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Plastic Apocalypse: Dangerous Microplastics Invade Alps To Artic, Found In Fresh Snow

Plastic Apocalypse: Dangerous Microplastics Invade Alps To Artic, Found In Fresh Snow

A new study has revealed that high levels of microplastics have been detected in some of the most remote regions of the world.

The discovery, published in the journal Science Advances, is the first international study on microplastics in snow, conducted by the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany.

Melanie Bergmann, the lead scientist, and her team of researchers found microplastics from the Alps to the Arctic contained high levels of the plastic fragment, raises questions about the environmental and health implications of potential exposure to airborne plastics.

Watch: Farmers create natural straw intend to break plastic’s back

“I was really astonished concerning the high concentrations,” said co-author Gunnar Gerdts, a marine microbiologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute.

Bergmann explains that microplastics come from industrial economies where rubber and paints are used. The tiny fragments end up in the sea, where they’re broken down by waves and ultraviolet radiation, before absorbing into the atmosphere. From there, the plastic particles are captured from the air during cloud development, can drift across the Earth via jet streams. At some point, the particles act as a nucleus around supercooled droplets can condense, and travel to Earth as snow.

“Although there is a huge surge of research into the environmental impact of plastics, there is still so much that we do not know,” said Bergmann.

Bergmann noted how the scientific community was only in its infancy of examining the process of how microplastics get sucked up into the atmosphere then scattered around the world in some form of precipitation. She said, there’s an “urgent need for research on human and animal health effects focusing on airborne microplastics.”

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Plastics Industry on Track to Burn Through 14% of World’s Remaining Carbon Budget: New Report

Plastics Industry on Track to Burn Through 14% of World’s Remaining Carbon Budget: New Report

Plastic jug on a beach

The plastics industry plays a major — and growing — role in climate change, according to a report published today by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL).

By 2050, making and disposing of plastics could be responsible for a cumulative 56 gigatons of carbon, the report found, up to 14 percent of the world’s remaining carbon budget.

In 2019, the plastics industry is on track to release as much greenhouse gas pollution as 189 new coal-fired power plants running year-round, the report found — and the industry plans to expand so rapidly that by 2030, it will create 1.34 gigatons of climate-changing emissions a year, equal to 295 coal plants.

It’s an expansion that, in the United States, is largely driven by the shale gas rush unleashed by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The petrochemical expansion also comes over the same period of time that international plans to reduce climate change call for rapid reductions in greenhouse gases from all sources — transportation, electricity, and industry.

“Humanity has less than twelve years to cut global greenhouse emissions in half and just three decades to eliminate them almost entirely,” said Carroll Muffett, president of CIEL, citing UN figures. “It has long been clear that plastic threatens the global environment and puts human health at risk. This report demonstrates that plastic, like the rest of the fossil economy, is putting the climate at risk as well.”

“If growth trends continue,” the report concludes, “plastic will account for 20 percent of global oil consumption by 2050.”

The new report, co-authored by Environmental Integrity Project, FracTracker Alliance, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), 5 Gyres, and Break Free From Plastic, looks at how plastic production carries major impacts for the climate as it goes from raw materials tapped by the fossil fuel industries all the way through its ultimate disposal or breakdown in the environment.

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A Field Guide to the Petrochemical and Plastics Industry

A Field Guide to the Petrochemical and Plastics Industry

Petrochemical plant in Saudi Arabia

The shale gas industry has been trying to build demand for fossil fuels from its fracked oil and gas wells by promoting the construction of a new petrochemical corridor in America’s Rust Belt and expanding the corridor on the Gulf Coast. To help demystify terms like “natural gas liquids” and “cracker plants,” DeSmog has begun building a guide to some of the equipment and terms used in the plastics and petrochemical industries.

This guide, which will expand over time, is intended to serve as an informal glossary of sorts and an introduction to what happens to fossil fuels that are transformed into chemicals, plastics, vinyl, Styrofoam and a variety of other materials.

Petrochemical Production and the Climate

Fracking for Plastics
This field guide is part of Fracking for Plastics, a DeSmog investigation into the proposed petrochemical build-out in the Rust Belt and the major players involved, along with the environmental, health, and socio-economic implications.

These fossil fuels have a significant global warming impact of their own. The methane leaks associated with the natural gas drilling and distribution industry are so pronounced that many experts say burning natural gas for electricity is worse for the climate than burning coal.

While hydrocarbons that are used as raw materials for petrochemical products aren’t burned (and therefore don’t release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere), that leaky infrastructure still results in methane pollution. Methane itself is a powerful greenhouse gas, capable of warming the climate about 86 times faster than an equal amount of carbon dioxide during the first decade after it’s released to the atmosphere.

