Plastic garbage covers Central American rivers, lakes and beaches

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Plastic waste floats on the Cerron Grande reservoir in Potonico, El Salvador.

A blanket of multi-colored plastic waste flowing in from tributaries covers Lake Suchitlan in El Salvador.

It is a sorry scene that has also become an all too common sight on the Caribbean beaches of Honduras, where thousands of tons of rubbish arrive from neighboring Guatemala.

Fizzy drink bottles, medication packets, tattered flipflops: all sorts of plastic rubbish can be found floating on 13,500-hectare (52 square mile) Lake Suchitlan, which serves as a reservoir for a power plant and is considered by UNESCO to be a wetland of international importance.

Local fishermen say the pollution forces tilapia and cichlid fish deeper into the artificial lake—the largest body of freshwater in the country—where they cannot be reached with .

“It has been more than two months since we’ve been able to fish,” angler Luis Penate, 25, told AFP.

To make ends meet he has started ferrying around tourists in a boat owned by another fisherman.

Ducks clear paths through the rubbish, little tortoises climb on top of floating bottles to sunbathe and skinny horses wade into the lake to drink the .

This contamination is unprecedented, says Jacinto Tobar, the mayor of Potonico, a small village 100 kilometers north of San Salvador in Chalatenango department.

A horse surrounded by plastic waste drinks water in the Cerron Grande reservoir in Potonico, El Salvador.

“The fauna and flora are suffering a lot” and there are ever fewer tourists, he said.

The fishermen must also compete with 1.5 million black cormorants that inhabit the lake, according to Tobar, who says they have become a type of plague since arriving as and then staying put.

With a population of 2,500, Potonico is the most affected of 15 riverside villages.

The state body that administers the reservoir employs dozens of workers to clean the lake by hand.

Some locals also help out with the task, which Tobar says will take three to four months to complete.

“What can we hope for in the future if we don’t look after our environment, if we soil our streets, rivers, lakes, forests and beaches,” said President Nayib Bukele earlier this week at the launch of a “Zero Rubbish” campaign.

Environment minister Fernando Lopez said the country generates 4,200 tons of a day, of which 1,200 tons end up in rivers, beaches and streets.

A fisherman looks out over the carpet of plastic waste covering the Cerron Grande reservoir in Potonico, El Salvador.

‘Unable to stop it’

One of the worst affected areas of the Central American Caribbean coast is the beaches of the Omoa region in Honduras.

It is a beautiful coastline with abundant vegetation and , some 200 kilometers (120 miles) north of Tegucigalpa.

But in some places the sand is almost entirely covered with plastic waste of all sorts, including syringes.

“This rubbish comes from the Motagua river on the Guatemalan side, they weren’t able to stop it,” said Candido Flores, 76, a local resident.

“As the river rises, it returns again.”

It has created islands of floating waste that have been denounced by local authorities and activists, and has even caused tensions between the two countries.

Every year, some 20,000 tons of plastic waste comes through the Las Vacas river, a tributary of the Motagua, according to The Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch NGO.

People in a boat clean up plastic rubbish from the Cerron Grande in Potonico, El Salvador by hand.

Most of that comes from a landfill in the Guatemalan capital.

Environmental activists say the problem must be tackled at its source.

“We must attack where the main flow of rubbish comes from,” said Eduardo Arguera, 29, an architecture student at the University of El Salvador, who has launched several clean up campaigns.

To contain plastic waste and prevent it from reaching rivers and lakes, he suggests fencing it in at strategic points.

Ricardo Navarro, president of the Center of Appropriate Technology, says only 30 percent of the waste floats; the rest sinks to the bottom of the bodies of water.

Meaning what is visible, quite literally, is just the tip of the iceberg.

The United Nations Environment Programme says 11 million metric tons of plastic enters the world’s oceans every year, and warns that number could triple in the next 20 years.

© 2022 AFP

Plastic garbage covers Central American rivers, lakes and beaches (2022, September 16)
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Fishing gear and plastic bag pieces found in the stomach of a dead sperm whale in Keys

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Biologists conducting an necropsy on a sperm whale that beached itself in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico in the Florida Keys said they found man-made materials in the mammal’s stomach that likely contributed to its death.

The was one of two that died in Florida Keys waters within seven days. The other was a that became separated from its mother off Key Largo on May 4.

Both deaths are under investigation, but state and federal scientists say they don’t initially appear to be related.

Carlisle Jones, spokeswoman with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said the whale that died Tuesday—a 47-foot adult male—”had a mass of intertwined line, net pieces and a plastic bag type of material in its stomach.”

The items were found Wednesday by the state agency and federal biologists conducting the necropsy, an animal autopsy, on the large mammal on the docks of Robbie’s Marina in Stock Island near Key West. A boat towing company took the whale there the day before from where it was found off Mud Key, an island about 15 miles northeast of Key West.

