Exxon, you’re not listening to Portland, Texas

Written by Errol Summerlin of Portland Citizens United. Article originally posted in Caller Times.

Remember all the billboards Exxon had on display?  “We’re listening,” they said.

Residents of Portland, the City Council, and the school board told them the location was too near schools and neighborhoods; they didn’t listen, choosing their own interests over ours.

We told them we didn’t have the water to support their operations; they didn’t listen, telling us we will have to address our water needs by building desalination plants sooner than later.

We told them they weren’t giving us enough information about their emissions; they didn’t listen, claiming confidentiality.

We told them the polyethylene pellets would endanger our fish and birds; they didn’t listen; the demand (and profits) in selling plastics to developing nations could not be ignored.

We told them the temperature of their industrial wastewater discharge into Corpus Christi Bay was too hot; they didn’t listen. TCEQ says we can wait and see.

We told them their storm water runoff will exacerbate flooding, especially in Gregory; they didn’t listen, leaving it to the drainage district to figure out.

Now, we tell them to reduce their emissions. They respond by saying they meet the standards set by TCEQ. Well, the contested case will determine if they are in fact meeting those standards.

But, Exxon, you’re not listening. We want you to set higher standards for yourself; we want you to set higher standards for your industry; we want you and your Saudi Royal Family partners to spend all the resources required to employ the most advanced engineering practices and technology to further reduce your emissions; we want you to engage scientists, engineers, chemists, and technology experts around the globe to enlist their practices and ideas to set a higher bar for cleaner air and water, such as flare reduction, reusing water from operations to achieve near-zero discharge, and using treated municipal wastewater as a source for operations.

We don’t know how much the Saudi Royal Family earned last year, but you reported $19.7 billion in earnings in 2017. Don’t just meet the standard; take a little time and spend what is required to set a higher bar to reduce the environmental impacts on our communities and ecosystems. If you choose not to listen again, remember we didn’t want you here in the first place.



A Global Movement Against Gas and Fracking Is Rising

This blog was originally posted on Food & Water Europe's website. Food & Water Europe are a #breakfreefromplastic member and are working to make the connection between fracking and plastic pollution. Along with our partners, Food & Water Europe is part of a global movement against fossil fuel extraction and FOR a sustainable future. This October we are mobilizing and targeting those behind the boom of fossil gas and fracking infrastructure:

  • industry
  • governments
  • petrochemical giants that make plastics out of fossil fuels; and
  • banks that finance all of this.

We call it the The Global Gasdown Frackdown Day of Action.

We are showing our governments and the fossil fuel industry that our  communities and our atmosphere cannot handle another generation of fossil fuel addiction – JOIN US!

Why a Gasdown-Frackdown?

The fossil fuel industry is watching investments move away from oil and coal, and in response is pushing the myth of a fossil gas transition to hold onto their power. Fracking and gas projects are destroying our environment and our climate, violating our rights, polluting our water, grabbing our land. Time has come to stop the fracking and gas boom from locking us into another generation of fossil fuels.

What will we be doing?

The actions are decentralized, and there are no boundaries for creative peaceful events – photo stunts, marches, flash-mobs, sign-on letters, calling on local politicians, actions on bikes and kayaks, banner drops, recording videos and so on. You don’t live near a fracking well, import terminal or pipeline? You probably do live near a bank that funds one! – We can help locate targets near you and share ideas and tools for the action itself.

When will this happen?

This OCTOBER! We are focusing on dates around October 13th 2018, but the date is flexible – you are more than welcome to take action as part of the Global Gasdown-Frackdown a few days before or after the 13th.


Anyone! Learn more or register your action.


Taking an expedition to the next level

[et_pb_section bb_built="1" admin_label="section" _builder_version="3.0.47"][et_pb_row admin_label="row" _builder_version="3.0.47" background_size="initial" background_position="top_left" background_repeat="repeat"][et_pb_column type="4_4"][et_pb_text _builder_version="3.0.98" background_size="initial" background_position="top_left" background_repeat="repeat"] Written by Mochamad Septiono

I had the privilege of representing BaliFokus in the 18th 5Gyres Expedition in Indonesia’s Coral Triangle from Lombok to Labuan Bajo. Our leg consisted of experts and practitioners in waste management. Through the Asia Pacific Action Against Plastic Pollution program, 5 Gyres is collaborating with non-governments in Southeast Asia to highlight and scale zero-waste efforts in the region. This expedition was organized to have a better understanding of long-term impacts of these initiatives, representatives from participating groups joined the Expedition to train on citizen science protocols.

There are several studies conducted that reveal that plastic is entering the environment, especially in the ocean: through mismanagement of waste (Jambeck et.al, 2015[1]), rivers and waterways (Lebreton et.al, 2017[2]), from urban area sources (Dris et.al, 2018[3]), and other sources. These pathways allow plastic to penetrate the water cycle and eventually ends up in the ocean. This is due to fact that plastic’s cannot follow the water cycle evaporation after entering waterways. Through photodegradation, bigger plastic crumbles into smaller pieces while the bigger part eventually sinks to the seabed. As persistent marine pollutant (Worm et.al, 2017[4]), plastic and microplastic have been found in marine organisms (Rochman et.al, 2015[5]) that potentially acts as a carrier of toxic chemicals (Bergmann et.al, 2015[6]).

During the expedition, we were applying science to all of our activities conducted in the expedition. There were four main activities on the expedition: assess microplastic on ocean surface; assess plastic on beaches, assess plastic on mangrove area and do a brand audit.

