Ocean Action Hub

Resource title

Heavy Metal: The New Toxic Danger Posed by Ocean Plastic Trash

4 Apr 2018 - Plastics entering coastal waters both absorb and release cadmium, lead and other toxic metals. Scientists are now trying to determine the impact of metal-contaminated plastic on marine life and ocean ecosystems.

4 Apr 2018 - We know that plastic waste is overwhelming the ocean, sea life is dying from ingesting it and some even ends up in seafood. But scientists also now worry that plastic trash is coming with a side helping of toxic metals that latch onto plastic surfaces and enter the marine environment and food chain – and eventually, what people eat.

Metals, such as cadmium and lead, are often used in manufacturing plastic and over time can enter coastal waters. Once floating in the ocean or discarded on a beach and washed by the tides, plastics can also attract and concentrate a variety of metals already present in the environment that attach themselves, or “sorb,” to the surface. In both cases, the worry is that these metals – often toxic ones such as cadmium that are health concerns for both wildlife and humans – can contaminate waters or harm wildlife that ingest plastics, especially those that live in intertidal zones near sources of plastic pollution.

Researchers, however, are only just starting to understand how metal-tainted plastics interact in coastal environments, said Leah Bendell, professor of marine ecology and ecotoxicology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia.

Bendell led one recent study, published in February in the journal PLOSONE, that examined how four metals – cadmium, lead, zinc and copper – both attach onto and are released from plastics found on Canada’s beaches. She said her results show how a whole host of metals can enter the marine food chain or coastal waters.

“Not only were these plastics serving as a way of metal getting into these lower trophic levels, but also they were a source of the metal into the water column and they can be acutely toxic,” said Bendell. “It was a little bit of an eye-opener to the multifaceted role the plastics played.”

For the study, Bendell’s graduate student, Bertrand Munier, picked up every bit of plastic waste from transects on nine Vancouver-area beaches, gathering 144 unique plastic items, mostly food packaging and takeout containers. They sorted the plastics into 11 types and then used a weak acid to extract and separate the four metals – this kind of analysis is often used to estimate levels of toxins that could enter the tissues of wildlife if eaten. As a point of comparison, they also did the same for newly manufactured plastic samples. The goal was to distinguish metals that came from the plastic itself and those that had sorbed to the surface of the beach debris from the environment.

Of the collected items, five samples released what the study said were “extreme” high levels of metals – including a plastic tampon applicator tested for high levels of zinc – and all had at least trace amounts of the four metals tested. Different kinds of plastic also released different levels of metals. For example, PVC, the most commonly found plastic, had high levels of lead and copper attached to its surface. The comparison of the new and debris plastic also showed how some of the chemicals used in plastic production may release over time – including cadmium, which is used to make plastic rigid and resistant to UV light. The researchers found that new PVC releases zinc and cadmium.

A previous study examining metals sorbing onto plastics have found that the age of the material also matters. Chelsea Rochman, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology, led a study when she was at San Diego State University in which her team dropped mesh bags of various kinds of plastic pellets into three areas around San Diego Bay in California. They measured how much aluminum, chromium, manganese, iron, cobalt, nickel, zinc, cadmium and lead from the environment sorbed onto their samples.

The year-long study, also published in PLOS ONE, found that metal levels increased the longer the plastic samples were in the water. That’s probably because surface area increases as the plastics degrade over time and biofilms form, Rochman said.

Biofilms are collections of unattached microorganisms that put down roots on surfaces and can act as a surface for metals to latch onto. Fungi are a type of biofilm, as are bacteria. “Basically, over time there’s more space for these metals to bind to,” said Rochman.

There’s still a lot scientists don’t know. For example, it’s unclear how big a role biofilms play in the concentration of metals on plastics and the ultimate effects of the metals on wildlife that ingest plastics. It’s possible, for example, they may digest the biofilm, metals or chemicals – even if they ultimately expel the plastic itself. “If the metals are bound on the biofilm, the question is are they even more bioavailable than we think?” asked Rochman.

The presence of a toxic metals-saturated biofilm on plastics could be both an ecological and human health problem, said Bendell. The bacterial growth on the biofilm could potentially pick up pathogens in and around coastal areas. And as these plastics break down into smaller and smaller pieces, they’re more easily ingested by marine life, and now it looks like they’re bringing dangerous metals along for the ride. While the studies were conducted in North America, the environmental risks may be far greater in regions like Southeast Asia that lack waste management infrastructure and where more plastic pollution makes its way to the coast.

The actual risk of metals associated with plastics to human health is unknown, said Bendell. But as plastic pollution grows, it’s concerning to scientists like Bendell. “We need to change from thinking everything can be thrown away to you are accountable and responsible for every piece of plastic that comes into your house,” she said.

CONTINUE READING: https://www.newsdeeply.com/oceans/articles/2018/04/03/heavy-metal-the-ne...

Resource title

Hawaii Moves Toward Ban on Ocean-Polluting Takeout Food Containers

1 Mar 2018 - Hawaii’s legislature is taking action toward the U.S.’ first statewide prohibition on foam packaging, which is toxic to marine life.

