By Danielle Nierenberg
The production and disposal of plastic food packaging is energy-intensive and leads to polluted air, soil, and water resources. And once plastics are in circulation, they accumulate in oceans, harming marine life, and break down into smaller microplastics that make their way into food and beverages. Currently, the world's oceans are polluted by more than 5 trillion plastic pieces, collectively weighing over 250,000 tons. And of the 30 million tons of plastic Americans throw away annually, only 8 percent is recycled, according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition.
And COVID-19 is likely spurring an increase in single-use plastics, according to a recent paper from the American Chemical Society. Demand is expected to rise by as much as 14 percent in the United States, due in large part to more food delivery, takeout, and pre-packaged grocery products meant to limit the spread of the virus.
But despite a pandemic, we can limit our use of single use plastics. Food Tank is excited to highlight 6 easy ways you rethink your plastic packaging use—starting right now.
1. Purchasing Products Using Innovative Plastic Replacement Technologies
Keeping coffee fresh can be difficult, and several companies claim their bags are compostable—but the plastic parts, which help with ventilation, are not. Elevate Packaging has created the first coffee bag with fully compostable valves, and Don Maslow Coffee is one of the first brands to adopt them. For their chocolate truffles, Alter Eco uses compostable wrappers made of eucalyptus and birch trees with microscopic aluminum layers that maintain freshness; these are fully compostable and biodegrade in oceans. And Guayaki, a sustainability-focused yerba mate company, now sells their loose-leaf teas in compostable Natureflex bags, which contributed to reducing their annual packaging use by 44,000 pounds.
2. Drinking Tap Water Instead of Buying Plastic Bottles
Around 20,000 plastic waste bottles are sold every second around the world, according to figures from Euromonitor International—a total of 480 billion in 2016. And not only are many of these wasted, but they also deposit microplastics in our digestive systems. And according to the 2019 Plastic Atlas, compiled by the Heinrich Böel Foundation and Break Free From Plastic, "people who drink water from plastic bottles wash something like 130,000 microplastic particles down their throats every year," compared with 4,000 particles present in tap water.
3. Trying to Avoid Disposable Plastic Utensils
The wave of plastic straw bans in summer 2018 drew attention to the massive plastic waste associated with the products: Based on beach cleanup data, researchers calculated that around 7.5 billion straws are currently littering America's beaches. But straws make up only around 4 percent of plastic trash on a piece-by-piece level, making it important to examine other commonly disposed utensils, like plastic forks and spoons. Cutlery has been rated by the Ocean Conservancy as one of the items "most dangerous" to sea life—but if everyone in the U.S. switched from plastic to reusable cutlery, it would stop the use of more than 100 million plastic forks, knives, and spoons.
4. Buying in Bulk
Although many grocery stores' bulk bins have temporarily closed due to COVID-19, purchasing in large quantities, along with meal planning, can still be an effective way to minimize the number of individual packages sold. And switching from prepackaged foods to the bulk aisle can save around 56 percent on food costs—what NPR's The Salt described as "a permanent two-for-one sale on dozens of organic foods and ingredients.
5. Choosing Personal Care Products Without Microplastics
Personal care products with microbeads, such as certain toothpastes and soaps, are a major contributor of microplastics, or small plastic fragments that build up in the environment as a byproduct of plastic products breaking down. One study of particular exfoliant products found that between 4,500 and 94,500 microbeads were released per use. Microplastics can get stuck in fish gills and enter animals' digestive tracts, which can be problematic given microplastics' ability to absorb and retain potentially toxic substances.
6. Publicly Demonstrating Your Commitment to Cutting Down Your Plastic Footprint
When artist and activist Dianna Cohen first started learning about plastic pollution, she said her first instinct was to find ways to clean up the plastic in the oceans—but she realized those efforts would pale in comparison to the new plastic waste generated every day. "The bigger picture is: we need to find a way to turn off the faucet. We need to cut the spigot of single-use and disposable plastics, which are entering the marine environment every day on a global scale," she said in her TED Talk. She founded the Plastic Pollution Coalition, which is collecting signatures on eight petitions, from calling on Amazon to reduce plastic use to encouraging legislators to adopt anti-plastic policies. The coalition is also encouraging people to take the 4Rs Pledge to refuse disposable plastic, reduce your plastic footprint, reuse single-use items, and recycle what you can't refuse, reduce, or reuse. In addition, anyone can become a member of the Plastic Pollution Coalition and join 1,200+ businesses and individuals, including Ben & Jerry's and actors Fran Drescher, Jeff Bridges, Jane Fonda, and more.
Reposted with permission from Food Tank.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Sarah Steffen
A stretch of coastline in the Philippine capital, Manila has received backlash from environmentalists. The heavily polluted Manila Bay area, which had been slated for cleanup, has become the site of a controversial 500-meter (1,600-foot) stretch of white sand beach.
