Daily Digest: Ocean Cleanup's plastic boom sets sail, Pruitt Superfund group scrutinized
In the Daily Digest, the Waste Dive team rounds up insights and moments you may have missed.
PACIFIC PLASTIC'S BIG WEEKEND
After years of planning, the nonprofit organization Ocean Cleanup has officially sent its first marine debris collection unit out to sea. The press coverage surrounding this Sept. 8 event on San Francisco Bay has given plastic waste yet another spotlight during an ongoing period of stories about post-China effects, straw bans and packaging sustainability.
For those who may have missed the many stories about 24-year-old Dutch founder Boyan Slat's ambitious project in recent years, here are the basics:
- The Ocean Cleanup has raised an estimated $35 million since 2013. According to The New York Times, a large portion of that was used to pay for the initial unit and research recently published in Scientific Reports that indicated the "Great Pacific Garbage Path" could be at least four times larger than previously thought.
- The 2,000-foot long boom is intended to capture plastic with 10-foot deep screens that still allow for marine life to pass freely underneath. Ships will periodically collect the material captured by this otherwise unmanned operation and bring it back to shore for recycling or disposal. The Ocean Cleanup hopes to haul in up to 150,000 pounds during its first year.
- If all goes according to plan, according to U.S. World News & Report, the nonprofit aims to deploy 60 units by 2020 and collect half of the patch's plastic within five years.
While the U.N. hailed the project as "revolutionary," others have plenty of questions about viability. The Ocean Conservancy's chief scientist, quoted extensively in this latest round of stories, described the task as "Sisyphean" and said the vast majority of funding should go toward prevention and collection at the source. USA Today has a closer look at that angle, including research that shows much of the world's marine plastic comes from a small group of Asian countries. Whether China's scrap import ban helps mitigate this — or potentially exacerbates it by funneling more material to Southeast Asian countries without sufficient processing infrastructure — remains to be seen.
The Ocean Cleanup's System 001, dubbed "Wilson" in a nod to the movie "Castaway," is expected to arrive at its final destination by October to start work if all goes according to plan. A live tracker shows it is currently en route to an offshore testing location.
IN OTHER NEWS
ISRI Commodities Roundtable: China and tariffs are forcing market changes — Waste Dive
Contributor Katie Pyzyk reports from Chicago on the scrap world's latest economic talking points.
EPA inspector general looking into Pruitt's Superfund Task Force — The Washington Post
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the EPA recently announced it will start "preliminary research" into the Superfund Task Force created by former Administrator Scott Pruitt. The group, formed in May 2017 to “restore the Superfund program to its rightful place at the center of the Agency’s core mission to protect health and the environment," released a report of recommendations in July of that year. OIG plans to look into both the creation of that report and the task force itself, stating that "the anticipated benefit of this project is enhanced use of appropriate public participation and transparent science in EPA’s decision-making."
During his brief tenure, Pruitt spoke often about Superfund sites and pledged to make them a priority. In Dec. 2017, the agency released a list of 21 sites that were targeted for "immediate and intense action." As of July 31, 2018 that list currently includes 14 sites. The West Lake Landfill, operated by Republic Services in Missouri, is the highest profile industry site among them.
New compost facility proposal for Hawaii's big island — Hawaii Tribune-Herald
Hawaii County’s Department of Environmental Management has details on a new composting project more than a year after a previous one was shot down due to community opposition. The proposed East Hawaii Organics Facility would cost an estimated $10.5 million, have annual capacity for 28,000 tons to start, and be completed by July 2020. While the island already has green waste composting, the addition of food waste capabilities is seen as critical due to dwindling local landfill capacity. The South Hilo Sanitary Landfill is expected to fill up as soon as next year and leave only the West Hawaii Landfill. Hawaii County estimates that as much as 54% of material going to its landfills is organic.
South Carolina plans to re-up "Your Bottle Means Jobs" campaign — The Post and Courier
The state's Commerce Department will be launching a new ad campaign for an unspecified amount of money next month to reinforce an ongoing message about the economic benefits of recycling. This campaign has previously appeared in the form of billboards and other mediums to help residents make the link between their behaviors and local manufacturing. According to the Carolina Plastics Recycling Council, an estimated 300 new jobs could be created if households recycled just two more bottles per week. As highlighted in a sidebar about 10 local plastics companies, South Carolina is part of a robust domestic end market for the material in the Southeast. Though, despite what is portrayed in the article, South Carolina also hasn't been immune from the effects of China's import ban.
Survey: U.K. shoppers now care more about plastic than price — The Guardian
New research from consulting company ThoughtWorks about future retail trends found plastic packaging waste and recycling was the top concern for 62% of the 2,000 people surveyed. Pricing came in a close second at 57%. Food waste, food sourcing and supply chain sustainability were all cited as priorities too. These results come amid a period of growing attention and urgency around plastics in the U.K., and a sense among some that a full-scale rethink of consumer culture will be required to drive meaningful change.
SEEN & HEARD
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