1 Mar 2018 - Last year, Maui and the Big Island banned polystyrene food containers that contribute to the islands’ coastal pollution problem. Now, Hawaii’s legislature is taking action toward the U.S.’ first statewide prohibition on foam packaging, which is toxic to marine life.

Hawaii, a state with a $17-billion tourism industry and a persistent plastic pollution problem, is moving toward a groundbreaking ban on polystyrene food containers.

While hundreds of cities and counties have passed local ordinances eliminating polystyrene in food containers or in other uses, no legislation has so far been successful at the state level in the United States. A similar effort failed recently in California, while Maryland’s General Assembly is now also considering introducing legislation in early 2018. Internationally, a few nations have imposed strong regulations against the importation and use of polystyrene, including Zimbabwe and the Seychelles, which has banned the use of all disposable plastic items.

All plastic debris is a concern for marine and coastal health because it does not biodegrade and can end up polluting beaches and the ocean, where it breaks up into tiny pieces that can be eaten by marine life. Lightweight polystyrene foam is particularly worrisome in an island state such as Hawaii because it easily blows out of trash cans and eventually out to sea.

“The ban would be a positive step forward in preventing more plastic debris from affecting Hawaiian shores and waters,” said Mark Manuel, Pacific Islands Marine Debris Program regional coordinator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Honolulu.

On Monday, spectators packed a small room in the Hawaii State Capitol building and watched as five senators read public testimony from supporters and opponents of Senate Bill 2498. This is the first time in 10 years that a statewide polystyrene foam prohibition bill has moved through Hawaii’s Senate, according to the Surfrider Foundation’s Oahu Chapter, and follows bans passed in Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii last year.

After the hearing, the members of the Senate’s Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health committee unanimously voted to move the bill forward. If passed by the full Senate, and the House passes its own version, the provision would take effect January 1, 2019, if signed into law by the governor.

The proposed ban wouldn’t forbid all uses of the polystyrene foam, commonly called by the trade name Styrofoam, just the kind used in food service businesses. However, because so many food vendors in Hawaii distribute polystyrene food containers daily, supporters say the ban could greatly reduce plastic litter across the islands and in the surrounding waters. (The popular Hawaiian plate lunch, for instance, is commonly served up in polystyrene containers.) Senator Stanley Chang, a co-sponsor of the bill, said polystyrene foam is one of the most common sources of litter and marine debris in Hawaii. A 2014 study found that polystyrenefoams are the most commonly seen visible plastic material at sea.

“The polystyrene debris is affecting the quality of our marine environment and harming our wildlife, both in our major population centers and as far away as the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, where birds and aquatic life often die because of their consumption of human-generated debris,” said Chang.

Takeout container pollution is particularly dangerous to marine wildlife. The lightweight material easily breaks into pieces that can be eaten by animals, disrupting their digestive system and contaminating their blood with toxins.

Douglas McCauley, a University of California, Santa Barbara marine biologist, estimates that 98 percent of all albatross chicks found dead on the islands contain plastic, including polystyrene foam. He said Hawaii’s polystyrene foam pollution is contributing to a mess “in a place that should be famous for generating sunsets, good waves, Mai Tais and memories.”

He said, “This ban is not going to fix the problem of plastic pollution in Hawaii, but it will be a big step in the right direction.” McCauley also added, “It will cut back on a particularly insidious form of plastic pollution that is easy to replace and that is known to harm ocean wildlife.”

Hawaii asks residents to dispose of polystyrene foam in the trash. In Oahu, polystyrene is burned along with other garbage at H-Power, its waste-to-energy plant. Elsewhere on Hawaii, it is sent to a landfill. Polystyrene can technically be recycled, but few recycling centers handle the material and there are none in Hawaii.

Opponents of the ban – including the American Chemistry Council, Hawaii Restaurant Association, Hawaii Food Industry Association, Hawaii Chamber of Commerce and local polystyrene manufacturer KYD – argue efforts to deal with plastic pollution should focus on litter prevention. They contend that switching to eco-friendly food containers would be prohibitively expensive for small businesses, and that alternate materials would not be sturdy enough to hold classic Hawaiian plate lunches – which are often served hot and drenched in sauces.

At the hearing Monday, opponents to the legislation submitted comments, but they were outnumbered by individuals, scientists, environmental organizations, food vendors and companies. Surfrider Foundation’s Oahu Chapter, a major supporter of the ban, pushed the public to post testimony supporting the bill on social media. In Hawaii’s public schools, teachers asked dozens of students to send letters to their senators. Only one individual – a Hawaii state resident – submitted written testimony in opposition to the bill, stating that polystyrene is “practical” and that the state should instead focus on solving its homelessness problem in order to reduce littering.

“This is a bold bill, but it is way overdue,” said McCauley. “Hawaii is usually a global leader on oceans. People in Hawaii know, perhaps better than any other place on the planet, that ocean health and human health are intertwined. This has been a part of Hawaiian knowledge systems for thousands of years.”

CONTINUE READING: https://www.newsdeeply.com/oceans/articles/2018/03/01/hawaii-moves-towar...

Resource title

Scientists: Time’s Running Out to Avert Dangerous Ocean Oxygen Loss

10 Jan 2018 - As temperatures rise, oxygen levels in the ocean are falling, threatening marine life and coastal economies. But the only solution to deoxygenation is to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions – and it may already be too late.