In this expedition, 5 Gyres and all the crew expedition were collecting data from those activities to enrich current research on plastic pollution. Surface-trawl were used as method to collect microplastic data on ocean surface. This method allowed us to determine how many microplastic are retained in the trawl filter on the ocean surface through certain volume of water passing through the filter. Surface trawls were conducted eighteen times in six different locations during the expedition.

                These retained chunks of microplastic were transferred to different size of sieve, then analyzed through a grid analyzing paper: the amount and size of microplastic. University of California Riverdale, though their PhD researcher Win Cougar, is also 5 Gyres’ partner that helps in analyzing further the rest of the samples to reassure whether the filter contains smaller size of microplastic, or the ones that cannot be characterized through naked eye on the field. Marcus Eriksen, co-founder of 5 Gyres Institute, found the results of surface trawl are relatively lower than other places and hypothesized that it might be affected from “islands phenomenon”, while after entering into the ocean plastic might be washed up to shorelines and trapped along the beach.                 Another data collection method was from beach clean-ups. Beach clean-ups were organized in five beaches with additional brand assessment among two of them. In total, the second leg crew collected 225 kg (8738 items) of trash with these top five items at most: styrofoam, misc fragments of plastic, water cups, shoes and water bottles.                           Mangroves play unique a role on capturing plastic debris floating on the ocean, because of the exposed roots and ocean tides in the marine environment. Using kayaks, mangrove clean up recovered 39 kg of trash (131 items), with fishing ropes were mostly found in mangrove areas.                 During the evenings, we listened to experts from various backgrounds who joined the crew. Nighttime conversations covered several topics during the expedition still focusing, of course, on plastic pollution issues: plastic leakages into the environment, research of microplastics, how plastic may potentially affect human health, surfer’s     contribution to solving plastic pollution, recycling and waste management, textiles and microfibers, legal actions for corporate responsibility, and even about in-situ resource utilization up in space.

Collected data on this Expedition will be incorporated into 5 Gyres’ global dataset of microplastics. It will also be used to update 5 Gyres’ Global Estimate of Marine Plastic Pollution study. 5Gyres and its partners in this expedition aim to enrich global plastic pollution data to better understand the global scope and trends related to ocean plastic pollution and to monitor the efficiency of upstream solutions over time.

Photo Credit: 5 Gyres Institute and Mochamad Adi Septiono (BaliFokus Foundation)



Most of Hong Kong and Taiwan’s dumped plastic bottles come from mainland China – but local drinks makers also urged to reduce waste

Some 66 per cent of plastic bottles collected along coasts were labelled in simplified Chinese characters, according to survey by local environmental group The Green Earth and other NGOs Written by Karen Zhang. Originally posted in South China Morning Post. Green groups in Hong Kong and Taiwan have called on mainland China and drinks makers to do more to reduce plastic waste after a survey found two-thirds of bottles collected during beach clean-ups most probably came from across the border.

Some 66 per cent of plastic bottles collected along the coasts of Hong Kong and Taiwan were labelled in simplified Chinese characters, according to a preliminary survey by local environmental group The Green Earth in collaboration with eight NGOs in Hong Kong and three in Taiwan.

The mainland uses simplified script, whereas Hong Kong and Taiwan use traditional Chinese characters.

The group led a “brand research” campaign on PET plastic drink containers collected during clean-ups. In 16 coastal clean-ups in Hong Kong and Taiwan, 5,200 bottles were collected in total. According to The Green Earth, more than 4,400 bottles had recognisable brands. Of those, about 66 per cent of the brands were in simplified Chinese, and 28 per cent in traditional Chinese.

Hahn Chu Hon-keung, director of environmental advocacy at The Green Earth, said he believed the vast majority of the simplified Chinese bottles were from the mainland.

“The bottles labelled in simplified Chinese may be available in a few stores in Hong Kong or brought by tourists from China, but the number is quite small,” Chu said on Sunday.

Ten coastal clean-ups were done in Hong Kong, at Gin Drinkers Bay, Sha Tau Kok, Shui Hau Wan on Lantau Island, Lamma Island, Sai Kung, Sam Mun Tsai in Tai Po and Tung Chung River, and 1,776 bottles were collected with recognisable brands. Among them, 38 per cent had simplified characters and 55 per cent traditional Chinese.

The figures showed it was not just mainland manufacturers behind the waste, and local firms should also take responsibility, Chu said. In Taiwan, the monitoring sites were mostly in Penghu, an archipelago in the Taiwan Strait, where 86 per cent of bottles were in simplified Chinese.

Chu said the mainland, which made most of the plastic packaging and plastic waste that ended up in the ocean, needed to take aggressive action to reduce waste such as setting up producer responsibility schemes for product containers.

The group also called on the Hong Kong-Guangdong Marine Environmental Management Special Panel, set up by the authorities in October 2016, to strengthen collaboration to stop plastic waste from polluting the ocean.

“Apart from being a strong global power, China should also take responsibility [to reduce plastic waste],” Chu said.

The group also questioned the results of a 2015 report by the Environmental Protection Department entitled Investigation on the Sources and Fates of Marine Refuse in Hong Kong which found only 5 per cent of marine refuse was from the mainland. The group said the department needed to review the methodology.

“From what we found out this time, the figures tell another story,” Chu said.

More than 30 brands with simplified Chinese characters were found with Taiwan’s Master Kong accounting for 33 per cent of the plastic bottles. The others in the top five were Chinese brands

Wahaha and Nongfu Spring, China Resources’ C’estbon, and Coca-Cola. The groups urged drinks manufacturers to take action to cut waste including reducing the production of plastic containers, using the same material for bottles for efficient recycling.

The group said it will initiate another brand investigation on international coastal clean-ups on September 15.

