Browsed by
Tag: plastic pollution

Baby Poop Is Loaded With Microplastics

Baby Poop Is Loaded With Microplastics

An alarming new study finds that infant feces contain 10 times more polyethylene terephthalate (aka polyester) than an adult’s.

Whenever a plastic bag or bottle degrades, it breaks into ever smaller pieces that work their way into nooks in the environment. When you wash synthetic fabrics, tiny plastic fibers break loose and flow out to sea. When you drive, plastic bits fly off your tires and brakes. That’s why literally everywhere scientists look, they’re finding microplastics—specks of synthetic material that measure less than 5 millimeters long. They’re on the most remote mountaintops and in the deepest oceans. They’re blowing vast distances in the wind to sully once pristine regions like the Arctic. In 11 protected areas in the western US, the equivalent of 120 million ground-up plastic bottles are falling out of the sky each year.

And now, microplastics are coming out of babies. In a pilot study published today, scientists describe sifting through infants’ dirty diapers and finding an average of 36,000 nanograms of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) per gram of feces, 10 times the amount they found in adult feces. They even found it in newborns’ first feces. PET is an extremely common polymer that’s known as polyester when it’s used in clothing, and it is also used to make plastic bottles. The finding comes a year after another team of researchers calculated that preparing hot formula in plastic bottles severely erodes the material, which could dose babies with several million microplastic particles a day, and perhaps nearly a billion a year. 

Although adults are bigger, scientists think that in some ways infants have more exposure. In addition to drinking from bottles, babies could be ingesting microplastics in a dizzying number of ways. They have a habit of putting everything in their mouths—plastic toys of all kinds, but they’ll also chew on fabrics. (Microplastics that shed from synthetic textiles are known more specifically as microfibers, but they’re plastic all the same.) Babies’ foods are wrapped in single-use plastics. Children drink from plastic sippy cups and eat off plastic plates. The carpets they crawl on are often made of polyester. Even hardwood floors are coated in polymers that shed microplastics. Any of this could generate tiny particles that children breathe or swallow. 

Small Plastic pellets on the finger

Indoor dust is also emerging as a major route of microplastic exposure, especially for infants. (In general, indoor air is absolutely lousy with them; each year you could be inhaling tens of thousands of particles.) Several studies of indoor spaces have shown that each day in a typical household, 10,000 microfibers might land on a single square meter of floor, having flown off of clothing, couches, and bed sheets. Infants spend a significant amount of their time crawling through the stuff, agitating the settled fibers and kicking them up into the air. 

“Unfortunately, with the modern lifestyle, babies are exposed to so many different things for which we don’t know what kind of effect they can have later in their life,” says Kurunthachalam Kannan, an environmental health scientist at New York University School of Medicine and coauthor of the new paper, which appears in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters

The researchers did their tally by collecting dirty diapers from six 1-year-olds and running the feces through a filter to collect the microplastics. They did the same with three samples of meconium—a newborn’s first feces—and stool samples from 10 adults. In addition to analyzing the samples for PET, they also looked for polycarbonate plastic, which is used as a lightweight alternative to glass, for instance in eyeglass lenses. To make sure that they only counted the microplastics that came from the infants’ guts, and not from their diapers, they ruled out the plastic that the diapers were made of: polypropylene, a polymer that’s distinct from polycarbonate and PET.

All told, PET concentrations were 10 times higher in infants than in adults, while polycarbonate levels were more even between the two groups. The researchers found smaller amounts of both polymers in the meconium, suggesting that babies are born with plastics already in their systems. This echoes previous studies that have found microplastics in human placentas and meconium.

What this all means for human health—and, more urgently, for infant health—scientists are now racing to find out. Different varieties of plastic can contain any of at least 10,000 different chemicals, a quarter of which are of concern for people, according to a recent study from researchers at ​​ETH Zürich in Switzerland. These additives serve all kinds of plastic-making purposes, like providing flexibility, extra strength, or protection from UV bombardment, which degrades the material. Microplastics may contain heavy metals like lead, but they also tend to accumulate heavy metals and other pollutants as they tumble through the environment. They also readily grow a microbial community of viruses, bacteria, and fungi, many of which are human pathogens.

