Even in the face of the pandemic, legislative progress restricting single-use plastics is continuing to move forward:
As usual, California is a leader of environmental progress in the US. This week, supporters of the "Plastics Free California" initiative successfully submitted nearly 900,000 signatures, qualifying it to appear on November's ballot. The proposal aims to reduce plastic pollution by gradually restricting the amount of single use plastics sold by 25% across the next 10 years. The proposal also includes funding for cleanup, environmental restoration, and recycling efforts. Go California!
Meanwhile, New Zealand is moving forward with a proposal to phase-out certain hard-to-recycle single use plastics. The proposal focuses on PVC and polystyrene, as well as specific single-use items including plastic cutlery, produce stickers, and bags. The bans would be gradually introduced across the next 5 years.
But not all policy news was positive. A commentary by leading researchers in this week's issue of Science decried a recent Trump-administration rule that significantly weakens the Clean Waters Act. The recently published rule restricts federal protections to a more narrow definition of "navigable waters". Effectively, this removes pollution protections from millions of miles of critical stream and wetland habitats.
A new article just out in the journal Energy Storage describes a method by which PET plastic bottles can be upcycled into a carbon-based material that stores energy (specifically, a "supercapacitor"). Think of it as turning plastic bottles into batteries!
COVID-19 PPE waste has become a significant new source of plastic pollution. What alternatives do we have? A preliminary study from the Phillipine Department of Science and Technology suggests that masks made from abaca fiber -- derived from a relative of banana trees -- may be just as effective as synthetic-fiber masks, while offering a sustainable and quickly biodegradable alternative. Abaca-based masks have material characteristics that match CDC guidelines, while easily decomposing within 2 months.
Meanwhile, #greenwashing continues to pour unabated out of industry. This week Google launched a new phone case made from 70% recycled plastic bottles. Product announcements like this make consumers feel better about corporations like Google, but yet do little to offset their massive environmental impacts.
New reading and listening opportunities this week include the latest edition of the "NothingWasted!" podcast, in which you can hear from Kristine Berg, a member of the all-female "eXXpedition" sailing mission, voyaging around the globe to study marine plastic pollution and raise awareness of the crisis. Also this week, EcoWatch published an interesting case study of a Japanese town that has tried to go "zero-waste". The lesson? Great progress in this town... but despite best efforts, 100% zero-waste can never be achieved without systemic changes in global supply chains. On a municipal scale, some plastics are unavoidable and recyclable without systems-level change.
Finally, in another small but painful dispatch from the plastic crisis, a group of 28 seals were saved, after becoming entangled in plastic waste near an island off the coast of Russia.