“Now ocean plastics could be killing oxygen-making bacteria,” Wired, May 17, 2019
“The core of the problem is that plastic pollution is a very new science. Researchers are still feeling their way through an environmental threat whose epicness is likely only second to climate change. Some 8 million metric tons of plastic enters the sea every year. And between 2015 and 2025, the amount of plastic pouring into the ocean could increase tenfold. That is objectively, monumentally terrible, but in exactly what ways it will be so, science isn’t yet sure.”
“Oxo degradable plastic packaging is not a solution to plastics pollution, and does not fit in a circular economy,” New Plastics Economy, May 2019
“Oxo-degradable plastic packaging is not a solution to soil or marine pollution – on the contrary, we believe it contributes to microplastic pollution and poses an environmental risk. “
“Pope urges action against ‘endless fields’ of plastic in oceans,” Reuters, September 1, 2018
Pope Francis addressed the issue of plastic waste in the oceans, calling for both attention and action towards the problem.
“We Made Plastic. We Depend on It. Now We’re Drowning in It,” National Geographic, June 2018
Provides an overview of the plastic pollution crisis globally, including how it began, its current environmental impact, and potential solutions. This article focuses mainly on the environmental impact, noting that in the US less than 10% of plastic gets recycled, resulting in the killing of millions of marine mammals every year. There are some great pictures and graphics – one from UC Santa Barbara effectively displays the exponential growth of plastic production since 1950.
“A Brief History of Marine Litter Research,” Plastics Europe, 2015
See graph entitled “Global plastic production…and future trends”
“Marine Litter Report: 2014-2020 Vision” Surfers Against Sewage, October 2014
This booklet gives a broader overview of the plastics problem and future policy-based steps against it. The origin of such litter, its toxic chemicals, and its impact on marine life, world finances, and ecosystem services are discussed–as well as both ongoing and suggested initiatives to stop the problem.
“The Answer for Remote Islands,” Waste Management World, January 2, 2013
Due to their small size, the development of on-island waste treatment centers that meet legislative code has always been a struggle, especially when it comes to strategies for environmental protection.
“A Citizen’s Guide to Plastics in the Ocean: More than a Litter Problem” Center for Environmental Education, 1988
This book gives an overview of the history of plastics in America, their impact on marine life, and laws relating to marine wildlife conservation and trash management. The authors divide up related laws and possible policy-based solutions into categories, such as Ocean Dumping Laws, Pollution Laws, and Wildlife Conservation Laws, as well as providing smaller-scale efforts.
“Plastics in the Ocean: More Than A Litter Problem,” Center for Environmental Education, February, 1987
This book represents the formalized report prepared by the Center for Environmental Education for the EPA regarding the adverse effects of plastics in the oceans. It was rendered more reader-friendly in 1988 with “A Citizen’s Guide to Plastics in the Ocean…” It details a broad scope of topics: environmental impacts, economics and safety, types and quantities of plastics debris, sources of plastics debris, regional analysis, legal authorities, and programmatic solutions. The Ocean Foundation’s summary of the 2018 Klosters Forum on plastic pollution.
The plastic myth-busters: http://marinelitter.no
Human Health Risks from Plastic
Freinkel, Susan Plastic: A Toxic Love Story Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (April 18, 2011)
Plastic is not healthy. Plastics draw on dwindling fossil fuels, leach harmful chemicals, litter landscapes, and destroy marine life.
“We Know Plastic Is Harming Marine Life: What About Us?,” National Geographic, June 2018
We know little about the effect of plastic on our health. Nanoplastics are smaller than microplastics–virtually invisible–and scientists lack technology to detect and thus measure these plastics. However, they could have the ability to move into cells, causing damage.
“It’s not just the oceans: Microplastic pollution is all around us,” CNN, April 22, 2018
Microplastics are predicted to be more commonly found on land than on water, and have been found in resources such as soil, tap water, and air. Microplastics pass through wastewater plants, and may contain harmful bacteria–in turn affecting human health. There is otherwise little research on adverse effects.
“Fact Sheet: The Plastic Threat to Human Health,” Earth Day Network, 2018
Recent studies suggest the health impacts of different plastic components on human health and the extent to which these plastics have been found in human bodies. The article gives a very brief overview of such study results.
“Plastic: A Toxic Love Story” by Susan Freinkel, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011
This book is a discussion of the impact of plastic on our lives through the lens of eight objects: comb, chair, Frisbee, IV bag, disposable lighter, grocery bag, soda bottle, and credit card. The section on the IV bag (start pg. 85) speaks to the impact on human health; without exposure limits, the PVC in blood bags proved dangerous. This ubiquity of industrial plastics continues into today.
