Ocean Plastics Media Scan: November 2019
Disclaimer: This media scan is intended to share current news and information related to ocean plastics. Items included are not endorsed by and do not represent the views of USAID or the U.S. Government.
Los Angeles Times: The Tiny Plastic Packages that are Fueling Asia’s Waste Crisis
No larger than 0.3 ounces, single use sachets of shampoo, lotion, and other consumer goods are the primary way that populations living on less than $2 a day access these products. While these packets have opened new markets for consumer goods, they have also generated a plastic waste crisis in Asia where the demand for such products is rising rapidly as populations urbanize and grow. The construction of the sachets makes them almost impossible to recycle, resulting in leakage into the environment.
New Yorker: The Promise of Mr. Trash Wheel
Mr. Trash Wheel, a fifty-foot-long machine with googly eyes, intercepts trash at the mouth of Jones Falls, a tributary known to be the major source of plastic waste in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Since 2014, Mr. Trash Wheel has collected about twelve hundred and thirty-three tons of trash and debris that would have otherwise flowed into the harbor. The machine’s success has inspired four replicas that operate in the greater Baltimore area.
Ocean Conservancy: Why We (Still) Need Recycling
China’s 2017 decision to refuse certain types of recyclable materials plunged recycling programs in the United States —and other countries who depended on China’s recyclables market— into crisis. Despite the major challenges that the recycling industry now faces, recycling is still worth the effort: it limits our dependence on petroleum, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and is critical to building a circular economy.
Many countries in Southeast Asia struggle with inadequate waste sorting and disposal systems. Population growth and high demand for consumer products results in an increasing amount of single-use plastics in the marine environment, making the region a major contributor to land-based plastic waste in the ocean. In a move to address this issue, leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) adopted a declaration to combat marine debris; whether the declaration will be implemented is questionable as the necessary policymaking falls in the hands of individual countries rather than ASEAN.
While the plastic packaging in beauty and personal care routines may be obvious, much of the plastic in these products is not easily visible to the human eye. Microplastics are intentionally added to many popular beauty and personal care items: hair spray, mascara, moisturizers, and eye shadow are in some cases made up of more than 90 percent plastic. Microplastics in personal care products easily go down the drain and are so small that wastewater filtration cannot treat them.
“The seabed looks like a supermarket. There is so much rubbish down there. Plastic bags, packaging, and straws, as well as big things like beds, electric fans and wardrobes.” In this interview for BBC’s 100 Women, Divers Clean Action founder and USAID grantee Swietenia Puspa Lestari shares about her work to clean up Indonesia’s coral reefs and stop plastic pollution at the source.
A new study by Tara Ocean Foundation shows that 100 percent of the water samples taken from nine European rivers contain microplastics. Among the microplastics discovered in these rivers were microbeads and secondary microplastics, which occur as a result of plastic fragmentation following exposure to sun and other elements. The study provides new insights on the plastic degradation process, demonstrating that the transformation of plastic to microplastics also takes place in rivers and other small waterways, not only at sea as previously believed. The study also shows the toxic effects of microplastics on organisms that ingest them, slowing their growth and reproduction. Follow up research of the findings will continue over the next 12 to 18 months.