Regarding local brands, Chu said the group needed to collect more data before publishing detailed results. The group also planned to contact the government and manufacturers later.

In response to the survey, a spokeswoman for Coca-Cola China said the company understood there was a packaging issue and it, like all firms, had a responsibility to help solve it.

“In Hong Kong, we are committed to expanding more sustainable packaging options including returnable glass bottles, aluminium cans, fountains, etc,” the spokeswoman said, citing a pilot programme at King’s Park Sports Ground where consumers could buy Bonaqua Mineralized Water with their own containers.

Tingyi (Cayman Islands) Holding Corporation, which owns the Master Kong brand, said it attached great importance to the survey results. It said the company had been actively discussing with the China Beverage Industry Association how to better recycle bottles hoping to form a positive business mechanism with more companies and the public involved.


#breakfreefromplastic Is Supercharging Coastal Cleanups With Brand Audits To Name Corporate Polluters


Brand audits highlight citizen action to hold polluters accountable, getting to the root cause of the plastic pollution crisis

Break Free From Plastic, the global movement working to stop plastic pollution, is taking coastal cleanups a step further – by naming the brands most responsible for the plastic pollution found on our beaches and beyond. Throughout a global week of action, September 9-15, 2018, groups under the #breakfreefromplastic banner have collectively organized more than 180 cleanups in 49 countries to incorporate data on corporate plastic pollution found in communities across the world. These particular events will conclude on World Cleanup Day, September 15, and a report will follow citing brand responsibility for the plastic pollution found in nearly 150 cities around the globe. #breakfreefromplastic is looking forward to hosting more brand audits until coastal cleanup becomes of a thing of the past. "Corporations cannot greenwash their role out of the plastic pollution crisis and put the blame on people, all the time. Our brand audits make it clear which companies are primarily responsible for the proliferation of throwaway plastic that's defiling nature and killing our oceans. Their brands provide undeniable evidence of this truth," stated Von Hernandez, #breakfreefromplastic Global Coordinator. From San Francisco, California to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, organizers are working in solidarity under the global #breakfreefromplastic banner. Nipe Fagio, a Break Free organization in Dar es Salaam, is no stranger to brand audits. In fact, the group is organizing cleanups at more than 30 sites across the city during World Cleanup Day to shape the future for a cleaner Tanzania. “Over 50% of waste collected during our beach cleanups in the last 6 months comprise of plastic that range from packaging materials and beverage bottles manufactured by MeTL group, to toothbrushes, straws and pens,” shares Navonaeli Omari-Kaniki, Program Coordinator at Nipe Fagio. "Brand audits are about creating corporate accountability for the plastic pollution that litters our oceans, waterways, and communities,” said Graham Forbes, Global Plastics Project Leader at Greenpeace. “For far too long, companies have put the onus on the individual to just recycle more, but we know that only 9 percent of plastics ever made have actually been recycled. It's essential that these corporations take concrete steps to innovate away from single-use plastic. People all over the world will continue to hold them accountable until they do,” he added. By categorizing and counting branded plastic packaging during cleanup efforts, #breakfreefromplastic is identifying the corporation's most responsible for plastic pollution. Corporations like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestle, Unilever, Starbucks, Procter & Gamble, and McDonald’s have a major role to play when it comes to plastic pollution. We are sold coffee, soda, chips, candy, sandwiches, shampoo, soap, and even fruits and vegetables packaged in throwaway plastic. It’s time for these corporations to take responsibility for single-use plastic,” said Stiv Wilson, Campaigns Director at The Story of Stuff Project. As First Nations Peoples, we continue to resist corporate colonialism which profits from extractive economies and disposable plastic culture while pushing the burden of responsibility to community recycling and individual consumer choice,” stated Mati Waiya, Executive Director at the Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation. “We maintain our traditional responsibilities to protect our homelands and waters – that includes holding corporations accountable for their role in generating this excessive waste,” Mati Waiya added. #breakfreeformplastic is mobilizing massive citizen muscle with a common mission so corporations can no longer frame the issue as one of only consumer responsibility. The movement boasts nearly 1,300 groups working towards a similar goal of holding companies accountable for the plastic waste they produce. It’s unfair for North American and European companies who earn billions of dollars annually to pass the burden of managing the waste of their products to communities and cities in the global south. These companies know full well that these countries lack the resources and capacity to handle this type of plastic waste in their systems,” stated Anne Larracas, Asia Pacific Managing Director at the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives. Member organizations of the #breakfreefromplastic movement involved in the global brand audit efforts include: Greenpeace International, Surfrider Foundation, 5 Gyres, EcoWaste Coalition, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Health Care Without Harm, Mother Earth Foundation, Nipe Fagio, The Story of Stuff Project, Zero Waste Montenegro, Amicas De La Terra Mallorca, CEJAD, PlastiCo Project, NESMAC-KITARA, Student PIRGs, Inland Ocean Coalition, Planeteers of Southern Maine, Instituto Argonauta Para Conservação Costeira e Marinha, People and the Sea, Rockefeller University, Científicos de la Basura, Wishtoyo Chumash Foundation, and Let’s Do It World.

