Plastics are found in the products we use every day: the toys we give our children, the clothing we wear, the disposable cups we drink from, the automobiles we make, the straws we use, the list goes on. Cheap and easy to make, plastic goods and plastic production have exploded in recent years. Yet the junked cars, the used straws and cups, they all end up somewhere, perhaps in a landfill, or perhaps drifting in the wind. 91% of plastic goods are not recycled. Most have found their way to rivers, lakes, and oceans, and over time break down into tiny microscopic particles of plastic. Microplastics are everywhere, even in the deepest sea floor sediments and in the Arctic. They can originate in small form from toothpaste or makeup, or can be derived from larger pieces of plastic, which over time break down into small particles.
Not very long ago (Sept. 8, 2018), a giant 2,000 foot long tube was launched from San Francisco to be towed to a suitable site. The brainchild of a young 24-year-old Dutchman named Boyan Slat, it is intended to trap some of the ever-increasing tons of plastic polluting our oceans. To be sure California lends a more sympathetic ear to pollution problems than does Washington or the Federal Government these days.
Researchers have sought to determine the extent of plastic pollution and tested water samples from cities and towns on five continents. The results: microscopic plastic particles were present in 83%. Ironically samples that tested positive included the US Capitol building and the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC, as well as the Trump Grill in New York. Researchers say these plastic particles are also likely in foods prepared with water, such as pasta and bread.
Every day, more plastics are added to the world’s waters. From coastal regions alone, between 5.3 million and 14 million tons of plastic find their way to the oceans each year. By 2050, the amount of plastic in the ocean is expected to ‘outweigh the fish’, says Jim Leape, co-director of the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions. Currently estimated to be 150 million tons, they take a very long time to biodegrade – an estimated 450 years to never.
Almost 700 species that we are aware of have been affected by plastic pollution, ranging from tiny creatures to the largest, and some are already endangered. Whales have already fallen victim to plastic contamination. This past June, a whale in Thailand died from ingesting more than 80 plastic bags. And a sperm whale was found dead on a beach in Spain with 29 kilos of plastic in its stomach.
Australian researchers studying a large sample of sea turtles recently reported in Nature that half of the baby sea turtles had stomachs filled with plastic. They calculated that turtles have a 50% probability of death after ingesting 14 pieces of plastic, and that younger turtles are more likely to be harmed.
Can plastics affect human health too? The answer is ‘yes,’ and in various ways, depending on the kind of plastic. Diethylhexyl, found in some plastics, is a carcinogen. Bisphenol-A (BPA), present in some plastic bottles and food packaging materials, can interfere with human hormonal functioning and can be ingested through water or from eating contaminated fish. Some toxins in plastics are known to cause birth defects, cancers, and immune system problems. Cadmium, mercury, bromine and lead are highly toxic, although now restricted or banned in plastic manufacture in many countries, some for several decades. Yet a recent 2018 study examining the water of Lake Geneva, Switzerland, found levels of these chemicals sometimes beyond the accepted limits under EU law. The findings were a testament to how long plastic pollution remains in the environment, the metals being released as the plastics break down over time.
It is very difficult to study the exact impact of plastic pollution on humans because plastic pollution is so widespread that ‘there are almost no unexposed subjects’, notes a researcher.
Norway has managed to recycle a remarkable 97% of its plastic bottles. It achieved this by installing plastic bottle machines that return money in exchange. The UK is considering adopting a similar strategy.
Denmark recycles far more plastic bags than the United States: an average Dane uses four single-use bags per year, an American almost one per day. How do they do it? Denmark adopted a tax on plastic bags in 1993 and the bag is not free – it costs about 50 cents, part of the money going to the tax and part to the store. The effect has been a reduction in the sale of bags by over 40% over the last 25 years. One can only hope that more countries will follow.