“The debris likely did not allow the whale to eat properly, leading to its emaciated condition and stranding,” Jones said Thursday.

Scientists, however, still need to conduct more diagnostic analysis on the collected from the whale during the necropsy to confirm the exact cause of stranding and , Jones said.

“The material collected from its stomach will also be sent out to determine its type and where it may have originated from,” Jones said.

Sperm whales are listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act and “depleted” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. They are the largest of the toothed whales and are found in oceans throughout the world, including in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean in South Florida.

They mostly live and hunt in very , however, so it’s rare to see them near shore in the Keys where the water is typically shallow. And when they are spotted there, that’s usually a sign they are sick or in distress.

The calf that died last week still had an open umbilical cord when it was found on a small barrier island off John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo in the Upper Keys, said Blair Mase, southeast regional marine mammal stranding coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Fisheries Service.

Necropsy results are still pending in the 9 1/2-foot-long female whale’s death, but Mase said the fact she was separated from her mother so soon after birth was likely a significant contributing factor.

2022 Miami Herald
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Fishing gear and plastic bag pieces found in the stomach of a dead sperm whale in Keys (2022, May 13)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove France bans plastic packaging for fruit and veg

Hexbyte Glen Cove

No more plastic bags and packaging for many fruits and veg in France.

A ban on the use of plastic to package a range of fruit and vegetables came into force in France on Saturday, to the dismay of the sector’s packaging industry.

Environmentalists have long campaigned against as pollution worsens globally while President Emmanuel Macron has backed the move defending a “pragmatic” approach.

The October decree covers for example the sale of under 1.5 kilos (3.3 lbs) of apples.

However, the full legislation will not be applied until 2026, allowing firms to adapt, including on the sale of red fruits considered fragile.

Six months has also been granted to use up existing plastic packaging stocks.

“We were never consulted,” complained Laurent Grandin, head of the fruit and vegetable sector’s Interfel association.

He told AFP the costs were “insurmountable” for small companies who would have to keep using plastic to protect exports, notably to Britain, a major client for apples.

Pomanjou produces up to 40,000 tonnes of apples annually in the Loire valley and has over the last three years introduced 100 percent cardboard packing.

However packing costs have as a result soared 20 to30 percent, said company representative Arnaud de Puineuf.

Big supermarket group Casino said it will now sell tomatoes in cardboard packaging and provide customers with paper or cellulose bags.

The packaging companies say the October 8 decree caught them by surprise, particularly the ban on recycled plastics.

“We have client firms … who will have to stop their fruit and vegetable packing activity, even though they have been working on alternatives using less plastic or recycled plastic for several years,” said a statement from the Elipso association that represents manufacturers.

‘Market distortion’

Elipso and Polyvia, a union covering 3,500 firms making packaging, have appealed to France’s State Council, which has jurisdiction over administrative disputes, against what they say is a distortion of European markets as the ban applies solely to France.

But Armand Chaigne, director of industrial markets at packaging firm DS Smith, sees the benefits, notably for cardboard manufacturers.

“It is estimated that in Europe, out of the eight million tonnes of plastic produced per year for single-use packaging, 1.5 million tonnes could already be removed,” he said.

“That represents about 70 billion units of single-use “, or “about seven billion euros ($7.9 billion) of additional turnover potential for cardboard.”

© 2022 AFP

France bans plastic packaging for fruit and veg (2022, January 2)
retrieved 2 January 2022

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Turning wood into plastic thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Turning wood into plastic

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Credit: Unsplash/CC0 Public Domain

Efforts to shift from petrochemical plastics to renewable and biodegradable plastics have proven tricky—the production process can require toxic chemicals and is expensive, and the mechanical strength and water stability is often insufficient. But researchers have made a breakthrough, using wood byproducts, that shows promise for producing more durable and sustainable bioplastics.

A study published in Nature Sustainability, co-authored by Yuan Yao, assistant professor of industrial ecology and sustainable systems at Yale School of the Environment (YSE), outlines the process of deconstructing the porous matrix of natural wood into a slurry. The researchers say the resulting material shows a high , stability when holding liquids, and UV-light resistance. It can also be recycled or safely biodegraded in the natural environment, and has a lower life-cycle when compared with petroleum-based plastics and other .

“There are many people who have tried to develop these kinds of polymers in , but the mechanical strands are not good enough to replace the plastics we currently use, which are made mostly from fossil fuels,” says Yao. “We’ve developed a straightforward and simple manufacturing process that generates biomass-based plastics from wood, but also plastic that delivers good mechanical properties as well.”

To create the slurry mixture, the researchers used a wood powder—a processing residue usually discarded as waste in lumber mills—and deconstructed the loose, porous structure of the powder with a biodegradable and recyclable deep eutectic solvent (DES). The resulting mixture, which features nanoscale entanglement and hydrogen bonding between the regenerated lignin and cellulose micro/nanofibrils, has a high solid content and high viscosity, which can be casted and rolled without breaking.

