Category Archives: Plastic

Waste plastic deluge could soon prove irreversible

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

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

Chile’s waste bus changes throw-away societies

In a world choking on its own discarded rubbish, Chile’s waste bus is showing a way to slow the flood.

LONDON, 22 December, 2020 − If the climate crisis keeps you awake at night, the impact of what we casually throw away is sure to have you worried: it makes global heating a lot worse. But Chile’s waste bus is managing to change behaviour in a country with ingrained ways of disposing of what it no longer wants.

An estimated 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) were generated globally from the treatment and disposal of waste in 2016 – representing about 5% of global CO2 emissions.

But recycling, experts say, is simply not enough to tackle this deluge. It’s useful and necessary, but waste needs to be “designed out” of the production and consumption cycle early in the life of a product.

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the Paris Agreement on climate change). It’s singled out a Latin American pioneer of an approach to waste which it thinks can teach the world a lesson or two.

It’s a social enterprise in Chile which encourages people to produce less waste and to recycle more − and which knows how policy and economic shifts can help to achieve rapid change. Enter TriCiclos, a company focused on changing consumerism and waste management so as to balance its three eponymous cycles: social, environmental, and financial.

Largest network

The TriCiclos model develops more sustainable ways of working, while engaging people in playing an active part and helping companies to re-design their processes to suit a circular economy.

TriCiclos was founded by two friends, Gonzalo Muñoz and Joaquin Arnolds Reyes, both determined to change how society thinks about resource use and to question what happens when something is “thrown away”.

It provides a service – on-site recycling centres called “Puntos Limpios”, or “clean-up points”, made from old shipping containers – where products that can be recycled or recovered are deposited in separate waste streams by consumers.

Brightly coloured and easy to use, each functions as a self-contained small-scale recycling centre coping with 25 different types of materials divided into categories: cellulose, plastic-coated cardboard, plastics, metals (aluminium and other metals), and glass. The containers gain by being installed in a chain of retail stores – one of the major players in home improvements in Latin America – allowing the partners to create the largest national network of clean-up units in Chile.

“In a sustainable society, we will need to stop using a variety of materials and products that are still seen as normal and acceptable today”

The company also runs education programmes to teach people about waste disposal and recycling, and its “waste bus” travels the country providing advice on how to re-use waste and recycle it properly. The bus visits schools as well, and supports beach cleaning projects. TriCiclos has also invented a machine that turns plastic into toys, to show the potential of re-using materials, and works with waste pickers’ groups and cooperatives.

Unusually, perhaps, TriCiclos also offers business consultancy. True to its core belief that “waste is a design error that needs to be fixed”, the company helps manufacturers and designers to prevent their products entering the waste stream at all. To influence the production chain of consumer goods even before their creation, the company has developed its own software and machinery to help clients transform materials into circular resources.

Muñoz calls TriCiclos a company of cultural change disguised as recycling: “We want to change the culture of product design; the consumer culture that now exceeds our planet’s capabilities; the culture of citizens who must do their part by choosing better, as well as preparing and separating materials; the culture of the recycler that, as a standard, can and should become a service provider; and finally, the culture of waste that must disappear to accommodate the circular economy culture.”

By 2014 the business had arrived in Brazil. Today it is working in Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

Nets salvaged

It is spawning imitators at home as well. Marine plastic has become a huge pollution issue on Chile’s beaches and in the poorer southern half of the country no facilities existed for fishermen to dispose safely of unusable plastic nets. Now a recent startup, Bureo, founded by three North American surfers, is collaborating with local fishing communities to keep hundreds of tonnes of discarded nets out of the ocean each year to be treated in Bureo’s warehouse, before being turned into 100% recycled pellets which are sold as a sustainable alternative to first-use plastics.

TriCiclos works with waste collectors to pass on their knowledge and experience of recycling to citizens, showing people how to separate their garbage, and also having conversations that lead the Punto Limpio users to reflect on their consumption and purchasing choices, raising awareness of which materials are recyclable as well as which brands and products follow sustainable practices.

