There are themes we’ve returned to frequently since the beginning of this site, in the different ways we’ve posted about collective action conservation or cultural events. The titles of those posts began with the words, “If You Happen to be in…” – followed by the location of our conservation public service announcement.
The internet has obviously played an enormous role in people’s lives for decades now, but even more so in the time of Covid-19, when so many of life’s gatherings, from education to business meetings and conferences, has shifted to the virtual realm.
So, here’s a PSA for the Oceans. Hosted by Blue Planet, DC, with guest speaker Phil Karp (a frequent contributor to this site on themes of citizen science and marine conservation) this virtual seminar will discuss both the serious problem of marine pollution, but also some emerging solutions.
If you have an hour to spare on May 15th, join the conversation!
Did you know that between 8 million and 13.5 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean every year, equivalent to a garbage truck full of plastic EVERY MINUTE?!
Plastic entering the ocean can cause harm to marine organisms and ecosystems, coastal economies and human health. This virtual seminar by guest speaker Phil Karp will examine the magnitude and dynamics of marine litter and ocean plastic along with emerging solutions. In addition, it will discuss what governments and consumers can do to address the problem.Phil Karp recently retired from the World Bank where he was Lead Knowledge Management Specialist in the Urban Development Global Practice. He is longtime diver, citizen scientist and ocean advocate focusing on the interface between marine ecosystem conservation and livelihoods of coastal communities.
Sign up today! Join below on May 15.
The executive order does not affect cities and counties that adopted their own ordinances banning or regulating single-use plastic bags.(Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images)
It’s been some months since we added to our “Really?” posts–which is definitely a good things– and California has usually been on the applaud side of our commentary. It’s a sad situation that the plastic industry is able to exert these pressures to take advantage of the current health crisis.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has suspended California’s ban on grocery stores providing single-use plastic bags amid concerns that clerks may be at risk for exposure to the coronavirus if shoppers are required to supply their own reusable bags to carry their purchases home.
Newsom announced Thursday that he signed an executive order to suspend the 2016 plastic bag ban for 60 days after hearing concerns from the California Grocers Assn. about shoppers bringing reusable bags from home that are handled by store clerks filling them with groceries.
“We are being cautious to make sure there is no transmission of the virus,” said Dave Heylen, a vice president for the grocers’ group. He said the grocers will go back to abiding by the plastic bag ban when the order expires.
The executive order signed Wednesday does not affect the more than 100 cities and counties that adopted their own ordinances banning or regulating single-use plastic bags.
Green plastic bottles ready for recycling
In addition to all the creative ways that people recycle and upcycle plastics, we appreciate when scientific collaboration is brought to the forefront, as in the example here. We thank Science Magazine for highlighting the story.
Recycling isn’t as guilt-free as it seems. Only about 30% of the plastic that goes into soda bottles gets turned into new plastic, and it often ends up as a lower strength version. Now, researchers report they’ve engineered an enzyme that can convert 90% of that same plastic back to its pristine starting materials. Work is underway to scale up the technology and open a demonstration plant next year.
“This is a huge step forward,” says John McGeehan, who directs the center for enzyme innovation at the University of Portsmouth and who was not involved with the work.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is one of the world’s most commonly used plastics, with some 70 million tons produced annually. PET bottles are already recycled in many places. But the current approach has problems. For starters, recycling companies typically end up with a broad mix of different colors of the plastic. They then use high temperatures to melt those down, producing a gray or black plastic starting material that few companies want to use to package their products.
Instead, the material is typically turned into carpets or other low-grade plastic fibers that eventually end up in a landfill or get incinerated. “It’s not really recycling at all,” McGeehan says.
To get around this concern, scientists have searched for enzymes in microbes that break down PET and other plastics. In 2012, researchers at Osaka University found one such enzyme in a compost heap. Continue reading
Simon Myers, who volunteered on a recent Clean Ocean Sailing expedition with his son, Milo.
