World's plastic binge 'as dangerous as climate change,' say campaigners
A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute and the number will jump another 20 percent by 2021, creating an environmental crisis some campaigners predict will be as serious as climate change.
New figures obtained by The Guardian reveal the surge in usage of plastic bottles, more than half a trillion of which will be sold annually by the end of the decade.
The demand, equivalent to about 20,000 bottles being bought every second, is driven by an apparently insatiable desire for bottled water and the spread of a western, urbanized “on the go” culture to China and the Asia Pacific region.
More than 480 billion plastic drinking bottles were sold in 2016 across the world, up from about 300 billion a decade ago. If placed end-to-end, they would extend more than halfway to the sun. By 2021 this will increase to 583.3 billion, according to the most up-to-date estimates from Euromonitor International’s global packaging trends report.
Most plastic bottles used for soft drinks and water are made from polyethylene terephthalate (Pet), which is highly recyclable. But as their use soars across the globe, efforts to collect and recycle the bottles to keep them from polluting the oceans, are failing to keep up.
Fewer than half of the bottles bought in 2016 were collected for recycling and just 7 percent of those collected were turned into new bottles. Instead most plastic bottles produced end up in landfill or in the ocean.
Between 5 million and 13 million tons of plastic leaks into the world’s oceans each year to be ingested by sea birds, fish and other organisms, and by 2050 the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish, according to research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Experts warn that some of it is already finding its way into the human food chain.
Scientists at Ghent University in Belgium recently calculated people who eat seafood ingest up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic every year. Last August, the results of a study by Plymouth University reported plastic was found in a third of UK-caught fish, including cod, haddock, mackerel, and shellfish. Last year, the …more
North Carolina project turns plastic bags into bedrolls
Recycling fanatic Tori Carle used to put all kinds of plastic out for recycling, including plastic bags. Then she became the city recycling educator in Greensboro, North Carolina. In that position, she learned that plastic bags and other plastic film wreak havoc in the recycling sorting process. Plastic bags frequently get tangled in the rotating machinery at materials recovery facilities, which sort mixed recyclables into various saleable commodities. Workers must stop the machinery almost a dozen times every day to remove the tangles. Sometimes the bags even break components of the machines.
Photo by Wastebuster, Flickr
Not long after, Carle discovered from the website Pinterest that plastic bags can be used to make plastic yarn, called “plarn,” which can then be crocheted for use in a variety of different projects.
When it comes to recycling plastics, most of the public focus is on shopping bags. Yet shopping bags are just one type of plastic film Americans acquire on a regular basis. Bread, frozen vegetables, cotton balls, newspapers, and dry-cleaning all come in various types of plastic bags. And almost any of it can be used to make plarn.
In the spring of 2016, Carle approached her boss with a novel educational idea: to organize the first of what turned out to be several workshops at library branches where she would teach people how to make plarn. To her surprise, 21 people showed up. According to Carle, the workshop participants had a number of questions for which she as yet had no answers: “Are we finishing anything to completion today, or are we working on something small we can continue working on at home? Do you have a pattern for it?” In response to their questions, Carle began to search Pinterest for plarn projects that could be easily replicated. One project in particular — posted by members of an Arkansas church who had who had successfully used plarn to crochet bedrolls for the homeless — excited the entire group.
In addition to tackling plastic pollution, the idea addresses a real and serious need. When people sleep on the ground, even if they have a sleeping bag, half of their body remains in contact with a surface colder than their body temperature, which can lead to hypothermia. While experienced campers know to use an insulating …more
Restoration will be delayed by decades if dichloromethane emissions are not curbed, research reveals
The restoration of the globe’s protective shield of ozone will be delayed by decades if fast-rising emissions of a chemical used in paint stripper are not curbed, new research has revealed.
Atmospheric levels of the chemical have doubled in the last decade and its use is not restricted by the Montreal protocol that successfully outlawed the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) mainly responsible for the ozone hole. The ozone-destroying chemical is called dichloromethane and is also used as an industrial solvent, an aerosol spray propellant and a blowing agent for polyurethane foams. Little is known about where it is leaking from or why emissions have risen so rapidly.
Photo by Time SHeerman-Chase
The loss of ozone was discovered in the 1980s and is greatest over Antarctica. But Ryan Hossaini, at Lancaster University in the UK and who led the new work, said: “It is important to remember that ozone depletion is a global phenomenon, and that while the peak depletion occurred over a decade ago, it is a persistent environmental problem and the track to recovery is expected to be a long and bumpy one.”