10 Jan 2018 - The ocean is slowly losing its life-sustaining oxygen, according to a new study that analyzes years of existing research on deoxygenation and puts the problem in stark terms. The big question, now, is whether the trend can be reversed in time to avoid dramatic reductions in biodiversity that could ripple through the marine food web, affecting humans as well as ocean ecosystems.

The review, published in Science, found that 2 percent of the ocean’s total oxygen has been lost over the last half century and that the volume of oxygen-free water on the open ocean has quadrupled. Oxygen-minimum zones – waters with less than half the normal concentration of oxygen – have expanded by an area about the size of the European Union.

“If we lost 4.5 million square kilometers of productive area on land, everyone would be appalled,” said Denise Breitburg, a marine ecologist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and lead author of the study. “But what happens beneath the surface of the ocean is out of sight, and easy to either not notice or ignore.”

Breitburg is part of the Global Ocean Oxygen Network, a consortium of scientists created in 2016 by the United Nations Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. The network, which supported the study, aims to advise policymakers on a significant environmental challenge that often falls under the radar compared to other issues such as acidifying and warming oceans.

Rising sea temperatures and disappearing oxygen are, in fact, closely linked. Global warming is “the likely ultimate cause” of oxygen loss in the open ocean, according to the study. That is because warmer water absorbs less oxygen and also speeds up the metabolism of organisms in the sea, causing them to consume oxygen faster. Another issue is that warmer surface water mixes less readily with the oxygen-rich waters of the deep sea.

Closer to coasts, there are additional challenges. Fertilizer, sewage and other pollutants found in coastal runoff deliver an influx of nutrients that fuel coastal algae blooms and lead to oxygen-free “dead zones.” Since 1950, the area of the ocean at risk of developing dead zones has increased more than 10 times. Many more dead zones may exist in developing countries where monitoring is sparse, the scientists wrote.

study published in August found that if the current deoxygenation crisis mirrors one that took place nearly 100 million years ago, the area of oxygen-deprived waters might double over the next 100–350 years. This would threaten a range of ocean life, fisheries, tourism and coastal communities. In coastal waters, oxygen declines and dead zones could shrink the habitats, stunt growth and impede the reproduction of many species, including commercially important ones like shrimp.

“There will always be some areas of the sea that have low oxygen – just as there are deserts on land – the problem is when these areas expand and replace more productive ecosystems,” said Breitburg.

Matthew Long, an oceanographer with the National Center for Atmospheric Research who has authored several studies on deoxygenation but was not involved in the new report, said that he believes awareness of the problem is growing.

“I get the sense that there’s some momentum,” he said. “I think the scientific community is becoming more and more aware that we need to do a better job of communicating this issue so policymakers are aware of the potential impeding crisis.”

The report identified feasible steps to address dead zones near coastlines, such as reducing nutrient runoff through measures such as improving septic systems. However, slowing or halting the larger-scale decline of oxygen due to warming is a harder issue that “will take a global effort,” Breitburg said.

To stop large ocean oxygen losses, fossil fuel emissions will need to be cut sooner rather than later, according to the study, and it’s possible it could be too late in any event. How quickly deoxygenation rates could be reined in if the temperature rise is slowed remains unknown, however.

In the meantime, Long said, societies can try to adapt. The study suggests several strategies, including setting up sanctuaries that protect animals that have fled from low-oxygen areas as well as limiting the harvest of species most affected by deoxygenation. Better data collection would also help, the researchers said, including real-time observations and more advanced forecasts that could potentially predict when and where low-oxygen events could occur years in advance.

It’s likely these and more adaptation measures will be needed. “There is substantial deoxygenation expected even with relatively low emissions levels,” said Long. “The ocean responds on relatively slow timescales … and actions we take now will require decades to centuries to fully manifest in the oceans – reversibility on human timescales is not guaranteed. We do have the potential to cross areas of no return.”

CONTINUE READING: https://www.newsdeeply.com/oceans/articles/2018/01/09/scientists-times-r...

Resource title

Eight Awe-Inspiring Ocean Discoveries in 2017

31 Dec 2017 - In the past year, scientists exploring the world’s marine biodiversity and geology have found the deepest fish in the sea and drilled into a submerged ancient continent.

31 Dec 2017 - With less than 5 percent of the world’s oceans currently explored, every year is an important one for ocean discovery, and 2017 was no exception. Scientists reported plenty of species new to science, including a glow-in-the-dark sharka giant sunfish (the largest bony fish in the sea) and the ruby seadragon. Nearly 2,000 new described species were cataloged by the World Register of Marine Species as of mid-December.

Emerging technologies, from more affordable DNA sequencing and satellite data to autonomous underwater drones, are increasing the pace of discovery – a good thing as oceans are rapidly altered by climate change and overexploitation. For scientists, the mission of exploring the abundant diversity of the marine environment and learning lessons from its past has taken on an increasing sense of urgency.

Below, you’ll find just a few examples of the discoveries that fascinated us this year (a list that is by no means exhaustive).