Of particular concern are a class of chemicals called endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, which disrupt hormones and have been connected to reproductive, neurological, and metabolic problems, for instance increased obesity. The infamous plastic ingredient bisphenol A, or BPA, is one such EDC that has been linked to various cancers

“We should be concerned because the EDCs in microplastics have been shown to be linked with several adverse outcomes in human and animal studies,” says Jodi Flaws, a reproductive toxicologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who led a 2020 study from the Endocrine Society on plastics. (She wasn’t involved in this new research.) “Some of the microplastics contain chemicals that can interfere with the normal function of the endocrine system.” 

Infants are especially vulnerable to EDCs, since the development of their bodies depends on a healthy endocrine system. “I strongly believe that these chemicals do affect early life stages,” says Kannan. “That’s a vulnerable period.”

This new research adds to a growing body of evidence that babies are highly exposed to microplastic. “This is a very interesting paper with some very worrying numbers,” says University of Strathclyde microplastic researcher Deonie Allen, who wasn’t involved in the study. “We need to look at everything a child is exposed to, not just their bottles and toys.”

Since infants are passing microplastics in their feces, that means the gut could be absorbing some of the particles, like it would absorb nutrients from food. This is known as translocation: Particularly small particles might pass through the gut wall and end up in other organs, including the brain. Researchers have actually demonstrated this in carp by feeding them plastic particles, which translocated through the gut and worked their way to the head, where they caused brain damage that manifested as behavioral problems: Compared to control fish, the individuals with plastic particles in their brains were less active and ate more slowly.

But that was done with very high concentrations of particles, and in an entirely different species. While scientists know that EDCs are bad news, they don’t yet know what level of microplastic exposure it would take to cause problems in the human body. “We need many more studies to confirm the doses and types of chemicals in microplastics that lead to adverse outcomes,” says Flaws.

In the meantime, microplastics researchers say you can limit children’s contact with particles. Do not prepare infant formula with hot water in a plastic bottle—use a glass bottle and transfer it over to the plastic one once the liquid reaches room temperature. Vacuum and sweep to keep floors clear of microfibers. Avoid plastic wrappers and containers when possible. Microplastics have contaminated every aspect of our lives, so while you’ll never get rid of them, you can at least reduce your family’s exposure.


Matt Simon at Wired

The companies polluting the planet have spent millions to make you think carpooling and recycling will save us

The companies polluting the planet have spent millions to make you think carpooling and recycling will save us

Plastics companies spent millions to kickstart recycling programs, and it helped them avoid bans.

Decades later, fossil-fuel interests spend millions to promote carpooling and reducing energy use.

Activists and researchers say this individual-action narrative distracts from the biggest polluters.

Ben Franta is trying to collect every climate-related ad the oil and gas industry has ever produced.

Franta, who is pursuing a law degree and PhD at Stanford, is among a small cohort of researchers who track fossil-fuel industry propaganda. These historians, social scientists, and activists have documented the extent to which major oil companies knew their products were changing the climate as early as the 1960s, and how they poured tens of millions of dollars into sowing doubt about the science through the 1990s.

“Not to get too tin-hat-y, but once you start to see these ads over and over again, you see the common elements arise,” Franta told Insider.

So it was clear to him that around the year 2000, fossil-fuel companies changed marketing tactics. After decades of denial, they pivoted to blaming the climate crisis on you and me.

Franta pointed to a 2007 Chevron ad campaign called “Will you join us?” Each poster featured a person’s face and a pledge — promises like, “I will leave the car at home more” and “I will finally get a programmable thermostat.” In small print, Chevron describes its own initiatives to be energy-efficient.

On the campaign’s now-defunct website, users could even make pledges like carpooling to work a few days per week, and a calculator would tell them how many DVDs they could watch with the energy saved.

“The framing is: ‘No, we the companies are the good ones. We’re working on the problem and we want you, the consumer, to join us in our positive efforts,'” Franta said.

This approach — telling people to solve a crisis by changing their own habits — is a tried and true corporate tactic, pioneered by the tobacco and plastics industries. Now, fossil-fuel giants like Chevron, BP, and ExxonMobil have spent millions to convince the public that consumer choices and lifestyle changes will solve the problem.