Making petrochemicals also requires a huge amount of energy — some of the largest petrochemical plants like crackers may have their own power plants on site — and that energy comes from burning fossil fuels.

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IEA: Plastics Will Replace Fuels As Key Oil Demand Driver

IEA: Plastics Will Replace Fuels As Key Oil Demand Driver

Oil tanker

Plastics will displace fuels as the main driver for crude oil demand, the International Energy Agency said today, adding that petrochemicals will come to account for more than 33 percent of oil demand growth globally in the period to 2030. By 2050, they will drive half of the global oil demand growth, raising this demand by 7 million bpd by that year.

The report that contains the projection is titled The Future of Petrochemicals, and the IEA said it was part of a series of reports that aim to uncover “blind spots”, or facets of the global energy industry that receive less attention than they deserve.

Petrochemicals are indeed Big Oil’s big hope for the future—but the more distant future. Petrochemicals are used in thousands of products, with the biggest group among these being single-use plastic products. The bad news for oil is that green initiatives around the world are mounting, and many of them are targeting precisely this group of products. And yet, even if single-use plastic products are removed from the supply chain, enough demand will remain to drive the consumption of crude oil.

“Petrochemicals are one of the key blind spots in the global energy debate, especially given the influence they will exert on future energy trends,” IEA’s head, Fatih Birol, said. Petrochemicals are not just the plastics we see in single-use grocery bags. Petrochemical products are also essential in renewable energy installations such as solar panels and wind turbines, but also batteries, and thermal insulation, and thousands of other products and components.

The durability of petrochemicals demand is evident in the demand growth trends: the IEA says demand for plastics has almost doubled over the last 18 years, exceeding the demand growth rate of every other bulk material, including steel, aluminum, and cement. Perhaps more importantly, emerging markets have yet to catch up to developed ones in their plastics consumption. Now that’s a guarantee for steady demand in the future.

Plastic Pollution: The Age of Unsolvable Problems

Plastic Pollution: The Age of Unsolvable Problems

Suddenly, we discovered that plastic pollution is a problem, a big one. What to do about it? As usual, it is a question of governance: the problem in itself is not so terribly bad that it couldn’t be controlled. But, over the years, we develop such effective technologies of anti-governance that we have entered the age of unsolvable problem. 

How bad is the situation with plastic pollution? Rather bad, by all means. Citing from a recent paper by Geyer et al., more than 8 billion tons of plastic have been produced since the 1950s. Of this plastic, 9% percent was recycled, 12% was incinerated, the rest is in part still in use, in part dispersed in the ecosystem. It is this mass of plastics, billions of tons, which form the pollution we see today. It is almost one ton of plastic waste for every human being living today. Imagine if it were magically to appear in your living room: one ton for every member of your family. 

Still following Geyer et al., in 2015 the world produced 380 million tons of plastics from fossil hydrocarbons. To get some idea of how polluting this mass is, we can compare it to the total carbon emissions produced by hydrocarbon combustion, which today can be estimated to be around 9 billion tons of carbon per year. Plastic is mainly carbon, but we should take into account that the process of creating it cannot be 100% efficient. Anyway, we are interested here only in an order of magnitude comparison so we can say that about 4% of the fossil hydrocarbons we extract become plastics.  

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Everything That Dies Does Not Come Back


Charles Sprague Pearce The Arab jeweler c1882

There are a lot of industries in our world that wreak outsized amounts of havoc. Think the biggest global banks and oil companies. Think plastics. But there is one field that is much worse than all others: agro-chemicals. At some point, not that long ago, the largest chemical producers, who until then had kept themselves busy producing Agent Orange, nerve agents and chemicals used in concentration camp showers, got the idea to use their products in food production.

While they had started out with fertilizers etc., they figured making crops fully dependent on their chemicals would be much more lucrative. They bought themselves ever more seeds and started manipulating them. And convinced more and more farmers, or rather food agglomerates, that if there were ‘pests’ that threatened their yields, they should simply kill them, rather than use natural methods to control them.

And in monocultures that actually makes sense. It’s the monoculture itself that doesn’t. What works in nature is (bio)diversity. It’s the zenith of cynicism that the food we need to live is now produced by a culture of death. Because that is what Monsanto et al represent: Their solution to whatever problem farmers may face is to kill it with poison. But that will end up killing the entire ecosystem a farmer operates within, and depends on.

However, the Monsantos of the planet produce much more ‘research’ material than anybody else, and it all says that the demise of ecosystems into which their products are introduced, has nothing to do with these products. And by the time anyone can prove the opposite, it will be too late: the damage will have been done through cross-pollination. Monsanto can then sue anyone who has crops that show traces of its genetically altered proprietary seeds, even if the last thing a farmer wants is to include those traces.

