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Big Oil Big Soda and plastically polluted Planet Earth

They really sold people on the idea that plastics can be recycled because there’s a fraction of them that are,”..“It’s fraudulent. When you drill down into plastics recycling, you realize it’s a myth.” …… “Recycling delays, rather than avoids, final disposal,” the Science authors write. And most plastics persist for centuries. …….

We are all guinea pigs in this experiment, as plastics accumulate in the food web, appearing in seafood, table salt, and ironically even in bottled water. Many plastics are mixed with a toxic brew of colorants, flame retardants, and plasticizers. 

PLANET PLASTIC, How Big Oil and Big Soda kept a global environmental calamity a secret for decades, Rolling Stone, By TIM DICKINSONMARCH 3, 2020   

Every human on Earth is ingesting nearly 2,000 particles of plastic a week. These tiny pieces enter our unwitting bodies from tap water, food, and even the air, according to an alarming academic study sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, dosing us with five grams of plastics, many cut with chemicals linked to cancers, hormone disruption, and developmental delays. Since the paper’s publication last year, Sen. Tom Udall, a plain-spoken New Mexico Democrat with a fondness for white cowboy hats and turquoise bolo ties, has been trumpeting the risk: “We are consuming a credit card’s worth of plastic each week,” Udall says. At events with constituents, he will brandish a Visa from his wallet and declare, “You’re eating this, folks!”

With new legislation, the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2020, Udall is attempting to marshal Washington into a confrontation with the plastics industry, and to force companies that profit from plastics to take accountability for the waste they create. …….

The battle pits Udall and his allies in Congress against some of the most powerful corporate interests on the planet, including the oil majors and chemical giants that produce the building blocks for our modern plastic world — think Exxon, Dow, and Shell — and consumer giants like Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and Unilever that package their products in the stuff. Big Plastic isn’t a single entity. It’s more like a corporate supergroup: Big Oil meets Big Soda — with a puff of Big Tobacco, responsible for trillions of plastic cigarette butts in the environment every year. And it combines the lobbying and public-relations might of all three………

Massive quantities of this forever material are spilling into the oceans — the equivalent of a dump-truck load every minute. Plastic is also fouling our mountains, our farmland, and spiraling into an unmitigatable environmental disaster. John Hocevar is a marine biologist who leads the Oceans Campaign for Greenpeace, and spearheaded the group’s response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf. Increasingly, his work has centered on plastics. “This is a much bigger problem than ‘just’ an ocean issue, or even a pollution issue,” he says. “We’ve found plastic everywhere we’ve ever looked. It’s in the Arctic and the Antarctic and in the middle of the Pacific. It’s in the Pyrenees and in the Rockies. It’s settling out of the air. It’s raining down on us.”

More than half the plastic now on Earth has been created since 2002, and plastic pollution is on pace to double by 2030. At its root, the global plastics crisis is a product of our addiction to fossil fuels. The private profit and public harm of the oil industry is well understood: Oil is refined and distributed to consumers, who benefit from gasoline’s short, useful lifespan in a combustion engine, leaving behind atmospheric pollution for generations. But this same pattern — and this same tragedy of the commons — is playing out with another gift of the oil-and-gas giants, whose drilling draws up the petroleum precursors for plastics. These are refined in industrial complexes and manufactured into bottles, bags, containers, textiles, and toys for consumers who benefit from their transient use — before throwing them away.

“Plastics are just a way of making things out of fossil fuels,” says Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network. BAN is devoted to enforcement of the Basel Convention, an international treaty that blocks the developed world from dumping hazardous wastes on the developing world, and was recently expanded, effective next year, to include plastics. For Americans who religiously sort their recycling, it’s upsetting to hear about plastic being lumped in with toxic waste. But the poisonous parallel is apt. When it comes to plastic, recycling is a misnomer. “They really sold people on the idea that plastics can be recycled because there’s a fraction of them that are,” says Puckett. “It’s fraudulent. When you drill down into plastics recycling, you realize it’s a myth.” 

Since 1950, the world has created 6.3 trillion kilograms of plastic waste — and 91 percent has never been recycled even once, according to a landmark 2017 study published in the journal Science Advances. Unlike aluminum, which can be recycled again and again, plastic degrades in reprocessing, and is almost never recycled more than once. A plastic soda bottle, for example, might get downcycled into a carpet. Modern technology has hardly improved things: Of the 78 billion kilograms of plastic packaging materials produced in 2013, only 14 percent were even collected for recycling, and just two percent were effectively recycled to compete with virgin plastic. “Recycling delays, rather than avoids, final disposal,” the Science authors write. And most plastics persist for centuries. …….