“It’s almost become natural, when people think about the climate crisis, to think of individual action,” Denali Nalamalapu, a communications specialist for the climate organization 350.org, told Insider. “Which is super convenient for fossil-fuel corporations.”

But at this point, personal lifestyle changes will not turn the climate crisis around. A report from the International Energy Agency, which lays out a path to a net-zero-emissions energy system by 2050, estimates that individual behavioral changes would only account for about 4% of the necessary reductions. 

To have even a 50% chance of stopping the world’s temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to a study published this month, 90% of coal and 60% of oil and gas reserves must stay in the ground.

A blame campaign: litterbugs and recyclers

garbage sorted recycling plastic bottles
Garbage sits in sorting bins during a concert at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, July 7, 2007. 

In 1971, TVs across the US blasted a heart-wrenching PSA. In it, an actor in ambiguous American-Indian garb, his hair in two long braids, climbs into a canoe and paddles across a river full of discarded newspapers. He passes an industrial barge. Smokestacks puff in the background. He pulls his canoe onto a garbage-strewn shoreline and climbs to a busy highway. A passing motorist chucks a bag of fast food at his moccasined feet.

“People start pollution. People can stop it,” a narrator says as the actor looks into the camera, a tear rolling down his cheek.

This “Crying Indian PSA,” as it’s now known, came from a nonprofit called Keep America Beautiful — a group funded by companies like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Dixie Cups. It debuted at a time when single-use packaging lined streets, beaches, and parks, and environmental activists had begun to rail against plastic pollution.

“That was an intentional, well-funded effort to convince us all that the responsibility for pollution was on us, on individuals, on litterbugs, rather than the companies that were flooding the world with single-use packaging,” John Hocevar, a marine biologist who leads Greenpeace’s oceans campaigns, told Insider.

The tobacco industry did something similar in the 1950s, hiring PR firms to create campaigns blaming smoking-related illness on smokers. But the plastics industry took the strategy further.

As local governments considered banning single-use plastics, a council of plastic-producing companies — including Chevron, Exxon, Dow, and DuPont — spent millions to implement recycling programs across the US. Their own scientists, however, had told them that recycling wouldn’t work on a large scale, according to an investigation by PBS and NPR.

“Making recycling work was a way to keep their products in the marketplace,” Ron Liesemer, a former Du Pont manager who led the effort, told PBS and NPR. “It improves the image of the material.”

recycling blue bins garbage curb
A resident wheels a recycling container to the curb for pickup in San Francisco, November 4, 2009. 

By 2015, the quantity of plastic produced each year had increased 10-fold from 1971. Less than 10% of that material has ever been recycled. Each square kilometer of ocean contains an average of about 13,000 pieces of plastic.

Microplastics — fragments smaller than a fingernail that never fully break down — have been found in the Mariana Trench and at the top of Mount Everest. The average American ingests about 50,000 microplastic particles each year and inhales about the same amount. 

plastic pollution ocean waste environment.JPG
A boy in the Philippines collects plastic material near a polluted coastline to sell. 

Plastic production is expected to double by 2040 and triple by 2050, according to the World Economic Forum.

“Just about everybody understands that we need to do something about plastic,” Hocevar said. “The challenge is that many companies — well, most companies — and many politicians are still thinking in this personal-responsibility frame and putting the emphasis on individual consumers. And so that really keeps the conversation focused on solutions that can’t solve the problem.”

Fossil-fuel companies recycled the plastics tactic

Bumper to bumper traffic
Bumper to bumper traffic (file photo). 

Exxon was on the council that led the charge for recycling, and it soon started promoting personal-responsibility solutions to another crisis: global warming.

“Be smart about electricity use,” suggested a 2007 ad from the company (now ExxonMobil). “Heat and cool your home efficiently.” “Improve your gas mileage.”

Science historian Naomi Oreskes has studied ExxonMobil’s climate communications for years.

“They talk about energy demand, they talk about need, they talk about use, and they use the term ‘consumers.’ And this is basically a way of shifting responsibility away from the producers — that is to say them, ExxonMobil — and onto the consumer,” Oreskes told Insider.

In a recent study, Oreskes analyzed 180 ExxonMobil documents discussing climate change from 1977 to 2014. The set includes internal communications, peer-reviewed publications, and “advertorials” — ads that looked like editorials and ran in The New York Times.

