Ocean Action Hub

Resource title

This island is going trash free—by recycling all of its waste

22 Apr 2019 - The Danish island of Bornholm has an aging incinerator that will soon need replacement. Instead, the local government is adopting a totally new system.

22 Apr 2019 - The Danish island of Bornholm has an aging incinerator that will soon need replacement. Instead, the local government is adopting a totally new system.

IMAGINE A WHOLE community reusing or recycling every last scrap of waste. That may sound utopian, but perhaps not on the Danish island of Bornholm.

By 2032 all waste on Bornholm will be treated as resources, say officials. Garbage sorting, recycling, minimizing waste, and a lot of new technology are the tools envisioned to turn Bornholm into one of the first garbage-free communities on the planet.

Bornholm, the easternmost island of Denmark, is a 227 square-mile (588 square-kilometer) granite rock jutting out of the Baltic Sea. Known for its quaint fishing villages and sunny climate, it is a popular vacation destination with a permanent population of 40,000 and another 600,000 annual visitors.

“By 2032 we aim to reuse or recycle everything,” says Jens Hjul-Nielsen, CEO of BOFA, the island’s waste management company and key architect behind the garbage-free vision. “How we get to that point is an exciting process, because there is so much we don’t yet know. We have a vision, but no clear-cut plan on how to get there.”

As the island’s only waste-incineration facility is wearing out, the bold decision was made last December to close it down in 2032 and make the transition towards a garbage-free society.

“Operating a waste management company on such a small scale as we do here has its challenges, so instead of investing in a new incineration facility, we decided to simply eliminate landfill and incineration as waste management options. We wanted to try something different and utilize that we are a society in miniature, complete with businesses, private households and tourism, where we can experiment and gain knowledge that later may be scaled up to a national or even a global level,” explains Hjul-Nielsen.

The vision

In BOFA’s vision of the future, the citizens of Bornholm will sort all their waste into different fractions, easy to collect and use in new resource loops. Metal, plastics, glass, paper, and cardboard are widely recycled, and new waste fractions such as fishing nets and insulation materials will be added to the sorting and recycling system. Meanwhile, organic waste will be converted into energy together with green garden and park waste, while the nutrient-rich residue from the energy extraction is used as fertilizer in fields, parks and gardens, writes BOFA.

In this circular economy, the inhabitants will reuse everything from furniture to children’s clothing and make use of sharing economy services—for instance lending, renting, or bartering goods through the internet or peer communities.

In elementary schools children will be educated as “resource heroes” with practical lessons in waste, resources, the environment, and nature. And a university research center on models of green transition and the circular economy will be established on Bornholm.

The “Green Island”

It was a unanimous municipal council that decided to close the incineration facility and embrace this bold vision back in December.

But a green mind-set is not new to the local government. The municipality already adopted a “Bright Green Island” strategy to position itself as a leader in sustainable development, aiming to be CO2-neutral by 2025, convert to green energy sources, and expand the island’s organic farm land.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/04/bornholm-island-denmark-goes-trash-free-by-recycling/

Resource title

The beauty industry generates a lot of plastic waste. Can it change?

19 Apr 2019 - Shampoo, lotion, deodorant: They all come swathed in plastic. But some companies are trying to change that.

19 Apr 2019 - Shampoo, lotion, deodorant: They all come swathed in plastic. But some companies are trying to change that.

FOR TARA PELLETIER, it came down to deodorant.

Her company, Meow Meow Tweet, had developed a formula for deodorant that she loved. It worked, it smelled great, and it was ready to make its way out into the armpits of her eager customers. The hold-up? The packaging.

Most deodorants on the market come in hard plastic cases with many tiny components, each of which is made of a different type of plastic, and most of which are not readily recyclable, even if a customer were dedicated enough to dismantle the whole thing.

Why, she thought, should a deodorant that she’d use for a few weeks or months come in a plastic case that would be around for longer than she’d be alive?

So she searched and searched for an alternative. Glass jars with metal lids worked fairly well, but some people objected to scooping the paste out with their fingers. Bio-based plastics and biodegradable plastics had their own sets of environmental drawbacks. It seemed like all the packaging options she could find were some variant on bad.

Eventually, after months of searching, she found a company that made sturdy paper tubes that cradled the product neatly. Finally, a solution, she thought.