Deepest Fish in the Sea

To this day, little is known about marine life in the Mariana Trench, the deepest region of the ocean, where depths in this stretch of the western Pacific reach 36,000ft (11,000m). That’s why it was compelling news in November when scientists reported the discovery of a new species of fish collected at a depth where no fish has been found before.

During expeditions to the Mariana Trench in 2014 and 2017, researchers deployed mackerel-baited traps to collect 37 specimens of the Mariana snailfish (Pseudoliparis swirei) at depths of up to 26,200ft (7,985m). With translucent white skin and no scales, its appearance is both strange and amazing. Not a lot is known about how the fish lives at such depth and pressure, but snailfish do get to live a predator-free life at the top of rich food chain – so, as report coauthor Thomas Linley of Newcastle University said, they seem to be doing pretty well.

Massive Craters Formed by Subsea Methane Explosions

Hundreds of massive craters – up to 0.6 miles (1km) wide – and mounds pock the Barents Sea near Norway, and scientists at Norway’s UiT Arctic University Centre for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate made progress mapping them and understanding the conditions under which they formed.

Scientists who went out to study the craters didn’t expect them to be so many and so large, based on the limited mapping done in the 1990s. In a paper, they described how these structures likely formed at the end of the last Ice Age as ice sheets retreated, and methane that had been previously trapped underground by the weight of ice eventually exploded. This process abruptly released large amounts of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – into the water, though it’s unclear to the researchers whether the gas reached the atmosphere. Methane still slowly seeps from these areas today through more than 600 gas flares, feeding an ecosystem of microbes in the ocean.

One of the researchers said in a statement that the study provides a “good past analogue” for abrupt methane releases that could occur as the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets melt.

A Tsunami of Sea Life Comes Ashore

Throughout Earth’s history, coastal lands have been naturally colonized by new species that travel the ocean by hitching a ride on marine debris. In 2017, scientists reported observing this “rafting” phenomenon at a scale never seen before.

“The 2011 East Japan earthquake generated a massive tsunami that launched an extraordinary transoceanic biological rafting event with no known historical precedent,” the researchers wrote in a study published in Science in September. They documented 289 living species, such as the Japanese barred knifejaw fish, that traveled from Japan to North American shores in the six years since the disaster. Many came on plastic or other non-biodegradable objects, including entire ships and docks, that were carried out to sea in the wake of the wave’s destruction. The authors call the phenomenon “mega-rafting” and worried that a global increase in marine debris combined with climate-change-fueled storms will speed the pace of coastal species invasions.

Sticky Remoras Provide Inspiration for Sticky Robots

Scientists studying how remoras – also known as suckerfish – attach and hitch rides on sharks and rays are developing new adhesive devices to do the same. A paper in the journal Science Robotics described how a team of researchers developed a prototype inspired by the remora’s adhesive disc. According to the paper, the device can stay stuck when pulled and twisted, similar to how the remora can withstand the shearing force of water while attached to a moving shark. Few scientists had studied in detail the adhesive function of remoras before.

The researchers envision that a remora-inspired adhesive device could aid ocean exploration, ship repair and biological research, among other potential uses. “This design has the potential to greatly extend the range and endurance of ocean exploration” underwater autonomous vehicles, Harvard University’s Yufeng Chen, coauthor of the study, told Oceans Deeply in October.

A ‘New’ Undersea Continent

A mostly submerged landmass in the southwest Pacific Ocean, dubbed Zealandia, gained recognition as a distinct continent this year – a term that is hard for scientists to agree upon and define. At the least, its exploration shows how little scientists know about what lies below large areas of the seas.

Once part of the supercontinent Gondwana, Zealandia is believed to have separated from Australia and Antarctica about 80 million years ago, and today is submerged nearly 1 mile (1.6km) below the surface. In March, researchers published the most extensive evidence yet that the 2 million square mile (5 million square km) region, which includes the lands of New Caledonia and New Zealand, is one contiguous swath of continental crust that is distinct from the Australian continent.

Then, in September, an international team of 32 scientists returned from a research cruise that drilled into Zealandia’s crust, discovering evidence of hundreds of fossil species, including shallow-water shelled organisms and plant pollen that supply additional evidence of its unique geographic history.

CONTINUE READING: https://www.newsdeeply.com/oceans/articles/2017/12/26/eight-awe-inspirin...

Resource title

Strawless in Seattle: How One City Is Tackling Ocean Plastic Pollution

2 Nov 2017 - The Emerald City is eliminating millions of plastic straws thanks to a collaboration between activists, business and the maker of a marine-safe alternative to a ubiquitous product. Now the campaign is moving to other major cities.

2 Nov 2017 - SEATTLE – In June, actor and environmental activist Adrian Grenier appeared at the United Nations Ocean Conference in New York City to promote his Lonely Whale Foundation’s campaign against plastic straws, a billion of which are used each day worldwide with an untold number ending up in the sea.

To fight ocean plastic pollution, “We have to start with something simple, accessible and inspirational to get as many people on board as possible,” Grenier, the U.N. Environment Programme’s newly appointed goodwill ambassador, tells a standing-room-only crowd in a usually deserted press room. “Instead of asking people to change their entire life, start with something small, such as stop using single-use plastic straws.”

