs to be addressed from the source as many African countries have turned into dumping sites. 

Pitt study: World plastics trade accounts for 350M metric tons of CO2

The amount of plastic traded between countries has the carbon footprint of a mid-sized European country, according to a new study from the University of Pittsburgh.
Almost half of all plastics are traded across international borders – usually from oil- and gas-producing countries to those with big manufacturing sectors, like China.
Oil and gas are harvested and refined to make that plastic. The study found that internationally-traded plastics created 350 million metric tons of carbon dioxide – about the same footprint as France or Italy.
“This is a huge problem,” said Vikas Khanna, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, and the study’s lead author.  “But at the same time, it’s a huge opportunity.”
Better recycling could lower that footprint, to promote a “circular” economy, Khanna said. Only around 9 percent of all plastics are recycled.

Opportunities to reduce plastic
By 2050, plastics are on track to account for 15 percent of all global greenhouse gases. Scientists say lowering our greenhouse gas emissions is imperative to limiting the worst effects of climate change.
Khanna said most recycling now is a form of  “downcycling,” where materials like plastic bottles are repurposed as lower-grade materials.
“Maybe you shred it into smaller particles and it may become fillers for something else,” Khanna said.
He said chemical recycling, where plastics are broken down into their building blocks, is one way to keep more virgin plastics out of landfills and the environment. A plastic bottle can then become…another plastic bottle.
“That way, we’re not losing the value, we’re recovering the building blocks” of the material, Khanna said.
Khanna said for that to happen, there will need to be government action to fund research and offer incentives for companies to improve recycling techniques.
“Right now, I think there’s a lack of incentives and there’s no policies, at least in the U.S.,” Khanna said. Those policies are starting to take hold in Europe in other countries, he said.
In addition to greenhouse gases, plastics pose other problems. Scientists estimate around 10 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year, and microplastics – tiny particles that escape into the environment as materials degrade–have been found in Arctic ice, the Mariana Trench, and in baby feces.
Video: As the World Grapples with Plastic Pollution, Pa.’s Ethane Cracker Promises More Plastic

The study found that since a handful of countries, like the U.S., China, Saudi Arabia and Germany are responsible for the majority of plastics trade, policies in just a few countries could have a big impact on reducing plastic waste. Improving worldwide recycling practices “may only require interventions in a few key countries,” the authors state.
Make producers responsible for plastic waste
Daniel Posen, assistant professor in civil and mineral engineering at the University of Toronto, who was not involved in the study, said there’s no silver bullet to solving the world’s plastics problem.
He said one potential part of the solution is to cut down on the circulation of plastics by banning some single-use plastics – like shopping bags and utensils – as many countries around the world have begun doing.
Another possible solution is a regulatory concept, also gaining popularity in Europe, of “extended producer responsibility,” which places the onus on companies – rather than local governments and consumers – on ensuring plastics are properly disposed of.
“As soon as you flip the responsibility, it’s no longer on the consumer or on governments to deal with it but on you as a company,” Posen said. “If you are responsible as a company for proper disposal, you are going to design a product that is much easier to be disposed of.”
Following Pennsylvania Gas to Scotland

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth’s energy economy.

Microplastics may be linked to inflammatory bowel disease, study finds

Microplastics may be linked to inflammatory bowel disease, study finds People with IBD have 50% more microplastics in their faeces but more research needed to confirm connection People with inflammatory bowel disease have 50% more microplastics in their faeces, a study has revealed. Previous research has shown that microplastics can cause intestinal inflammation and other …

No mountain high enough: study finds plastic in ‘clean’ air

No mountain high enough: study finds plastic in ‘clean’ air Microplastics from Africa and North America found airborne in French Pyrenees, 2,877 metres above sea level From Mount Everest to the Mariana Trench, microplastics are everywhere – even high in the Earth’s troposphere where wind speeds allow them to travel vast distances, a new study …

Microplastics: Pollution in French mountain air may have crossed Atlantic Ocean

Microplastics travelled thousands of kilometres across oceans and continents in a fast-moving layer of the atmosphere before being captured on a mountain in the French Pyrenees