Internal documents mentioned carbon dioxide more than 1,000 times. Terms that appeared most included “atmosphere” and “fossil fuel.” Advertorials, by contrast, relied on the terms “energy efficient,” “demand,” and “need.”

hurricane katrina damage
Debris is scattered across Canal Street in New Orleans on August 29, 2005, as Hurricane Katrina made landfall. 

BP (formerly called British Petroleum) took a similar approach. In 2004, it created the first “carbon footprint calculator,” a way to pin greenhouse-gas emissions to people’s daily activities.

“The carbon footprint calculator then took off as an idea and as a concept, and really distracted us from looking at the industry itself,” Janet Redman, the director of Greenpeace USA’s climate campaign, told Insider.

Nalamalapu said she calculated her carbon footprint as one of her first climate-change lessons in elementary school. So did I. By 2010, the popularity of the phrase “carbon footprint” had increased by about 1,600% from 2006.

Multiple firefighters walk through the forest.
Cal Fire firefighters battle the Dixie Fire in Plumas County, California, July 23, 2021. 

Climate scientist Peter Kalmus told ProPublica about how much he took this idea to heart. To reduce his carbon footprint, Kalmus has raised chickens in his yard, converted an old car to biodiesel, and built an outdoor toilet to compost his family’s poop. He’s had nightmares about plane rides.

“It feels like the plane is flying on ground-up babies to me,” Kalmus told ProPublica.

BP, Chevron, and ExxonMobil say they’re changing

In statements to Insider, spokespeople for Chevron, BP, and ExxonMobil pointed to their companies’ efforts to reduce emissions.

seven adults wade through tropical storm harvey floodwaters carrying children and bags
Residents wade through flood waters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, August 28, 2017. 

“Chevron is investing more than $3 billion from now to 2028 to advance the energy transition,” Chevron spokesperson Sean Comey said. “Chevron believes the world’s demand for oil and gas should be supplied by the most efficient, least carbon-intensive producers.”

Comey also said the company is working to reduce emissions from its oil and gas extraction and is exceeding the goals it set for itself for 2023. He said that although “too much plastic waste ends up in landfills, oceans, and rivers,” plastics “are essential to modern life and help improve the quality of life for millions of people around the world.”

BP declined to comment on the company’s carbon-footprint calculator, but pointed to its net-zero goals and a recent acquisition of solar-energy projects, which it aims to more than double by 2025. 

“BP believes we have an important role to play in addressing climate change,” spokesperson Joshua Hicks said. “That’s why we launched a new ambition last year to become a net-zero company by 2050 or sooner, and to help the world get there too. In line with that ambition, we’ve set targets for drastically reducing our emissions and increasing our low-carbon investments, and we’re actively advocating for policies that support net zero.”

crude oil pump jack in texas field sunset backdrop
The sun sets behind a crude oil pump jack on a drill pad in Loving County, Texas, November 24, 2019. 

ExxonMobil, meanwhile, said it “is working to reduce company emissions and helping customers reduce their emissions while working on new lower-emission technologies and advocating for effective policies.”

The company alleges that Oreskes has a conflict of interest, pointing to her expert testimony in a climate-related lawsuit last year.

“This research is clearly part of a litigation strategy against ExxonMobil and other energy companies,” a statement shared by spokesperson Casey Norton said.

Oreskes said she has offered expertise “in a number of capacities to groups and organizations involved in fighting climate change,” and does not see any conflict of interest.

BP still advertises its calculator today. One of its subsidiaries backs an app that tracks your carbon footprint in real time, Grist reported. BP also made its biggest acquisition in 20 years in 2018: $10.5 billion of west Texas oil fields.

“They don’t want a price on carbon, they don’t want incentives for renewable energy, they don’t want to block new fossil-fuel infrastructure,” atmospheric scientist Michael Mann told Insider. “So they say: ‘No, it’s just about you being a better person, you being more responsible in your day to day activities.'”

A Chevron lawyer even said as much in federal court, according to Grist: In 2018, the company argued that it’s not oil production causing climate change, “it’s the way people are living their lives.”

A million-dollar distraction

carbon emissions
Smoke rises from the chimneys of a power plant in Shanghai in December 2009. 