# # # # #

To view the brand audit toolkit, click here. To learn why brand audits are better than clean-ups, click here. About #breakfreefromplastic: #breakfreefromplastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in September 2016, nearly 1,300 groups from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. These organizations share the common values of environmental protection and social justice, which guide their work at the community level and represent a global, unified vision.  www.breakfreefromplastic.org.   Press Contacts: Shilpi Chhotray, #breakfreefromplastic (shilpi@breakfreefromplastic.org) Claire Arkin, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (claire@no-burn.org) Perry Wheeler, Greenpeace (perry.wheeler@greenpeace.org)   Highlights from past brand audits:
  • Sept 2017: Freedom Island, Philippines → Of the total waste collected during an 8-day cleanup and brand audit, half of it was plastic. 6 international brands including Nestle, Unilever, and Procter & Gamble are responsible for nearly 54% of plastic waste found during the Freedom Island brand audit.
  • March-September 2017: Bandung City, Cimahi City, and Bandung Regency, Indonesia → A total of 8,101 plastic waste items were collected from an 8-day waste assessment and characterization study. Top plastic polluters include: PT Indofood CBP Sukses Makmur Tbk, PT Santos Jaya Abadi, PT Unilever Indonesia Tbk, PT Mayora Indah Tbk, Wings Corporation, PT Djarum, Group Danone, PT Hanjaya Mandala Sampoerna Tbk., Orang Tua (OT), PT Garudafood Putra Putri Jaya.
  • May 16-26, 2018: 18 states in India → Of the total waste collected, 46,100 pieces of plastic waste were branded, of which 47.5% were multilayer plastic packaging which can neither be recycled nor composted. Pepsi Co was found to be the top multinational brand responsible for the plastic waste crisis in the territories audited, followed by Unilever and Coca Cola. Results were published in time for World Environment Day, June 5.
  • June 1, 2018: 5 cities in the Philippines → Over the course of a 12-month period found that single-use plastic packaging from multinational companies such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Nestlé, PT Mayora, Colgate-Palmolive, and Coca-Cola comprised almost three-fourths of all collected residual waste.


Inside the global war on plastic pollution

Written by Joel Makower. Article originally posted in Green Biz. Part One of a two-part series. It is, in many ways, something out of the blue that everyone could see coming: an all-out battle against plastics, or at least plastic waste. It’s a fight that’s been brewing for years — decades, even. Indeed, its beginnings parallel those of the modern environmental movement. This year has seen the eruption of disparate skirmishes into a full-fledged war to end plastic pollution, primarily the waste ending up in waterways and, eventually, oceans. The warriors include local and international activist groups, local and national governments and some of the world’s biggest brands and their supply-chain partners. There’s been no single, catalytic moment. Rather, the momentum seems largely self-generated, the result of a confluence of events and long-term trends, including growing concern over plastics in marine environments, especially oceans, and about its impacts on both sea life and land life. Increased awareness of circular economy principles, and the growing potential of closed-loop materials flows are contributing factors, along with new policies, primarily in Europe and Asia, that discourage waste and encourage recycling. Public awareness of the problems is rising, particularly among younger consumers. And the leadership of companies, cities and other institutions in setting goals and creating bold and innovative policies and business models is showing that change, including radical change, is possible.

The year already has seen a spate of corporate and institutional commitments. All indications are that many more are to come. Over the past few months, I’ve been piecing together this state of affairs: where we are; how we got here; and where we might be headed. It’s a complex story, long in the telling, involving a wide cast of characters — working variously in concert and in opposition — and large-scale commitments to end plastic pollution that sometimes lack necessary solutions, at least for now, to achieve their ambitious goals. What’s clear from more than a dozen interviews I conducted is that this is a dynamic and evolving saga. And for all the activity by companies, cities and nations, global action to stem the tide, literally, of plastic pollution is just getting underway.