Old ways, however, die hard. As Grenier wraps up his talk and poses with selfie-seeking fans, I head down a floor and join delegates and diplomats queuing up at a U.N. cafe. I notice something that I probably would not have blinked at before – cafe workers are plunking plastic straws into every cold drink. Before I can object, an iced tea is handed to me with a serving of non-biodegradable plastic that may well come to rest in the gut of some unfortunate sea turtle or another marine animal.

That encounter illustrates the consciousness-raising potential of the strawless campaign – and the challenge of changing long-ingrained habits and a supply chain that results in the use of 500 million disposable plastic straws a day in the United States alone, or half of global consumption.

There is one city, though, showing that it is possible to stop sucking when it comes to ocean plastic pollution. As of July 1, 2018, Seattle will ban disposable plastic straws and cutlery from restaurants, cafes and other food-service businesses – some 3,100 establishments that range from Starbucks to sports stadiums. But Seattle is already shedding millions of plastic straws in a collaboration involving the Lonely Whale Foundation, high-profile local companies, city officials and the manufacturer of ocean-friendly paper straws. It’s a model that Lonely Whale plans to take to at least 10 cities next year.

Three months after his U.N. appearance, Grenier traveled to the Seattle Aquarium to launch an effort to eliminate at least 1 million plastic straws in the Emerald City during the month of September. “Water, water everywhere and it’s full of plastic,” says the “Entourage” star. “We must radically change if we’re going to have clean seas.”

The “Strawless in Seattle” campaign aimed to persuade people to forgo plastic straws and to get restaurants, bars and other businesses to either stop handing them out or offer sustainable alternatives. In a sports-mad town, Lonely Whale enlisted celebrity athletes such as Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in social media campaigns and signed up 200 restaurants operating at such venues as the Space Needle, CenturyLink Field – home of the Seahawks – and the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Grenier threw out the opening pitch at the Seattle Mariners’ game on September 1, kicking off four weeks of concerts, pop-up shops and other events promoting the campaign.

When September drew to a close, Lonely Whale reported that 2.3 million single-use plastic straws had been eliminated in Seattle during the month. (The foundation calculated the figure by comparing straw usage at participating venues prior to the campaign with the number of compostable paper straws they purchased in September. Other companies opted only to hand out straws upon request and tracked that number.)

“It’s really not about straws – the straws are just a gateway to change behavior,” says Dune Ives, executive director of the Lonely Whale Foundation. “It’s really about our relationship with single-use plastics, and as a society, our to-go culture.”

And like many relationships, it’s complicated.

Paper or Plastic?

Fifty years ago, plastic straws were simply not an issue as nearly all straws then were made of paper. The introduction of the plastic straw in the 1960s changed all of that.

“The old paper straws were terrible,” says David Rhodes, global business director for paper straw maker Aardvark, the corporate descendant of the company founded by Marvin Stone, who invented the original paper straw in 1888. “They were soggy, they leaked. When plastics came along, they were better and cheaper. Environmentally, they were terrible, though no one was thinking about that then.”

Plastic straws quickly came to dominate the market and paper straw makers, including Aardvark’s parent company, Precision Products Group, exited the business. Then one day a decade ago, marine park operator SeaWorld called out of the blue. “SeaWorld tell us that they use plastic straws but they’re worried that their whales and marine mammals would eat them,” recalls Rhodes. “They asked whether we would consider bringing back the paper straw.”

Days later, the chief executive of Montana Grill, the restaurant chain owned by media mogul and environmentalist Ted Turner, called. He also wanted to replace plastic straws with paper. “The whole world had gone plastic by then,” says Rhodes. “There was not a paper straw on the planet 10 years ago.” And most plastic straws were no longer made in America – the $3 billion industry was now largely offshore in China, India and other countries.

But the inquiries continued to come – cruise lines, theme parks and aquariums wanted to switch to paper for environmental reasons. Seeing a niche market, Precision created a new division, Aardvark, to get back into a very old business.

The Problem With (Compostable) Plastic

Around that time in 2008, the city of Seattle enacted a groundbreaking ordinance that prohibited restaurants, cafes and other businesses from selling food in disposable, single-use packaging and providing customers with non-compostable or unrecyclable cutlery and straws. A ban on expanded polystyrene packaging – Styrofoam – went into effect in 2009. But the ordinance allowed for one-year waivers if suitable alternatives to plastic straws and cutlery were not available. The last waiver was issued this year and will not be extended when it expires on June 30, 2018.

“When the ordinance was first passed, there were probably 25–50 tested compostable products that were in the Seattle marketplace at the time,” says Sego Jackson, strategic adviser for waste prevention and product stewardship at Seattle Public Utilities. “Now there are over 850 items that have been tested, including straws.

“Compostable plastic straws have been around for a number of years at least,” he adds. “Certainly in the Seattle area, they have been coming into more widespread use.”

There are a few big catches, though.

Compostable straws will eventually biodegrade, but you can’t just throw them into your backyard composter. They must be processed in an industrial facility, which is not available in every city, according to industry experts. (Due to their size and shape, compostable plastic straws cannot be recycled, says Jackson.)

Most significantly, compostable plastic straws will not biodegrade in the ocean. Once in the water, they’re there forever, posing a hazard to dolphins, whales, seabirds and other marine life.