The United States currently recycles only about 9% of plastics. According to an EPA study this past August, the U.S. recycling rate actually decreased in 2015. Could the Scandinavian techniques help? Only a handful of states in the U.S. have passed laws regarding deposit machines; adding laws requiring a charge for plastic bags or a tax, as the City of Chicago did, is not impossible.
For years China has been importing much of the world’s scraps, including 40% of U.S. recyclables. But in 2018, China placed a ban on imports of plastics, mixed paper, and other materials. Recycled plastics from the U.S. to China dropped 92% in the first five months of the year. California may be especially hard hit, as it had been exporting about a third of its recyclables, amounting to 15 million tons in 2016. 62% of those exports went to China. It is unclear whether the U.S. will be able to cope with the increased influx of recyclables on home territory.
Sadly, even if the U.S. and all developed countries had sufficient machines and facilities to reach Norway’s 97% level of plastic bottle recycling, it would not be enough to save the oceans. This is because the bulk of ocean plastic pollution comes from developing countries who often lack recycling and waste pickup infrastructure. In 2010, one researcher estimated that half of the world’s plastic pollution was generated by just five Asian countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka.
The top polluters were again listed for Earth Day 2018, by quantity of annual mismanaged plastic waste. The top six:
1 China: 1.32 – 3.52 Million Metric Tons (MMT) / year
2 Indonesia: 0.48 – 1.29 MMT/year
3 Philippines: 0.28 – 0.75 MMT/year
4 Vietnam: 0.28 – 0.73 MMT/year
5 Sri Lanka: 0.24 – 0.64 MMT/year
6 Thailand: 0.15 – 0.41 MMT/year
The statistics also showed a percentage of mismanaged plastic waste. Eight countries had over 80% mismanaged plastic waste: Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Burma, and North Korea. These are developing nations and they often do not have a proper waste and recycling infrastructure. In the Philippines, recycling is sometimes done slowly and laboriously by hand picking from dump yards. Not surprisingly, much is washed away to sea. The Pasig River that flows through Manila carries an estimated 72,000 tons of plastic downstream each year, and the river has been declared “biologically dead” since 1990. Of course, developed nations could provide aid to help create a recycling infrastructure where it is lacking. But such foreign aid without educating the public of its necessity is unlikely.
Then there is the intriguing possibility of actually scavenging ocean plastic. Boyan Slat’s giant flexible tube, appended on its underside with a curtain barrier, will be shaped into a U to trap the plastic, which a sister ship will retrieve for recycling and safe disposal. Due to ocean currents, the plastic collects in the relatively stagnant ocean pools between them easing the job of Mr. Slat’s device. The Ocean Cleanup, Slat’s foundation, displays five such sites in the world’s oceans: one each in the North and South Atlantic and Pacific, and one in the south Indian Ocean. They claim the device can clean up 90% of the floating waste. Everyone is rooting for him.
In the mean time, there are a few things we can do each day, which, collectively could have a positive impact:
Ordering fewer products online could help, as packaging is a huge source of pollution and often includes bubble wrap, made of low-density polyethylene. It is not the easiest form of plastic to recycle and it comprises 20% of global plastic waste. Bringing ones own bags to a local store would be far less taxing on the environment.
Minimizing foam cups and takeout containers would be highly beneficial – they are made from polystyrene, which is difficult to recycle.
Avoiding the use of straws, when possible, would aid sea creatures. Straws, made of polypropylene usually end up in the ocean. Polypropylene comprises 19% of global plastic waste.
Reusing and recycling as much as possible is a mantra that cannot be repeated too often.
Collectively, we could make a difference. And if we can also pool our resources to help developing countries recycle, then perhaps we can save our oceans, the turtles, the whales, and even, us.
Author’s note: This article first appeared in CounterPunch.org.
