War on the Biosphere: Humans Have Created 9 Billion Tons of Plastic
July 29, 2017 Tim Radford / Climate News Network & Kate Melges and Nathalie Arfvidson / Greenpeace
Scientists recently have calculated the mass of all the plastic bottles, bags, cups, toys, instruments and fabrics ever produced and tracked its whereabouts -- another index of the phenomenal change to the face of the planet made by recent human advance. Since about 1950, more than 8.3 billion tons of synthetic organic polymers have been generated, distributed and discarded -- of this, 6.3 billion tons are classified as waste. Read Greenpeace's action page on becoming part of the Plastic-Free Challenge.
Humans Have Created 9 Billion
Tons of Plastic in the Last 67 Years Tim Radford / Climate News Network
(July 24, 2017) -- Scientists have calculated yet another item on the human shopping list that makes up the modern world: plastics. They have estimated the mass of all the plastic bottles, bags, cups, toys, instruments and fabrics ever produced and tracked its whereabouts, as yet another index of the phenomenal change to the face of the planet made by recent human advance.
Altogether, since about 1950, with the birth of a new industry, more than 8.3 billion tonnes (or 9.1 tons) of synthetic organic polymers have been generated, distributed and discarded. Of that total, 6.3 billion tonnes are classified as waste.
Of that waste, only 9 percent has been recycled, 12 percent incinerated and 79 percent of what is essentially indestructible man-made material is either in landfill or polluting the environment.
And much of that waste is now in the sea: in 2010, according to a new study in the journal Science Advances, plastic debris has now been found in all the world's oceans. In 2010, an estimated eight million tonnes was swept downriver or blown by the winds into the sea. By 2050 landfill sites could be holding 12 billion tonnes.
"Most plastics don't biodegrade in any meaningful sense, so the plastic waste humans have generated could be with us for hundreds or even thousands of years," said Dr. Jenna Jambeck, an engineer at the University of Georgia, Athens, and one of the partners in the study.
"Our estimates underscore the need to think critically about the materials we use and our waste management practices."
In the last two centuries, humans have become the greatest earth-moving force on the planet, and in paving roads and erecting office blocks, tenements, ports, factories and other structures have created a "technosphere" with a mass of 30 trillion tonnes.
In the course of doing so they have changed the planet so comprehensively that many millions of years from now, evidence of human presence will be marked by at least one geological stratum containing fossilized evidence that could have been left by no other lifeform.
Such changes have been so profound that earth scientists now propose a new name for this geological epoch: the Anthropocene.
Although polymers such as Bakelite appeared early in the 20th century, large-scale production did not begin until after World War II, and plastics made from fossil hydrocarbons grew to become the third biggest manmade fabric output, after cement and steel.
In 1960, plastic made up less than one percent of municipal solid waste; by 2005, in middle and high-income countries, it made up more than 10 percent.
The researchers combed through the industry data to compile production statistics worldwide for resins, fibers and additives and to use these to work out the types of plastics now in the environment, most of it as discarded packaging: half of all plastic output becomes waste within four years of use. And in the years from 1950 to 2015, nearly half of all human plastic production was in the last 13 years.
"There are people alive today who remember a world without plastics. But they have become so ubiquitous that you can't go anywhere without finding plastic waste in our environment, including our oceans," Jambeck said.
The researchers make the point that plastics do not decompose; they may fracture and divide into ever smaller granules, but they accumulate, often with horrific consequences for wildlife, to create spoilheaps of discarded plastic cups, bottles and bags and other indestructible waste almost everywhere on the ocean shores.
This waste is now an ecological problem: the latest study has at least established the scale of the problem.
"What we are trying to do is to create the foundation for sustainable materials management," said Roland Geyer, of the University of California Santa Barbara, who led the study.
"Put simply, you can't manage what you don't measure, and so we think policy discussions will be more informed and fact-based now that we have these numbers."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
(June 30, 2017) -- For the entire month of July, I'm completely cutting out single-use plastics to help clean our oceans. Will you join me?
Last week, we shared a blog with some great tips [see below] from the Greenpeace readers like you on reducing your plastic footprint -- now I want to challenge our community to take our plastic reduction efforts to the next level.
Here's the problem with plastic.
It's no secret that plastic pollution is a huge issue.
Every minute, the equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic enters the ocean. Photos and articles pop up in our news feeds and on our screens of turtles with straws in their noses or birds with plastic filled stomachs, and we see plastic trash nearly everywhere we go. Corporations sell us products in plastic packaging that are meant to be used for minutes, but they last a lifetime or longer.
We simply have to phase out the production of single-use plastic packaging -- and quick. By reducing the amount of plastic we use, we can all play a part in the transition away from single-use plastic packaging.
Join me in the Plastic-Free challenge
Saturday marks the beginning of the Plastic Free July challenge. For 31 days, I am committing to going plastic-free. I'll be putting some of your tips into practice in my daily life (thanks!) and avoiding all single-use plastic packaging for the entire month.
Gulp. That means no single use cups, straws, utensils, produce bags, food packaging, zipper bags, to-go containers, and more.