The worst of our global plastics crisis is borne by the oceans. Roughly 8 billion kilograms of plastics enter the world’s waters every year, and the problem is most acute in emerging coastal economies. The volume entering oceans can be hard to comprehend, admits Jenna Jambeck, an engineering professor at the University of Georgia who has published pathbreaking science that quantifies plastic “leakage” to the oceans. “It’s equal to five grocery-size bags full of plastic for every foot of coastline in the world,” she says. “If you imagine us all standing, hand-to-hand, covering the coastline of the entire world, this is what’s in front of each one of us.”

Marine plastics picked up by the currents collect in massive ocean “gyres” — the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is now twice the size of Texas. These are swirling petrochemical spills, but unlike crude oil, the long molecular chains in plastics don’t exist in nature and don’t meaningfully biodegrade. “The same properties that make plastics so versatile,” the Science Advances authors, including Jambeck, write, “make these materials difficult or impossible for nature to assimilate.” Instead, bulk plastics wear down into microplastics — a category for particles smaller than 5 millimeters, or roughly the width of your pinkie fingernail — deteriorating further into nanoplastic particles.

In the open water, plastics are consumed by fish, seabirds, and mammals — which are washing up dead in harrowing numbers. Last year, whales in Italy and the Philippines died just weeks apart, their stomachs packed with indigestible plastic bags. In December, a sperm whale washed ashore in Scotland with more than 200 pounds of plastic in its gut. The pollution visible on the ocean surface represents just one percent of what humans have dumped into the oceans. The rest lies beneath, including seven miles deep in the Mariana Trench, where researchers have spotted plastic bags and measured microplastics at concentrations of 2,000 parts per liter. Without dramatic change, the amount of plastics entering the oceans every year, already intolerable, is projected to more than double by 2025.

The story on dry land is hardly more comforting. Plastics are widely used in agriculture and “microplastic pollution is somewhere between four and 23 times higher in the soil than in the sea,” says Lili Fuhr, editor of Plastic Atlas, which documents the reach of global plastic pollution. Microplastics, thought to be carried by the winds, have been found in pristine terrestrial environments, including the polar ice caps. In Colorado, plastic fibers have been discovered in precipitation. “It’s in the rain, it’s in the snow,” lamented United States Geological Survey researcher Greg Wetherbee. “It’s a part of our environment now.” Even landfills may be creating long-term hazards. A 2019 study in Water Research found microplastic contamination as high as 24 parts per liter in landfill runoff, offering “preliminary evidence…that landfill isn’t the final sink of plastics,” the researchers wrote, “but a potential source of microplastics.”

This pollution is planetwide, impossible to fully remediate, and threatens to disrupt natural systems — including those that allow the oceans to remove carbon from the atmosphere. “Humans are conducting a singular uncontrolled experiment on a global scale,” write the researchers in Science Advances, “in which billions of metric tons of material will accumulate across all major terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems on the planet.”

We are all guinea pigs in this experiment, as plastics accumulate in the food web, appearing in seafood, table salt, and ironically even in bottled water. Many plastics are mixed with a toxic brew of colorants, flame retardants, and plasticizers. 

Joe Vaillancourt is the CEO of a company that refines waste plastic into fuel — a process that requires removing such contaminants from curbside recycling. “In one little 10-pound batch,” he says, “we found a thousand different chemicals.” Some of these additives are linked to cancer and severe health problems. As plastics break down over time, they can also absorb toxins from the environment, including PCBs.

The threat to human health is complex and poorly understood. “There are a lot more questions than answers at this point,” says Mark Hahn, a toxicologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who studies microplastics. Some plastic likely passes through the human gut like so much sand, he says. But scientists have found that tiny plastic particles can insinuate themselves into the bloodstream of mussels and the organs of fish. Airborne nanoplastics can also be inhaled into the lungs. “Are they lodging somewhere and physically blocking something, or causing an inflammatory reaction,” Hahn asks, “or are they carrying their additives and contaminants and delivering them somewhere — you know, to the brain?” Hahn, a sober and skeptical scientist, is concerned about the rising tide of plastic in the environment. “If there is a problem now,” he says, “it’s only going to get worse.”………….


March 7, 2020 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, environment, Reference, secrets,lies and civil liberties, spinbuster

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