“Preemies May Be Exposed To High Levels Of Phthalates In The NICU” (NPR, 2014), “Hidden Toxicity in Neonatal Intensive Care Units: Phthalate Exposure in Very Low Birth Weight Infants” (Journal of Critical Research in Pediatric Endocrinology, 2016) )
Flexible plastic tubes used in neonatal care units break down as they are used, reportedly releasing phthalates into the bloodstream, endangering babies already undergoing critical care.
Muncke, J. (2019, October 10). “Plastic Health Summit” Plastic Soup Foundation, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qI36K_T7M2Q.
Presented at the Plastic Health Summit, Toxicologist Jane Muncie discusses the hazardous and unknown chemicals in plastic that can seep into food through plastic packaging. All plastic contains hundreds of different chemicals, called non-intentionally added substances, that are created from chemical reactions and plastic breakdown. Most of these substances are unknown and yet, they make up the majority of chemicals leaching into food and drinks. Governments should establish an increased study and food oversight to determine the health effects of non-intentionally added substances.
Environmental Impacts of Ocean Plastics Pollution
“Transfer of Hazardous Chemicals from Ingested Plastics to Higher Trophic Level Organisms,” Handbook of Environmental Chemistry, April 2018 Field observations indicate that when plastics are ingested by marine organisms they become imbedded in their tissue. When these organisms are eaten, the hazardous chemicals from these plastics in their tissue are transferred.
“Microplastics in eviscerated flesh and excised organs of dried fish,” nature, July 14 2017
Research shows that due to the increase in ocean plastics pollution, microplastics are frequently appearing in edible fish tissues.
“Freshwater Contamination: The Overlooked Source of Ocean Plastics Pollution,” Oceans Deeply, June 29, 2017
Research by Dr. Sherri Mason shows that our freshwater environments are being heavily polluted with plastics, and this water is feeding into our oceans, driving ocean plastics pollution. In conclusion, most of the plastics pollution that occurs in our oceans starts with plastics pollution in our freshwater environments.
“Report: Microplastic Can Penetrate Fish’s Brains, Altering Behavior,” Oceans Deeply, October 9, 2017
Research shows that nanoplastic can be ingested by marine organisms, move up the food chain, and affect their ability to hunt.
“Plastic Waste Inputs from Land into the Ocean,” Science, February 2015
This article estimates that 275 million metric tons of plastic waste was generated in 2010. Unless waste management practices improve, this number could increase by an order of magnitude in the next decade.
“The pollution of the marine environment by plastic debris: a review,” Marine Pollution Bulletin, 2002
Provides an overview of the main impacts plastics pollution has on marine species. Impacts include “entanglement in and ingestion of plastic litter” and the ingestion of microplastics.
Production-based Solutions (Green Chemistry)
“How to Convert Climate-Changing Carbon Dioxide Into Plastics and Other Products,” Rugers, November 18, 2018
Rutgers Scientists have developed electrocatalysts that can convert carbon dioxide into plastics, fabrics, resins, and other products. Methylglyoxal, one of the catalysts, can be used as a safer alternative to toxic formaldehyde – a substance that threatens fish, shellfish, and other creatures in our rivers, lakes, and oceans.
“Nobel Prize Awarded for Evolving Green Chemistry Catalysts,” Royal Society of Chemistry, November 5, 2018
Frances Arnold is one of this year’s nobel laureates in chemistry for her work in Directed Evolution (DE), a green chemistry biochemical hack in which proteins/enzymes are randomly mutated many times over, then screened to find out which ones work best. It could overhaul the chemical industry.=
“Key Elements of Green Chemistry,” North Carolina State University, 2018
The conclusion section of this article provides 12 critical and well-worded principles of green chemistry, including: Less Hazardous Chemical Syntheses, Designing Safer Chemicals, Safer Solvents and Auxiliaries, Design for Energy Efficiency, Reduce unnecessary steps, Design for Degradation, and Real-time analysis for Pollution Prevention
“Green chemistry, Introduction,” Britannica Academic, August 25, 2015
This article provides history on green chemistry in the United States. In 1991, abiding by the 1990 Pollution Prevention Act, the EPA launched the Alternative Synthetic Pathways for Pollution Prevention research program. The program marked a EPA shift from post-release management to reduction/elimination of hazardous substances during their production. It was expanded to include the development of green solvents and chemicals, and coined “green chemistry” in 1996.