And I'm hoping that you'll join me. It can be for a day or two, a week, or the whole month -- but see how long you can go avoiding ALL single-use plastics. If you're looking for an intermediate step, try steering clear of the top four: plastic bags, water bottles, straws, and coffee cups.
Use this month as an opportunity to explore alternatives in your community and try new things. Look for stores selling food in bulk and bring your own containers. Use reusable produce bags at the grocery store. Get coffee in a travel mug and carry a set of utensils with you when eating on the go.
There are many more tips and ways to get involved at the Plastic Free July website (http://www.plasticfreejuly.org/).
If you need more tips, encouragement getting through the month, or just want someone to talk to as we go through this plastic-free experiment together, tweet me @katemelges! I'd love to hear about your journey to zero plastic. Good luck!
Kate Melges is an oceans campaigner based in Seattle. She leads Greenpeace's Ocean Plastics work. Kate's focus is ending the flow of plastic pollution into the ocean. 10 Genius Tips for Reducing Your Plastic Footprint Nathalie Arfvidson / Greenpeace
(June 22, 2017) -- We asked the Greenpeace community to send us your top tips for phasing out single-use plastic -- and you did not disappoint.
In the United States, we're surrounded by single-use products designed and manufactured to be thrown away without a second thought. Disposable cups, grocery bags, packaging, plastic water bottles, condiment packets -- all of these products are built with no destination in mind but the landfill.
Products like these are so ubiquitous in our daily lives that it's even easy to forget the harm they're causing. But make no mistake, our over-reliance on plastic has drastic consequences for health and the environment. According to one study, there will be more plastic than fish in the world's oceans by 2050.
If we want to reverse that trend, it's up to us to demand reusable, recyclable products and make strides to reduce our plastic consumption in our own lives -- something that Greenpeace supporters know all about!
Three weeks ago, we shared an article about breaking free from plastic pollution one lifestyle choice at a time and asked you to chime in with any tricks of your -- and you did!
Here are ten of our favorite ideas for reducing your plastic footprint from Greenpeace supporters like you. Thanks to everyone who shared!
"Forgot your reusable bag at home? Running more errands than you have reusable bags for? I found a fantastic solution! I bought a cheap small laundry basket and placed it in the trunk of my car. I can walk a cart full of un-bagged groceries to my car and load them into that.
"I only have two reusable bags … after each store I unload the bag into the laundry basket and I'm onto the next store with an empty bag. Added bonus? The laundry basket has convenient handles and is much more durable and easier to carry that several bags. I can take everything inside in one trip!"
-- from Kathleen S.
"Bring your reusable bags when you go shopping and choose the products that have 'smarter' packages."
-- from Stefano M.
"When dining out, if I have something left that I want to take home, I ask for a piece of foil instead of letting them bring a styrofoam container for it. They are usually taken aback at first but many times then see what a good idea it is."
-- from Julie T.
"Bring your own glass containers for leftovers at restaurants. Leftovers are so easy to heat the next day!"
-- from Sheila J.
"Pack lunch in reusable containers (I use mason jars) for work instead of getting takeout. Make a big pot of coffee in the morning and bring some to work in a thermos or travel mug. This saves a ton of money too! Keep a favorite coffee mug, a water bottle or drinking cup, fork, spoon, and bowl in your desk drawer."
-- from Lydia P.
"One of the best ways I recently broke with plastic was buying a safety razor, along with a pack of 150 blades. The razor is actually more comfortable than plastic ones, and works fine with Dr. Bronners organic liquid soap. I spent a total of £30 on a razor that will last until I die and blades that will last a number of years. Zero plastic."
-- from Chris H.
"I stopped using plastic wrap and bought reusable beeswax coated cloth. It works great!"
-- from Brittany V.
"Hold back on online shopping. E-commerce packaging is a major -- and growing -- source of waste. A single tube of lipstick or a single battery often arrives in an absurdly large box stuffed with an unnecessary amount plastic, paper and foam peanuts."
-- from Joan S.
"I buy shampoo and conditioner in bulk and use a push pump on a mason jar. Another option are the solid shampoos and conditioners from Lush that you can keep in a tin can. I also use oils on my skin like coconut from glass jars. For deodorant a mix of baking soda and coconut oil works great. Toothpaste can be made with a similar mix and a little of peppermint essential oils."
-- from Sarah E.
"I recently found compostable straws! I still wash them out and reuse. After I put up my shopping I hang the cloth bags close to the door. I take them to the car next time I go out. I often give presents in cloth or canvas shopping bags, cosmetic bags or simply wrapped in cloth."
-- from Mary R.
Plastic pollution is definitely a big problem to take on, but the solution starts with us. By purchasing more eco-conscious alternatives to plastic (and just purchasing less stuff), we have the power to pressure companies to provide better, longer-lasting products and help protect our oceans.
Nathalie Arfvidson is the Online Campaigning Intern for Greenpeace USA based in San Francisco. She studied Aquatic Biology and she is interested in plastic pollution, sustainability, and renewable energy.