Global Environmental Governance and Biden’s Administration
Being the largest emitter of greenhouse gas in the world, it is the responsibility of U.S to contribute expeditiously to manage the environmental issues at domestic and international level but the previous government, under the leadership of Trump, took back seat and reversed all the decisions of Ex-president Barack Obama to combat the climate change. Unlike this, New Elected President, Joe Biden, who is very enthusiastic and firm to fulfill all the promises regarding climate change which were done during the general election’s campaign. Moreover, he views climate change a thwart to national security. One of the biggest achievements associated with Biden’ administration regarding environmental issues is to bring U.S back into Paris Climate Accord and brought executive order’’ Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring science to tackle the climate crisis’’ on the surface.
A flurry of changes to U.S environment policy is going to play a constructive role in global environmental governance under Biden administration. Even before elections, climate change was one of the top priorities and aimed to put the U.S on a path which leads towards ‘’ Zero Net’’ greenhouse gas emission. In the very early of His office days, He is very committed to deal with the climate change as they hosted ‘’ Climate Day’’ to introduce government climate centric approach to emphasize on the climate change. Biden administration also ordered to revoke a permanent issued for Keystone XL oil pipeline which trump issued for extraction of oil and energy which is dangerous to national ecosystem. In addition to this, they are also very active to promote US role to tackle the climate change at domestic and abroad. At domestic level, Biden’s actions are speaking louder than the words as he has ascribed the climate crisis with a national emergency. At the time of his inauguration, Biden said: ‘’ A cry for survival comes from the planet itself, a cry that can’t be any more desperate or any clearer’’. He also directed his cabinet to work on the policy of ‘’ social carbon cost’’ to measure the cost of actions and how costs will impact the climate change. He endeavors to control the climate change by keeping a strict eye on the big project’s reviewing process before working under the National Environmental Policy Act which calculates the social costs of greenhouse gas emissions.
On international level, Biden has been striving to improve the spoil image shaped by the previous government regarding global environmental governance as he has declared to rejoin the Paris Climate accord which would help to reduce the greenhouse gas emission. In the result of this action, Biden was welcomed by the General Secretary of the United Nations and French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron by saying ‘’ Welcome Back to the Paris Agreement’’. Moreover, Biden Administration is very determined to convene a global climate summit on the earth day to encourage leaders to align themselves with scientist to alleviate the impacts of climate change. On international forums, US need to cooperate and compel the economic trade partner to take actions to combat with climate crisis. One of the essential steps taken by the Biden administration is to manage the climate refugees which aim to make strategies to compensate the climate affected migrants.
The thin majority of democratic in the senate does not only limit the possibility for Biden to achieve climate change reforms along strong anti-climate lobbyist business group who are inimical to the reforms particularly relevant to vehicle, power plants and oil and gas drilling industries. Without new climate legislation from congress, it would be not an easy task to implement the climate agenda across the borders. The vocal resistance comes from the coal production sectors which result in burning of fossil fuels and caused of greenhouse gas emissions. Whereas, few sectors are opposing the agenda there are also companies specially electrical vehicles are exclusively offering assistance to Biden for the sustainable development. Undoubtedly, environmental organizations and scientists community applauded the Biden decisions but few business groups have also filed a lawsuit against Biden to not stop the new permit for oil and gas drilling. There are also concerned raised by the community that climate actions will delete many jobs and cause of upsurge in unemployment percentage across the federation.
It is very evident from the ambitions of Biden’s action regarding climate crisis that he is very interesting to mitigate and curb the climate change but it will require highly comprehensive strategy aims to manage the reforms in laws while taking congressmen in confidence because most of them are not in favor of climate actions due to clash of interests. On the other hand, there is need to work on renewable energy resources at domestic and international level and for this US should compensate the companies to compete with the old capitalized firms which do not want safe and peaceful planet. Moreover, there is need to bring reforms in existing environmental treaties and their compliance process which should be strictly followed by the harsh actions against the violators. The process of financing the agendas which are very environment friendly and transforming the resources to the periphery states should be done swiftly to improve the environment across the globe. The aims of achieving sustainable development should be promoted and supported by the US across the world.