First, some history

As I said, and as nearly everyone in the sustainability world knows, the environmental and public health problems associated with plastics have been discussed and debated for decades. Plastics for packaging began to gain popularity in the 1960s, growing in lockstep with the rise in fast food as well as the emergence of the supermarket and the explosion of convenience foods across a range of categories. Perhaps paradoxically, plastic’s rise also stems from efforts to use it to save energy by lightweighting everything from cans to cars, and the increased capability to improve the shelf life and safety of a wide range of products. By the end of the 1960s, plastic’s central place in society had been well burnished, as noted in theclassic encounter between Dustin Hoffman’s character Benjamin Braddock and Mr. McGuire (he had no first name), played by Walter Brooke, in the 1967 movie "The Graduate." "There’s a great future in plastics," Mr. McGuire told young Ben. It goes without saying that McGuire (via the movie’s screenwriters, Calder Willingham‎ and ‎Buck Henry) was prescient. Plastic became popular for consumer packaged goods in the 1970s due to its low cost and ease of mass production. It was also lighter than glass and metal packaging, reducing shipping costs. By the end of the '70s, synthetic plastics would become the go-to packaging material for most foods and personal care products. Plastic bottles began to bubble up in the 1950s with the introduction of high-density polyethylene, commonly used today for milk jugs. PepsiCo introduced the industry's first two-liter plastic bottle in 1970, but it would be PET bottles — short for polyethylene terephthalate — that would win the day. Coca-Cola, late to the switch from glass to plastic, introduced the first PET soda bottle in 1978. The plastic shopping bag entered the scene in 1979, spurred by polymer companies such as Mobil Chemical. By the mid-1980s, three-fourths of all supermarkets offered plastic bags at checkout. "Paper or plastic?" became as common a question as "Cash or credit?" Meanwhile, the fast-food industry was gobbling up mountains of plastic for packaging, including polystyrene foam clamshell containers for burgers, fried chicken and other treats. McDonald’s, prodded by activists, abandoned foam hamburger containers in 1990 in favor of paper and cardboard. (Previously, McDonald’s had dismissed the problems associated with polystyrene, describing it as "basically air" that was benign when discarded into landfills because it "aerated the soil," according to Heather Rogers in her book, "Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage.") Despite its popularity and mushrooming growth, the problems with plastics were identified early on. For the public, the issue was primarily litter, an unpleasant outcome of the burgeoning disposable society. Sensing public pushback to the growth of disposable packaging, the packaging industry and several large brands formed Keep America Beautiful, which launched a massive media campaign to end littering. It seemed like a public service, but it effectively shifted the burden from the producers of plastics and the brands that used them to consumers — and especially to "litterbugs," social outcasts who discarded their trash in inappropriate public places. For scientists, the problems were altogether different. The environmental and public health problems associated with plastics began to become known not long after plastics hit the mainstream. For example, in New Zealand in 1960, stranded seabirds were found to have ingested plastics. In 1966, dozens of dead albatross chicks in the Midway Islands were found to have plastics in their stomachs. Over the years, a series of other critters, from plankton to puffins, were seen as adversely affected by plastic pollution, from the South Pacific to the North Sea. By the first Earth Day, in 1970, there was widespread awareness of the toxicity of plastics on humans. In 1969, Johns Hopkins University toxicologists found that toxics in plastics were leaching from packaging into human tissues. In 1972, the Washington Post reported that phthalates — substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency and durability — had been found in blood samples from people who had been exposed only through everyday contact with plastics. The Post noted: "Humans are just a little plastic now." Few independent surveys gauge consumers’ concerns about the toxic impacts of plastics, but there have been enough scares and controversies — Bisphenol-A! Phthalates! Styrene! — to rile up any health-concerned citizen. The Internet has no shortage of websites and mommy blogs on how to live a plastic-free life. All of these concerns clashed with the increased appreciation of plastic’s benefits for a number of applications, such as in health care, where plastics revolutionized such things as collecting blood and keeping surgical gloves, syringes, insulin pens, IV tubes and catheters sterile. In the grocery aisles, plastics reduced spoilage and shipping weight while keeping food fresh and safe. Still, the mountain of waste kept growing. The emergence of widespread neighborhood recycling in the 1990s laid bare the limits of plastic’s environmental benefits. Plastics’ light weight, one of its chief benefits, also made it less cost-effective to collect and transport for recycling compared to, say, aluminum or some types of glass. The relatively low cost of oil and natural gas, the basic feedstocks of most plastics, made virgin material cheaper than recycled. To this day, only about 9 percent of all the plastics produced worldwide is recycled, according to a 2017 study.

Sea change

For all the decades-long concern about plastics’ impact on the environment, it’s been the rise of plastics in rivers, lakes and oceans that has spurred the most recent wave of concern and action. Again, the scientific awareness goes back decades, beginning in the 1970s, when the influential magazine Science reported that large numbers of plastic pellets were found in the North Atlantic. Since then, research on the impact of plastic pollution on the marine environment has grown. More recently, researchers at the State University of New York estimated that Lake Ontario contains 1.1 million particles of plastics per square kilometer. At least 20 percent of the microplastics pollution in Great Lakes waters are microbeads, plastic particles less than a millimeter in diameter used in scores of household and personal care products. As concern over the impact of microbeads grew, policymakers stepped in. President Barack Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act in 2015, and other countries, including many in the European Union, have banned microplastics or are considering doing so. But it was in Asia that the plastic pollution problem hit critical mass. A 2017 study estimated that about 90 percent of the plastic pollution in the world’s oceans originates from just 10 rivers, eight in Asia and two in Africa. Perhaps more dramatically, a 2016 report (PDF) from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation concluded: "In a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish (by weight)." More plastic than fish! If ever there was a meme to articulate the plastics problem, this was it. It was simple, clear and visual. It didn’t hurt that a 2015 YouTube video of a hapless sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nostril has received nearly 33 million views, an in-your-face testament of plastic’s detrimental impacts on marine environments. "Almost all of the plastic we've ever produced is still here with us," said John Hocevar, Oceans Campaign Director for Greenpeace USA. "Over the past few years, accumulation of plastic has reached the point where it's incredibly visible. For people that were paying attention, this was a problem that has been coming for a long time, but it's only become really visible to the average person much more recently. I think, ultimately, people are feeling frustrated that it's so difficult for them to keep plastic out of their lives. They want better options, they want better choices that are more sustainable for themselves and for the planet." By last year, the United Nations acknowledged that we have a "plastics crisis," and nearly 200 countries adopted a (non-binding) resolution calling for an end to plastic entering the sea. It was time to act.

The last straw?

In 2018, action against plastics caught a wave. Perhaps thanks to that infamous turtle, it began with straws. It’s not that straws are the world’s biggest plastic waste problem. Far from it. According to the Ocean Conservancy, they rank just ninth among the top 10 sources of marine plastic waste. Cigarettes and plastic bags, by contrast, represent 21 percent and 11 percent of marine waste, respectively. Of the 8 million tons of plastic that flow into the ocean every year, straws comprise just 0.025 percent. Still, NGO executive Susan Ruffo isn’t surprised that straws became the poster child for plastic pollution. "It’s such a tangible item that we all run up in our daily lives so it certainly makes sense that it becomes that it becomes kind of a focal point," said Ruffo, managing director for nternational initiatives at the Ocean Conservancy, which has run a "Skip the Straw" campaign for about a half-dozen years. "We think it’s obviously important to reduce what we can. "But it’s a first step. We have to skip straws but also think about these larger issues that we need to direct waste management, which is a much harder thing to do for the public." "Straws is a great place to start," Greenpeace’s Hocevar said, "but it needs to be a comprehensive approach. It can't just be in places where people are making the most noise. It should be a global approach. And ultimately, we want to see people really quickly take action on the least-recyclable, most-toxic types of plastic." "Our straw campaign is not really about straws," Dune Ives, executive director of Lonely Whale, the organization that led a straw ban movement in Seattle, recently told Vox. "It’s about pointing out how prevalent single-use plastics are in our lives, putting up a mirror to hold us accountable. We’ve all been asleep at the wheel." Or, as Shilpi Chhotray put it, when it comes to raising awareness, "Straws are a great place to start, but it's sort of a terrible place to stop."