Dr Muñoz says: “The first thing you have to consider is where garbage comes from. This way we can understand that in a sustainable society, we will need to stop using a variety of materials and products that are still seen as normal and acceptable today. In order for this to happen, we must change our culture, change our incentives, challenge waste and programmed obsolescence.”

Waste, already a huge global problem, is growing fast. A 2018 World Bank report said annual waste generation was expected to jump from 2.01 billion tonnes in 2016 to 3.4 bn tonnes over the next 30 years, driven by rapid urbanisation, advertisements promoting consumerism, and growing populations. Humanity is already consuming more resources and producing more waste than the biosphere can regenerate and safely absorb.

Plastics – a product of the fossil fuel industry – are especially problematic. If not collected and managed properly, they will contaminate and affect waterways and ecosystems for hundreds or even thousands of years. More than a third of waste in high-income countries is recovered through recycling and composting, but only 4% is recycled in low-income countries . – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

In a world choking on its own discarded rubbish, Chile’s waste bus is showing a way to slow the flood.

LONDON, 22 December, 2020 − If the climate crisis keeps you awake at night, the impact of what we casually throw away is sure to have you worried: it makes global heating a lot worse. But Chile’s waste bus is managing to change behaviour in a country with ingrained ways of disposing of what it no longer wants.

An estimated 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) were generated globally from the treatment and disposal of waste in 2016 – representing about 5% of global CO2 emissions.

But recycling, experts say, is simply not enough to tackle this deluge. It’s useful and necessary, but waste needs to be “designed out” of the production and consumption cycle early in the life of a product.

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the Paris Agreement on climate change). It’s singled out a Latin American pioneer of an approach to waste which it thinks can teach the world a lesson or two.

It’s a social enterprise in Chile which encourages people to produce less waste and to recycle more − and which knows how policy and economic shifts can help to achieve rapid change. Enter TriCiclos, a company focused on changing consumerism and waste management so as to balance its three eponymous cycles: social, environmental, and financial.

Largest network

The TriCiclos model develops more sustainable ways of working, while engaging people in playing an active part and helping companies to re-design their processes to suit a circular economy.

TriCiclos was founded by two friends, Gonzalo Muñoz and Joaquin Arnolds Reyes, both determined to change how society thinks about resource use and to question what happens when something is “thrown away”.

It provides a service – on-site recycling centres called “Puntos Limpios”, or “clean-up points”, made from old shipping containers – where products that can be recycled or recovered are deposited in separate waste streams by consumers.

Brightly coloured and easy to use, each functions as a self-contained small-scale recycling centre coping with 25 different types of materials divided into categories: cellulose, plastic-coated cardboard, plastics, metals (aluminium and other metals), and glass. The containers gain by being installed in a chain of retail stores – one of the major players in home improvements in Latin America – allowing the partners to create the largest national network of clean-up units in Chile.

“In a sustainable society, we will need to stop using a variety of materials and products that are still seen as normal and acceptable today”

The company also runs education programmes to teach people about waste disposal and recycling, and its “waste bus” travels the country providing advice on how to re-use waste and recycle it properly. The bus visits schools as well, and supports beach cleaning projects. TriCiclos has also invented a machine that turns plastic into toys, to show the potential of re-using materials, and works with waste pickers’ groups and cooperatives.

Unusually, perhaps, TriCiclos also offers business consultancy. True to its core belief that “waste is a design error that needs to be fixed”, the company helps manufacturers and designers to prevent their products entering the waste stream at all. To influence the production chain of consumer goods even before their creation, the company has developed its own software and machinery to help clients transform materials into circular resources.

Muñoz calls TriCiclos a company of cultural change disguised as recycling: “We want to change the culture of product design; the consumer culture that now exceeds our planet’s capabilities; the culture of citizens who must do their part by choosing better, as well as preparing and separating materials; the culture of the recycler that, as a standard, can and should become a service provider; and finally, the culture of waste that must disappear to accommodate the circular economy culture.”

