plastic tagged posts

Coronavirus: ‘The masks you throw away could end up killing a whale’

Tons of PPE from coronavirus ends up in our oceans

As the world battles the coronavirus pandemic, more and more protective equipment is ending up in the sea.

Globally we are using 129 billion face masks and 65 billion plastic gloves every month, according to some estimates.

And divers and observers are spotting more of this discarded waste floating underwater, causing problems for wildlife and washing up on shorelines all over the world.

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Another reason to cut down on plastics

marine plastics and debris

Greetings and welcome to Plastic Free July! This month, millions of people across 177 countries have pledged to cut down on the amount of plastic they use. The movement started small almost a decade ago in Australia, but last year more than 250 million people pledged to participate. This year, the annual challenge arrives as plastic is making something of a comeback amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Efforts to ban plastic bags in cities across the United States have stalled and some grocery stores won’t allow customers to bring their own reusable bags. Many restaurants are open for takeout service only, and that means disposable containers and flatware. A lot of the masks people wear are laced with microplastics.

While health should be the primary concern during a pandemic, “Caring for the...

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Washing machines’ microplastic filters ‘untested’

Globally, an estimated 50 billion garments are cleaned in washing machines each year

Filters can cut the volume of ocean-bound microplastic fibres released by washing machines, a study has shown. However, until now, filters have not been tested under scientific conditions to prove their effectiveness. In the first study of its kind, scientists found that the majority of fibres were removed but up to a third were still getting though. Each year, an estimated 50 billion garments are washed in machines around the globe. Mark Browne from the University of New South Wales, and colleagues Macarena Ros and Emma Johnston, observed: “Facilities that treat sewage divert some fibres to sludge, but no current method of filtration eliminates their environmental release.”

One...

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We need to prioritize ocean conservation before it’s too late

A coral reef impacted by a severe bleaching event

There are many challenges that are top-of-mind when we think about ocean conservation. And science is perhaps the most crucial part of decoding these challenges. It underlies a lot of the innovation we need to save the ocean. However, while science underlies many of these solutions, scientists aren’t the only perspectives we need. From storytellers like filmmakers to event planners and educators, we very much need multiple perspectives to spurn effective solutions.

EarthX, “the world’s largest environmental conference and film festival,” ran a virtual event just last week that embodies this principle. The event, in partnership with National Geographic, acknowledges the importance of scientific viewpoints, inviting marine biologist and former NOAA Chief Scientist Sylvia Earle.

But ...

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Plastic piles up in Thailand as pandemic efforts sideline pollution fight

Thailand began the year with a ban on single-use plastic bags that Bangkok office worker Nicha Singhanoi hoped would cut back the waste that puts her country among the world’s top five choking the oceans with plastic. Then the coronavirus pandemic forced school closures and authorities told people to stay home, and far from falling, Bangkok’s plastic waste has soared 62% in volume in April, as more people opt for food and goods to be delivered to homes.

“There is so much bubble wrap and product packaging, or bags and containers from food deliveries,” said Nicha, 27, an avid online shopper, who said that working from home deprived her of the time to cook.

Even if the pandemic eases, environmentalists fear Thailand is simply a pointer for the situation elsewhere in Southeast Asia, h...

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High microplastic concentration found on ocean floor

Microplastics in the ocean with a Manta Ray

Scientists have identified the highest levels of microplastics ever recorded on the seafloor. The contamination was found in sediments pulled from the bottom of the Mediterranean, near Italy. The analysis, led by the University of Manchester, found up to 1.9 million plastic pieces per square metre.

These items likely included fibres from clothing and other synthetic textiles, and tiny fragments from larger objects that had broken down over time.

The researchers’ investigations lead them to believe that microplastics (smaller than 1mm) are being concentrated in specific locations on the ocean floor by powerful bottom currents.

“These currents build what are called drift deposits; think of underwater sand dunes,” explained Dr Ian Kane, who fronted the international team.

“They can be tens ...

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Satellite data used to detect marine plastic

Sentinel -2 Satellite collecting data on micro plastics in the ocean

A new method of detecting patches of floating macroplastics – larger than 5 millimetres – in marine environments is presented in Scientific Reports this week. The approach, which uses data from the European Space Agency Sentinel-2 satellites, is able to distinguish plastics from other materials with 86% accuracy.

Lauren Biermann and colleagues identified patches of floating debris from Sentinel-2 data based on their spectral signatures – the wavelengths of visible and infrared light they absorbed and reflected. The authors then trained a machine-learning algorithm to classify the individual materials that made up these patches according to the specific spectral signatures of different plastic and natural materials...

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Ocean plastics smell like food to turtles

The amount of plastic pollution in the oceans is rapidly increasing. This is problematic, as at least 700 species of marine animals – including sharks, whales, seabirds and turtles – can become entangled in the stuff or mistake it for a tasty snack.

While we know that some species seem to eat plastic because it looks like jellyfish or some other food source, less research has been carried out into what plastic smells like to marine animals.

But now, a study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has found that the coating of algae and microbes that naturally builds up on ocean plastics causes the rubbish to give off the aroma of food.

The researchers took 15 captive-reared loggerhead turtles, each around five months old, and placed them in a laboratory aquarium...

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Attenborough: World ‘changing habits’ on plastic

The world is beginning to tackle the threat of plastic waste, according to the renowned broadcaster Sir David Attenborough.

“I think we’re all shifting our behaviour, I really do,” Sir David said in an interview with the BBC.

Describing plastic pollution as “vile” and “horrid”, he said there was growing awareness of the damage it can do.

“I think we are changing our habits, and the world is waking up to what we’ve done to the planet,” he said.

Sir David was speaking as he and the BBC’s Natural History Unit (NHU) were announced as the winners of the prestigious Chatham House Prize for their Blue Planet II series of documentaries.

Chatham House, a foreign affairs think-tank based in London, awards the prize to people or organisations making a significant contribution to improving internation...

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Every human should be alarmed by the plastic crisis in our oceans

A garbage-strewn beach in Mumbai, India

“Without Change,” warns a bipartisan group of senators, “there will be more plastic by weight than fish in the oceans by 2050.” Some of the signs of this growing crisis are visible: sea turtles caught in discarded fishing nets; piles of trash floating in the ocean; birds and fish stranded in plastic six-pack rings.

But much of the trash in the ocean is not so obvious. National Geographic reports that the iconic Great Pacific Garbage Patch — also known as the Pacific trash vortex — is really more of a soup of small plastic particles the sun has broken down, punctuated by larger items such as fishing nets and shoes. Much of the trash is dumped into the sea from ships. But most comes from land: bottles, cups, bags...

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