She and her coworkers have to hand-fill each tube, and their profit margins are thin because the cardboard tubes cost 60 times as much as mass-produced plastic options. And the tubes aren’t quite as convenient to use as the plastic cases familiar to most consumers. But it’s worth it, she says, not just because it makes ethical sense but to help demonstrate to others across the industry that there are alternatives—workable, functional, creative alternatives—to the plastic that has infiltrated every aspect of modern commerce.

The booming $500 billion per year global personal care industry relies on plastic. That shampoo? Housed in a plastic bottle—often fully or partly unrecyclable. That body wash? Same. But for some producers, the pervasive, often excessive plastic packaging is too much. To pare down their plastic footprint, they’re trying to reconsider the nature of the products, packaging, and supply chain itself.

How did we end up with so much plastic?

In the not-too-distant past, personal care items did not involve plastic packaging. Soaps came in bar form. Perfumes, a symbol of luxury, were packaged in elaborate glass containers. Hair-care products were powders or pomades packaged in tins or jars.

After World War I, the United States emerged as the most prolific producer and consumer of personal care and beauty products, while the European market was recovering.

During the war, the military had imposed strict hygiene codes as a way to prevent disease from spreading amongst the troops, and when those soldiers returned home, they brought with them ingrained habits of washing, shaving, and tooth-brushing. By the mid-1920s, a whole industry of “personal care” popped up; in 1926, the Lever company (which would later become Unilever, a major multinational personal care product company) kicked off an ad campaign outlining the damage “body odor” could do to one’s career and social prospects.

Simultaneously, the market for face creams, cosmetics, and other personal care products marketed to women exploded, in tandem with the rise of Hollywood movies and the invention of American glamour and beauty standards. During World War II, the U.S. government went so far as to declare lipstick a “wartime necessity,” a critical component of cultural life and morale-building.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/04/beauty-personal-care-industry-plastic/

Resource title

National Geographic and Sky Ocean Ventures annouce Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge

19 Mar 2019 - Compete for a share of $1.5 million in awards and investment.


The Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge, a key component of National Geographic and Sky Ocean Ventures’ partnership to reduce plastic waste, asks problem solvers from around the globe to develop novel solutions to tackle the world’s plastic waste crisis.

More than 9 million tons of plastic waste end up in our oceans each year, and without interventions, this number is expected to almost double to 17 million tons per year by 2025. The Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge will focus on three strategic ways to address this growing crisis: designing alternatives to single-use plastic, identifying opportunities for industries to address plastic waste throughout supply chains, and effectively communicating the need for action through data visualization. 

Teams will compete for aggregate prize purses of up to $500,000, and qualified participating teams may have the opportunity to receive a minimum of $1 million in aggregate investment from Sky Ocean Ventures.


The challenge is a one-year competition composed of three complementary tracks that will run simultaneously—Design, Circular Economy, and Data Visualization.


February 11, 2019 - Registration opens

June 11, 2019 - Initial Submission Deadline

Week of July 8, 2019 - Finalists Selected

Week of November 11, 2019 - Finalists’ Submissions Due

Week of December 9, 2019 - Finalists Pitch Their Solutions to a Panel of Expert Judges

Week of December 9, 2019 - Winners Announced

FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/innovation-challenges/plastic/

Resource title

Can you solve the plastics problem? New prize invites ideas

11 Feb 2019 - Plastic is choking the ocean. A new innovation challenge looks for ideas on how to solve the pollution problem from anyone, anywhere.

11 Feb 2019 - Plastic is choking the ocean. A new innovation challenge looks for ideas on how to solve the pollution problem from anyone, anywhere.

Plastic is everywhere. It pools in the farthest reaches of the ocean and collects on the slopes of the highest mountains; researchers have found it in whales’ bellies and in the groundwater reserves we tap for drinking. Every day, about one megaton more is produced, enough to make almost 22 trillion water bottles—and more than 90 percent of that will never see the inside of a recycling plant.

So what should we do about it? How can we keep that plastic from drowning the planet?

Solutions to a problem as “big and knotty” as this one are going to require all hands on deck, says Valerie Craig, a deputy to the vice president at the National Geographic Society. Good ideas could come from anyone, anywhere. So to tap the entire world’s creativity and expertise, the National Geographic Society and Sky Ocean Ventures have put together the Ocean Plastic Innovation Challenge to source ideas from around the world about how to address plastic waste.