The smoke has not cleared, but it is not too early to share thoughts of what will need our attention next:
Photograph from Alamy
You can count on these pages continuing to feature these kinds of stories, that remind us of what still can and must be done, or simply provide a daily dose of charm:
On Earth Day, 2019, when New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, signed a bill banning single-use plastic bags, he said, “You see plastic bags hanging in trees, blowing down the streets, in landfills, and in our waterways, and there is no doubt they are doing tremendous damage.” It is true that nowadays people do see plastic bags in trees. But they didn’t used to—not because the bags weren’t there but because the people didn’t see them. I believe I am the first person who actually saw bags in trees—that is, noticed them in any official way. Twenty-seven years ago, I wrote a short article for this magazine about plastic bags and other debris in the trees of New York City. Once I started noticing the bags, I couldn’t stop, and I soon passed the affliction on to my friends Bill McClelland and Tim McClelland. Noticing bags in trees changed our lives. Continue reading
Plastic has been on our radar for years, both as an environmental scourge and a raw material for the rising recycle and “upcycle” economy. Finding these creative uses for an ubiquitous waste material around the world has been inspiring, to say the least.
We hadn’t been familiar with the Precious Plastic model until we met the wonderful women from the Wagát Upcycling Lab. We applaud the community ethos of open source plans to address a global crisis.
Big Bang, Indeed!
A Chinese labourer sorting out plastic bottles on the outskirt of Beijing. Photograph: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images
With over a billion consumers, even with exemptions these bans will hopefully have relevant impacts. Thanks once again to the Guardian for bringing these actions to our attention.
Plastic bags to be banned in all major cities by end of 2020, says state planner
China is stepping up restrictions on the production, sale and use of single-use plastic products, according to the state planner, as it seeks to tackle one of the country’s biggest environmental problems.
Vast amounts of untreated plastic waste are buried in landfills or dumped in rivers. The United Nations has identified single-use plastics as one of the world’s biggest environmental challenges.
The national development and reform commission and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, which issued the policy, said plastic bags would be banned in all of China’s major cities by the end of 2020 and banned in all cities and towns in 2022. Markets selling fresh produce will be exempt from the ban until 2025. Continue reading
I am holding one such bag, made from recycled newspaper, in a post from 2011
In Kerala, India between 2010 and 2017 we tackled the issue of plastic in the hospitality operations we were responsible for. We started with the elimination of plastic bags, as Michael and our other interns Allegra and Sung reported at the time. With success on that front we moved on to the elimination of plastic water bottles, and the investment that required was much more substantial, not least because tourist guide books always warned travelers to India to only drink from plastic water bottles. We made progress, which was very particular to that place and time, but still this news reported by Beth Gardiner in Yale e360 is particularly frustrating:
A world awash in plastic will soon see even more, as a host of new petrochemical plants — their ethane feedstock supplied by the fracking boom — come online. Major oil companies, facing the prospect of reduced demand for their fuels, are ramping up their plastics output. Continue reading
A to-scale sculpture of a juvenile humpback whale ribcage made of plastic bottles.
An artist doing something about it. Whether or not the root problem is solved, we can all be more creative about doing something about the problem. Angela Haseltine Pozzi demonstrates by example. That’s a nice story to start the day with. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for brightening our day:
In her gallery in Bandon, Ore., Angela Haseltine Pozzi stands next to an enormous sea dragon sculpted from plastics found on Oregon’s famously ‘pristine’ beaches.
At Coquille Point along the remote and rugged southern Oregon Coast, the wind is tumultuous and the sea just as violent. Huge waves crash up against the giant, moss-cloaked rocks perched off the beach.
Angela Haseltine Pozzi founded Washed Ashore in 2010. The nonprofit turns plastics taken from Oregon’s beaches into eye-opening sculptures of threatened marine life.
This particular stretch of the Oregon coastline is famous for being pristine and wild. But train your eyes down a little closer to the beach and sand as Angela Haseltine Pozzi so often does, and even here you’ll find bits of plastic.
“I think the most disturbing thing I find is detergent bottles and bleach bottles with giant bite marks out of them by fish,” she says.
A sea star made mostly of plastic water bottles from the 2008 Summer Olympics in China that are still washing up on Oregon beaches today.
Haseltine Pozzi is a local artist and longtime art teacher who’s made it her mission to collect as much of this shameful garbage as possible. It washes up from Asia, Europe, California and right here in Oregon.