“Ozone shields us from harmful levels of UV radiation that would otherwise be detrimental to human, animal and plant health,” he said.
The new research, published in the journal Nature Communications, analysed the level of dichloromethane in the atmosphere and found it rose by 8 percent a year between 2004 and 2014. The scientists then used sophisticated computer models to find that, if this continues, the recovery of the ozone layer would be delayed by 30 years, until about 2090.
The chemical was not included in the 1987 Montreal protocol because it breaks down relatively quickly in the atmosphere, usually within six months, and had not therefore been expected to build up. In contrast, CFCs persist for decades or even centuries.
But the short lifespan of dichloromethane does mean that action to cut its emissions would have rapid benefits. “If policies were put in place to limit its production, then this gas could be flushed out of the atmosphere relatively quickly,” said Hossaini.
If the dichloromethane in the atmosphere was held at today’s level, the recovery of the ozone level would only be delayed by five years, the scientists found. …more
Advocates push federal agency to consider best science and non-lethal management policies
Last week, Project Coyote partnered with five other wildlife conservation groups — the Center for Biological Diversity, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Western Watersheds Project, Animal Welfare Institute, and WildEarth Guardians — in suing the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Wildlife Services program over its outdated wildlife-killing plan for Northern California. The organizations argue that federal trappers employed through the program regularly use painful leg hold traps, strangulation snares, poisons, and aerial gunning to kill wolves, coyotes, cougars, and other wild animals, primarily to benefit the agriculture industry. The noprofits further contend that the federal government has failed to properly analyze the impacts of the program as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Photo by Josh More
If successful, the lawsuit, filed in US District Court in San Francisco, would force the USDA to do an environmental analysis of its Wildlife Services program in the northern district of California, and to consider alternative wildlife management policies.
“There's an increasing body of scientific literature showing that the way predators have been managed in the United States is not in line with the best available science, nor is it in line with human values and attitudes about wildlife,” said Camilla Fox, founder and executive director of Project Coyote.
The lawsuit — which covers Butte, Humboldt, Lassen, Mendocino, Modoc, Nevada, Plumas, Sierra, Shasta, Siskiyou, Sutter, Trinity, and Yuba counties — is one of several legal actions in the Western United States to either stop counties from hiring federal trappers or force the government to alter its predator control policies. Other suits have been brought in Colorado, Oregon, and Wyoming. Most recently, Project Coyote and partners formally petitioned the Wildlife Services program for an immediate ban on the use of M-44 cyanide devices in Wyoming.
Few Americans have ever heard of Wildlife Services, a little-known USDA agency charged with managing wildlife, largely at the behest of ranchers and agribusiness. Since 1931, this agency has been waging war against wildlife with its lethal arsenal.
Officials with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which oversees the wildlife management program, have repeatedly defended use of lethal force.
“As a federal leader in resolving human-wildlife conflict, Wildlife Services uses a responsible and science-based approach to address damage and problems caused by wildlife,” an agency spokesman wrote recently in response to a similar lawsuit by Project Coyote and …more
Using clean technology to sail around the globe and visit every country on Earth
When I first considered the idea of sailing around the world and visiting every sovereign nation along the way, I was quite surprised to learn that no one has ever actually tried to do it. In an age when adrenaline junkies are desperate to set or break any record — when you read headlines about 13-year-old kids climbing Mt. Everest, for example, or corporate oligarchs in a race to become the first person to single-handedly take a submarine to the bottom of the Mariana Trench — it was refreshing to discover that such a straightforward goal, one that sounded so simple, at least in theory, had yet to be attained.
Photo by Daniel Ramirez
Of course, many people have sailed around the world, and quite a few have visited all 193 UN-recognized countries. Yet despite extensive research, I couldn’t find a single instance of anyone who had done both. The more I learned about what such a challenge would entail, the more clear it became that the person to attempt this feat would be me. This is not because I am particularly drawn to setting world records, but because this pursuit incorporates my two greatest goals since I was child and first read tales of Robin Lee Graham and Captain Cook: I wanted to sail around the world, and I wanted to go everywhere.
So often childhood dreams get pushed to the back burner when the realities of adulthood like unpaid bills and children come along, but my dreams just wouldn’t die. When, at the age of 14, I announced to my parents that I was going to drop out of school to sail around the world, things didn’t quite go as well as I had hoped, so instead I became a yacht delivery captain, sailing other people’s boats from point A to point B for a little bit of pocket change. It’s hardly a way to make a decent living, but the job offered something else — the chance to gain experience sailing on the open ocean and to see far-away lands, to anchor in the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean and to swim beneath the waterfalls that tumble off mountains cloaked in green in the Marquesas Islands. It was a good life, most of the time.