“We hope we can inspire people of diverse backgrounds to utilize their own resources, to try to really solve the problems they see and reach their own goals,” says Fred Michel, the head of Sky Ocean Ventures, an impact investment arm of the London-based Sky media company. “And maybe—we hope—they’ll come up with something amazing, something transformational.”

The challenge, announced Monday, is split into three tracks, each designed to address a different part of the plastics pollution problem. Each track is eligible for prizes totaling up to $500,000 as well as the opportunity for further investments and business mentoring from Sky Ocean Ventures.

Innovators can submit their ideas until June 11. 

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/02/plastic-innovation-challenge-prize-clean-ocean/


Resource title

2018 was the ocean's hottest year. We'll feel it a long time.

17 Jan 2019 - The ocean soaks up 93 percent of the heat of climate change. But that heat has a big and long-lasting impact.

17 Jan 2019 - Earth’s oceans are warmer now than at any point since humans started systematically tracking their temperatures, according to research published on January 16 in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences. The oceans have sopped up more than 90 percent of the heat trapped by human-emitted greenhouse gases, slowing the warming of the atmosphere—but causing many other unwelcome changes to the planet’s climate.

Even a slightly warmer ocean can have dramatic impacts. Other new research shows that warmer oceans make waves stronger. Warmer waters fuel stronger storms, increasing the damage that hurricanes and tropical storms inflict. The added warmth hurts coral habitats and stresses fisheries. Around Antarctica, yet another new study suggests, ice is melting about six times faster than it was in the 1980s—an increase due in part to the warmer waters lapping at the continent’s edge.

“The oceans are the best thermometer we have for the planet,” says Zeke Hausfather, an energy and climate scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who used the ocean heat data published today in an analysis published last week in Science. “We can really see global warming loud and clear in the ocean record.”

CONTINUE READING: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/01/oceans-warming-fa...

Resource title

As glaciers disappear, humans lose a lot more than ice

26 Dec 2018 - A warming world is profoundly changing human culture and history—and it may just be the beginning.

26 Dec 2018 - For a couple of years I was living on the south coast of Iceland, and one day, a man knocked on the door of my home.

He asked if I wanted to see something. No adjectives. Just, did I want to see something?

I almost didn’t hear his knock. My house was on the extreme southeastern coast of the island—literally twenty feet from the sea—and strong winds were bashing the concrete walls and making the tin roof shriek with each gust.

I considered. It was cold, the wintery light was growing dim, I was a foreigner in the area, and if I went missing, no one would go looking for me for days. But then again, it was Iceland, one of the safest places in the world. And my curiosity was piqued.

I agreed and grabbed my nine-hundred-fill down jacket, gloves, and a hat. I ran outside and stepped high up into his Icelandic super jeep—the type that requires a little ladder to climb into the cab—and we drove slowly through the orderly, windblown streets of the village of Höfn.

Höfn [pronounced Hhh-Uphn], my home for several months by that point, is a small, low-lying village of about seventeen hundred people built on a jagged spur of land jutting south off the island’s coast like a hitchhiker’s thumb. Höfn is the primary village within the Municipality of Hornafjörður, a 127-mile-long region encompassing a swath of Iceland’s southeastern coast.

Matching glacial lagoons fan out east and west on either side of Höfn, resembling murky butterfly wings from the air. Directly south, the storm-laden North Atlantic Ocean edges the town, and to the north, glaciers pour down out of the encircling coastal mountains. Höfn—and all of Hornafjörður—is Iceland’s glacier central.

And those glaciers are rapidly disappearing—not just in Iceland, but all around the world. That’s why as a geographer and glaciologist I was living in such a remote place. But what I was learning was about much more than rising temperatures and receding ice. As glaciers retreat they are altering the human story in profound ways, and I was about to get a front-row seat.

Frigid vigil

A lone road led north out of Höfn and connected to Hringvegurinn, the Ring Road, the single highway encircling the entire island. We drove for an hour west on the Hringvegurinn, then turned off the road and parked at a random moss-covered pull-off.

We both hopped out, pulled on packs and extra layers, and headed away from the road across loose rocks and thick vegetation. My host didn’t say much, and wind wrapped us into quietly murmuring cocoons. Just a few clouds dotted the sky, and the light angled low, matte-gray, matching the surrounding rocky landscape and rising mountains ahead. Winter sunlight in Iceland tends to be low and weak but highly valued.

