Tuesday 22 May 2018

New Zealand's growing sea of plastic a symptom of a larger predicament

They can talk about solutions as much as they like. This is just one more part of the predicament that humanity faces.

Push come to shove, we ignore the elephant in the room: there are far too many humans.

Economic growth? Sure, but the top 1 percent are getting it all

New Zealand’s growing sea of plastic

Just south of Thames is this mind bogglingly massive city of plastic -- a sprawling wasteland growing daily, after China decided it would no longer be the world's dumping ground. "To be honest, we don't know what to do," says boss Grahame Christian

China's plastic ban: Exports to other parts of Asia soar

China's ban on importing plastic has caused the amount of waste New Zealand sends to other parts of Asia to skyrocket.

Plastic rubbish at sea.Plastic rubbish at sea. Photo: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Cesar Harada

5 April, 2018

China stopped accepting 24 different types of waste, including plastic and paper, at the start of this year because it said contaminants were polluting its environment.

In the first three months of 2017 New Zealand exported $1.7 million dollars worth of plastic to China - during the same period this year that dropped to $100,000.

But other countries are willing to take the rubbish that China won't - New Zealand's exports to Malaysia so far this year are up 500 percent on the same time last year, from $56,000 to $345,000.

Exports to Indonesia are also up, jumping 150 percent from $320,000 to $812,000.

Thailand's imports from New Zealand have doubled, from $269,000 to 549,000 and Vietnam's are up 75 percent, from $43,000 to $75,000.

China previously took more than half of the world's waste exports and plastic prices have plummeted since the ban came into effect.

While some businesses are willing to sell at the lower price, one of New Zealand's largest waste companies is stockpiling while it waits for the market to improve.

Smart Environmental managing director Grahame Christian said it had around 1000 tonnes of plastic stored at warehouses around the country.

"We are sitting on a massive amount of paper and plastics, we are aware of new markets opening up but they are not mature, to our knowledge, so right now we've got the double whammy of very low prices and very high levels of stock."

Mr Christian's company deals with waste from 14 councils, representing around 20 percent of the country's plastic.

He said New Zealand's plastic exports were of a very high standard and it was contaminated products from other countries that were causing problems in China

"I would still think that provided the product meets the quality standard, that China will open back up," he said.

WasteMINZ chief executive Paul Evans said Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam were expected to pick up the lion's share of imports when China's ban came into effect, but there were concerns about the processes in those countries.

"Some of those countries don't have the greatest track records when it comes to environmental protections and particularly when compared to somewhere like New Zealand.

"We need to ensure that when we are sending materials overseas that they are being processed in an appropriate way," he said.

Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage said more money for the Waste Minimisation Fund, which could fund onshore processing, could be boosted if levies to landfills were expanded.

But she said the government had ruled out any new taxes in this term - including a plastic tax.

"However, that's why the fund needs to be increased to assist progressive companies.

"And that whole notion that we take from nature and we throw-away, that's got to change, so that we take, we use and reuse and reuse," she said.

Sustainable Coastlines co-founder Camden Howitt said recycling was not the answer in dealing with New Zealand's waste.

"It does seem a bit crazy to import materials from the other side of the world, bring them here, use them once and send them round the other side of the world just to recycle them into something else," he said.

Mr Howitt said it was an example of transferring one environmental problem to another, in a different location and the solution needed to focus on not creating the waste in the first place.

Recycling, once embraced by businesses and environmentalists, now under siege – “Recycling as we know it isn’t working”

14 May, 2018

By Bob Tita
13 May 2018

(The Wall Street Journal) – The U.S. recycling industry is breaking down.

Prices for scrap paper and plastic have collapsed, leading local officials across the country to charge residents more to collect recyclables and send some to landfills. Used newspapers, cardboard boxes and plastic bottles are piling up at plants that can’t make a profit processing them for export or domestic markets.

Recycling as we know it isn’t working,” said James Warner, chief executive of the Solid Waste Management Authority in Lancaster County, Pa. “There’s always been ups and downs in the market, but this is biggest disruption that I can recall.”

U.S. recycling programs took off in the 1990s as calls to bury less trash in landfills coincided with China’s demand for materials like corrugated cardboard to feed its economic boom. Ship lines eagerly filled containers that had brought manufactured goods to the U.S. with paper, scrap metal and plastic bottles for the return trip to China.

As cities aggressively expanded recycling programs to keep more discarded household items out of landfills, the purity of U.S. scrap deteriorated as more trash infiltrated the recyclables. Discarded food, liquid-soaked paper and other contaminants recently accounted for as much as 20% of the material shipped to China, according to Waste Management Inc.’s estimates, double from five years ago.

The tedious and sometimes dangerous work of separating out that detritus at processing plants in China prompted officials there to slash the contaminants limit this year to 0.5%. China last week suspended all imports of U.S. recycled materials until June 4, regardless of the quality. The recycling industry interpreted the move as part of the growing rift between the U.S. and China over trade policies and tariffs.

The changes have effectively cut off exports from the U.S., the world’s largest generator of scrap paper and plastic. Collectors, processors and the municipal governments that hire them are reconsidering what they will accept to recycle and how much homeowners pay for that service. Many trash haulers and city agencies that paid for curbside collection by selling scrap said they are now losing money on almost every ton they handle.

The upended economics are likely to permanently change the U.S. recycling business, said William Moore, president of Moore & Associates, a recycled paper consultancy in Atlanta.

It’s going to take domestic demand to replace what China was buying,” he said. “It’s not going to be a quick turnaround. It’s going to be a long-term issue.” [more]

Single-use plastic has reached the world’s deepest ocean trench

18 April 2018 (UNEP) – A new article, Human footprint in the abyss: 30 year records of deep-sea plastic debris, reveals human activities are affecting the deepest part of the ocean, more than 1000km from the mainland.

Plastic pollution is emerging as one of the most serious threats to ocean ecosystems. World leaders, scientists and communities recognise the urgent need for action, but the impacts of plastic pollution are not well understood.
To raise awareness of the far-reaching effects of plastic pollution, ocean scientists used information from the Deep-sea Debris Database. The Global Oceanographic Data Centre of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology launched this database for public use in 2017. It contains over 30 years of photos and videos of debris that have been collected by deep-sea submersibles and remotely operated vehicles.
The data revealed that, from 5010 dives, more than 3000 pieces of man-made debris – including plastic, metal, rubber and fishing gear – were counted. Over a third of debris found was macro-plastic, 89% of which was single-use products. In areas deeper than 6000m, over half of debris was plastic, almost all of which was single-use.
The article also reveals that single-use plastic has reached the world’s deepest ocean trench - a plastic bag was found in the Mariana Trench, 10,898m below the surface. The ubiquitous distribution of single-use plastic, even to the greatest depths of the ocean, reveal a clear link between daily human activities and the remotest of environments.
Once in the deep-sea, plastic can persist for thousands of years. Deep-sea ecosystems are highly endemic and have a very slow growth rate, so the potential threats from plastic pollution are concerning. There is growing concern that deep-sea ecosystems are already being damaged by direct exploitation of both biological and non-biological resources – through deep-sea trawling, mining and infrastructure development, for example. The results of this study show that deep-sea ecosystems are also being affected indirectly by human activities.
Reducing the production of plastic waste seems to be the only solution to the problem of deep-sea plastic pollution. A global monitoring network is needed to share the limited data on deep-sea plastic pollution, and impact assessment surveys should be prioritised for biologically and ecologically important areas with high concentrations of plastic debris, and to use ocean circulation models to identify how plastic is travelling from land to the deep-sea.
Single-use plastic has reached the world's deepest ocean trench

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