“Plastics and Sustainability,” by Michael Tolinski, Scrivener Publishing, 2012
Tolinski provides an analysis of fossil-fuel based plastics versus bio-based plastics, looking at how they differ economically and in terms of product requirements, disposal, and consumer satisfaction. He ultimately discusses finding a balance between the two plastics.
Franklin, Kate Radical Matter: Rethinking Materials for a Sustainable Future Thames & Hudson (April 17, 2018)
The ten “Big Ideas” that will shape and inform the choices of materials, design methods, and manufacturing processes made by designers in the years to come Charter, Martin (Editor) Designing for the Circular Economy Routledge (August 6, 2018)
This book highlights and explores ‘state of the art’ research and industrial practice, highlighting CE as a source of: new business opportunities; radical business change; disruptive innovation; social change; and new consumer attitudes.
“Call to ban import of plastic waste,” the Star, September 27, 2018
There has been a push to ban plastic waste imports into Malaysia. Malaysia–previously acting as a recycling center for foreign trash–has expressed concerns over public health and its environment over additional waste and related dumping problems.
“‘Impossible’ recycling in the real world,” Euractiv, September 20, 2018
A difficult aspect of the recycling process is profiting off of the end result, but a recycling plant in the Netherlands has managed to do so recycling household packaging. The recycled product of polyethylene film can be used for food packaging.
“More Recycling Won’t Solve Plastic Pollution,” Scientific American, July 6, 2018
This article provides an overview of the plastics problem, specifically the uninhibited acceleration of plastics production. It then states that recycling is not enough – we must find production based solutions, such as the circular economy approach and zero-waste lifestyles.
“Plastic waste export tide turns to south-east Asia after China ban,” Financial Times, June 13, 2018
Current recycling policies in the UK disregard the location of recycling processes or where that recycled product might end up. Recently a vast amount of UK plastic waste has been exported to south-east Asia, as China–the previous destination for such exported waste–no longer accepts it. This is an unsustainable practice.
“Your Recycling Gets Recycled, Right? Maybe, or Maybe Not,” NY Times, May 29, 2018
The US usually outsources some of its recycling to foreign countries, namely China. however, a new policy enacted by the Chinese government to halt the trade of “foreign waste” is forcing many recycling centers in the US to put recyclables in landfills.
“Circular economy measures to keep plastics and their value in the economy, avoid waste and reduce marine litter,” Economics, 2018
This article addresses the global growing recognition of the need to address marine litter and rethink our approach to plastic and packaging, and outlines measures for enabling a transition to a circular economy that would fight single-use plastics and their negative externalities. These measures take the form of a policy proposal for G20 countries.
“Consider the plastic drinking straw: Why do we suck so much?” NY Times, October 23, 2017
This article explains why we use straws so much despite their very negative environmental impact. Although they can only be used once for a couple hours, they take millions of years to degrade and often end up in our oceans.
“Designers Take Plastic Packaging off the Streets and out of the Ocean,” Oceans Deeply, October 18, 2017
The MacArthur Foundation launched a Plastics Economy design challenge that gave $1 million to companies that took the plastic out of their packaging. This initiative supports the idea of a circular economy.
“The Personal Care Wipes Market,” Nonwovens Industry Magazine, February 5, 2015
The personal care wipes market has seen consistent growth over the last decade and is not slowing down. The industry is attempting to prevent the negative environmental impacts of these wipes by providing information about appropriate disposal, using plant-based materials for wipes, and using solar energy to produce wipes.
“Moby Duck” by Donovan Hohn, Viking, 2011
In the section “The Fourth Chase” (pg. 226-227) Hohn provides a journalistic account of plastic’s cultural history, and gets at the root of what made plastics so disposable in the first place. He notes that after the austerities of WWII, consumers were more eager to gorge themselves on products, so in the 1950s when the patent on polyethylene expired, the material became cheaper than ever. The only way the plastic molders could make a profit was by convincing consumers to throw out, buy more, throw out, buy more. In other sections, he explores topics such as shipping conglomerates and Chinese toy factories.
“Bali takes on plastic pollution,” DWIn Bali, Avani Eco converts cassava into a form of plastic bags and straws. This is a natural root and makes plastic pollution more easily biodegradable.
Political and/or Individual Action Against Plastics
“Jamaica takes aim at the trash crisis that is ruining paradise,” Washington Post, October 13, 2018
Jamaica is amongst 20 Caribbean and Latin American countries banning the importation and manufacturing of single-use plastics (e.g. straws, bottles, bags).