EU-Asian Partnerships are necessary to prevent the next pandemic
COVID-19 has demonstrated the vulnerability of global supply chains and revealed the ever-increasing ecological dangers of industrial expansion, which has amplified the risks of diseases migrating from animals to humans. This is demonstrated in a new report launched by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres which argues that to prevent future pandemics the world must cooperate to addresses interlinked challenges presented by biodiversity, pollution and the climate crises. The UN chief encouraged everyone to use the report to “re-evaluate and reset our relationship with nature”.
This is precisely the time for countries in the European Union (EU) to re-evaluate their trade relations with producer nations in order to protect local environment and prevent deforestation.
The relationship between deforestation and public health and cannot be denied. Unfortunately, in recent years the EU’s economic model has not paid sufficient attention to sustainability, trade and global forest management. So far, the EU’s approach to trade has ended up alienating the most important areas of biodiversity in Asia, while emboldening some of the biggest despoilers of biodiversity and polluters in the Americas.
The Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the leading think-tank of Germany’s ruling political party, has published its own report on how EU policies have unfairly targeted Asian commodities by fostering protectionist market dynamics which harm the environment.
In one case in point, the EU initiated a ban on the import of palm oil from 2030, as a means to reduce deforestation in Asia. However, scientific evidence actually indicates that sustainably cultivated palm oil is far better than other seed oil alternatives – rapeseed, coconut, soy and sunflower. Those commodities need up to ten times more land to produce the same amount of oil. Therefore, instead of halting deforestation, the ban simply transfers the effects of ecological degradation elsewhere – namely within the EU on the back of domestically produced commodities.
Meanwhile the EU continues to import beef and soy, the top two contributors to deforestation globally. In fact, beef production requires more than double the forest land than for the production of soy, palm oil, and wood products combined. Land clearing for beef and soy production in the Amazon has reached a 12 year high, leading scientists to warn of an irreversible ‘tipping point’ that could mean huge drought, forest death, and release of great amounts of stored carbon to the atmosphere.
As the Konrad report indicates, the move to ban palm oil while maintaining beef and soy imports is a double standard that has created a trust gap between the EU and ASEAN nations. This has inhibited collaborative efforts to combat deforestation as EU policies exclude ASEAN nations from important sustainability debates. Moreover, the EU ban does nothing to cease palm oil production. Producer nations will continue to produce without adhering to EU environmental standards and regulations. This will spell disaster, not only for the diverse wildlife found in Asia’s tropical forests, but for humanity’s public health – a correlation which cannot be divorced from the economy.
If the EU sought out a trade deal with ASEAN then it could integrate mandatory sustainable standards and enforce regulations to produce sustainable palm oil and limit deforestation. The EU could also work with existing schemes like the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) standard, which purportedly meets the EU’s key sustainability criteria and is the standard against which almost 90% of Malaysian palm oil is now produced.
This is an example of how the EU has overlooked Asian success stories in creating adaptable blueprints through strict and proactive measures which have largely kept the virus at bay and allowed their economies to stay afloat. While Europe’s economy is only expected to grow by 3.7% in 2021, ASEAN nations are predicted to rebound over 6%.
That means we could have the best of both worlds; trade that opens up two powerhouse regions to a new era of economic vitality and cooperation – underpinned by ecological conservation through an unfailing commitment to protect pristine ecosystems, exotic wildlife and precious forests.
The EU should use the lessons of the pandemic to capitalize on its environmental goals, working with producer nations to ensure they are participating in ethical markets and enforcing sustainable practices which maintain biodiversity.
If the EU can build a global coalition with Asia, which prioritises trade and sustainability, they can underpin a bold new era in the fight for thriving, Covid-free economies.
Such cooperation would empower the European Union to encourage environmental consciousness across Asian economies—by incentivising compliance with laudable environmental goals and dis-incentivising noncompliance. There would be significant economic benefits to EU consumers as well like access to efficient and affordable edible oils from rapidly growing emerging markets. While in turn the producer would have access to the EU’s uniquely large market.