The ads Oreskes and Franta have collected show how much money fossil-fuel interests have poured into influencing the narrative on climate change. The American Petroleum Institute, a fossil-fuel trade association, spent $663 million on PR and advertising between 2008 and 2017, according to a report from the Climate Investigations Center.

The results, Redman said, can be insidious.

“It’s easy to see that rhetoric, that it’s about individual responsibility, and feel paralyzed and not take the kinds of political action that we need,” she said.

The stakes are only getting higher, according to the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. For every half-degree of warming, the frequency and intensity of heat waves and droughts increase. Even in the best-case climate scenario, sea levels will rise nearly a foot over the next 80 years.

Still, if you’ve dedicated time and energy to recycling or biking to work — don’t despair. These choices, if lots of people make them, can make a difference. Nalamalapu takes reusable bags to the grocery store. Mann drives a hybrid car and doesn’t eat meat. Oreskes has solar panels on her roof.

“We do all have personal responsibility. The question is: How do we balance that personal responsibility with the larger structural and political questions at stake? And what is the role of the fossil-fuel industry?” Oreskes said.

“Riding our bikes is important. And turning off the lights, not cranking the AC with a window open, all that stuff is really important, for sure,” Redman said. “But it pales in comparison to political activity to change the rules about how our energy system is structured, who the actors are, who benefits, who pays.”


Morgan McFall-Johnsen & Aylin Woodward at Business Insider

Bottled water is 3,500 times worse for the environment than tap water, say scientists

Bottled water is 3,500 times worse for the environment than tap water, say scientists

Tap water is thousands of times better for the environment than bottled water, according to scientists. In fact, it takes three times as much water to produce a plastic bottle as it can hold.

This might not come as a surprise but researchers at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) have crunched the numbers to work out just how much better it actually is.

The research focused on Barcelona, Spain which is home to around 1.35 million people – nearly 60 per cent of whom consume bottled water at least some of the time.

They used something called a “life cycle assessment” which estimates the environmental impact of an item over its entire lifespan. That includes the extraction of raw materials, manufacturing, transportation, distribution, use and disposal.

In the US alone water bottle manufacturing takes 1.5 million barrels of oil every year – more than it would take to power 100,000 homes. And that is without the fossil fuel or emissions costs of transporting them to shops.

The ISGlobal study found that if every resident in Barcelona switched to bottled water, extracting the raw materials would cost more than €70 million and lead to the loss of 1.43 animal species every year.

This would be 1400 times more of an impact on ecosystems and 3500 times higher cost to the environment for resources, than if the whole city were to drink tap water instead.

Are there any health risks to tap water?

The use of bottled water has risen in recent years in part due to factors such as taste, odour, marketing campaigns and lack of public faith in the quality of tap water.

ISGlobal researcher Cristina Villaneuva says there have been substantial improvements in the quality of tap water in Barcelona over the last few years.

“However, this considerable improvement has not been mirrored by an increase in tap water consumption, which suggests that water consumption could be motivated by subjective factors other than quality.”


One of the problems is the perceived presence of chemical compounds such as trihalomethanes. In an innovative move, data about the lifecycle of bottled water was also compared to a framework that is used to measure health.

They found that any risk to health was small and adding a domestic filtration system reduced that risk considerably.

“Our results show that considering both the environmental and the health effects, tap water is a better option than bottled water, because bottled water generates a wider range of impacts”, says ISGlobal researcher Cathryn Tonne.



Above The Noise

The Ocean Cleanup Deploys Full-Scale System to The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The Ocean Cleanup Deploys Full-Scale System to The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The Ocean Cleanup has deployed its first full-scale system designed to clean-up ocean plastics to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

The system, known as System002 or “Jenny”, left Victoria, British Columbia last Month on board a Maersk offshore supply vessel. “Jenny” builds on earlier tests conducted 2018 and 2019 and is the first full-scale system (800 meters in length) to be tested. Compared to the earlier systems, “Jenny” is larger and includes new technology such as active propulsion.

Founded in 2013, The Ocean Cleanup’s mission is to develop and advance technologies to cleanup plastic pollution at sea and also stop the inflow via rivers. Over the last several years, the company has been developing a large-scale system that essentially concentrates floating plastic for removal. The company then uses the plastic to create products that help raise funds for its efforts.