Chhotray is the Senior Communications Officer for Break Free from Plastic, a global movement of nearly 1,300 groups working around the globe on plastic waste issues, some for many decades, others more recently. She sees this moment as an opportunity to catalyze action that’s been brewing for years.

"This is the first time that groups all over the world are working at different parts of the plastic lifecycle — from extraction to disposal — in solidarity under the same banner," she told me. "And it's the first time colleagues in the global north, like the United States and Europe, are really understanding and listening to what's happening in China and Southeast Asia." The plastics issue, and especially straws, are catching on among "the younger demographic, specifically millennials, and even kids in the K-12 age group, coming and talking to their families about the problem," Chhotray said. "There's more dialogue coming from the NGO sector, the advocacy community, scientists, researchers, engineers even, who are working to develop better materials." So, while straws have received much of the attention, they represent an entry point into a much larger conversation about single-use, disposable plastics and a pathway to engage with companies and governments on taking long-overdue action.

Banning plastics

Cities, companies and others around the world are beginning to rise to the challenge. Granted, many were dragged kicking and screaming into the conversation by others, whether consumers, activists or the specter of new laws and regulations. Whether by choice, conscience or convenience, the result has been dramatic. Consider a sampling, far from comprehensive, of the action that has taken place in just recent months:
  • McDonald’s announced plans to make 100 percent of its consumer packaging from "renewable, recyclable and certified materials" by 2025. It also pledged to offer consumer package recycling in all of its restaurants worldwide by that date.
  • Coca-Cola announced "World Without Waste," a global goal to help collect and recycle "the equivalent" of 100 percent of its packaging by 2030, as well as to make bottles with an average of 50 percent recycled content by then.
  • Hyatt Hotels said straws and picks will be available on request only, and eco-friendly alternatives will be provided where available.
  • Disney announced plans to eliminate straws and plastic stirrers at all its owned and operated locations around the world by 2019.
  • Starbucks announced it will eliminate single-use plastic straws from its more than 28,000 company-operated and licensed stores around the world by 2020, preventing the use of around 1 billion straws.
  • Alaska Airlines said it will be one of the first airlines to phase out plastic straws and stirrers, thanks in part to an environmentally conscious Girl Scout.
  • Sodexo banned the purchase of all plastic straws and stirrers and committed to phase out single-use plastic bags and polystyrene foam items such as cups, lids and food containers by 2020.
  • Dell pledged to eliminate the use of plastic straws across its global facilities by the end of this summer.
  • Ikea said it would phase out products such as disposable plastic straws, plates and garbage bags globally, and that customers soon will need to eat the company’s famous meatballs without plastic cutlery or plates.
It’s not just companies:
  • The European Commission issued draft rules to ban 10 items that make up more than two-thirds of all litter found on Europe’s beaches and seas, including plastic cutlery, straws, plates and drink stirrers.
  • The United Kingdom pledged to eradicate all "avoidable plastic waste" by 2042 as part of the government’s 25-year plan to improve the environment.
  • India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged to eliminate all single-use plastic in the world’s fastest-growing country by 2022, with an immediate ban in urban Delhi.
  • In Africa, more than 15 countries on the continent have either banned them completely or charge a tax on them.
  • U.S. cities from Miami to Malibu either have proposed or passed bans on single-use straws and other plastics.
  • Costa Rica announced plans to ban single-use plastics, such as bags, straws, bottles, cutlery and cups, by 2021.
There are also numerous initiatives from universities, hospitals and other institutions. In June, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to ban the use of plastic drinking straws from its cafeterias. Such initiatives aren’t solely based on environmental or even public health concerns. There are simple market dynamics. For example, last year, the Chinese government banned the import of 24 varieties of solid waste, including types of plastic and unsorted paper. That left millions of tons of waste needing to find alternative destinations, which were not always readily available. The result: a glut of paper and plastic waste piling up in Western ports. Reducing waste at its source — for decades the first step in the "Three R’s" hierarchy of reduce, reuse and recycle — became increasingly critical. Of course, banning plastics by itself won’t get us where we need to go, although much like an alcoholic seeking help, the first step is to recognize the problem and stop it. Next: In search of solutions.