By 2014 the business had arrived in Brazil. Today it is working in Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

Nets salvaged

It is spawning imitators at home as well. Marine plastic has become a huge pollution issue on Chile’s beaches and in the poorer southern half of the country no facilities existed for fishermen to dispose safely of unusable plastic nets. Now a recent startup, Bureo, founded by three North American surfers, is collaborating with local fishing communities to keep hundreds of tonnes of discarded nets out of the ocean each year to be treated in Bureo’s warehouse, before being turned into 100% recycled pellets which are sold as a sustainable alternative to first-use plastics.

TriCiclos works with waste collectors to pass on their knowledge and experience of recycling to citizens, showing people how to separate their garbage, and also having conversations that lead the Punto Limpio users to reflect on their consumption and purchasing choices, raising awareness of which materials are recyclable as well as which brands and products follow sustainable practices.

Dr Muñoz says: “The first thing you have to consider is where garbage comes from. This way we can understand that in a sustainable society, we will need to stop using a variety of materials and products that are still seen as normal and acceptable today. In order for this to happen, we must change our culture, change our incentives, challenge waste and programmed obsolescence.”

Waste, already a huge global problem, is growing fast. A 2018 World Bank report said annual waste generation was expected to jump from 2.01 billion tonnes in 2016 to 3.4 bn tonnes over the next 30 years, driven by rapid urbanisation, advertisements promoting consumerism, and growing populations. Humanity is already consuming more resources and producing more waste than the biosphere can regenerate and safely absorb.

Plastics – a product of the fossil fuel industry – are especially problematic. If not collected and managed properly, they will contaminate and affect waterways and ecosystems for hundreds or even thousands of years. More than a third of waste in high-income countries is recovered through recycling and composting, but only 4% is recycled in low-income countries . – Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Roof of the world is home to microplastic fibres

Microplastic fibres have been found in the snows of Everest. Pollution levels have literally reached new heights.

LONDON, 26 November, 2020 − Scientists have set a new record for the identification of microplastic fibres − an altitude record. They have found them at 8,440 metres high in the Himalayas, almost at the summit of Mt Everest.

It should be no surprise. Microplastic fibres and polymer fragments − derived from plastic products and especially from plastic waste − have been found in the sediments at the bottom of the sea, on the beaches around barren Antarctic islands, in the Arctic ice, on the surfaces of the ocean, and in the tissues of living things, from sea snails to whales.

And as the issue of plastic pollution made its way up the political agenda, it has now also climbed Mt Everest. Researchers report, in the journal One Earth, that they identified 12 fibrous plastic particles in every litre of snow from the highest measuring point, the so-called Balcony of Everest; particles were also identified in stream water at high altitudes and in even greater numbers − 79 per litre of snow − at the famous Everest Base Camp.

Their arrival on the world’s highest and most famous peak would have been inevitable. Seventy years ago manufacturers made plastic products at the rate of 5 million tonnes a year. In 2020, the world purchased 330 million tonnes, much of it used once and discarded.

“It really surprised me to find microplastics in every single snow sample. To know we are polluting near the top of the tallest mountain is a real eye-opener”

Somewhere between 93,000 tonnes and 236,000 tonnes is estimated to be floating on the sea surfaces. The cascade of polyester, acrylic, nylon, polypropylene and other polymer waste could increase threefold in the next two decades.

And just as there is more plastic on the planet, so there are more and more visitors to Sagamartha National Park in Nepal, and to the slopes of Mt Everest. In 1979, the region was host to 3,600 trekkers and climbers. By 2016, that number had climbed to 45,000. By 2019, climbers were forming an orderly queue and taking turns to reach the summit.

And each of these would have been wearing high-performance outdoor clothing, while carrying − and sometimes leaving behind − ropes, tents and lunch boxes fashioned from polymer materials.

