❝ Globally, public awareness is growing about the harm being done by plastic, which hurts marine life and instead of biodegrading breaks down into ubiquitous micro-plastics. According to science writer Mike Berners-Lee, of the 9 billion tons of plastic ever produced, 5.4 billion has been dumped onto land or into the sea — enough to shrink-wrap the entire planet.
Please RTFA. Look at these photos. Heartbreaking to an old geek like me who grew up subsistence fishing the New England coast.
❝ Countries are nearing agreement to tighten controls on trade in plastic waste, which would make it harder for leading exporter the United States to ship unsorted plastic to emerging Asian economies for disposal…Global public outrage has grown at marine pollution, sparking demands for more recycling and better waste management…
❝ There is an estimated 100 million tonnes of plastic in the world’s seas, with 8 million tonnes added annually, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) says.
Officials from 187 countries taking part in UNEP negotiations are considering legally-binding amendments to the Basel Convention on waste that would regulate trade in discarded plastic.
❝ The United States has not ratified the 30-year-old pact.
“Overdue” is way too polite!
❝ Justin Hofman was leading an expedition through Borneo when a small group broke off for some impromptu snorkeling near the town of Sumbawa Besar. “The reef was actually in surprisingly good shape. It was devoid of big fish though the corals were thriving,” Hofman says. “After about an hour or so of bobbing around the tide started to turn. My good friend and expert wildlife spotter Richard White found this tiny sea horse drifting near the surface.”
❝ Seahorses ride the ocean currents by grasping floating objects with their tails. What began as amusement watching the tiny fish grasping bits of sea grass coming in with the tide turned to anger as plastic and other unnatural debris began to overtake the scene. Although a rising wind splashed polluted water in his snorkel and caused both camera and seahorse to bob around, Hofman stayed with it, capturing this image along with several others.
❝ “It’s a photo that I wish didn’t exist but now that it does I want everyone to see it,” he wrote on Instagram. “What started as an opportunity to photograph a cute little sea horse turned into one of frustration and sadness as the incoming tide brought with it countless pieces of trash and sewage. This photo serves as an allegory for the current and future state of our oceans.”
An amazing number of politicians around this little ball of mud we live and die upon would see nothing wrong in this photo.
BURP! — Wildest Arctic
❝ Of course, all our plastic crap ends up in the Arctic.
It isn’t freaking Narnia!
❝ The Arctic, in our popular imagination, is a frozen expanse teetering figuratively and literally on the edges of human culture. It remains primal and wild and unsullied by human contagions…
The Arctic, as a physical place, is directly connected to the same ecosystems that we humans are polluting closer to home. It’s foolish to think that harming one part of a connected ecosystem doesn’t harm the others, as a study released on Wednesday in the journal Science Advances makes clear. The study found that even in the remote Arctic we can’t escape the megatons of plastic waste humanity unleashes upon the world…
❝ Plastic in the world’s oceans has been a growing concern since at least 1997 when Charles Moore stumbled across the Great Pacific Garbage patch as he crossed the Pacific after competing in the Transpacific Yacht Race. Today we know that there are at least six main garbage patches filled with plastic plaguing the seas. By some estimates as much as 300,000 tons of plastics are in the world’s oceans…
❝ Plastic in the ocean isn’t just unsightly. In fact, the plastic debris that we see is less of a problem than the plastic that is too small to see easily. That’s because plastic never biodegrades. It doesn’t revert back to its molecular elements the way other materials do.
Given enough time a leaf laying on the soil floor will be eaten by bugs and microbes to become soil that once again provides the tree with nourishment. Given enough time plastic will become a smaller piece of plastic. That’s it – this stuff never goes away. Eventually, after being buffeted about by sun and salt water, it becomes small enough that sea animals confuse it with morsels of food such as seaweed, or plankton. A 2015 study found that roughly 20 percent of small fish have plastic in their bellies. Researchers have also found that some northern fulmar’s, a sea bird that hangs out mostly in the subarctic, have elevated levels of ingested plastic. Plastic it seems, is not just an occasional snack, but a steady part of their diets. Tasty.
Most societies, most governments – which you might think would know better – still think of oceans as an open sewer. You can throw any of your society’s debris in and it will somehow disappear.
❝ Plastic pollution in the sea gives off a smell that attracts foraging birds, scientists have found…The discovery could explain why seabirds such as the albatross swallow plastic, causing injury or death.
The smell, similar to the odour of rotting seaweed, is caused by the breakdown of plankton that sticks to floating bits of plastic…About 90% of seabirds have eaten plastic and may keep some in their bellies, putting their health at risk…
❝ Scientists think seabirds associate the smell of plastic with food – and are tricked into swallowing plastic waste…
“We found a chemical on plastic that these birds typically associate with food, but now it’s being associated with plastic…And so these birds might be very confused – and tricked into consuming plastic as food.”…
❝ The chemical – dimethyl sulfide – has a characteristic sulphurous odour associated with boiling cabbage or decaying seaweed…It is also produced in the oceans through the breakdown of microscopic algae or phytoplankton, which collects on plastic.