“China’s waste ban has rocked the recycling world and revealed Hong Kong’s dire record. What next for the city’s rising mountains of trash?,” South China Morning Post, September 19, 2018
This article details the international exchange of waste; since the 1980s, about half of the world’s plastics, paper, and scrap metals have been absorbed by China. China cut off this lifeline to the global recycling industry, causing countries to overhaul their own recycling processes and shift into circular economies as a result. China’s actions majorly exposed Hong Kong – a city known for its waste problem. Will Hong Kong learn to effectively manage its own waste?
“Stop recycling takeout containers, Philadelphia – but go ahead and leave caps on water bottles,” Philly Voice, September 18, 2018 In this interview with the Philadelphia Street Department’s Scott Graph, reporter Emily Rolen discovers that 1) yes, you can recycle plastic bottle caps, 2) yes, you should wash plastic containers that once contained food before disposing of it, 3) yes, you can rip the top off the pizza box to recycle (no grease), 3) papers and cardboard are better recycled if they are DRY, 4) plastic cups, cutlery, and styrofoam cannot be recycled because there is no market for it, and 5) don’t recycle plastic bags, clothing tags, or cassette tapes.
“In India’s Largest City, A Ban on Plastics Faces Big Obstacles,” Yale Environment 360, August 28, 2018
A strict ban on the sale, manufacturing, and use of disposable plastics was put in place in Mumbai. Those in violation faced fees of up to $350 and/or jail time. In the first week, over 300 plastic bag manufacturers were forced to close, resulting in significant unemployment. Still, the government held strong on the ban and haven’t showed any sign of backing down.
“Indonesia combines Islam with environmental activism,” DW, June 14, 2018
Indonesia’s top Muslim clerical body, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), together with Greenpeace and the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry and Environment are cooperating on an awareness campaign during Ramadan to solve the problem of plastic waste in Indonesia.
“Citizen Scientists Pick up Tons of Ocean Trash–and a Lot of Data,” Oceans Deeply, August 1, 2017
The participation of millions of U.S citizens in beach cleanup has generated vast data on pollution and marine plastic debris. The government faces problems assessing the accuracy and usage of that data, as these efforts have increased awareness of such problems, but may not lead to policy change.
“Life Without Plastic” by Chantal Plamondon and Jay Sinha, Page Street Publishing Company, 2017.
This book provides an overview of the toxicity of plastics and their threat to human health. Action-oriented, it gives readers a guide on alternatives to plastic-containing items and steps in reducing their dependance on plastic.
“Plastic-Free,” by Beth Terry, Skyhorse Publishing, 2012
Beth Terry details her tips and advice on avoiding the use of plastic in day-to-day life, and why more people should do so.
“Marine Litter: A Global Challenge,”United Nations Environment Programme, 2009.
This report looks at the issue of marine debris with respect to affected regions. For each region, it provides an assessment of the litter’s origin as well as its environmental and human impacts, programs in place to reduce such impacts, and recommendations for improvement.
“Tackling Marine Debris in the 21st Century,” The National Academies, 2001
This report assesses the effectiveness of national and international efforts to reduce the presence and impact of marine debris. It identifies overall areas that need to be addressed in solving the debris problem and provides recommendations to do so.
“Visiting Kenya a year into its plastic bag ban,” DWThe plastic bag ban has been controversial in Kenya. Some citizens don’t see any problems with it and actually enjoy seeing less plastic trash, while others see it as a big inconvenience. The main problem seems to be that there aren’t many good alternatives to plastic bags. The leader of the plastic bag ban movement in Kenya suggests Kenyans embrace upcycling as a way to combat the loss.
Plastic Waste to Energy Solutions
“Waste-to-energy plant under construction in Haiti,” Renewable Energy Caribbean, February 20, 2018
The lack of a public waste program in Haiti means that its urban and natural environments tend to be littered with waste. This makes it a good candidate for a waste-to-energy plant, which will convert municipal waste to electrical power and cooking fuel.
“Caribbean Regional Waste-to-Energy (WtE) Technology Expo and Conference frames main pillars for a regional waste to energy programme,” Global Network Regional Sustainable Energy Centres, February 9 2016
A conference was held in Grenada to talk about the feasibility of different waste to energy solutions for small island nations.
“Caribbean Island of Barbados To Get Waste-To-Energy Plant,” by Gina-Marie Cheeseman, Triple Pundit, March 26, 2014
Barbados made plans to build a waste-to-energy plant, supplying some if its electricity needs through the transformation of solid waste to energy.