Welcome to Scrap Collector, Waste Dive's Friday round-up of insights and stories you may have missed.
As summer beach weather wraps up, it's time to reflect on what we left behind – literally. According to a new report from the Ocean Conservancy, an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic waste wind up in the ocean each year. More than 23 million pounds were collected in one day during its 2018 International Coastal Cleanup (ICC).
Approximately one million volunteers across 122 countries participated in the cleanup, confirming the continuation of a trend from 2017: all of the top 10 most commonly found items during the ICC were made of plastic. Cigarette butts (which contain plastic filters) topped the list, followed by food wrappers; straws and stirrers; forks, knives and spoons; and plastic bottles.
"[W]hat strikes me is that the vast majority are not recyclable," George Leonard, the Ocean Conservancy's chief scientist, told National Geographic. "To the extent we talk about recycling as a solution to ocean plastic problems, it would have to get to 50 or 90%, which is a huge lift and gets complicated very quickly."
However, Leonard commended last year's record-breaking number of ICC participants, observing that "growing outrage about oceans is a real motivator."
Indeed, public antipathy toward plastics has contributed to unprecedented government attention this year. Congressional Democrats released a proposal last month for sweeping plastic waste legislation, while a growing number of states and municipalities have passed plastics bans – most often targeting plastic bags and straws.
The latter movement has made its way into the Democratic debates. Sen. Kamala Harris declared during Wednesday's CNN-hosted climate forum that, as president, she would incentivize reusable shopping bags and ban plastic straws (even as she acknowledged the "droopy" tendency of paper straws), while Mayor Pete Buttigieg referred to those who use plastic straws – including himself – as "part of the problem."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, however, expressed far less willingness to indulge the plastic straw debate, dismissing it as a calculated attempt by corporate behemoths to shift the burden of responsibility onto consumers.
"This is exactly what the fossil fuel industry wants us to talk about," she said in response to a moderator question on regulating plastic straw use, meat consumption and lightbulb efficiency. "They want to be able to stir up a lot of controversy around your lightbulbs, around your straw, and around your cheeseburgers, when 70% of the pollution, of the carbon that we're throwing into the air, comes from [the building industry, the electric power industry and the oil industry]."
Warren isn't alone in her disdain. Public fixation on straws has sparked criticism from many environmentalists, who point out that the conversation – in addition to excluding those with disabilities – distracts from more critical sources of environmental degradation and plastic pollution. On the other side of the aisle, President Trump's reelection campaign has cast "liberal paper straws" as a linchpin in the culture wars, selling Trump-branded plastic straws for $15 per pack. According to the Guardian, the straws had raised approximately $460,000 for the campaign as of late July.
IN OTHER NEWS...
California county reaches tentative settlement in waste management racial discrimination lawsuit — The Press-Enterprise
Riverside County, California has tentatively agreed to settle a 2017 lawsuit brought by a former landfill employee over alleged racism and retaliation from coworkers.
According to the complaint, Frederick Ejiofor was continually subjected to discriminatory comments and treatment during his time as a landfill safety monitor. One coworker at the unnamed county landfill called him a racial epithet on approximately 40 different occasions, while another referred to him as a "stupid African" along with other racial slurs. A third employee commented that he "did not like to hire black people because he viewed them as a threat."
While Ejiofor reported these instances to his supervisor and the county "on several occasions," no action was taken. In fact, the lawsuit notes, his colleagues intensified their harassment, while his supervisor told him to "stop complaining, or his peer evaluations would be negatively affected." Ejiofor alleges he was denied a salary increase in retaliation for his complaints.
The settlement amount was not immediately available, according to the Press-Enterprise.
AROUND THE WORLD
Biffa pleads not guilty to illegal waste export charges — letsrecycle.com
UK waste management giant Biffa will appeal the unanimous guilty verdict it was dealt in June for exporting household waste – including shoes, plastic bags, diapers and sanitary napkins – to China.
The appeal hearing will be held later this month, along with court proceedings for four other charges brought by the Environment Agency over Biffa's illegal waste shipments to India and Indonesia.
"Biffa has entered a not guilty plea to the charges made in relation to shipments of recycled paper to Indonesia and India between October 2018 and February 2019," the company said in a statement. "We will strongly contest this case and believe the prosecution's statement contains factual inaccuracies."
SEEN & HEARD
My Twitter columns for various candidates today are just filled with pictures of them eating meat and drinking out of straws being like "Hypocrites!!!"— Molly Hensley-Clancy (@mollyhc) September 5, 2019
NEWS! U.S. Plastic Waste Exports shifted from India to Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia & other countries (via Hong Kong) in July due to India's plastic import ban. Total U.S. plastic waste exports stayed flat at nearly 54 million kg. Who still thinks exporting #plasticpollution is ok? pic.twitter.com/3aRU3Rmrgq— Waste Counter (@WasteCounter) September 5, 2019
I’m not saying I snuck out in the night to put some compost in my neighbor's green bin but— Kiera Feldman ???? (@kierafeldman) August 23, 2019
I've been taking an unofficial Twitter break this summer, but this news is worth sharing. @WasteDive is hiring a reporter to help dig into the busy world of waste and recycling! Great opportunity to join @industrydive's growing newsroom and make your mark. https://t.co/OiglLc3PLk— Cole Rosengren (@ColeRosengren) August 27, 2019