Tag Archives: pollution

It’s a Planetary Crisis – UN!!

ocean plastics getty
Getty images

Nations have agreed that the world needs to completely stop plastic waste from entering the oceans.  The third meeting of the UN Environment Assembly takes place 4th-7th December in Nairobi, Kenya with the overarching theme of pollution.

The UN resolution, which is set to be sealed at the Assembly, has no timetable and is not legally binding.  But ministers at the believe it will set the course for much tougher policies and send a clear signal to business.

A stronger motion was rejected after the US would not agree to any specific, internationally agreed goals.  Under the proposal, governments would establish an international taskforce to advise on combating what the UN’s oceans chief has described as a planetary crisis.

Environmentalists say ministers are starting to take plastic waste more seriously, but need to move much more quickly.  Li Lin from the green group WWF said: “At last we are seeing some action on this issue, but we still don’t have the urgency we need. The problem needs solving right now.”

top 10 plastic countries

One contentious issue is the wish of delegates to include businesses on the global taskforce.  Ministers say the problem will not be solved without business, but green groups point out that some firms in the plastics industry have been lobbying against restrictions for decades.

This links directly to Green Waste Enterprises Four Point Plan to fight this massive problem.

1. Educate people of all ages of the importance of recycling

2. Legislate to improve recycling laws in the USA and UK.

3. Take the plastic industry to task

4. Find a replacement for plastic that is biodegradable.

 

Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s environment minister, a leading voice in the talks, told BBC News: “Business is listening to markets and seeing how marine litter is a growing popular concern.  “It’s possibly the fastest-growing environmental problem and it’s therefore a fast-growing problem for business.  “We need to bring on board those companies that want to change things, then look at taxes and regulations to make more companies act sustainably.  “We also need to mobilise businesses like aquaculture that suffer from marine pollution.”

Life in the seas risks irreparable damage from a rising tide of plastic waste, the UN oceans chief has warned.  Lisa Svensson said governments, firms and individual people must act far more quickly to halt plastic pollution.  “This is a planetary crisis,” she said. “In a few short decades since we discovered the convenience of plastics, we are ruining the ecosystem of the ocean.”

She had spoken to BBC News ahead of the UN environment summit in Nairobi.  Delegates at the meeting want tougher action against plastic litter.

Ms Svensson had just been saddened by a Kenyan turtle hospital which treats animals that have ingested waste plastic.  She saw a juvenile turtle named Kai, brought in in an emaciated state by fishermen a month ago because she was floating on the sea surface.  Plastic waste was immediately suspected, because if turtles have eaten too much plastic it bloats their bellies and they can’t control their buoyancy.

The planetary crisis affects many marine creatures

Kai was given laxatives for two weeks to clear out her system, as well as anti-bacterial and anti-parasitic medicines and appetite-boosting vitamins.  After six days no plastic had been spotted in the turtle’s stools and Kai was carried back to the sea to complete her recovery.

‘Heart-breaking’ reality

“It’s a very happy moment,” she said. “But sadly we can’t be sure that Kai won’t be back again if she eats more plastic.  “It’s heart-breaking, but it’s reality. We just have to do much more to make sure the plastics don’t get into the sea in the first place.”

Caspar van de Geer runs the turtle hospital for the group Local Ocean Conservation at Watamu in eastern Kenya.  He had demonstrated earlier how uncannily a plastic film pulsating in the water column mimics the actions of the jellyfish some turtles love to eat.

“Turtles aren’t stupid,” he said. “It’s really difficult to tell the difference between plastics and jellyfish, and it may be impossible for a turtle to learn.”

On a pin board he’s compiled a grid of sealed clear plastic bags like the ones used at airports for cosmetics.  Here they contain the plastic fragments removed from the stomachs of sick turtles. Half of the turtles brought here after eating plastics have died.  A huge table at the hospital is laden with an array of plastic waste collected off local beaches – from fishing nets and nylon ropes to unidentifiable fragments of plastic film.

Each bag contains plastic fragments removed from the stomach of a turtle

Certainly, there has been a flurry of resistance from plastics firms to the bans occurring across Africa.

One UN delegate, who did not want to be named, told the BBC that journalists in some countries were being paid by the plastics industry to write stories about job losses following the plastic bag ban.  In Kenya, a long newspaper report counted job losses from the sudden closure of a plastics plant. But it did not mention the jobs being created in alternatives, such as labour-intensive basketwork, which provides work for the rural poor.