The snow samples were collected by a National Geographic research team
formed to investigate the impact of climate change on the world’s highest peak, and studied by Imogen Napper of the University of Plymouth in the UK.

No longer pristine

“Mt Everest has been described as the world’s highest junkyard. Microplastics haven’t been studied on the mountain before, but they are generally just as persistent and typically more difficult to remove than larger items of debris,” Dr Napper said.

“I didn’t know what to expect in terms of results, but it really surprised me to find microplastics in every single snow sample I analysed. Mt Everest is somewhere I had always considered remote and pristine. To know we are polluting near the top of the tallest mountain is a real eye-opener.”

She added: “These are the highest microplastics discovered so far. While it sounds exciting, it means that microplastics have been discovered from the depths of the ocean all the way to the highest mountain on Earth.

“With microplastics so ubiquitous in our environment, it’s time to focus on informing appropriate environmental solutions. We need to protect and care for our planet.” − Climate News Network

Microplastic fibres have been found in the snows of Everest. Pollution levels have literally reached new heights.

LONDON, 26 November, 2020 − Scientists have set a new record for the identification of microplastic fibres − an altitude record. They have found them at 8,440 metres high in the Himalayas, almost at the summit of Mt Everest.

It should be no surprise. Microplastic fibres and polymer fragments − derived from plastic products and especially from plastic waste − have been found in the sediments at the bottom of the sea, on the beaches around barren Antarctic islands, in the Arctic ice, on the surfaces of the ocean, and in the tissues of living things, from sea snails to whales.

And as the issue of plastic pollution made its way up the political agenda, it has now also climbed Mt Everest. Researchers report, in the journal One Earth, that they identified 12 fibrous plastic particles in every litre of snow from the highest measuring point, the so-called Balcony of Everest; particles were also identified in stream water at high altitudes and in even greater numbers − 79 per litre of snow − at the famous Everest Base Camp.

Their arrival on the world’s highest and most famous peak would have been inevitable. Seventy years ago manufacturers made plastic products at the rate of 5 million tonnes a year. In 2020, the world purchased 330 million tonnes, much of it used once and discarded.

“It really surprised me to find microplastics in every single snow sample. To know we are polluting near the top of the tallest mountain is a real eye-opener”

Somewhere between 93,000 tonnes and 236,000 tonnes is estimated to be floating on the sea surfaces. The cascade of polyester, acrylic, nylon, polypropylene and other polymer waste could increase threefold in the next two decades.

And just as there is more plastic on the planet, so there are more and more visitors to Sagamartha National Park in Nepal, and to the slopes of Mt Everest. In 1979, the region was host to 3,600 trekkers and climbers. By 2016, that number had climbed to 45,000. By 2019, climbers were forming an orderly queue and taking turns to reach the summit.

And each of these would have been wearing high-performance outdoor clothing, while carrying − and sometimes leaving behind − ropes, tents and lunch boxes fashioned from polymer materials.

The snow samples were collected by a National Geographic research team
formed to investigate the impact of climate change on the world’s highest peak, and studied by Imogen Napper of the University of Plymouth in the UK.

No longer pristine

“Mt Everest has been described as the world’s highest junkyard. Microplastics haven’t been studied on the mountain before, but they are generally just as persistent and typically more difficult to remove than larger items of debris,” Dr Napper said.

“I didn’t know what to expect in terms of results, but it really surprised me to find microplastics in every single snow sample I analysed. Mt Everest is somewhere I had always considered remote and pristine. To know we are polluting near the top of the tallest mountain is a real eye-opener.”

She added: “These are the highest microplastics discovered so far. While it sounds exciting, it means that microplastics have been discovered from the depths of the ocean all the way to the highest mountain on Earth.

“With microplastics so ubiquitous in our environment, it’s time to focus on informing appropriate environmental solutions. We need to protect and care for our planet.” − Climate News Network