We gradually gained elevation over the pitted terrain as we moved away from the coast, rough loose debris bulldozed into place by decades of glaciers seesawing along the low aprons of the mountains that were once the island’s coastal sea cliffs. At the top of one ridge, abruptly, the glacier Breiðamerkurjökull rose up right in front of us.

The man beside me sighed audibly in appreciation. Breiðamerkurjökull’s face—the terminus—was miles across, white but not pure white, gray and black and blue collectively impersonating white. The body of the glacier itself was lashed with thick, uneven dark moraines, ridges running tip to toe like icy tiger stripes. In the low light, the parent ice cap feeding all thirty miles of Breiðamerkurjökull, Vatanjökull, dissolved in the distance into the sky. For a moment, I was disorientated. It felt like the ice just kept sweeping vertically up into the horizon.

That’s one of the hardest things about interacting with glaciers. They are often so large that atmospheric perspective—the effect where objects appear to merge into their backgrounds over large distances—distorts our abilities to accurately assess distances, scales, change. Breiðamerkurjökull is the third-largest glacier in Iceland, with a perimeter stretching over nine miles from east to west. But it is difficult to assess the entirety of a glacier nine miles by thirty, so instead, you’re left with a feeling that the glacier just dominates.

The man and I kept a steady pace hiking towards the ice, up rocky scree slopes, and down, and back up, covering terrain in constant flux. Eventually we reached the land-ice edge and stopped briefly to put on helmets, harnesses, and crampons—spiked metal devices that strap over boots and provide traction on ice.

Moving from land to ice is tricky, as often that is where the glacier is most fragmented, brittle, and quick to break and roll in on itself, but we transitioned with little fanfare and slowly worked our way up. We wove around deep crevasses, sharp drop- offs, rock piles of debris, and stacks of wind-blown snow that had frozen into oddly-shaped pale hills. The surface of a glacier is rarely smooth; often a glacier hide is populated with shallow cuts and dips and depressions and tubes and tunnels that plummet the entire depth of the ice.

I knew we had arrived at the destination my host had in mind when he paused at the rim of a wide, shallow bowled area on the surface of the glacier. Once we reached the bottom of the depression, large seracs—towers of ice that tend to stick up like shark’s fins from the surface of the glacier—rose up on the far edge of the bowled area, and jagged pillars teetered to the west and cast deep shadows over us. Chilled, I pulled on more layers from my pack. Glacier work is all about layers.

The man removed two foam mats from his pack, handed one to me, and gestured for me to sit down. He passed me a thermos of thick coffee and a plastic adventure cup, and then he started to speak. He told me we were going to sit right there at the bottom of the ice bowl on top of the third largest glacier in Iceland right before night fell and we were going to wait.

And that’s what we did. We sipped coffee, listened to the wind blow and the ice pop and crack, and watched the light grow darker and darker. We waited and he told me a little about himself and growing up in the area, and twenty minutes went by, and then another twenty minutes, and then, right when I thought I was going to be too cold to stick it out, it started.

It was dark one minute in the cloudless Icelandic sky, and then the next minute it wasn’t, and the northern lights, the aurora borealis, appeared in the sky above us. First a dull glow, and then, like a light switch flipped on, blazing yellows, purples, greens, swirls of pinks and whites, and—wait—the glacier we were sitting on, Breiðamerkurjökull, it began picking up, internalizing, swallowing, containing the lights in the sky. The northern lights pulsed through the ice at the rim of the bowl, through the thin seracs, transforming them into icy Jedi lightsabers smoldering in kaleidoscopic concentrations. And the bowl of the glacier itself, it was whirling, throwing light like a candle-lit chandelier, like a phosphorescent ocean wave, like a field at midnight populated with hundreds of summertime fireflies.

I was engulfed. I’d never witnessed a glacier aglow with the aurora—I’d never even seen a picture of it—and standing there I felt innate companionship, as I too was as lit up as the sky.

And so we sat there on that glacier in Iceland in the middle of winter and watched. We stayed as long as we could before the clouds rolled in and obscured the sky and the lights. In the last minutes, as the ice and sky grew dim, the man turned to me and said, “This is why glaciers are worth fighting for.”

CONTINUE READING: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/12/glaciers-disappea...

Resource title

A running list of action on plastic pollution

25 Oct 2018 - The world is waking up to a crisis of ocean plastic—NatGeo is tracking the developments and solutions as they happen.

