Once in a while, we like to take a virtual trip around the world to check in on some of the stories related to the ocean plastic crisis that are making news. This can be anything from research that shows how pervasive the problem is, to new ways of thinking about the plastic cycle, or some of the negative impacts ocean plastic pollution is having on species and habitats. Also, wherever we can, we like to recognize people or organizations making positive progress in the effort to curb the plastic pollution problem for future generations.
These stories are ripped from the headlines and just waiting for us to take a closer look. Let's go!
Countries tried to curb trade in plastic waste. The U.S. is shipping more.
The New York Times
“When more than 180 nations agreed last year to place strict limits on exports of plastic waste from richer countries to poorer ones, the move was seen as a major victory in the fight against plastic pollution.
“But new trade data for January, the first month that the agreement took effect, shows that American exports of plastic scrap to poorer countries have barely changed, and overall scrap plastics exports rose, which environmental watchdog groups say is evidence that exporters are ignoring the new rules.
“The American companies seem to be relying on a remarkable interpretation of the new rules: Even though it’s now illegal for most countries to accept all but the purest forms of plastic scrap from the United States, there’s nothing that prevents the United States from sending the waste. The main reason: the United States is one of the few countries in the world that didn’t ratify the global ban.”
Revealed: why hundreds of thousands of tonnes of recycling are going up in smoke
“When it comes to planet-friendly habits, recycling is by far the UK’s most popular, with 87% of householders claiming they do so regularly, according to the Waste and Resources Action Programme. But an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches into where our rubbish goes, and the role played by energy-from-waste incineration plants, has found that millions of tonnes of our carefully sorted empties are simply being burned after they’re collected.
“Freedom of information requests reveal that, on average, 11% of rubbish collected for recycling is incinerated.
“The Dispatches team also found a direct correlation between regions tied into incineration contracts and low recycling rates. In England, more waste is now burned than recycled – 11.6 million tonnes was incinerated in 2019 while 10.9 million was sent for recycling. There are 48 energy-from-waste incinerators across the country, and industry figures show 18 more are planned.”
Plastic bags could be outlawed in Colorado next year under proposed bill
“Plastic bags and Styrofoam are ubiquitous at grocery stores and restaurants, but their days may be numbered in Colorado. Under a bill by State Reps. Alex Valdez and Lisa Cutter, you would have to pay at least ten cents for a single-use plastic bag or even a recycled paper bag starting next September no matter where you shop in Colorado.
“By the following September, stores could only sell the paper bags. The bill would also ban Styrofoam by next January. The Styrofoam ban would be phased-in at schools by 2024.”
COVID face masks are a ticking plastic bomb — 3 million thrown away every minute
University of Southern Denmark
“Every minute of the day we throw away 3 million face masks. Many end up as potentially toxic micro- and nanoplastic or carriers for other toxicants in the environment
“Recent studies estimate that we use an astounding 129 billion face masks globally every month – that is 3 million a minute. Most of them are disposable face masks made from plastic microfibers.
“‘With increasing reports on inappropriate disposal of masks, it is urgent to recognize this potential environmental threat and prevent it from becoming the next plastic problem,’ researchers warn in a comment in the scientific journal Frontiers of Environmental Science & Engineering.”
Canada is drowning in plastic waste — and recycling won’t save us
Canada’s National Observer
“Canadians dispose of about 3.3 million tonnes of plastic each year, according to a 2019 study commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), almost half of which is packaging. Well over three-quarters currently goes to landfills, a small proportion is incinerated and about one per cent ends up directly in the environment. Only nine per cent — or 305,000 tonnes — is recycled, the 2019 study found.
”That’s no surprise. Low oil prices make it difficult for plastic recyclers, who must invest in expensive sorting and processing facilities, to compete against already established petrochemical manufacturers, whose facilities are well integrated with the oil and gas industry. It’s cheaper to make plastic from so-called “virgin oil” and put the waste in landfills than it is to recycle old plastics into new products.
“Oil and natural gas producers are betting heavily on continued growth in virgin plastic production, with the industry expected to soon account for between 45 and 95 percent of global growth in demand for oil and natural gas, according to a September report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative.”
California legislators take aim at plastics with new bill package, including contested producer responsibility plan
“California lawmakers have reintroduced SB 54, a bill that would require all single-use disposable packaging, including food service packaging, to be recyclable or compostable by January 2032. The bill debuted as part of a unified Democrat-led package of almost a dozen other plastic waste-related bills on March 9.
“As currently written, the bill leaves out a major part of previous versions, which had required single-use plastic packaging to have a 75% recycling or composting rate by 2032. Bill sponsors anticipate SB 54 will undergo more updates as the legislative session goes on.
“Other new bills aim to standardize recycling labeling on packaging, set minimum recycled content standards for thermoform packaging, and prohibit the state from counting exported plastic scrap in its recycling rate calculations if it is landfilled, burned or dumped.”
How to help: Take steps to reduce your plastic footprint
Plastic pollution is a complex issue and there is no one single action that’s going to change the tide. Ending this global crisis will require lots of small actions from lots of people every single day.
Every time you shop 4ocean, you’re investing in the future of our planet by funding the removal of trash that’s already polluting our oceans, rivers, and coastlines, while supporting the research, innovation, technology, advocacy, and education initiatives we invest in to help prevent more plastic from entering our oceans.
Small acts add up, which means every piece of single-use plastic you refuse, every bad habit you change, and every pound you pull makes a difference.