Yao then led a comprehensive life cycle assessment to test the environmental impacts of the against commons plastics. Sheets of the bioplastic were buried in soil, fracturing after two weeks and completely degrading after three months; additionally, researchers say the bioplastic can be broken back down into the slurry by mechanical stirring, which also allows for the DES to be recovered and reused.

“That, to me, is what really makes this plastic good: It can all be recycled or biodegraded,” says Yao. “We’ve minimized all of the materials and the waste going into nature.”

The bioplastic has numerous applications, says Liangbing Hu, a professor at the Center for Materials Innovation at the University of Maryland and co-author of the paper. It can be molded into a film that can be used in plastic bags and packaging—one of the major uses of plastic and causes of waste production. Hu also says that because the bioplastic can be molded into different shapes, it has potential for use in automobile manufacturing, as well.

One area the research team continues to investigate is the potential impact on forests if the manufacturing of this bioplastic is scaled up. While the process currently uses wood byproducts in manufacturing, the researchers say they are keenly aware that large-scale production could require usage of massive amounts of , which could have far-reaching implications on forests, , ecosystems and climate change, to name a few.

Yao says the research team has already begun working with a forest ecologist to create forest simulation models, linking the growth cycle of forests with the manufacturing process. She also sees an opportunity to collaborate with people who work in forest-related fields at YSE—an uncommon convenience.

“It’s not often an engineer can walk down the hall and talk to a forester,” says Yao.

More information:
A strong, biodegradable and recyclable lignocellulosic bioplastic, Nature Sustainability (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41893-021-00702-w

Turning wood into plastic (2021, March 25)
retrieved 26 March 2021

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Plastic recycling results in rare metals being found in children's toys and food packaging thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Plastic recycling results in rare metals being found in children’s toys and food packaging

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Dr Andrew Turner. Credit: University of Plymouth

Some of the planet’s rarest metals—used in the manufacture of smartphones and other electrical equipment—are increasingly being found in everyday consumer plastics, according to new research.

Scientists from the University of Plymouth and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign tested a range of new and used products including children’s toys, office equipment and cosmetic containers.

Through a number of detailed assessments, they examined levels of rare earth elements (REEs) but also quantities of bromine and antimony, used as flame retardants in electrical equipment and a sign of the presence of recycled electronic .

The results showed one or more REEs were found in 24 of the 31 products tested, including items where unregulated recycling is prohibited such as single-use food packaging.

They were most commonly observed in samples containing bromine and antimony at levels insufficient to effect flame retardancy, but also found in plastics where those chemicals weren’t present.

Having also been found in beached marine plastics, the study’s authors have suggested there is evidence that REEs are ubiquitous and pervasive contaminants of both contemporary and historical consumer and environmental plastics.

The study, published in Science of the Total Environment, is the first to systematically investigate the full suite of REEs in a broad range of consumer plastics.

While they have previously been found in a variety of environments—including , soils and the atmosphere—the study demonstrates the wide REE contamination of the “plastisphere” that does not appear to be related to a single source or activity.

Dr. Andrew Turner, Associate Professor (Reader) in Environmental Sciences at the University of Plymouth and the study’s lead author, said: “Rare earth elements have a variety of critical applications in modern electronic equipment because of their magnetic, phosphorescent and electrochemical properties. However, they are not deliberately added to plastic to serve any function. So their presence is more likely the result of incidental contamination during the mechanical separation and processing of recoverable components.

“The health impacts arising from chronic exposure to small quantities of these metals are unknown. But they have been found in greater levels in food and tap water and certain medicines, meaning plastics are unlikely to represent a significant vector of exposure to the general population. However, they could signify the presence of other more widely known and better-studied chemical additives and residues that are a cause for concern.”

The research is the latest work by Dr. Turner examining the presence of toxic substances within everyday consumer products, marine litter and the wider environment.

In May 2018, he showed that hazardous chemicals such as bromine, antimony and lead are finding their way into food-contact items and other everyday products because manufacturers are using recycled electrical equipment as a source of black plastic.

His work was part of a successful application by the University to earn the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for its pioneering research on microplastics pollution.

It also builds on previous work at the University, which saw scientists blend a smartphone to demonstrate quantities of rare or so-called ‘conflict’ elements in each product.

More information:
Andrew Turner et al, Rare earth elements in plastics, Science of The Total Environment (2021). DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.145405

Plastic recycling results in rare metals being found in children’s toys and food packaging (2021, February 17)
retrieved 18 February 2021

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Plastic pollution is everywhere. Study reveals how it travels thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Plastic pollution is everywhere. Study reveals how it travels

Hexbyte Glen Cove

Credit: Unsplash/CC0 Public Domain

Plastic pollution is ubiquitous today, with microplastic particles from disposable goods found in natural environments throughout the globe, including Antarctica. But how those particles move through and accumulate in the environment is poorly understood. Now a Princeton University study has revealed the mechanism by which microplastics, like Styrofoam, and particulate pollutants are carried long distances through soil and other porous media, with implications for preventing the spread and accumulation of contaminants in food and water sources.