But I also witnessed the coup in Thailand, saw …more
Swiss project has city dwellers enthusiastically farming rare vegetable varieties while producing free seeds for all
Slivi Limonje looks like a lemon. Bulging Vincent’s appearance is deceptive, too: Is it a bell pepper or a tomato? Both are masters of disguise. Looking at a “bull’s heart,” we are quite certain it is a tomato — we’ve seen that one in our stores. In our minds, a tomato is supposed to be round and red, because our perception of variety is limited to what is offered at the supermarket.
Photo Zacharias Thiel/ProSpecieRara
The people at ProSpecieRara want to change all of that by reintroducing old varieties that will turn our definition of a tomato on its head: pink giants, green minis, varieties that are striped red and yellow. The Swiss foundation cultivates 140 different types of tomatoes, helping to protect a total of 3,800 old cultivated plants and a few species of farm animals from extinction. Since its founding 34 years ago, wooly pigs, Appenzeller Spitzhauben chickens, and booted mountain goats have come back to live amongst the Holstein cattle; black corn and yellow raspberries have made Swiss fields and gardens more colorful. The Urban Tomatoes campaign seeks to raise botanical diversity in cityscapes, as well — all the way up to urban balconies! But how does one stir the interest of city dwellers in earthy agrarian topics? With seeds, shovels, and social media.
DIY-gardening is on the rise
For the past five years, ProSpecieRara, in collaboration with the cities of Geneva, Lausanne, and Zurich, has been producing tomato starter kits — seeds and a tutorial — which can be ordered on their website and via social media. Similar kits featuring lettuce and bell peppers are recent additions to the foundation’s portfolio. With a few posts in early spring, Nicole Egloff gets the ball, or rather the tomato, rolling. As soon as the first orders land in her inbox, her Basel office morphs into a veritable shipping factory. “We are able to process the large volume of orders thanks to many volunteers, interns, and our flexible office staff,” the 34-year-old head of communications explains. Ever since she came on board as a public relations intern over nine years ago, she has been driving fresh publicity campaigns together with project manager Anna Kornicker and advising hobby-gardeners when they run into problems, from brown leaves to white flies. Her PR skills were particularly needed this past year because the Urban Tomato …more
Publishers concerned case could set dangerous precedent, have silencing effect on environmental organizations
The world’s biggest book publishers have been dragged into a bitter dispute between a US logging company and environmental campaigners Greenpeace. It follows legal action taken by the logging company, Resolute Forest Products, which campaigners and publishers fear has implications for freedom of speech.
Photo by peupleloup, Flickr
The dispute centers on claims by Greenpeace about the company’s logging practices in sections of Canada’s boreal forest, which are home to Indigenous peoples as well as endangered wildlife. Greenpeace alleges that Resolute: “Is responsible for the destruction of vast areas of Canada’s magnificent boreal forest, damaging critical woodland caribou habitat and logging without the consent of impacted First Nations.”
Resolute strongly disputes the claims. Last year, it followed up a 2013 defamation and economic interference lawsuit launched in Canada with a $226 million US claim under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Passed in 1970 to counter organized crime, the use of the act has been criticized as an attempt to silence both Resolute’s critics and for setting a “dangerous” precedent for whistleblowers and NGOs.
Publishers, including Penguin Random House and Murdoch-owned HarperCollins, became involved after a petition signed by more than 100 authors in support of Greenpeace was handed in at US publishing trade show BookExpo. The petition called for publishers using Resolute products to use their clout to pressure the company into dropping the lawsuit and addressing alleged logging practices.
Hachette Livre, whose UK subsidiaries publish among others Ian Rankin, JK Rowling, and Cressida Cowell, expressed concern that the Rico action poses a threat to free speech and could be used to silence environmental organizations at a time when the US government has stated its intention to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement on climate change.
Emphasizing that Hachette had “no intention of taking sides,” but was “reaffirming our commitment to free speech,” Ronald Blunden, senior vice-president of corporate communications said: “It is the [scale] of the damages being sought in the suit. We are concerned that it is about muzzling Greenpeace at a time when the US government is pulling out of the Paris accord on climate change.”
He added: “You need these NGOs to be able to do their work and be whistleblowers, because if they disappear, and if the US pulls out …more