That was news to David Young, senior vice president of operations for the Seattle Seahawks and general manager of the football team’s stadium, CenturyLink Field.

The Seahawks have led efforts to green up sports by putting solar panels on their stadium, recycling 97 percent of the waste generated at games and slashing water use by installing ultra-low-flow fixtures in bathrooms. And the 67,000-capacity stadium had already ditched disposable plastic straws for compostable plastic ones.

“We thought we had been doing a good job with our compostable straws,” says Young. “Then we sat down with Dune Ives at Lonely Whale and she said, ‘That’s great, but those don’t biodegrade in the ocean.’”

During the “Strawless in Seattle” campaign, CenturyLink made a permanent switch to marine biodegradable paper straws made by Aardvark. “We saw how far those had come in the last few years in terms of durability and thought it was time to make a change,” says Young. “Given that 95 percent of the seafood we sell is sustainably harvested, it just made sense to take that next step for ocean health.”

The Last Straw

For Rhodes, the growing interest in Aardvark’s paper straws coincided with his growing awareness of the ocean plastic pollution crisis.

“I live on the beach in Belize,” he says. “And every day I rake out hundreds of plastic things on that beach.” One day one of those things included an iconic green straw. “There’s not a Starbucks within a thousand miles of us and it made its way to our beach. I said to myself, ‘This is crazy.’”

Whether that green straw was once attached to a grande decaf no-foam low-fat Frappuccino – and how it got to Belize – is unknown. But it became clear to Rhodes that selling paper straws was not just about selling paper straws.

To grab a big share of even a niche market, Aardvark had to innovate. There are other paper straws available, but some are Trojan horses because they contain a plastic liner. Others are made in China, but these tend to wilt in liquids, according to Rhodes.

So Aardvark re-engineered the paper straw. Rhodes says the paper it uses – “that’s kind of like the secret sauce” – comes from wood certified as sustainably grown in a three-state area surrounding the company’s Indiana factory. Same with the adhesive – “It’s a glue that you and I can drink. It’s almost like milk.” A special safe-to-suck ink allows the straws to be customized with colorful logos.

“The beautiful thing about this is that it’ll last all day in your drink but then it’s gone in 45 days, whether it’s sitting in a landfill or on a beach – it just dissolves,” says Rhodes, who has worked with Lonely Whale, the Surfrider Foundation and other ocean advocates. “You use a plastic straw for a few minutes and then it’s around for millions of years.”

Rhodes would not specify how many straws Aardvark manufactures annually – “we make hundreds of millions” – but says the company supplied more than 2 million straws to businesses participating in “Strawless in Seattle.” Among them was Safeco Field, the 48,000-capacity home of the Seattle Mariners baseball team.

For Ives of the Lonely Whale Foundation, it’s not enough to legislate plastic straws away – there has to be public support for such bans and a willingness to just say no to straws. There also needs to be a viable sustainable option that businesses can provide to their customers. That makes participation by companies such as Aardvark key. “As venues are coming onboard to this concept, they are still nervous about not having a straw,” she says. “They believe that customers are so conditioned to getting a straw in their water, a straw in their cocktail, that it’s important to have an alternative.”

The Green Straw

A wild card in the strawless campaign in Seattle – and elsewhere – is Starbucks, the hometown Goliath. Starbucks’ more than 25,000 company-owned and licensed stores use some 2 billion plastic straws each year by its calculations, according to Ives, who has been in discussions with the coffee giant since January.

“That’s a lot of straws and lids,” she says. “Where they are expanding globally, there’s not the infrastructure to capture that waste. They have told us that in communities where policy change requires an alternative, they will move forward with a compostable paper straw.”

Starbucks’ more than 100 Seattle stores are subject to the upcoming ban on disposable plastic straws. The company, however, has not revealed how it will adhere to the ordinance, nor did it participate in the “Strawless in Seattle” campaign.

The company did not respond to questions about how it will comply with the ban on plastic straws.

Whether Seattle food service companies ultimately choose compostable paper or compostable plastic straws remains to be seen. Price is one factor. “A standard plastic straw might cost half a penny, a compostable plastic straw might cost a penny and a compostable paper straw might be a cent and a half,” says Rhodes. “The economics mean that compostable paper straws will never be cheaper than a plastic straw. But you can’t print on plastic straws. So we can put the Seattle Seahawks on our straws and you get advertising for a penny and a half.”

Jackson of Seattle Public Utilities believes that as ocean plastic pollution becomes a hot-button issue, restaurants and cafes may be swayed to choose paper regardless of the cost. “As businesses begin to understand that compostable plastic doesn’t address the plastic pollution issue in the ocean, that may be a driver for them,” he says.

Rhodes estimates that demand for compostable paper straws in Seattle could be close to 100 million straws a year. “If Starbucks switches to paper, then all bets are off,” he says, noting that Aardvark would consider opening a Seattle area manufacturing plant if such demand materializes.

The Invisible Straw

While several cities in California are considering bans on plastic straws, the next front in the straw wars is to make such bans unnecessary.

“The most potent thing is for businesses to give people straws only on request or only when they need them,” says Jackson. “You can really reduce the single use of any kind of straw by doing that.”