Sand Makeup Crucial for Ecosystems<p>While UNEP/GRID-Geneva generally supports finding <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/not-enough-sand-for-construction-industry-despite-abundance/a-49342942" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">alternative sources of sand</a> so as not to disrupt ecosystems in rivers and oceans when extracting them, Vander Velpen stressed it was vital to use sand which closely matches the makeup of the native sand to protect beach fauna.</p><p>"If you change the core characteristics of the native sand, the original sand, you need to do an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to find out how it's going to impact the ecosystem and nearby ecosystems," he told DW.</p><p>But according to Torres, such an assessment was not done in Manila.</p>
Beautification Stunt Instead of Proper Cleanup?<p>Manila Bay's waters are heavily polluted by oil and trash from nearby residential areas and ports. A huge "No swimming" sign warns visitors to stay away from the ocean.</p><p>Philippines' <a href="https://denr.gov.ph/index.php/priority-programs/manila-bay-clean-up/25-priority-programs/1825-frequently-ask-questions-faqs-on-the-dolomite-and-the-beach-nourishment-project" target="_blank">Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)</a> has denied dolomite sand poses any risk to human health and the ecosystem.</p><p>However, scientists of the University of the Philippines have come forward disputing the DENR's claims. A <a href="https://biology.science.upd.edu.ph/index.php/ib-statement-regarding-dolomite-in-manila-bay/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statement by the Institute of Biology</a> said that using crushed dolomite did not address any of the rehabilitation phases and instead was "even more detrimental to the existing biodiversity as well as the communities in the area," pointing to the case of water birds. "The dumping of dolomite in Manila Bay has effectively covered part of the intertidal area used by the birds thereby reducing their habitat."</p><p>At peak migration season, Manila Bay is home to 90 aquatic bird species, including species of international conservation concern that are facing a very high extinction risk in the wild. </p><p>Authorities should focus on protecting and conserving biodiversity, the Institute of Biology added. "Rehabilitating mangroves is an example of a nature-based solution that is cheaper and more cost-effective than the dolomite dumping project," the scientists said.</p><p>Moreover, <a href="http://www.msi.upd.edu.ph/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Marine Science Institute</a> has warned that prolonged inhalation of finer dust particles of dolomite could "cause chronic health effects," leading to discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath and coughing.</p><p>They also warned dolomite sand grains would erode during storms and be carried out to sea, essentially being washed away.</p>
Rehabilitation vs. Reclamation<p>Environmentalists say covering up the beach doesn't address the real issues of the bay. Torres and others believe the best way to clean up Manila Bay is not to add anything, but rather remove trash and pollution.</p><p>"There have been studies saying much of the waste comes from already collected waste — so these are open dump sites along the coast that get washed up because of the rain," Torres said.</p><p>She criticized the authorities for continuing to push reclamation projects she says are at odds with each other. These projects will affect large areas of mangrove forests, she said, and experts warn that this, in turn, exacerbates coastal erosion.</p><p>"If you've removed the areas that helped trap the sand, like mangrove forests, then the likelihood increases that you will have to nourish a beach. Same as building right up to the waterfront," said Vander Velpen of UNEP/GRID-Geneva.</p>
Plenty of Sand in the Sea?<p>The question of Manila's contentious white beach echoes larger questions about sand mining worldwide. <a href="https://unepgrid.ch/storage/app/media/documents/Sand_and_sustainability_UNEP_2019.pdf" target="_blank">Global sand consumption has tripled</a> over the past two decades, UNEP/GRID-Geneva has found. A huge chunk of it is now taken up by construction.</p><p>"Many operate on the assumption that natural sand is endless in its supply," said Vander Velpen.</p><p>Sand scarcity is a concern shared by Stefan Schimmels of <a href="https://www.fzk.uni-hannover.de/fzk_start.html?&L=1" target="_blank">Forschungszentrum Küste</a> who's done extensive research on shore nourishment to stop coastal erosion. And as climate change and rising sea levels are threatening coasts, demand for sand will grow even more.</p><p>A large study, the <a href="http://www.stencil-project.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/STENCIL_SWOT_Analyse_191026.pdf" target="_blank">Strategies and Tools for Environment-Friendly Shore Nourishments as Climate Change Impact Low-Regret Measures (STENCIL project)</a>, focused on the German island of Sylt, a popular vacation spot.</p><p>About 1 million cubic meter of sand per year is used to maintain the coastal area of Sylt, STENCIL project head Schimmels said. That's about 100 million 10-liter buckets of sand.</p><p>When sand was extracted off the coast of Sylt, underwater craters were formed. "You can still detect these craters even decades later," Schimmels told DW.</p><p>"Also when you add a couple of meters sand onto the beach — you essentially bury all things that do creep and fly," he said. "How quickly will they recover?" Schimmels said more research was needed as there was still too little known about long-term effects on the environment. </p>
Criticism Piling Up<p>As for Manila's artificial white sand, it looks like some might have already been blown away by a recent storm. DENR claims it wasn't washed away, but said that grayish sand, stones and other material had simply piled up over the dolomite sand. People in Manila have tweeted photos showing how the storm has ravaged the beach. </p>
<div id="adc0b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="98f9390db6bb81cb421aaf0bb9d9a6fb"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318816633280851969" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Exactly one month after giving excited netizen a glimpse of Manila Bay white sands, look what happened now after ju… https://t.co/X0Z9i0bPB0</div> — M*A*S*H (@M*A*S*H)<a href="https://twitter.com/Magtira_Matibay/statuses/1318816633280851969">1603265362.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Authorities have been called tone-deaf for spending around 389 million pesos ($8 million) on a beach nourishment project in the middle of a raging pandemic.</p><p>An image of cake iced with the words "It really hurts - that's [worth] 389 million pesos?" has since gone viral.</p>
<div class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4387aad52ea316e4db7330052318ca2f"><div class="fb-post" data-href="https://www.facebook.com/theweekendpatisserie/posts/144564207350008"></div></div><p>"It's just a waste of precious resources," Torres said. </p><p>The environmental activist now also worries that she might be labeled a terrorist for speaking out under the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/philippine-anti-terrorism-law-triggers-fear-of-massive-rights-abuses/a-53732140" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Philippines' controversial new anti-terrorism law</a>. She says she could be arrested for inciting fear when talking about environmental dangers.</p>
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A pair of studies released Monday confirmed not only the presence of water and ice on the moon, but that it is more abundant than scientists previously thought. Those twin discoveries boost the prospect of a sustainable lunar base that could harvest the moon's resources to help sustain itself, according to the BBC.
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