But some governments are standing firm, and the meeting has witnessed individual nations declaring tougher action against single-use plastic bags on their own territory.  South Africa and Cameroon are the latest to declare a tax on the thin bags which strew Africa’s fields and cities.

Nations with a near total ban include Mauretania, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mauritius, Zanzibar and Uganda.

Bangladesh imposed a ban in 2002 after plastic bags blocked drains and contributed to major floods.  Sri Lanka and others adopted a ban for similar reasons, although in Mauretania a ban came because cattle were getting sick from eating plastic.

Whatever the motivation for restrictions, sea creatures will eventually benefit from a slackening in the tide of waste.  The UN’s spokesman Sam Barratt told BBC News: “Of course we would have liked to have gone further, but this meeting has made real progress. There’s now a sense of urgency and energy behind the issue that we haven’t quite seen before.  What is obvious, though, is that the UN can’t solve this problem on its own. We need to do it in partnership with governments, businesses and even individuals.”

Whilst the UN grinds slowly forward, one delegate said that the meeting had been really useful for ministers to share their experiences on action they had taken in their own countries. Laggards were learning from progressives, he said.  He highlighted collaborative action from states along Africa’s Atlantic coast to clamp down on the waste that infests their seas. The UK may be brought into that partnership thanks to its British Overseas Territory of St Helena.

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Whale Dies with 30 Plastic Bags in Stomach

Scientists in Norway found more than 30 plastic bags inside the stomach of a whale stranded in shallow waters off the island of Sotra, Norway.  The creature had very little blubber and was emaciated, suggesting that the plastic had led to it becoming malnourished.

The Cuvier beaked whale was put down by wardens after it became apparent that it wasn’t going to live and had clearly consumed a large amount of non-biodegrabeable waste.

When researchers at the University of Bergen performed an autopsy on the mammal, they analyzed the stomach contents and found huge amounts of plastic, including 30 plastic bags and other plastic packaging with labels in Danish and English.  Dr Terje Lislevand, a zoologist who studies whales added that the intenstines were also probably blocked up with plastic, causing severe pain.  Unfortunately, they weren’t shocked by this but Dr Lislevand said that it very sad to find such large quantities.

The following video may contain distressing scenes.

Cuvier’s beaked whales grow up to 22ft long and usually feed on squid and deep sea fish.  They are not normally found in Norwegian waters.  At the beginning of 2016 experts warned there will be more plastic than sealife in the oceans by 2050.  At least 8 million tonnes of plastic already ends up in the ocean every year – the equivalent of a rubbish truck of waste every minute, according to the report from the World Economic Forum.

The rate of plastic pollution is only expected to increase as more and more plastic is used globally, especially in emerging economies with weaker waste and recycling regimes.

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Cuvier’s beaked whale – courtesy of arkive.org

Some facts about plastic in our oceans

  • Every year millions of tonnes of plastic debris such as bags, bottles and food packaging seeps into our oceans.
  • As plastic degrades slowly, it pollutes the oceans for a long time.
  • It breaks down into fragments called micro-plastics, which are ingested by sealife.
  • It can badly affect living organisms as they become entangled in or ingest it, and they can become choked or poisoned.
  • Researchers estimate the amount of plastic in the oceas is set to increase tenfold by 2020.
  • There could be more plastic than life in our oceans by 2050.

If you visit our STOP page, you can find out how you can help with our campaign to Save the Oceans from Plastic.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water………….

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Biodegradable Plastics – Solution or Problem?

UN’s top environmental scientist warns bottles and bags do not break down easily and sink, as report highlights the ubiquity of plastic debris in oceans.

Biodegradable plastic water bottles and shopping bags are a false solution to the ubiquitous problem of litter in the oceans, the UN’s top environmental scientist has warned.

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Plastic debris washed up on shoreline.  Photo by Paul Quayle/Alamy

Most plastic is extremely durable, leading to large plastic debris and “microplastics” to spread via currents to oceans from the Arctic to the Antarctic, a UN report found.

Greener plastics that breakdown in the environment have been marketed as a sustainable alternative that could reduce the vast amount of plastic waste that ends up in the sea after being dumped. But Jacqueline McGlade, chief scientist at the UN Environment Programme, told the Guardian that these biodegradable plastics were not a simple solution.

plastic-bag-in-ocean

“It’s well-intentioned but wrong. A lot of plastics labelled biodegradable, like shopping bags, will only break down in temperatures of 50C and that is not the ocean. They are also not buoyant, so they’re going to sink, so they’re not going to be exposed to UV and break down,” she said.