25 Oct 2018 - THE WORLD HAS a plastic pollution problem and it’s snowballing—but so is public awareness and action.

Each year, an estimated 18 billion pounds of plastic waste enters the world’s ocean from coastal regions. That’s about equivalent to five grocery bags of plastic trash piled up on every foot of coastline on the planet. All that plastic is causing harm to the creatures that live in the ocean, from coral reefs smothered in bags, to turtles gagging on straws, to whales and seabirds that starve because their bellies are so jammed with bits of plastic that there’s no room for real food.

New research is emerging apace about the possible long-term impacts of tiny pieces of plastic on the marine food chain—raising fresh questions about how it might ultimately impact human health and food security.

About 40 percent of all plastic produced is used in packaging, and much of that is used only once and then discarded. Less than a fifth of all plastic is recycled, though many countries and businesses are trying innovative solutions to increase that number.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/07/ocean-plastic-pollution-solutions/?user.testname=none

Resource title

Turning Ocean plastic into Roads

Waste in the ocean, especially plastic is eating up the fishes making them vulnerable and close to extinction.

People near have been fishing for a very long time. Their livelihood depends on it. But due to the increasing use of plastic and more horrifying dumping of that plastic into the ocean, our marine life has been endangered. Not only the marine is affected, the nets and other equipments used by fishermen gets destroyed.
This is a story of fishermen in Kerala who designed a way to not only help the fishermen save their tools but also reduce the effect of plastic in the ocean. With help from several government agencies, they’ve set up the first-ever recycling center in the region, to clean, sort and process all the sea-tossed plastic bags, bottles, straws, flip-flops and drowned Barbies that they fish out. So far, they’ve collected about 65 metric tons (71 short tons) of plastic waste.

Resource title

To honor an elephant, Indian temples are going plastic-free

9 Oct 2018 - Hindu temples in southern India are taking a stand against single-use plastic. Other faiths are taking notice.

9 Oct 2018 - TRIVANDRUM, INDIA - There’s no scholarly consensus on when, exactly, the Aranmula Parthasarathy Temple was built, though there’s evidence that a temple honoring the demon-slaying, lady-charming Hindu deity Krishna has stood on this parcel of land in southwest India since the 8th century.

Hundreds of years on, the temple appears to have absorbed objects and memories from nearly every year of its existence. There are murals from the 18th century and tarnished bronze deepam—oil lamps—that are at least a century old, as well as discolored patio chairs purchased sometime in the early aughts and gold streamers from a festival last winter.

The newest addition: Notices in bold, black lettering, printed on white A4 paper, pasted all around the temple’s inner sanctum. “Inside the temple premises, there is a compulsory ban on mobile phones, cameras, and plastic carry bags,” they say.

Disobey, and you may get stern looks from one of the dozen or so retirees who spend most of their days here, or be approached by a priest or administrator who will politely inform you that Aranmula is one of 1,058 temples in the south Indian state of Kerala that have pledged to eliminate plastic this year.

“We are trying to go back to the ancient days, when there was no threat of plastic,” says A. Padmakumar, president of the Travancore Devaswom Board, an administrative body that oversees all 1,058 temples, and resident of Aranmula village. It was his idea to phase out plastic throughout Kerala temples, though he says religious leaders had been advocating for a ban for years.

And the move is in line with national policy: in June, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced plans to eliminate all single-use plastic in the country by 2022. Individual states across the country—including Kerala—have already started to phase out, if not outright ban, certain forms of of it.

But convincing 1.3 billion Indians to give up the convenience of plastic isn’t going to be easy, Padmakumar says. “Already, just six months into our ban, we’re finding it difficult. Doing good is difficult,” he says.

“But that is why this work has to start in temples—these are our centers of culture.” If anything will convince Indians to give up plastic, he’s betting it’ll be their love for, and fear of, God.

Parabhrama or Plastic?

Actually, there’s something eerily unnatural, and ungodly, about plastic, says Thantri Suryakalady Jayasuryan Bhattathiripad, a pujari, or priest at Mangaladevi temple in northern Kerala. “I’m a farmer, as well. And it is very sad to see very old plastic packaging coming out of the soil when I plough my land,” he says. “Even the emblems, the brand names will still be on there—it’s like an immortal substance.”

With a laugh, he adds: “As far as I know, only Parabhrama—the Supreme Being—is supposed to last forever!”