21 December 2021

By Carissa Wong
Capturing microplastics at the Pic du Midi ObservatoryJeroen Sonke
Microplastics found at a mountain top in the French Pyrenees may have crossed continents and oceans, travelling around 4500 kilometres in a fast-moving region of the troposphere, which is the lowest layer of the atmosphere. The finding suggests the particles can circulate the world and reach even the most remote regions.
Microplastics are tiny pieces of plastic, each less than 5 millimetres in diameter. They have been previously discovered in a lower region of the troposphere called the boundary layer, where friction between the air and Earth’s surface occurs and wind speeds are relatively low.
Now, for the first time, we have evidence that microplastics can travel at a higher altitude in the troposphere in a layer that doesn’t feel the effects of friction with Earth’s surface. In this layer – called the free troposphere – higher wind speeds give microplastics a greater potential for long-distance travel than was previously known.Advertisement
“Once microplastics hit the free troposphere it’s the super highway for pollution movement. There’s high wind speed and very little rain up there, so the pollution doesn’t get rained out and it just travels much faster [than in the planetary boundary layer below],” says Steve Allen at the University of Strathclyde in the UK, a member of the research team.
“We’re not surprised that it’s up there but we’re sad that it is. These tiny particles are excellent transporters of pollution, they act as little balls of Velcro, collecting viruses and other pollutants on the outside of the particle as it moves,” says team member Deonie Allen, also at the University of Strathclyde.
The researchers captured 15 samples of microplastic particles over several months at the Pic du Midi Observatory in the Pyrenees in south-west France, which sits at nearly 3000 metres above sea level and provides access to the free troposphere.
The team used computational models to map the likely routes taken by the microplastics in the week leading up to their capture. The models were fed with data on the movement of airflow around the globe and took account of the sizes and densities of the microplastics to find that particles travelled around 4500 kilometres on average in the free troposphere. Potential sources included the US, Canada, North Africa, the UK, and the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean.

“Some of the samples we got showed a marine source, coming out of the ocean and managing to get up into the free troposphere,” says Steve Allen. “That basically completes the cycle of what we think plastics are doing – it doesn’t stop anywhere, there’s never a sink, but a way station on to somewhere else.”
Most of the particles were between 5 and 20 micrometres in diameter. These are particles that can be inhaled and potentially cause breathing problems.
“This is the size of particle you breathe that causes respiratory disease – the stuff that makes you cough and gives you asthma,” says Deonie Allen.
Using a laser, the team determined that the most abundant type of plastic was polyethylene, which is commonly used in plastic packaging.
“Wealthy countries think that they’re getting rid of plastic waste when they ship it off to be burned or landfilled in other parts of the world – they’re not, it’s just coming back in a few weeks’ time. There’s no borders in nature,” says Steve Allen.
Journal reference: Nature Communications, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-27454-7
Sign up to our free Fix the Planet newsletter to get a dose of climate optimism delivered straight to your inbox, every Thursday

More on these topics:

