Plastic manufacturing operations come with significant environmental risks. This was on display when a Poly America plastics plant in Grand Prairie Texas became the site of a massive fire this week, pouring toxic fumes into the surrounding region. Explosions were heard and black plumes of smoke seen from miles away. The scale of the fire made it impossible for firefighters to extinguish. Instead, a containment strategy was employed, with the fire continuing to burn at least two days after it ignited on Wednesday. Plastic incineration is well known to release toxic pollutants into the air. Officials warned community members to avoid the area, especially those with respiratory conditions, acknowledging that the fire was releasing potentially harmful fumes. Local residents were warned to keep their windows closed.
We really don't know how much plastic is in the ocean... but it's a lot. A new study out this week in the prestigious journal Nature Communications reported that the amount of plastic in our oceans is likely to be at least 10x greater than other recent estimates. The new study estimates there are at least 21 million tons of microplastic in the upper levels of the Atlantic ocean alone.
Supposedly, a new type of plastic has been invented that does not degrade in quality when recycled. This stands in contrast to the status quo of plastic recycling -- unlike infinitely recyclable materials like aluminum, most plastics can only be recycled once or twice before they must head to the landfill.
Finally, a new study published in Frontiers in Environmental Science reports that a harmful chemical constituent of plastic may leach from microplastics when they are ingested by seabirds. The plastic additives studied -- including plasticizers, antioxidants, UV stabilizers, flame retardants, and preservatives -- include substances that are known endocrine disruptors and carcinogens. Although the long-term health consequences for seabirds are still poorly understood, sea birds are documented to ingest plastic on a regular basis. One recent study found that 95% of birds had microplastics in their system.
Good news out of New York this week, where the Department of Environmental Conservation won a lawsuit brought by plastic producers, seeking to block New York's plastic bag ban. The plastic bag ban in New York technically took effect in March, but has so far not been enforced. The outcome of this week's lawsuit will enable New York to move forward with enforcing the law. Currently, 23 billion plastic bags are used each year in New York State alone.
Meanwhile, this week the German Environment Minister voiced support for shifting cost of plastic waste management to producers, rather than citizens, saying that it's "only fair, that we disburden citizens and in turn ask the one-way manufacturers to front up on costs". Let's hope this translates into useful action
As you probably know by now, so-called "bioplastics" are not as great as they sound. Although created from plant-based materials like corn, for the most part they have the same properties as traditional plastic, and are NOT biodegradable. Bioplastics that are biodegradable often require industrial composting methods to make that happen, and will not decompose if simply left to rot in the backyard. That's why this new bioplastic straw developed by Danimer Scientific and Wincup just won the 2020 "#Innovation in Bioplastics Award". It is billed as the first straw of its kind -- a genuinely backyard-compostable alternative to traditional straws.
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