Support Grows to Control Plastic Waste in International Trade Treaty

Global Partnership for Action on Plastic Waste Also Proposed


Geneva –The 11th Meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group of the Basel Convention, the world’s only international treaty on waste control, concluded with widespread and growing support for a proposal by Norway to add plastic waste to the list of wastes subject to the trade controls under the convention. The proposal is seen as a key mechanism to stem the tide of marine debris and plastic litter. It would add plastic waste to Annex II, a list of wastes for “special consideration” under the Convention that requires notification by exporting countries and consent by importing countries prior to export. As a result of the growing volume of plastic waste now being produced and the new plastic scrap import ban in China, plastic wastes, primarily from Europe, Japan, and North America are now adrift on the global market and have been arriving in the ports of countries, such as Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia, in alarming amounts. The plastic scrap is often contaminated and mixed in ways that makes it difficult or impossible to recycle, and thus ends up being dumped or burned openly in the recipient countries, creating toxic emissions and terrestrial and marine pollution. By June, Thailand had already seized 30,000 container loads of plastic scrap in their ports this year, and was forced to impose an emergency import ban. “Southeast Asia is already being hit hard by a tsunami of plastic waste,” said Von Hernandez, Global Coordinator of the Break Free from Plastic movement. “The Norwegian proposal to place plastic scrap under Basel controls will be a significant first step to protect Southeast Asia and developing countries everywhere from becoming the trash bins of the developed world.” Many countries voiced their support for the Norwegian proposal on the floor of the meeting, including: China, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Libya, Maldives, Malaysia, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Panama, Senegal, South Africa, State of Palestine, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, and Uruguay. Despite this broad support for the proposal, some actors, including the EU, Canada, Japan, and Australia hope to block, delay, or water it down. “The severity of the plastic pollution problem and its impacts on human health and the environment are undeniable and require urgent action. We cannot let a few countries or industry sectors prevent much-needed and overdue action from the global community,” says David Azoulay, Senior attorney for the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). The meeting also recommended the creation of a multi-stakeholder global partnership on the minimization of plastic waste. Both proposals (partnership and trade control) will be forwarded to the 14th Conference of the Parties of the Basel Convention for a decision in April of 2019. “The Basel Convention is uniquely positioned to take a leadership role in stemming the flood tide of plastic waste now engulfing the entire planet,” said Jim Puckett, Director of the Basel Action Network (BAN). “They can do this not only by controlling unwanted trade, but by promoting steps to minimize the production of single-use and other unsustainable plastic products. We are thrilled that this week’s meeting has clearly signaled a turning of the tide.” For more information contact: Von Hernandez, Global Coordinator, #BreakFreeFromPlastics movement,  von@breakfreefromplastic.org Jim Puckett, Director, Basel Action Network, jpuckett@ban.org David Azoulay, Senior Attorney, Center for International Environmental Law, dazoulay@ciel.org


From plastic straws to a sea change for plastic

Written by Matt Prindiville. Article originally appeared here. Right now, we are all part of an interesting moment of change in our culture. In the span of a very short period of time, plastic straws have gone from a relatively accepted part of everyday existence to a niche-need product. As someone who works to end plastic pollution for a living, I’ve been getting a lot of questions as to how this happened and what it means. I want to begin by crediting my friends at the Plastic Pollution Coalition and Lonely Whale Foundation. Both groups realized that straws could be the “gateway drug” to get people hooked on taking greater action to solve plastic pollution. And the genius of what became the Strawless Ocean campaign is that the call to action was so simple: Next time you’re out at a restaurant or a bar, tell the server, "No straw, please." What this simple act of resistance does is that it starts a conversation — between you and the restaurant or bar, and also between you and everyone you’re with. Suddenly, the people you’re out with are confronted with a question — "Should I say 'no straw,' too?" Or they might say, "Oh, that’s interesting. Why no straw?" A conversation about plastic in our environment is teed up for everyone at the table. But if this action stops at straws, we won’t have accomplished very much. One of the core questions we and our friends in the plastic-pollution movement are asking is, "How do we turn this awareness and desire for action into truly transformative change that reshapes how we think about and use throwaway products and creates something better in its place?" If this action stops at straws, we won’t have accomplished very much. A couple of years ago, my friend Marcus Eriksen from the 5 Gyres Institute and I were having a conversation centered around this exact question. That conversation led us and several of our friends to author a report called the Better Alternatives Now List (BAN List), where we analyzed publicly available data from a number of sources to determine which plastic products were most widely found in the environment. We purposely did not look at microfibers from synthetic clothing, microbeads from cosmetic products, fishing gear or plastic dust abrading from tires. These are all significant sources of plastic pollution, but from our perspective, they are products that require technical design changes from industry, and not necessarily changes in the way we consume. When we looked at the data, what we found was that most products, not surprisingly, were convenience to-go food and beverage packaging. Here are the top 10: Food wrappers (candy, chips, etc.) Bottle caps Beverage bottles Plastic bags Straws and stirrers Lids Utensils Cigarette butts Take-out containers Cups and plates When you look at the data worldwide, you see pretty much the same types of products in the environment. The exception is that in Latin America, Africa, India and Southeast Asia, you also see a lot of single-serve personal care products and sundry items — shampoo, laundry detergent, dish detergent, etc — packaged in little plastic pouches commonly called sachets. Now, you can solve plastic pollution in the environment by switching out throwaway plastic for another throwaway product made from a different material, such as paper, for example. However, with this approach we’re often pursuing strategies that are "out of the frying pan, into the fire." For example, styrofoam container bans, which we support, often lead to restaurants substituting paper-based to-go containers, many of which are made with toxic Teflon-type chemicals that have been proven to cause harm. And throwaway paper products come with their own set of environmental problems — deforestation, carbon emissions from manufacture and transport, methane emissions from decomposing in landfills, etc. While substituting more sustainable materials for high-pollution plastic products is likely to be part of the solution for certain products, the real game-changer is figuring out how to get what we want without any disposable materials at all. Let’s imagine what this world might look like: Imagine that you walk into a coffee shop and realize you forgot your reusable mug, and right as you turn to your friend to complain about how hard it is to do the right thing, the person behind the counter says, "That’s OK. We’ve got reusable cups on deposit. That will be $1 extra and you can change it out for a clean mug at any coffee shop in town next time you need your caffeine fix." Or imagine that you’re taking lunch to go from your favorite restaurant to eat in the park. And as you wrestle with the guilt of of taking yet another throwaway to-go box, the person behind the counter hands you your food in a reusable to-go box and mentions there is a kiosk in the park where you can drop it off (or at any restaurant or grocery store in the city). Or imagine that you’ve ordered take-out from Seamless or GrubHub or a mealkit from Blue Apron, and the delivery driver hands you your food in reusable containers and says that they will pick them up next time you place an order. Now imagine that every airport, every mall, every theme park, every zoo, every university campus, every office building and corporate campus did the same thing — got rid of throwaway cups, lids, plates, cutlery, straws, bags, etc. So that everywhere you go, you are getting what you want without all the waste, in reusable systems that are created and run by business. The really great news is that this is happening right now. All over the world, businesses, college campuses and communities are saying no to disposable packaging and designing reusable systems that are convenient, sustainable and way more fun than the old throwaway model. Here’s just a few examples: In Switzerland, ReCircle is serving hundreds of to-go oriented restaurants with reusable containers. In Germany, cities such as Freiberg, Hamburg and Berlin have reusable coffee cups on deposit at cafes throughout each city. Companies such as CupClub, DishJoy and VesselWorks are creating reusable systems for coffee cups, dishware, to-go-containers and more, for businesses, campuses, office buildings and communities that want to ditch throwaway for reusable. In Portland, Oregon, and Durham, North Carolina, businesses and community members have developed reusable to-go container systems to serve restaurants and patrons. So, how do we replace the throwaway society with a culture of stewardship? We believe that there are important roles for communities, businesses and individuals.