Beware of false solutions to the crises of climate change and plastic pollution

While climate disasters unfold in Canada and around the planet, the federal government is entertaining false solutions from the fossil-fuel industry that risk making things worse instead of better. The federal government has committed to ending fossil fuel subsidies. But now they’re rolling out new policies, spending programs and tax breaks to incentivize carbon capture and storage, blue hydrogen and “advanced recycling.” The truth is, these are just new fossil fuel subsidies in disguise that will continue to lock us into dirty fuels. Take “carbon capture and storage” (CCS), touted by the industry as a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by capturing some of the gases from polluting facilities before they escape into the atmosphere. CCS does nothing to stop the emissions created from burning the fuel — most notably for heating and transportation — and yet the oil and gas lobby wants at least $50 billion from taxpayers to make it happen.But CCS is not a climate solution. In fact, CCS perversely increases emissions, since most of the captured carbon is actually used to get more oil out of the ground. And despite decades of research and tens of billions of dollars in subsidies globally, CCS is neither economically sound nor proven at scale. In fact, globally only 0.1 per cent of annual emissions from fossil fuels are being captured. And while the costs of renewables and real climate solutions have plummeted, carbon capture technologies remain very expensive.And then there’s “blue” hydrogen. Hydrogen, like electricity, can be used to store or transport energy, and when burned, it doesn’t create any greenhouse gas emissions. But the vast majority of hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels — with huge emissions. Industry promises to deal with those through unproven CCS.A recent study from Cornell and Stanford found that blue fossil hydrogen is even worse for the climate than burning coal or natural gas directly and concludes there is no role for fossil hydrogen in a carbon-free future. If hydrogen is to play a role in a future energy grid, it will be “green” hydrogen from renewable electricity.Not to be left behind, the petrochemical industry is touting a troubling technology to rid the world of plastic waste. We’re on track to see plastic outweigh fish in the world’s oceans by 2050, but the industry’s proposed strategy will allow them to continue producing more and more plastic. The industry has long used the promise of recycling to justify plastic, especially single-use products and packaging. But recycling has never worked. Only 9 per cent of all plastic is recycled in Canada. The rest ends up in landfills, incinerators or the natural environment. Now the industry is selling “advanced recycling,” which isn’t really recycling at all. There has been a flurry of announcements around the world in recent years about pilot projects to make a small amount of plastic waste “disappear” by turning it into fuel and chemicals. These projects burn a lot of energy to get a small amount of fuel, some of which might be sent back to refineries that make new plastic and untold byproducts, most of which will end up in landfills. Similar to CCS, “advanced recycling” also doesn’t reduce our need to extract and refine fossil fuels. All we get in the end is more and more plastic, more and more waste and more and more pollution.To stop the damage to our planet, the federal government must refuse false solutions and instead pave the way for a fair transition for workers and communities away from oil and gas. That means no tax breaks, spending or regulations that provide a benefit to CCS, blue hydrogen or advanced recycling.Julia Levin is senior program manager, climate and energy, at Environmental Defence and Karen Wirsig is plastics program manager at Environmental Defence.

Romania imposes limits on imported wastes to tackle pollution

Bales of waste illegally imported from Portugal seized in Romania in 2019. Photo: National Environmental Guard of RomaniaRomania has limited the number of border crossing points through which recyclable waste can be broughg into the country to 15, and has adopted a decision to combat the illegal import of waste. “Romania cannot be Europe’s landfill,” Environment Minister Tanczos Barna said.
Barna added that as European legislation currently does not allow member states to refuse imported waste, Romania needed to adopt its own normative act to regulate such activities.
“Tracing these transports from the border to the place of recycling will be mandatory. The quantities of waste entering the country will also be correlated with the recycling capacity of the companies,” he added.
An environmental activist, Octavian Berceanu, told BIRN that the new measures were good, but still insufficient, as the 15 designated points are the same points where such waste is usually introduced, so not much would change.
“These checking points must be equipped with scanning devices, and the number of environmental commissioners must be tripled. Otherwise, Romania could be sued by these companies,” Berceanu told BIRN.
Barna said that the transport – often illegal – of waste to Romania and the management of the waste were some of the urgent problems “that we will solve through this normative act”.
According to the act, the 15 authorised crossing points for waste will be established by a joint order of the Environment and Interior Ministers.
An Environmental Fund will be administered by an institution that will monitor the incoming quantities of waste, and ensure that they match the recycling capacity of the companies that the waste should reach, also making available to users a free-of-charge computer system to ensure traceability.
This will help to monitor and verify the correctness of transactions of waste.
“We noticed an increasing trend of illegal waste shipments identified in the Romanian border crossing points and an increased pressure on the borders,” the environmental protection agency, ANPM, said.
In recent years, Romania and Bulgaria have become essential destinations for waste from Western Europe after China closed its doors in 2018 to such imports.
Much of the waste is brought to villages around Bucharest and burned illegally, causing air pollution, as the central and local authorities often look the other way.
The metal extracted from burning plastic, rubber and other materials is sold to scrap metal businesses.