One way to do that is through municipal regulation. The other, preferred by advocates such as the Lonely Whale Foundation, is to reduce demand for plastic straws by raising awareness across a broad demographic of a city’s residents.

“We’re firm believers that the market needs to lead policy changes,” says Ives. “What we’re really interested in is creating campaigns in markets that allow policymakers to come onboard knowing that they have the support of the community behind them.”

She says that some 40 large cities have contacted the Lonely Whale Foundation about bringing the strawless campaign to their town.

Paper and reusable straws currently account for just 1 percent of the global market, according to Rhodes. But he thinks daily plastic straw consumption could be cut from 1 billion to 750 million over the next few years by providing them only on demand. He believes switching to sustainable straws could eliminate another 25 percent.

“One good thing is that we are seeing behaviors change,” he says. “We fully support the elimination of straws whenever possible. That may seem odd for a straw manufacturer to say, but you have to do it for the good of the planet.”

CONTINUE READINGhttps://www.newsdeeply.com/oceans/articles/2017/11/01/strawless-in-seatt...

Resource title

Designers Take Plastic Packaging off the Streets and out of the Ocean

19 Oct 2017 - The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy design challenge has awarded $1 million to six innovators who are taking the plastic out of packaging and redesigning the ways people consume common products.

19 Oct 2017 - FORTY YEARS AFTER the recycling symbol was introduced, just 14 percent of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced each year worldwide is collected for recycling while 33 percent ends up littering landscapes and the ocean, according to a report prepared by the United Kingdom’s Ellen MacArthur Foundation and presented at the World Economic Forum last January.

“Obviously, if you look at the numbers the only conclusion you can draw is that existing approaches have not scaled up to the extent required,” said Rob Opsomer, the head of systemic initiatives at the foundation. “We need to get the biggest producers of the materials, consumer brands and the cities who collect, sort and recycle together to establish collaborations across the value chain.”

In another effort to spur change in how plastics are produced and consumed, the foundation this month awarded prizes totaling $1 million to entrepreneurs who devised design solutions for some of the most common forms of plastic that are used once and discarded. Winning designs, announced at the Our Ocean conference in Malta on October 5, included a container for small servings of condiments, such as soy sauce and ketchup, that decays without composting and is edible; packaging made of seaweed; and a reusable coffee-cup ecosystem aimed at replacing the 100 billion single-use cups and lids consumed worldwide annually.

The prize is part of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative. It’s one step toward what it calls a “circular economy,” which “aims to keep products, components and materials at their highest utility and value at all times,” according to the foundation’s website.

“We need to change the way we make and use plastic so that it doesn’t become waste in the first place and it can be reused and recycled over and over again,” Opsomer said.

After the positive response to the report from government officials and business executives at the World Economic Forum, Opsomer began working with companies and municipalities to reduce the amount of plastic produced and to make it easier for plastics to be recycled. The report estimated that plastic packaging worth between $80 billion and $120 billion is thrown away each year.

“Since I started these conversations almost two years ago, there has been an absolute step change in the level of interest and ambition around this topic,” Opsomer said. At the Our Ocean conference, six companies, including PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Mars, committed to make all their plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. (The commitments are voluntary, however, and no enforcement mechanism exists should they fail to meet their pledge.)

Much of the plastic packaging produced today is recyclable, but ends up in the environment anyway. Opsomer stressed the importance of developing a system that supports individual efforts at recycling “to make it easy for people to do the right thing.”

He pointed out that in Asia, where 80 percent of ocean plastic originates, few facilities for recycling exist outside of major cities in the wealthiest countries. Instead, “waste pickers” collect the types of plastic they can sell – and leave those they can’t. If the companies producing the plastic only make sellable plastic, more of it will be picked up. The global recycling rate for PET bottles, for instance, is 55 percent, and in places with a return price on bottles, it’s 80–95 percent. “Individual behavior is a piece of the puzzle, but not the critical component,” Opsomer said.

That means significant change can happen by changing the behavior of a few hundred or thousand companies and governments, rather than billions of plastic consumers. They have an incentive to do so, according to Opsomer. “By converging the many types of plastic that go into packaging, that would save costs with a simpler procurement and supply chain,” he said. “And if you’re a recycler you have the prospect to increase your business.”

Winners of the New Plastics Economy design challenge include the Chilean social enterprise Algramo, which tackled the problem of tiny plastic bottles (also called sachets) such as those used for shampoo. In much of the developing world, people purchase hygiene products in very small amounts, and the packaging has a low recycling rate, if it even is recyclable, as few recycling facilities exist in rural areas.

“In the world today, we use about 100 billion sachets in one year and most of those sachets don’t get recycled and escape into our environment,” Brian Bauer, Algramo’s sustainability manager, said at the Our Ocean conference.

Said Opsomer: “What you could do is rethink the problem of how do you get a small portion of shampoo onto the head of an individual in an emerging market without using this tiny bottle.” Algramo’s answer was to leverage an existing network of dry-goods dispensers in stores in small cities around Chile and adapt them so they can be used to dispense liquids into reusable containers.