The company continues to aim for the removal of 90% of ocean plastic by 2040.

The Ocean Cleanup and Maersk Supply Service have been working together since 2018 and, earlier this year, agreed to a new 3-year partnership. Maersk Supply Service role is to provide marine offshore support and also end-to-end supply chain management.

With “Jenny” now in place at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, The Ocean Cleanup is set to conduct more than 70 tests planned for the next 6 weeks.

The Ocean Cleanup ultimately aims to deploy dozens of the systems to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch over the coming years. If successful, the fleet could be enough to remove half of the nearly 2 trillion pieces of plastic estimated to be floating on or near the surface of the Pacific Ocean in just five years.

Located between California and Hawaii, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest concentration of ocean plastic in the world.


Mike Schuler at gCaptain

Spare Yourself the Guilt Trip This Earth Day – It’s Companies That Need to Clean Up Their Acts

Spare Yourself the Guilt Trip This Earth Day – It’s Companies That Need to Clean Up Their Acts

Coined in the 1970s, the classic Earth Day mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” has encouraged consumers to take stock of the materials they buy, use, and often quickly pitch — all in the name of curbing pollution and saving the earth’s resources. Most of us listened, or lord knows we tried.

 We’ve carried totes and refused straws and dutifully rinsed yogurt cartons before placing them in the appropriately marked bins. And yet, nearly half a century later, the United States still produces more than 35 million tons of plastic annually, and sends more and more of it into our oceanslakessoils, and bodies.

Clearly, something isn’t working, but as a consumer, I’m sick of the weight of those millions of tons of trash falling squarely on consumers’ shoulders. While I’ll continue to do my part, it’s high time that the companies profiting from all this waste also step up and help us deal with their ever-growing footprint on our planet.

An investigation last year by NPR and PBS confirmed that polluting industries have long relied on recycling as a greenwashing scapegoat. If the public came to view recycling as a panacea for sky-high plastic consumption, manufacturers—as well as the oil and gas companies that sell the raw materials that make up plastics—bet they could continue deluging the market with their products.

There are currently no laws that require manufacturers to help pay for expensive recycling programs or make the process easier, but a promising trend is emerging. Earlier this year, New York legislators Todd Kaminsky and Steven Englebright proposed a billthe “Extended Producer Responsibility Act“—that would make manufacturers in the state responsible for the disposal of their products.

Other laws exist in some states for hazardous wastes, such as electronics, car batteries, paint, and pesticide containers. Paint manufacturers in nearly a dozen states, for example, must manage easy-access recycling drop-off sites for leftover paint. Those laws have so far kept more than 16 million gallons of paint from contaminating the environment. But for the first time, manufacturers could soon be on the hook for much broader categories of trash—including everyday paper, metal, glass, and plastic packaging—by paying fees to the municipalities that run waste management systems. In addition to New York, the states of California, Washington, and Colorado also currently have such bills in the works.

“The New York bill would be a foundation on which a modern, more sustainable waste management system could be built,” says NRDC waste expert Eric Goldstein.

Full story by Courtney Lindwall at EcoWatch


How much plastic are you eating?

How much plastic are you eating?

What’s for dinner? Lego sushi, credit card burgers, or a well-done piece of PVC pipe? These examples may sound extreme, but can easily represent over time the cumulative amount of microscopic pieces of plastic we consume every day.

People could be ingesting the equivalent of a credit card of plastic a week, a 2019 study by WWF International concluded, mainly in plastic-infused drinking water but also via food like shellfish, which tends to be eaten whole so the plastic in their digestive systems is also consumed.

Plastic cards weighing 7 grams, which is equivalent to the amount of plastic that someone could eat in ten days, are displayed inside a tuna salad sandwich with a cup of milk.

Reuters used the findings of the study to illustrate what this amount of plastic actually looks like over various periods of time. In a month, we ingest the weight of a 4×2 Lego brick in plastic, and in a year, the amount of plastic in a fireman’s helmet. This may not sound like much, but it can add up. At this rate of consumption, in a decade, we could be eating 2.5 kg (5.5 lb) in plastic, the equivalent of over two sizable pieces of plastic pipe.