In her gallery in the nearby town of Bandon, where she’d spend summers with her grandmother exploring the wild beaches, she’s now taking these plastic invaders and turning them into jaw-dropping sculptures. The plastic bottle caps, cocktail toothpicks, shotgun shell casings — anything — form life-size garbage creatures of the very marine life threatened by all this plastic. Continue reading
At the same time Crist has been writing multiple teaser posts about our upcoming Authentica shops we continually search for both classic and innovative artisanally crafted items to highlight there. Each discovery feels like stumbling upon a gem while sifting through stones.
Those discoveries have even more personal impact when they have an upcycled or recycled element. Wagát Upcycling Lab is just one of those exciting discoveries. Continue reading
‘I think we’ve taken convenience and just turned it into a monster,’ said Shaymah Ansari.
Photograph: Francis Gardler/AP
I acknowledge it has not been easy to eliminate plastic from my life. Plastic is everywhere. It is ubiquitous in developing economies as well as in more developed economies. But since recycling is costly, then at least radically reducing its use is important. So consider how seductive convenience is, and how conniving companies can be:
Grounds for concern: around 75% of the 20bn single-serve coffee pods used each year enter landfill. Photograph: Max Rossi/Reuters
When I last worked as a waiter we served espresso from a small machine that could draw a single demitasse serving. The machine, from France, used proprietary mesh pods, a precursor to capsules. I had no opinion in the early 1980s about any environmental issues with pods, but I did have an opinion, thanks to my French colleagues, that the espresso the machine produced was perfect. These days I do not drink espresso often. I believe a brewed arabica is a better beverage both gastronomically and ecologically. I have also developed an opinion about the ecological problem with single-serve technology, and I remain skeptical even as I read a headline like this:
Thanks once again to YaleEnvironment360 for sharing valuable information.
A team of Swedish scientists have found a new way to break down plastic so that it can be recycled into material the same quality as the original — a process they say could help shift the focus of the plastics industry to recycling and drastically reduce the amount of pollution that ends up in the world’s oceans.
The technique involves heating discarded plastic to around 850 degrees Celsius until it turns into a gas mixture. That mixture “can then be recycled at the molecular level to become new plastic material of virgin quality,” Henrik Thunman, an environmental scientist at Chalmers University of Technology who led the new research, said in a statement. “Circular use would help give used plastics a true value, and thus an economic impetus for collecting it anywhere on earth.” Continue reading
The floating boom skims up waste ranging in size from a discarded net and a car wheel complete with tire to chips of plastic with diameters as small as 1 millimetre. Photograph: AP
Some encouraging news from the big mess out in the middle of the Pacific:
It is likely that marine debris kills hundreds of thousands of sea birds, turtles, and marine mammals each year. Photograph by Paulo Oliveira / Alamy
It is a 10-15 minute read with a two hour hangover of depression. But a must-read. Thanks to Carolyn Kormann for getting us very clear on the problem of plastic in our oceans:
A discarded, tangled net in the Pacific Ocean. Photograph: @sea.marshall
It is difficult to look at, but the determination of this man to understand, and help us understand, this otherwise invisible impact of waste is inspiring. He could be sailing and adventuring anywhere, but chose here for a purpose. Whatever the opposite of “out of sight, out of mind” may be, he lends it credibility:
We thank him for his effort and the reminder:
Ben Lecomte is spending his summer swimming in trash – literally. So far, he’s found toothbrushes, laundry baskets, sandbox shovels and beer crates floating out in the open waters of the Pacific Ocean.
The 52-year-old Frenchman is journeying from Hawaii to San Francisco via the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to better understand how plastic is affecting our oceans. He will swim a total of 300 nautical miles, intermittently travelling by sailboat with a crew of 10 the rest of the way. Continue reading
Yagazie Emezi for The New York Times
For the two decades our company has been managing conservation-focused enterprises. Elimination of plastic has been a passion, and finding ways to reduce its use has been an obsession. While based in India, and working on a project in Ghana, we got a close look at entrepreneurial plastic re-use for the first time. We have been on the lookout for more ever since and this story gives hope for a whole new level of solution:
Plastic garbage collected by a women’s group is being recycled into bricks and used to build schools in West Africa.
Yagazie Emezi for The New York Times
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast — She left home before dawn. Her four children were still asleep in her cement block house in Abobo, a maze of shops and houses occupied by dockworkers, taxi drivers, factory laborers and street sellers.