The study, published in Science Advances on November 13, reveals that get stuck when traveling through porous materials such as soil and sediment but later break free and often continue to move substantially further. Identifying this stop-and-restart process and the conditions that control it is new, said Sujit Datta, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering and associated faculty of the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, the High Meadows Environmental Institute and the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials. Previously, researchers thought that when microparticles got stuck, they generally stayed there, which limited understanding of particle spread.

Datta led the research team, which found that the microparticles are pushed free when the rate of fluid flowing through the media remains high enough. The Princeton researchers showed that the process of deposition, or the formation of clogs, and erosion, their breakup, is cyclical; clogs form and then are broken up by fluid pressure over time and distance, moving particles further through the pore space until clogs reform.

“Not only did we find these cool dynamics of particles getting stuck, clogged, building up deposits and then getting pushed through, but that process enables particles to get spread out over much larger distances than we would have thought otherwise,” said Datta.

The team included Navid Bizmark, a postdoctoral research associate in the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials, graduate student Joanna Schneider, and Rodney Priestley, professor of chemical and and vice dean for innovation.

They tested two types of particles, “sticky” and “nonsticky,” which correspond with actual types of microplastics found in the environment. Surprisingly, they found that there was no difference in the process itself; that is, both still clogged and unclogged themselves at high enough fluid pressures. The only difference was where the clusters formed. The “nonsticky” particles tended to get stuck only at narrow passageways, whereas the sticky ones seemed to be able to get trapped at any surface of the solid medium they encountered. As a result of these dynamics, it is now clear that even “sticky” particles can spread out over large areas and throughout hundreds of pores.

In the paper, the researchers describe pumping fluorescent polystyrene microparticles and fluid through a transparent porous media developed in Datta’s lab, and then watching the microparticles move under a microscope. Polystyrene is the plastic microparticle that makes up Styrofoam, which is often littered into soils and waterways through shipping materials and fast food containers. The porous media they created closely mimics the structure of naturally-occurring media, including soils, sediments, and groundwater aquifers.

Typically porous media are opaque, so one cannot see what microparticles are doing or how they flow. Researchers usually measure what goes in and out of the media, and try to infer the processes going on inside. By making transparent porous media, the researchers overcame that limitation.

Research has shown how plastics, depicted here as green particles, travel long distances in soil and other substances through a process of repeatedly getting stuck and then released. Credit: Princeton University/Datta Lab

“Datta and colleagues opened the black box,” said Philippe Coussot, a professor at Ecole des Ponts Paris Tech and an expert in rheology who is unaffiliated with the study.

“We figured out tricks to make the media transparent. Then, by using fluorescent microparticles, we can watch their dynamics in real time using a microscope,” said Datta. “The nice thing is that we can actually see what individual particles are doing under different experimental conditions.”

The study, which Coussot described as a “remarkable experimental approach,” showed that although the Styrofoam microparticles did get stuck at points, they ultimately were pushed free, and moved throughout the entire length of the media during the experiment.

The ultimate goal is to use these particle observations to improve parameters for larger scale models to predict the amount and location of contamination. The models would be based on varying types of and varying particle sizes and chemistries, and help to more accurately predict contamination under various irrigation, rainfall, or ambient flow conditions. The research can help inform mathematical models to better understand the likelihood of a particle moving over a certain distance and reaching a vulnerable destination, such as a nearby farmland, river or aquifer. The researchers also studied how the deposition of microplastic particles impacts the permeability of the medium, including how easily water for irrigation can flow through soil when microparticles are present.

Datta said this experiment is the tip of the iceberg in terms of particles and applications that researchers can now study. “Now that we found something so surprising in a system so simple, we’re excited to see what the implications are for more complex systems,” said Datta.

He said, for example, this principle could yield insight into how clays, minerals, grains, quartz, viruses, microbes and other particles move in media with complex surface chemistries.

The knowledge will also help the researchers understand how to deploy engineered nanoparticles to remediate contaminated groundwater aquifers, perhaps leaked from a manufacturing plant, farm, or urban wastewater stream.

Beyond environmental remediation, the findings are applicable to processes across a spectrum of industries, from drug delivery to filtration mechanisms, effectively any in which particles flow and accumulate, Datta said.

More information:
Multiscale dynamics of colloidal deposition and erosion in porous media, Science Advances (2020). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc2530 ,

Plastic pollution is everywhere. Study reveals how it travels (2020, November 13)
retrieved 16 November 2020

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