Then there’s the conundrum of the “tear-off pieces,” or TOPS, in plastic packaging, noted Kevin Vyse, senior packaging technologist and packaging innovation lead at U.K. retailer Marks & Spencer. “Every one of us does it – we tear off the top of packaging and look at the big piece and say that’s the recyclable bit,” he said at the Our Oceans conference. “This little piece will disappear but nobody knows where. Those TOPS have to be designed out.”

CONTINUE READING: https://www.newsdeeply.com/oceans/articles/2017/10/18/designers-take-pla...

Resource title

Scientists Brace for Next Round of Global Coral Bleaching

14 Aug 2017 - The coral bleaching event that devastated reefs worldwide during the past three years is over for now, but as ocean temperatures continue to rise, bleaching is likely to continue on a regional level.

14 Aug 2017 - SICKLY WHITE CORALS in hot water across the globe are catching a break. New satellite data showing cooler surface currents signals an end to a record three years of temperature-induced stress on the world’s shallow coral reefs. But future episodes of deadly overheating are predicted to become commonplace, and this year could see the return of damaging climatic patterns.

The Third Global Coral Bleaching Event ended in May after an unprecedented three-peat, according to the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “This event lasted from June 2014 to May 2017 and has now ended as a global event,” Mark Eakin, the coordinator of NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch, said in an email. Its current maps show cooler ocean surface temperatures in light blue, as compared to an entire ocean in dramatic red during the three-year event.

The previous two global bleaching events on tropical reefs in 1998 and 2010 did not repeat in subsequent years. Could 2018 bring another round of coral bleaching at the planetary scale?

“We don’t know when the next bleaching event is going to happen, but we do know that they will become more frequent,” Ruben van Hooidonk, a coral expert at the University of Miami, said in an email.

“If greenhouse gas emissions are not drastically reduced, most reefs will see annual bleaching by mid-century,” he added. Van Hooidonk served as lead author on a study published last year that predicted that by 2043 worldwide bleaching of reefs would become routine.

The third global bleaching event was particularly devastating across the Pacific. The relatively isolated reefs of Hawaii experienced their second mass-bleaching event in 2014. More than 90 percent of the iconic Great Barrier Reef bleached in 2016.

Today, the Pacific island of Guam may be experiencing its fifth consecutive year of mass bleaching, which began there in 2013. The NOAA’s Eakin is gathering data to confirm its persistence this year. He foresees increases of both local and global bleaching events.

“We are likely to have mass bleaching sooner than the next global event,” said Eakin. “However, both are becoming much more frequent. Unfortunately, we don’t have the capacity to make predictions more than a few months out. We can only predict that they will continue to become more frequent.”

Since 2014, more than 70 percent of the world’s shallow reefs experienced bathwater conditions that pushed them to their limits. Under such stress, coral polyps expel the algae that supply both nutrition and their vibrant colors. Still alive, the corals appear white or “bleached.”

Corals will starve and die if they remain in a bleached state for several weeks. In 2016 alone, 29 percent of corals died across the Great Barrier Reef, according to Eakin. The observations caused some scientists to weep.

Similar to a forest of dead trees, dead corals eventually become a dysfunctional ecosystem, their bone-white skeletons often cloaked in brown algae.

Bad news for communities that rely on reefs for fish and tourism, the underwater skeletons of corals provide a stark white visual representation of global warming and were the subject of the new documentary “Chasing Coral,” which filmed reefs during the third global event.

Global bleaching is different from a regional or mass bleaching event, which was first observed in the early 1980s. A global event must occur across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian ocean basins. The first such event in 1998 hit more than 50 countries and 16 percent of corals died. An example of widespread stress that did not reach the global threshold was in 2005, when the Caribbean experienced its worst mass-bleaching event.

Bleaching peaks in the warmest months. Because northern and southern hemispheres experience summer at opposite times, the timing of mass bleaching varies from country to country.

High surface temperatures explain coral bleaching on a global scale. Globally, 2016 was also the hottest year on record for both land and sea temperatures.

In addition to steady global warming, surface temperatures in the ocean spike during the El Niño climate pattern. Global coral bleaching coincides with strong El Niños in places as distinct as the uninhabited South Pacific and Miami’s South Beach.

The most recent El Niño pattern likely started in late 2014 and ended in mid-2016. The possible return of El Niño in 2017, although not currently favored, is a foreboding forecast for reefs still trying to recover. El Niño and its warm surface temperatures return every two to seven years.

The geographic spread of coral bleaching has progressed rapidly, and only a few decades ago mass coral bleaching was completely unknown to science.

Since the 1980s, high ocean temperature conducive to coral bleaching has become three times more likely, according to a study published in the scientific journal Nature in December 2016.

The 2010 global bleaching event was not as severe as 1998, and Eakin hesitates to declare which global event was the worst. The Third Global Coral Bleaching Event was certainly the longest and affected the largest number of reefs.

“I believe the 2014-17 global bleaching event has been more damaging [than 1998] but we do not yet have the data to show this,” said Eakin. “The 2014-17 global event has been the longest, most widespread and is unique in that most sites have been exposed to bleaching two or more times during this event. These repeated bleaching episodes have been particularly damaging.”

CONTINUE READING: https://www.newsdeeply.com/oceans/articles/2017/08/11/scientists-braced-...