A plastic pipe weighing 1 kilogram, which is equivalent to the amount of plastic that someone could eat in four years, is displayed on a cutting board.

And over a lifetime, we consume about 20 kg (44 lb) of microplastic. Plastic production has surged in the last 50 years with the widespread use of inexpensive disposable products. As plastic is not biodegradable, but only breaks down into smaller pieces, it ultimately ends up everywhere, cluttering beaches and choking marine wildlife, as well as in the food chain.

Standing on the shoreline of a wildlife-protected saltmarsh in southern England, Malcolm Hudson, a professor of environmental science at the University of Southampton, shows Reuters small, bead-like plastic pellets that permeate the marsh. Hudson says that most research has been done on these microplastics, but there are increasing amounts of even smaller particles called nanoplastics in the environment that are far more difficult to detect, which we are likely ingesting as well.

Plastic toy beads weighing a total of 125 grams, which is equivalent to the amount of plastic that someone could eat in 6 months, are displayed inside a cereal bowl filled with milk.

“It could pass into our blood or lymphatic system and end up in our organs,” said Hudson.” Those plastic particles are little time bombs waiting to break down small enough to be absorbed by wildlife or by people and then potentially have harmful consequences.”

Full story by Mathew Stock at Reuters, Photography by Kim Kyung-Hoon


‘Biodegradable’ plastic will soon be banned in Australia—that’s a big win for the environment

‘Biodegradable’ plastic will soon be banned in Australia—that’s a big win for the environment

To start dealing with Australia’s mounting plastic crisis, the federal government last week launched its first National Plastics Plan.

The plan will fight plastic on various fronts, such as banning plastic on beaches, ending polystyrene packaging for takeaway containers, and phasing in microplastic filters in washing machines. But we’re particularly pleased to see a main form of biodegradable plastic will also be phased out.

Biodegradable plastic promises a plastic that breaks down into natural components when it’s no longer wanted for its original purpose. The idea of a plastic that literally disappears once in the ocean, littered on land or in landfill is tantalizing—but also (at this stage) a pipe dream.

A brief guide to help you responsibly dispose of your plastic.
Credit: University Technology Sydney

Why ‘biodegradable’ ain’t that great

“Biodegradable” suggests an item is made from plant-based materials. But this isn’t always the case.

A major problem with “biodegradable” plastic is the lack of regulations or standards around how the term should be used. This means it could, and is, being used to refer to all manner of things, many of which aren’t great for the environment.

Many plastics labeled biodegradable are actually traditional fossil-fuel plastics that are simply degradable (as all plastic is) or even “oxo-degradable”—where chemical additives make the fossil-fuel plastic fragment into microplastics. The fragments are usually so small they’re invisible to the naked eye, but still exist in our landfills, water ways and soils.

Full story by Jenni Downes, Kim Borg and Nick Florin at Phys.Org


Clothes washing linked to ‘pervasive’ plastic pollution in the Arctic

Clothes washing linked to ‘pervasive’ plastic pollution in the Arctic

The Arctic is “pervasively” polluted by microplastic fibres that most likely come from the washing of synthetic clothes by people in Europe and North America, research has found.

The most comprehensive study to date found the microplastics in 96 of 97 sea water samples taken from across the polar region. More than 92% of the microplastics were fibres, and 73% of these were made of polyester and were the same width and colours as those used in clothes. Most of the samples were taken from 3-8 metres below the surface, where much marine life feeds.

Full story by Damian Carrington at The Guardian

On the Web This Week, 7 November

On the Web This Week, 7 November

On the web this week, indoor farming takes a step forward, a volcanic eruption creates a new island, and Chile’s last circus elephant retires.

Picture credit: Bowery

If you live in the U.S., the last time you ate a salad, the lettuce inside it almost certainly came from California or Arizona. But the geography of leafy greens is very slowly starting to change as the trend of indoor farming—growing greens in large warehouses using artificial light and automated technology—expands. The latest farm to open is in Baltimore. It’s the largest, so far, from the New York-based, tech-heavy startup Bowery.

Picture credit: GeoNet

An undersea volcanic eruption in the Tongan archipelago has sunk one island and created another one that is three times larger, according to a report by geologists released on Thursday.