From our perspective, the biggest opportunities for communities are to address grocery stores and retail, restaurants and institutional dining, and food delivery: Here's the low-hanging fruit: Plastic bag bans/disposable bag fees (including fees on disposable paper bags). Polystyrene (Styrofoam) container ban. Straws on request. From there, the next levels are: Bans on plastic cutlery, straws, stirrers. Requiring on-site dining to be reusable — no disposable plates, cups, cutlery for dining-in. Fees on to-go disposables — cups, to-go containers, primarily. Developing and marketing public water "hydration stations" (and ditching bottled water in community buildings). Most important: developing community-wide reusable systems for to-go cups and containers. Once the reusable system is in place, incorporate it into food-delivery. Institutions (universities, corporate campuses) and places of commerce (malls, airports, stadiums) are mini-communities and can follow the same kinds of policies to develop their own reusable systems. Because these are closed systems, the facilities managers have a lot of power to create rules for the vendors that operate on their campus or in their buildings.


Companies have the responsibility to identify their high-pollution products and begin taking steps to change. Businesses — especially grocers, retail and foodservice operations — also can take the same steps as communities and institutions (outlined above) either on their own, or in partnership with other businesses. Companies have the responsibility to identify their high-pollution products and begin taking steps to change. If your community hasn’t developed a reusable to-go system yet, you can deeply discount reusable containers and encourage your customers to bring them. You also can charge for disposables — and publicize that you’re doing so — in an effort to do the same. More important, you can get ahead of the curve and develop a reusable system for your own customers, test what works and be a model for the rest of the business community. For multinational corporations, the actions really break down by sector: Beverage industry — bottles and caps, six-pack holders. Beverage companies voluntarily should use existing technology to attach their bottle-caps to the bottles. They also could ensure that their products don’t end up in the environment by supporting state-level connect-the-cap and bottle-deposit legislation, which works remarkably well to ensure people recycle their plastic bottles. After deposits are in place, the real game-changer is figuring out how to bring refillables back as they do in many parts of the world. Personal care products and sundries — sachets. This is by no means an easy problem to solve, but for much of human history people got their sundries and personal care products in reusable containers. Reusable delivery systems that protect the integrity of the product, avoid contamination, provide for sales of affordable portions and allow for market competition may be one of the better ways to solve the ubiquitous problem of sachets in the environment. Consumer packaged goods — most wrapped convenience food packaging, such as food wrappers, chip bags, etc. This is probably the hardest one to tackle. Two tracks: Design change. Today, to my knowledge, no material besides plastic provides shelf-stable packaging for convenience food for the 12 to 18 months that vendors require of consumer packaged goods companies. There likely needs to be massive investment to design truly safe, biodegradable packaging (in ambient environmental conditions), yet maintain a shelf-stable consumable food product for 12 months. Culture change. There is no question consumers worldwide need to slowly wean ourselves off junk food and eat healthier. It’s possible we can start to do this by eating less packaged food on the go, emphasizing slowing down to enjoy healthy meals out, and to make healthier food at home. Big picture, business needs to start figuring out how to start kicking the plastic habit across the board. Because plastic pollution isn’t just about plastic in the ocean. It’s one long toxic supply chain that takes a massive toll on the environment and human health. From fracked natural gas wells contaminating drinking water; to pipelines scarring the landscape; to the sacrifice zones — especially among communities of color — in the Gulf South where petrochemicals are turned into plastic. We need to find better ways to deliver food and products without this kind of harm.


Bringing your own coffee cup and reusable water bottle are great first steps, but we believe the most important thing you can do is create demand for the changes in your community and with the businesses you support. That starts with a conversation. Just like with straws, every individual conversation about throwaway plastic can start more conversations, which can start more conversations which can change the world. If your community, school or workplace hasn’t yet begun to address throwaway plastic, begin a group — or join one — to start having conversations about how to get these policies adopted. Make sure to reach out to the businesses you frequent and start conversations with them. Better yet, do it with your friends and family. When we act in private, we can feel good about not contributing to the problem, but we don’t change the narrative. When we act visibly in our community and with our community — and foster conversations about doing things better — then we start to change the norms of what’s acceptable and what isn’t in our society. And that has the power to change the world more rapidly and more transformatively than anything else.