Seabirds with a keen sense of smell, including albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters, can detect this odour, which they associate with food.
What a species we are. Most critters are smart enough not to crap in their own nest. But, the world is our whole nest, folks. We need to require those who despoil our oceans and continents to take responsibility for their mess. And, better yet, stop them from making a mess in the first place.
❝ The Ocean Cleanup, the Dutch foundation developing advanced technologies to rid the oceans of plastic…presented the initial findings of its Aerial Expedition — a series of low-speed, low-altitude flights across the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the plastic accumulation zone between Hawaii and California. Using a modified C-130 Hercules aircraft, expert spotters, and an experimental array of plastic scanning equipment, the expedition aims to accurately measure the biggest and most harmful debris in the ocean. This is an essential milestone in preparation for the cleanup of the patch, scheduled to begin before the end of the decade.
❝ This first-ever aerial survey of floating ocean plastic provided confirmation of the abundance of plastic debris sized 0.5 m/1.5′ and up. While the flight plan took us along the Northern boundary of the patch, more debris was recorded than what is expected to be found in the heart of the accumulation zone. Initial estimates of the experienced observer crew indicate that in a span of 2.5hours, over a thousand items were counted.
❝ For the development of a cleanup technology, it is essential to understand the problem, specifically the dimensions of the individual objects and the plastic accumulation as a whole. The nature and amount of the debris determine the design of cleanup systems, the logistics of hauling plastic back to shore, the methods for recycling plastic, and the costs of the cleanup.
❝ The quest to answer this question started in August 2015, when The Ocean Cleanup’s fleet of about 30 vessels crossed the patch simultaneously in an operation named the Mega Expedition. On their crossing wide range of debris sizes were sampled, producing the first high-resolution map of the patch. By using sampling nets that were 80x larger than conventional scientific measurement tools, it was discovered that the amount of large debris was heavily underestimated…
Once all exploration flights are finalized later this week, the results from the Aerial Expedition will be combined with the data collected during the 2015 Mega Expedition in a peer-reviewed scientific paper expected to be published early 2017…
❝ Instead of going after plastic debris with vessels and nets – which would take many thousands of years and billions of dollars to complete – The Ocean Cleanup is designing a network of extremely long floating barriers that will remain stationary in the water, enabling the ocean to concentrate the plastic using its own currents.
We won’t know if that experimental measure works until the group moves to a pilot plant stage. As important as questions of plastic pollution in our oceans appear to be – it might be nice if nation-states and governments provided some regulation and oversight along the way to solutions.
❝ In a glass box in a private school in Maine sits a 40-year-old chemistry experiment still going strong: A decades-old Twinkie.
❝ …The experiment started in 1976 when Roger Bennatti was teaching a lesson to his high school chemistry class on food additives and shelf life.
After a student wondered about the shelf life of the snack, Bennatti sent the students to the store with some money. When they returned with the treat, Bennatti ate one and placed the still-surviving Twinkie on the blackboard.
❝ Bennatti has since retired, but the snack now resides in the office of George Stevens Academy’s Dean of Students Libby Rosemeier.
Rosemeier told ABC News she isn’t sure who will inherit the Twinkie when she retires, but joked that the Smithsonian hasn’t called yet.
A Mexican startup has developed a new method of recycling plastic that does away with water and only consumes half the energy of previous systems. At the same time, it produces plastic pellets of equal or better quality, resulting in an environmentally friendlier process that also promises to be significantly cheaper.
Plastic recycling can turn discarded bottles and other scrap into a myriad of useful objects, helping produce anything from polyester clothes to 3D printing filaments and even diesel. However, it is a long, laborious affair that consumes plenty of resources – especially water. Among other things, the plastic needs to be thoroughly washed to get rid of impurities, carefully dehydrated inside an oven, and then water-cooled once again as the newly-formed plastic filaments are cut into small pellets.
According to Marco Adame, the new method that his startup has come up with can produce pellets of equal or better quality using just half of the energy by getting rid of the need for these temperature extremes, while also doing away with the need for water altogether. The system uses special walls that, on contact, are able to both mold the plastic into the desired pellet shape and cool those pellets at the same time…
Adame says that using his technique, the same machines are able to process styrofoam, polystyrene and ABS, which together make up about 90 percent of all plastics. The improved versatility would mean less space would be needed for operation.
Bravo! One industry that has always availed itself of recycling capabilities is the plastics industry. A lot of the tech translated over from both the tradition of physical re-use of rubber goods and the comparatively easy chemistry that touched the physical properties of recycling plastic.
Removing water requirements and using less energy in the process is an unexpected twofer.