Taaniela Kula, of the Tonga Geological Service, said the new island is estimated to be about 100 metres wide and 400 metres long, and is situated about 120 metres west of its now-submerged predecessor, Lateiki island.

Companies seeking to cut plastic use are tapping a vast source of raw materials: ocean garbage.

Coca-Cola Co. recently unveiled a bottle made in part of recycled marine litter. Interface Inc., the world’s biggest maker of carpet tiles, is weaving rugs with yarns produced from discarded fishing nets. Startups are raising funds to fish for plastics and make new products.

Picture credit: Julian Stratenschulte / Getty Images

Electrifying transportation is one of the biggest keys to solving the looming climate crisis. With more electric vehicles on the road and fewer gas-guzzlers, drivers burn less fossil fuels and put out fewer planet-heating gases into the atmosphere. But as electric vehicles become more popular, they’re posing another environmental challenge: what to do with their batteries once they’re off the road.

Picture credit: Donald Miralle/Getty Images

This week in Los Angeles, 15,000 people will be attending one of the biggest creativity conferences in the world, Adobe MAX. It’s not the kind of event that is normally associated with conservation, but this year is different. The creative community is getting involved in coral reef conservation and it might just help save an entire ecosystem.

Picture credit: Gregory Zamell/Shutterstock

Ramba the elephant spent 50 years all alone in a circus. The Asian elephant was first forced into circus life in Argentina and later in Chile. In 1997, she was “confiscated” from a circus called Los Tachuelas because she was suffering abuse and neglect.

Despite being “confiscated,” she actually had to stay with the circus, just wasn’t able to perform anymore. After many years of hard work on behalf of Chilean NGO Ecopolis and elephant experts Scott Blais and Kat Blais, Ramba was rescued and it marks the official end of performing circus elephants in Chile.

Picture credit: Apple TV Plus

Two movies this year feature prolonged scenes in which a dung beetle pushes a piece of poop in the middle of the African savannah. One of them is an emotional journey about a leader coming to terms with the full cycle of birth, life, and death, which ends with a poignant moment in the rain. The other is the live-action Lion King.

Apple TV Plus’ nature documentary The Elephant Queen does what Disney couldn’t: imbue emotional depth to its animal subjects and crafting a sweeping narrative across the African plains.

Did you enjoy this week’s stories? Comment below and let us know! If you’re looking for eco-friendly, sustainable products for your home and/or outdoor needs, please consider one of the products below. As an Amazon Affiliate, we earn a commission on sales, which helps us to keep up our mission of keeping you entertained and informed.

On the Web This Week, 12 September

On the Web This Week, 12 September

On the web this week, Rhino conservation gets a boost, South Africa’s commitment to combating climate change questioned, and are plastic alternatives ready for wide-scale adoption?

Picture credit: Getty Images

The BBC takes a look into the future, and asks what would happen if all the world’s trees disappeared.

Picture credit: Slater & Gordon

The Telegraph reports on the second annual Business of Conservation conference, chaired by Fred Swaniker, an enterprising young Ghanaian who, at the inaugural conference last year, managed to garner pledges for $600 million to be spent on conservation projects around Africa.

Picture credit: AFP/Getty

Moneyweb reports on Sanlam’s new Amplify unit, which will provide R8Billion in funding for Rhino conservation.

Picture credit: greenmatch.co.za

The Saturday Star examines the state of South Africa’s political response to climate change, which is still sadly falling behind recent landmark assessments by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Science- Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

Picture credit: Paulo Oliveira/Alamy Stock Photo

The Guardian has a sobering report which suggests that plastic alternatives may worsen marine pollution, because the infrastructure to properly manage this new form of waste is not in place in a significant way yet. Its important to remember that reducing our dependence on single-use packaging is still the most effective way of cutting down on pollution.

Picture credit: Mustafah Abdulaziz

Also in The Guardian, a touching picture gallery of work from American photographer Mustafah Abdulaziz has won the Leica Oskar Barnack photography award with his eight-year project exploring the global crisis around water, and how different cultures interact with this precious resource.

And finally, if you’re looking for ways to reuse your old plastic bottles, you might want to try your hand at making a toy airplane:

As always, thank you for joining us. If you have any stories you’d like to see us report on, or if you have any ideas on how to reduce our plastic use, please feel free to share them with us in the comment section below.