Scrap Collector: Microplastics found in Earth's deepest point, Philly cameras catching litterbugs in the act
Plus, rough sailing for ocean garbage collector, suspended Alabama workers reinstated after strike, and the EU's latest push against plastic.
Welcome to Scrap Collector: Waste Dive's Friday round-up of insights and stories you may have missed during the week.
AIN’T NO SEA TRENCH DEEP ENOUGH...
...To keep microplastics from getting to you, babe. Some news from the Guardian to kick off your weekend: Chinese researchers took a dive into the fathomless Mariana Trench — the deepest natural point on the planet — and found its pristine depths perfectly untainted by plastic pollution.
Just kidding! According to their analysis, the Mariana Trench contains the highest levels of microplastics (most likely from clothing, bottles, packaging and fishing gear) yet found in the open ocean, offering irrefutable proof that plastics have penetrated even the most remote places on the planet.
"The hadal zone is likely one of the largest sinks for microplastic debris on Earth, with unknown but potentially damaging impacts on this fragile ecosystem," the scientists said, stressing the need for further research to evaluate these effects.
Their findings join a host of recent and equally bleak studies on humankind’s oversized ecological footprint: scientists have found "extraordinary" levels of toxic pollutants in the Mariana Trench and plastic in the stomachs of deep sea animals — not to mention microplastics in Swiss mountains, drinking water and human feces.
It’s beautiful, in a way: wherever you go, whatever you do, microplastics will be right there waiting for you. Not the love song we needed, but perhaps — after the past several gluttonous, plastic-soaked decades — the one we deserve.
IN OTHER NEWS...
Smile, litterbugs — Philly's got you on camera! — PlanPhilly
Here's a development that's got litterbugs down in the dumps. Faced with pervasive illegal dumping, Philadelphia's Streets Department recently installed 15 surveillance cameras in city corridors — leaving videotaped violators subject to misdemeanor charges, clean-up fees, fines, vehicle seizure and possible jail time. The city plans to add 35 more cameras in litter-prone areas by this summer, with a total of 100 installed per year — and according to Nic Esposito, director of city's Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet, this heightened emphasis on cleaning up public streets is long overdue.
"I have witnessed what this dumping looks like on the ground and how detrimental it is to communities … in a city with extremely limited resources, the focus must be on those neighborhoods where litter and short-dumping are worst," wrote Esposito in an op-ed this past March.
Officials aren't limiting their focus to inveterate litterers: Philadelphia has been working since 2017 toward its objective of "zero waste" by 2035 — an initiative that calls for a broad reassessment of citywide material flows, consumption habits and community engagement.
Slow and steady wins the race... — NPR
...Except when it comes to collecting ocean plastic. A device built to clean the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — home to an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic — has hit its own rough patch. The solar-powered Ocean Cleanup garbage catcher, which launched out of San Francisco in September, is moving slightly slower than the plastic it's supposed to be collecting — "which of course you don’t want, because then you have a chance of losing the plastic again," explained 24-year-old inventor Boyan Slat in an AP video.
Despite the early setback, the Dutch innovator, who has been working on the idea since he was 17, remains confident in the overarching principles of his system. He and his team are working to iron out existing kinks and, assuming all goes well, plan on launching dozens of such devices into the Pacific Ocean — where it's projected they’ll be able to clear 50% of plastic waste in just five years.
Alabama collection workers reinstated after being suspended for strike — WKRG-TV
Seven Mobile collection workers disciplined for striking in October will be allowed to return to work in the new year. The announcement was made Tuesday afternoon by Mayor Sandy Stimpson, who suspended more than two dozen public works employees — ultimately firing 10 — for leaving their posts on October 9 to discuss low pay, short-staffing, abusive management and other concerns at a City Council meeting.
The reinstated workers will likely be reassigned to new positions within the department. In the meantime, it remains unclear whether working conditions for public works employees have meaningfully improved since the strike: Stimpson has rejected a council amendment approving 5% across-the-board pay raises, opting instead for a worker incentive program.
EU to ban list of single-use plastics by 2021 — Press Release
In an effort to curb ocean litter, EU officials agreed Wednesday on a measure aimed at reducing plastic consumption. Ten single-use plastic products will be banned from the EU by 2021, including cutlery, plates, straws, cotton buds and expanded polystyrene containers. Producers also face expanded regulations on other plastic items: all plastic bottles will be required to have at least 30% recycled content by 2030, tobacco filter manufacturers will be forced to pay for public collection of cigarette stubs, and wet wipes packaging will need to inform consumers of the presence and impact of plastic in wipes.
"We have all heard the warning by the World Economic Forum and others that, measured by weight, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050 if we continue dumping plastic in the sea at the present rate," noted Elisabeth Köstinger, Austrian federal minister of sustainability and tourism, in a press release. "We cannot let this happen."
Let’s raise a glass to that in the new year — and to the hope that it won’t be too little, too late.
SEEN & HEARD
WINNER- INTERNATIONAL STATISTIC OF THE YEAR 2018— Royal Statistical Society (@RoyalStatSoc) December 18, 2018
90.5%: the proportion of plastic waste that has never been recycled pic.twitter.com/JykeoU5HYu
"We really have to reevaluate the way in which we relate to plastics." The 60 Minutes team on their reaction to seeing the accumulation of plastic waste on the pristine shores of Midway Atoll in the Pacific. https://t.co/P8NA4aPaPs pic.twitter.com/X6UEPKWtul— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) December 17, 2018
Follow Rina Li on Twitter