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Low Oil Prices Take Their Toll On Recycling Sector

Low Oil Prices Take Their Toll On Recycling Sector

That’s just as true today, despite many changes in societal priorities. Plastics are still ubiquitous, whether they’re made from oil or recycled from scrap. But a major change has come over the past 19 months, and there’s no telling how long it will be with us: The price of oil has fallen so low that it’s now less expensive to make plastic than to recycle it.

And this is hurting recycling, which is more than a social movement, it’s a $100 billion-a-year business in the United States. And it’s a complex one. One company sorts and cleans items such as used water bottles and food containers, then sells them to other companies that melt them down to make new items ranging from grocery bags to more water bottles.

Related: Cheap Oil Hits Housing In North Dakota, Texas, and Others

Now with the price of oil below $40 per barrel – down dramatically from more than $110 per barrel in June 2014 – it’s gotten to the point where making new plastic from oil makes more sense because there’s no additional process of cleaning and sorting, according to Tom Outerbridge, the general manager of Sims Municipal Recycling in Brooklyn, N.Y.

In an interview with National Public Radio, Outerbridge said negotiating with other companies over the price of cleaned and sorted plastics had become brutal over the past year. “You’re negotiating around a penny or a half-penny a pound,” he said.

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We have to stop filling and killing the oceans with plastic

We have to stop filling and killing the oceans with plastic

Eight million tonnes. That’s how much plastic we’re tossing into the oceans every year! University of Georgia environmental engineer Jenna Jambeck says it’s enough to line up five grocery bags of trash on every foot of coastline in the world.

A study published by Jambeck and colleagues in the journal Science on February 12 examined how 192 coastal countries disposed of plastic waste in 2010. The report, “Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean”, estimates that of 275 million tonnes of plastic generated, about eight million (based on a midpoint estimate of 4.8 million to 12.7 million tonnes) ends up in the seas — blown from garbage dumps into rivers and estuaries, discarded on beaches or along coastlines and carried to the oceans.

China tops the list of 20 countries responsible for 83 per cent of “mismanaged plastic” in the oceans, sending between 1.32 and 3.53 million tonnes into the seas. The U.S., which has better waste-management systems, is number 20 on the list,responsible for 0.04 to 0.11 tonnes. Some countries in the top 20 don’t even have formal waste-management systems. The fear is that, as human populations grow, the amount of plastic going into the oceans will increase dramatically if countries don’t improve waste-management systems and practices — and reduce the amount of plastic they produce and use.

Scientists don’t know where most plastic ends up or what overall effect it’s having on marine life and food supplies. They do know that massive islands of plastic and other waste — some as large as Saskatchewan — swirl in five gyres in the north and south Pacific, north and south Atlantic and Indian oceans. But that’s only a small amount of the total.

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Sea shame: 155mn tons of plastic trash in world oceans by 2025, study finds

Sea shame: 155mn tons of plastic trash in world oceans by 2025, study finds

Up to 8 million tons of trash – plastic bags, bottles and toys, just to name a few items – ends up in the world’s oceans each year. The astounding figure, much higher than previous estimates, could increase tenfold in the next decade, researchers warn.

Along with colleagues from the US and Australia, Jenna Jambeck from the University of Georgia studied the sources of ocean-bound plastic and developed models to estimate their annual contributions worldwide.

Jambeck says their estimate of 8 million metric tons going into the oceans in 2010 is equivalent to “five grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world.”

Given that this annual input goes up each year, the estimate for 2015 is “about 9.1 million metric tons,” she says. These findings are published in the journal Science.

 

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Full scale of plastic in the world’s oceans revealed for first time | Environment | The Guardian

Full scale of plastic in the world’s oceans revealed for first time | Environment | The Guardian.

More than five trillion pieces of plastic, collectively weighing nearly 269,000 tonnes, are floating in the world’s oceans, causing damage throughout the food chain, new research has found.

Data collected by scientists from the US, France, Chile, Australia and New Zealand suggests a minimum of 5.25tn plastic particles in the oceans, most of them “micro plastics” measuring less than 5mm.

The volume of plastic pieces, largely deriving from products such as food and drink packaging and clothing, was calculated from data taken from 24 expeditions over a six-year period to 2013. The research, published in the journal PLOS One, is the first study to look at plastics of all sizes in the world’s oceans.

Large pieces of plastic can strangle animals such as seals, while smaller pieces are ingested by fish and then fed up the food chain, all the way to humans.

This is problematic due to the chemicals contained within plastics, as well as the pollutants that plastic attract once they are in the marine environment.

“We saw turtles that ate plastic bags and fish that ingested fishing lines,” said Julia Reisser, a researcher based at the University of Western Australia. “But there are also chemical impacts. When plastic gets into the water it acts like a magnet for oily pollutants.

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