The trouble is, Hindu rituals can involve lots and lots of stuff: camphor and incense to purify the air; butter, milk, and rosewater to offer at the shrine; oil to replenish the traditional lamps; turmeric and sandalwood powder to smear across the forehead and open one’s third eye. And these days, all of it is packaged in plastic, says Aneesh Mon, who sells supplies to devotees from a small stall just outside Aranmula temple.

In principle, he says, he fully agrees with the temple’s new rules. “But how is it possible when everything comes in plastic covers?”

Since the pledge took effect in January, Mon has made some changes. His convenient “pooja kits,” which include fruit and snacks to offer the gods, are now sold in reusable, biodegradable plates made from dried palm leaves, instead of plastic bags. But the mini bottles of oil and rosewater are still packaged in plastic.“This is how it comes, from the companies,” he shugs. “Though we’re working with suppliers to find some alternatives.”

Over the past few months, he’s had quite a few frustrating conversations—with the company that supplies him with rosewater, asking them if it’s really necessary to wrap their plastic bottles in an additional layer of plastic film, and with the company that makes the incense, pleading with them to consider paper packaging. And then there’s convincing his customers to pay an extra five rupees for the camphor wrapped in paper. “They say that if they come on a regular basis, the five rupees adds up.”

By next year, with help from temple administrators, he’s hoping to start buying oil by the gallon and decanting it into smaller clay or steel containers for devotees, which is a system that some temples in the region have already adopted. Other temples are avoiding packaging altogether by making their own rosewater and sourcing oil from smaller, local producers.

The problem is, the mass-produced, plastic-wrapped stuff is cheap and easy, he says. “Now we can’t even think of a world without plastic.”

Death of an Elephant

The need to imagine, and realize, a world without plastic is growing more and more urgent, says Thirumeni Rajeevararu, the head priest at Sabarimala, a shrine dedicated to the Hindu god Ayyapan in the heart of Kerala’s Periyar Tiger Reserve.

In January, a 20-year-old wild elephant in Periyar died after consuming some of the trash discarded by the tens of millions of Sabarimala pilgrims who trek, each winter, through more than twenty miles of heavily wooded forest to reach the shrine. A necropsy revealed that a large quantity of plastic had blocked up the animal’s intestines, causing internal bleeding and organ failure. Forest rangers also found a fully in-tact plastic bag in dung nearby.

“The death of the elephant in Periyar disturbed me a lot,” says Rajeevararu. “The elephant is an important animal for temples”—it is metaphysically connected to Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god of wisdom.

“But it’s not just elephants. Other animals have died as well after eating plastic,” he says. These include deer and birds, according to local environmental non-profit Thanal.

“God is in nature,” Rajeevararu says. “So I consider it our dharma, our duty, to stop using plastic.”

Giving Up Plastic for God

Religious leaders at Sabarimala have been trying to phase out plastic for the past five years. “We are trying our maximum to implement a full ban,” he says, though it hasn’t been easy.

Tens of millions of pilgrims carry with them bottles of water and all manner of snacks, often packaged in plastic, and they tend to tote it all around in plastic bags. There are designated trash disposal points, and for the past several years, a group of volunteers have posted themselves along the Periyar trail to help collect and manage the pilgrims’ waste. But even a couple of hundred wardens are no match for the millions who trek through the forest.

CONTINUE READING: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/10/kerala-india-hind...

Resource title

You Can Help Turn the Tide on Plastic. Here’s How.

31 Aug 2018 - Do these six pain-free things, and you’ll help reduce the impact plastic is having on oceans and other waterways around the world.

31 Aug 2018 - In a world that can seem overwhelmed by potentially eternal plastic waste, are biodegradables the ultimate solution? Probably not. But it’s complicated. The industry is still debating what “biodegradable” actually means. And some plastics made of fossil fuels will biodegrade, while some plant-based “bioplastics” won’t.

Biodegradable plastics have been around since the late 1980s. They initially were marketed with the implied promise that they’d somehow disappear once they were disposed of, just as leaves on the forest floor are decomposed by fungi and soil microbes. It hasn’t quite worked out that way.

Biodegradables don’t live up to their promise, for example, in the dark, oxygen-free environment of a commercial landfill or in the cool waters of the ocean, if they should end up there. You can’t throw them in your backyard compost either. To break down, they require the 130-degree heat of an industrial composter. Many industrial composters accept only plastics that meet certain standards, ensuring they will leave no fragments behind that can harm the environment or human health. And if you throw some biodegradables in with recyclables, you might ruin the latter, creating a mix that can no longer be relied on to make durable new plastic.