She and a friend crossed into the upscale neighborhood of Angré, home to doctors and businessmen. They tossed the plastic castoffs of the consumer class into bags slung over their shoulders as the cocks crowed and the sun peeked over villa walls draped with bougainvillea.
Students and residents gathered by plastic bricks outside their school in the Sakassou village. Yagazie Emezi for The New York Times
Mariam Coulibaly is part of a legion of women in Abidjan who make their living picking up plastic waste on the city streets and selling it for recycling. Now they are lead players in a project that turns trash into plastic bricks to build schools across the country.
Pre-school principal Tirangue Doumbia ushering students into a new classroom built of recycled plastic bricks at the Gonzagueville school. Yagazie Emezi for The New York Times
They are working with a Colombian company to convert plastic waste — a scourge of modern life — into an asset that will help women earn a decent living while cleaning up the environment and improving education.
She sees it as a chance to better her life, maybe even to rise into the middle class.
“We don’t get good prices” from the current buyers, Ms. Coulibaly said. “This will help us.”
In the past year, the venture has built nine demonstration classrooms out of recycled plastic bricks in Gonzagueville, a scrappy neighborhood on the outskirts of Abidjan, and in two small farming villages, Sakassou and Divo. The first schools were built with bricks imported from Colombia. But in the fall, a factory now rising in an Abidjan industrial park will begin making the bricks locally. Continue reading
Plastic bottles bundled in a recycling facility. Bales such as these travel around the world on shipping containers. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images
Thanks to the Guardian for this series on plastic waste management. It is not pleasant reading, but it should motivate change:
What happens to your plastic after you drop it in a recycling bin?
According to promotional materials from America’s plastics industry, it is whisked off to a factory where it is seamlessly transformed into something new.
Nguyễn Thị Hồng Thắm is paid $6.50 a day to sort recycling on the outskirts of Hanoi. Photograph: Bac Pham/The Guardian
This is not the experience of Nguyễn Thị Hồng Thắm, a 60-year-old Vietnamese mother of seven, living amid piles of grimy American plastic on the outskirts of Hanoi. Outside her home, the sun beats down on a Cheetos bag; aisle markers from a Walmart store; and a plastic bag from ShopRite, a chain of supermarkets in New Jersey, bearing a message urging people to recycle it.
Migrant workers sort through plastic bottles at the Thaiplastic Recycle Group plant in Samut Sakhon, outside Bangkok, Thailand. Photograph: Diego Azubel/EPA
Tham is paid the equivalent of $6.50 a day to strip off the non-recyclable elements and sort what remains: translucent plastic in one pile, opaque in another.
A Guardian investigation has found that hundreds of thousands of tons of US plastic are being shipped every year to poorly regulated developing countries around the globe for the dirty, labor-intensive process of recycling. The consequences for public health and the environment are grim.
A team of Guardian reporters in 11 countries has found: Continue reading
Ocean Sole turns reclaimed flip-flops into colourful, hand-made animal toys and sculptures. Tonnes of flip-flops wash up on the east African coast every year.
Photograph: Courtesy of Ocean Sole/Plastic Soup
And speaking of plastics, a new book has come to our attention thanks to the Guardian, and thanks to Island Books for the explanation of the book:
Plastics have transformed every aspect of our lives. Yet the very properties that make them attractive—they are cheap to make, light, and durable—spell disaster when trash makes its way into the environment. Plastic Soup: An Atlas of Ocean Pollution is a beautifully-illustrated survey of the plastics clogging our seas, their impacts on wildlife and people around the world, and inspirational initiatives designed to tackle the problem.
Peter Smith made this floating work, World of Litter, in 2012.
Photograph: Courtesy of Jos van Zetten/Plastic Soup
In Plastic Soup, Michiel Roscam Abbing of the Plastic Soup Foundation reveals the scope of the issue: plastic trash now lurks on every corner of the planet. With striking photography and graphics, Plastic Soup brings this challenge to brilliant life for readers. Yet it also sends a message of hope; although the scale of the problem is massive, so is the dedication of activists working to check it. Plastic Soup highlights a diverse array of projects to curb plastic waste and raise awareness, from plastic-free grocery stores to innovative laws and art installations.
According to some estimates, if we continue on our current path, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by the year 2050. Created to inform and inspire readers, Plastic Soup is a critical tool in the fight to reverse this trend.