New novel imagines a future where all we’re left with is our plastic pollution

As Shell builds its petrochemical facility to make the building blocks of plastic in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, and more ethane crackers are being considered for the region, a novel about plastic pollution in Appalachia seems well timed.
This year’s Trashlands takes place in an eponymous junkyard where decades into the future agroup of people try to squeeze an existence out of the scraps that remain from our modern way of life.
The central character, Coral, named for the coralroot orchid, which has gone extinct, struggles to keep her family together and make sense out of this dystopian reality. Coral doesn’t remember a time when there were four seasons, while she and scrapes together meals from flour made of crickets.
Author Alison Stine created this world. A journalist and staff culture writer at Salon, Stine’s previous speculative fiction book, Road Out of Winter won the 2021 Philip K. Dick Award. The Allegheny Front’s Kara Holsopple spoke with Stine about some of the themes in Trashlands.
LISTEN to the interview

Plastic pollution from Amazon deliveries grows by almost 30 per cent in one year

A new report from Oceana reveals that Amazon generated an estimated 271 million kilograms of plastic packaging waste last year. This is a 29 per cent increase over Oceana’s 2019 estimates, with much of this plastic waste stemming from the billions of packages Amazon delivered during the COVID-19 pandemic.Oceana also found, based on data from a peer-reviewed study on plastic waste pollution published in Science in 2020, that up to 10.66 million kilograms of this waste entered the world’s waterways and seas — the equivalent of dumping a delivery van worth of plastic into the oceans every 67 minutes. The majority of this packaging is lightweight plastic films, such as bubble wrap, mailers, and air pillows.”Amazon’s global plastic packaging pollution footprint is growing at an alarming rate at a time when the United Nations has declared plastic the biggest threat to the global environment after climate change,” says Oceana Canada plastic campaigner Ashley Wallis. “So-called corporate leadership simply isn’t good enough. We urgently need the Canadian government to enact a strong national ban on unnecessary single-use plastic. Federal leadership is needed to hold these corporate polluters accountable.”Plastic is a major source of pollution and is devastating the world’s oceans. Studies have estimated 55 per cent of sea birds, 70 per cent of marine mammals and 52 per cent of all sea turtles have ingested or become entangled in plastic, and that film, prevalent in Amazon packaging, is one of the deadliest forms of plastic for marine life. Only seven per cent of plastic films are recycled in Canada.Amazon has shown it has the technical ability to reduce its plastic use when compelled to by governments, consumers and environmental organizations like Oceana. Following the announcement of a pending national ban on single-use plastics in India, Amazon decreased its single-use plastic packaging and increased its use of returnable and reusable packaging.vi It also recently announced it would stop packaging products in single-use plastic packaging in Germany by the end of 2021.vii Amazon could substantially reduce its significant global plastic footprint if it expands this plastic-free approach worldwide.“Amazon has shown it can reduce its plastic footprint, but in Canada, whether it does or not will also depend on federal leadership,” says Wallis. “Shortly after the Indian government announced plans to ban single-use plastics, Amazon decreased its single-use plastic packaging. This illustrates exactly why we need the Canadian government to show leadership in fighting the growing global plastic disaster by implementing a comprehensive ban on unnecessary plastics and ultimately holding corporate polluters accountable.”In Canada, 95 per cent of those surveyed by Abacus Data for Oceana Canada are concerned about the impact plastic pollution has on our oceans and 94 per cent are concerned about the thousands of sea creatures that are killed because of plastic ingestion or entanglement every year. A whopping 90 per cent of Canadians support the proposed national single-use plastic ban and 63 per cent want to see it go further, including banning hard-to-recycle packaging. As currently proposed, the federal government’s ban on six types of single-use plastics reportedly covers less than one per cent of the plastic products we use and does not include the kinds of packaging Amazon uses.Oceana Canada is asking Canadians now to help urge our government to impose a strong single-use plastic ban by signing its government petition at Oceana.ca/EndthePlasticDisasterOceana is also calling on Amazon to reduce its plastic footprint and:Listen to its shareholders and be fully transparent: more than one-third of Amazon’s shareholders asked the company to report on its plastic footprint. This data should be independently verified.Listen to its customers: more than 740,000 people have signed a petition asking Amazon for plastic-free choices.Eliminate plastic packaging, increase the number of products shipped in reusable containers, and adopt policies that demonstrably reduce plastic pollution rather than making empty claims about “recyclability.”Find out more about Oceana Canada’s campaign to stop single-use plastic pollution at www.oceana.ca/Plastics.— Oceana Canada— AB