 

Speaking at the the UN environment assembly in Nairobi, where 170 countries met in May 2016 and passed, among many others, a resolution on microplastics, she added: “We have detected plastics in places as far away as the Chagos Islands [in the Indian Ocean]. Even if you are remote, you are not safe from it.”

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More than 300m tonnes of plastic were produced in 2014 and that is expected to swell to nearly 2,000m tonnes by 2050 on current trends, the UN report said. While the exact amount that reaches the oceans is not known, the report concluded: “plastic debris, or litter, in the ocean is now ubiquitous.”

The spread of everything from large plastic debris such as fishing gear which dolphins can become entangled with, to fragments smaller than 5mm in diameter known as microplastics, has ecological, social and economics costs.

Jellyfish, for example, are using plastic as a habitat and to hitch a ride, allowing them to extend their range. The spread of jellyfish is considered bad news by experts because of the amount of plankton they eat, taking away food from fish and other marine life.

“There is a moral argument that we should not allow the ocean to become further polluted with plastic waste, and that marine littering should be considered a ‘common concern of humankind’,” the report’s authors wrote.

The main solution to plastics in the ocean is better waste collection and recycling, particularly in the developing world, the UN said. But McGlade said that some of the biodegradable additives in plastic to allow it to break down made it harder to recycle, and potentially harmful in the natural environment.

“When you start adding all of that [additives], when it becomes waste, they [the additives] become the enemy of the environment. As consumers we need to think of the use of plastic,” she said.

The UN report said that it was only in the past decade that plastics in the ocean had been taken seriously. “Warnings of what was happening were reported in the scientific literature in the early 1970s, with little reaction from much of the scientific community.”

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Ocean Pollution Causes Crabs To Live Out of Bottle Caps

Blueberry hermit crabs in Okinawa, Japan, are resourceful little creatures. Like many beaches around the world, the shores where they live and breed have become progressively covered in plastic.

Hermit crabs, unlike other crabs, don’t make their own shells. They look for abandoned shells in their surrounding habitats, often going through multiple shells in a lifetime as they grow.

The shells have to be big enough for a crab to retreat into, snug enough to not fall off, and handy enough so a crab can easily lug it around.

It turns out that bottle caps fulfill these requirements, and hermit crabs are now frequently choosing them for their homes.

If you stroll along the shores of Okinawa, you can see crabs wearing caps from detergent and soda bottles.

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It looks like a surreal art exhibit, a sardonic attempt to show how entwined our lives have become with plastic, or even how animals will take up the mantle of consumption in a post-human world.

Photographer Shawn Miller set out to photograph this strange phenomenon of environmental adaptation to give people a new way to think about the problem of plastic waste.

“Over the years,” Miller told Atlas Obscura, “I continued to find more crabs with trash homes. I noticed more trash piling up on our shorelines searching for hermit crabs and realized it was a serious problem.”

Globally, there are an estimated five trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans.

Plastic poses numerous threats to marine life. It is often mistaken for food and ends up disrupting an animal’s health. It leaches toxic chemicals into the water, breaks down into smaller and smaller particles that ultimately blanket the ocean floors, and its accumulation can cause species to disperse from their habitats.

A few years ago, images of dead seagulls with bellies full of plastic junk swept across the Internet. The seagulls had consumed so much indigestible plastic that they eventually starved to death because their stomachs were full.

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article originally published courtesy of globalcitizen.org.  Pictures by Shawn Miller.

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Guanabara Bay Pollution #Rio2016

Guanabara Bay is the largest bay in the world by water volume and is a popular place for touring boats to sail.  The bay commands breathtaking views of Sugar Loaf Mountain and will be the home for sailing events at the Olympic Games starting shortly in Brazil.

As well as Rio, there are several major ports in the Bay area which bring their own environmental costs to the area with major oil spillages that have affected the area for many years (the last one being in 2000 and which is still being cleaned up).  The Bay once held a health ecosystem, large fishing stock and clean beaches, but deforestation and urban development have left the area littered with debris.