These are clearly more than enough reasons to compel the EU to act. Let’s hope they start soon.
Making Women Visible in Plastic Waste Management: Examples from Indonesia
Plastic Waste: Long History, Massive Consumption
Plastic was invented by John Wesley Hyatt in 1869 and has an original sense of “pliable and easily formed.” It is known as a polymer material. However, Leo Baekeland introduced the revolutionary of plastic in 1907, with the intention of creating a material that could be used as an insulator, was versatile, heat resistant, and could be mass-produced in large quantities. The glory of plastic was exalted during World War II, when the plastic industry in the United States expanded rapidly. Since it could be used to replace natural resources that had become scarce due to the war, plastic use peaked during that time span. Since then, plastic has been touted as an “award-winning” commodity due to its plethora of uses. Unfortunately, the use of plastic distracted in the 1960s as people became more worried about environmental issues and discovered that many coastal lines in America were littered with plastic waste.
These days, plastic can be categorized as the most manufactured materials in the world and commonly used by society. From the latest data by IUCN, over 300 million tons of plastic are manufactured yearly and utilized as main materials for industry and households. About 8 million metric tons of plastic wastes end up in our coastal zones every year, posing a serious threat to our marine ecology and ocean sediments. By the end of 2040, it is estimated that the amount of plastic waste dumped along the coast will be tripled compare with today.
In most developing countries, plastic contamination has become a major problem that requires immediate concern and management. Indonesia is currently the world’s second-largest plastic polluter after China, and produces about 200,000 tons of waste every day, which is thrown into the coastal areas. Despite the fact that there are plenty studies on plastic waste, people still ignored the problem due to their lack of knowledge and awareness about how harmful the effect could become in the upcoming years. Plastics production and consumption will make greater impacts not only on human health because it contained chemicals, but also will change human behavior to environment, both men and women. In Indonesia, women take role as the main contributor to raise such awareness in segregating and sorting plastic waste. This fact is parallel with the research that has been conducted by Phelan et al (2020) in two small islands in Indonesia (Selayar and Wakatobi), which found that women are mostly identified as binners (those who manage waste disposal) while men are likely identified as litterers. It was noted that almost 60% of women are in charge of household waste management, while only 40% of men involve in this activity. Women are expressing an interest in learning more about waste management, especially to learn about the next steps or what happens to the waste after disposal. Men, on the other hand, are taking important roles in waste collection and disposal process.
Gender Sensitive Approach to Manage Plastic Waste
Women play an important role in the use and recycling of plastic, but their contribution is often overlooked by many stakeholders. Plastic waste management is viewed solely from a scientific standpoint, with little consideration given to the gender implications. For example, at the micro level (households), it is customary for women to have control over the purchase of food and home-products (which has influenced them to use plastic packaging), but they may also be recycling and processing the plastic for other uses at the same time. As a result, their involvement and inclusion are critical in every attempt to enhance waste management and reduce plastic pollution. When looking at recent developments in the field, the relevance of gender-sensitive approaches to handling plastics becomes even more apparent.
Plastic waste management is not something that can be done overnight because it necessitates continuous steps and massive behavioral changes on the part of all parties concerned. Since women play such an important role in the use and recycling of plastic waste, it is critical to involve them as a key player in changing household and community disposal habits. Furthermore, as the primary caregivers in the home, women should raise awareness among family members about the dangers of plastic waste. Similar actions can be taken in society; for example, women can organize a soft-campaign and disseminate waste management information to the community (through regular social gathering conducted by women that called ‘arisan’ or regular religious meeting in community that called ‘pengajian’).Women, at the other side, cannot act alone; they need a cost-effective and simple plastic waste management system, as well as waste management training (which has been initiated by local governments and NGOs). Hence, providing a plastic collection station will help many stakeholders embrace this action. Finally, strong commitment and collaboration from relevant parties can help to improve plastic waste management.
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