In 2015 the United Nations Environment Programme wrote off biodegradables as an unrealistic solution that will neither reduce the amount of plastic flowing into the oceans nor prevent potential chemical or physical harm to marine life. It concluded that the label “biodegradable” may actually encourage littering.

Some engineers are looking for ways around these obstacles. Jenna Jambeck and her colleagues at the University of Georgia’s New Materials Institute are using polymers synthesized by microbes to make packaging they hope will compost readily and biodegrade in the ocean. Corn chip bags are their first target.

Polymateria, a British firm, is taking a different approach, developing chemical additives to help biodegrade any plastic—bio based or synthetic—more quickly. The firm aims to be the “Tesla” of biodegradable plastics; CEO Niall Dunne says the goal is a product that will “harmonize plastics with the biosphere.”

It’s a tall order. Even the best biodegradable product won’t magically disappear. A plastic container robust enough to carry a gallon of milk can’t decompose like paper. A flowerpot, one of Polymateria’s experimental products, could take up to two years to dissolve if tossed in a ditch, Dunne concedes. Biodegradables, some critics say, don’t address the fundamental problem: our throwaway culture.

“What is it that we are promoting?” asks Ramani Narayan, a Michigan State University chemical engineering professor. “Throw it away, and eventually it will go away?” The more responsible approach, he says, is a “circular economy” model, in which everything is reused or recycled and “any ‘leakage’ into the environment, whether biodegradable or not, is not acceptable.”

Norway has shown how far the recycling of plastic bottles—a big part of beach trash—can go. It now recovers 97 percent of them. Its trick: deposits as high as 2.5 kroner (32 cents) and machines, found at most supermarkets, that ingest bottles and spit out refunds.

But recycling can go only so far. Part of the solution, many say, must be to use less disposable plastic in the first place. The “zero waste” movement, which dates to the mid-1990s, is gaining favor. Hundreds of communities worldwide are embracing it—including the downtrodden industrial town of Roubaix, France, where the success of a citizens’ campaign shows that zero waste is more than an affectation of wealthy liberals.

On the contrary, the idea seems to have a cross-cutting, almost spiritual appeal. In the U.K., the Church of England asked its flock to give up plastic packaging and disposables for Lent this year. Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May called for supermarkets to set up plastic-free aisles, where food is sold in bulk. She’s also considering a tax on single-use plastics such as take-out containers. It’s all part of her government’s campaign to rid the country of plastic waste within 25 years.

China is providing motivation. For nearly three decades it has bought about half the world’s recyclable plastic. But this year it called a halt to most scrap imports. Recyclables are now piling up in the countries that generated them. “That pushes the question upstream,” Jambeck says. “We hope it will push towards more circular management.”

Six Things You Can Do (and Feel No Pain)

1. Give up plastic bags. Take your own reusable ones to the store. A trillion plastic shopping bags are used worldwide every year, and 100 billion in the United States alone—that’s almost one per American per day. The average Dane, in contrast, goes through four single-use bags per year. Denmark passed the first bag tax in 1993.

2. Skip straws. Unless you have medical needs, and even then you could use paper ones. Americans toss 500 million plastic straws every day, or about 1.5 per person.

3. Pass up plastic bottles. Invest in a refillable water bottle. Some come with filters if you’re worried about water quality. A handful of cities, including Bundanoon, Australia, and San Francisco, have banned or partially banned bottled water. But around the world, nearly a million plastic beverage bottles are sold every minute.

4. Avoid plastic packaging. Buy bar soap instead of liquid. Buy in bulk. Avoid produce sheathed in plastic. And while you’re at it, give up plastic plates and cups. The French are (partially) banning the stuff.

5. Recycle what you can. Even in rich countries, recycling rates are low. Globally, 18 percent of all plastic is recycled. Europe manages 30 percent, China 25—the United States only 9.

6. Don’t litter. The Ocean Conservancy has run beach cleanups for 30 years. Of the top 10 types of trash they find, the only nonplastic item is glass bottles. Worldwide, 73 percent of beach litter is plastic: cigarette butts (the filters), bottles and caps, food wrappers, grocery bags, polystyrene containers. In 2016 the conservancy collected 9,200 tons of trash in 112 countries—around a thousandth of what enters the ocean each year.

CONTINUE READING: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/06/plastic-planet-solut...