50,000 Descend Upon Rio De Janeiro For Rio+20 Earth Summit

The release of raw sewage remains a major pollution problem for Guanabara’s water. Most of the 55 rivers that flow into the Bay have been declared ‘dead’ by scientists. Tonnes of stinking sewage from Rio’s millions of residents pour into the Bay untreated every day.

As part of the latest ‘Clean Guanabara’ plan announced by the government, when planning for the 2016 Olympics, seven new sewage treatment plants were promised. Disappointingly though, only one plant is in operation. Meanwhile, sports people training for the Rio Olympic sailing events increasingly report falling ill after capsizing their boats here.  International Olympic sailing competitors have complained, during recent training, of falling ill after swallowing some of the polluted waters whilst trying to avoid plastic debris and dead animals floating in the waters.  As well as these health hazards, discarded plastic bags can wrap themselves around the boats’ rudders which can be a setback in a sport where speed is of the essence.

sailing rio

Below is the official view of the Environment Secretary for Rio State – Andre Correa from an interview given on June 29th:

Q: Can you swim in the bay?

A: It depends on the location. There are places where you can swim. I swam in the area where the sailing will be. There was major work, a 1.2-billion-reais project ($356 million) but it’s not obvious to ordinary people. I think we have to take small steps. Knowing the financial difficulties of Brazil, whoever said the bay will be clean in less than 20, 25 years is lying.

Q: The pollution of Guanabara Bay has been on the official agenda since the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. What’s gone wrong?

A: There was a major error in strategy and communication. There was an investment of about 2.5 billion reais ($741 million) and the local people were told that with this funding, the bay would be clean. Those who understand this issue know that this isn’t enough funding to overcome the challenges. We will have a clean bay the day the 15 municipalities bordering it have sewage treatment. Studies show that’s going to require 15 billion reais ($4.4 billion), and we’re far from that goal. Brazil is having a financial crisis and Rio state doesn’t have the money. That’s why the government decided to seek help from the private sector.

Q: The Baia Viva environmental activist group says the pollution in the bay can cause disease. Should athletes be worried?

A: The bay is not a homogeneous body of water, it has various problems. But the water quality at the entrance of the bay, where the sailing competitions will be held, meets international standards. You can swim there. Water flows in from the sea. The major challenge as concerns the Olympics is floating waste. It’s a major problem that we face. The most important thing — more important than removing waste — is preventing it from getting there. We have installed 15 barriers and there will be 17 in place during the Games, eliminating 280 tons of waste per month. But we need people to realize that when they throw a plastic bottle on the ground, the rain will carry it to the bay and no government or investment can combat that. Environmental education is crucial.

Q: How much of the bay has been decontaminated? The authorities have said they would clean up 80 percent of the pollution, but on Tuesday the mayor said it would be 60 percent. Which is correct?

A: There was a big misunderstanding, resulting in a deficit in credibility. There was talk about objectives but there was no financial support for attaining them. I will not cite any specific rate. It is necessary that the regional government and the people refer to the same rate. In cooperation with the Inter-American Development Bank and researchers, we are in the process of launching a digital platform so everyone can follow in real time what’s being done with the investments in the bay.

Q: Who’s responsible?

A: Brazil has a federal system. Various agencies are involved in managing the bay. Municipalities deal with waste. The Navy, a federal agency, is responsible for surface pollution. I’m responsible for industrial waste. We need a model to work in a coordinated manner in the bay.

rio rubbish.jpg

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World Oceans Day 2016 – Be Part of the Solution

I'm taking the challenge
I’m taking the challenge
We would like to invite you to get involved in World Oceans Day which is taking place on June 8th. This year’s theme for 2016 is “Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet”. No matter where you live you can help to keep our Oceans free of plastic pollution by making your pledge to take The Better Bag Challenge.
 
The challenge is simple – you just have to pledge to STOP using single use plastic bags. It is almost unbelievable that a single use plastic bag is most likely to be used for only 15 minutes to transport shopping from the supermarket to the car and then from the car into the house – it’s life is then over!!

 
 
If you have already taken the challenge and stopped using disposable plastic bags then let us know about it – be PROUD!! We would like to know if you have done anything more to help reduce the amount of plastics ending up in the oceans such as refusing to buy cosmetic products that contain microbeads or stopping using disposable plastic drinks bottles. Perhaps you have signed up for a local beach clean – we want to hear.
Fill in the details of how you intend to rise to this challenge and whereabouts you live (just the country/region, nothing too specific).  We would love to be able to track action that is being taken across the Globe.

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