Where Will Your Plastic Trash Go Now That China Doesn’t Want It

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Plastic garbage from Trader Joe’s and an AARP card are peeking out of hillocks of plastic trash piling up in Indonesia. It’s a sign of a new global quandary: What should wealthy countries do with their plastic waste now that China no longer is buying it?

For years, America sold millions of tons of used yogurt cups, juice containers, shampoo bottles and other kinds of plastic trash to China to be recycled into new products.And it wasn’t just the U.S. Some 70 percent of the world’s plastic waste went to China – about 7 million tons a year.

Numerous Chinese millionaires were minted as recycling businesses started and blossomed. Sure, they paid for the world’s plastic and paper trash, but they made far more money from processing it and selling the resulting raw materials.

But last year the Chinese government dropped a bombshell on the world recycling business: It cut back almost all imports of trash. And now a lot of that plastic gets shipped to other countries that don’t have the capacity to recycle it or dispose of it safely….

About ‘The Plastic Tide’

NPR is exploring one of the most important environmental issues of our time: plastic waste. Click here to read more about the topic.

As sea level rises, wetlands crank up their carbon storage

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  1. Rogers et al. Wetland carbon storage controlled by millennial-scale variation in relative sea-level riseNature, 2019 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-0951-7

Some wetlands perform better under pressure. A new study revealed that when faced with sea-level rise, coastal wetlands respond by burying even more carbon in their soils. Coastal wetlands, which include marshes, mangroves and seagrasses, already store carbon more efficiently than any other natural ecosystem, including forests….

For wetlands that had faced rising seas, carbon concentrations doubled or nearly quadrupled in just the top 20 centimeters of soil. When the scientists looked deeper, at 50 to 100 centimeters beneath the surface, the difference hit five to nine times higher.

The extra boost comes because the carbon added to wetland soils by plant growth and sediment is buried faster as wetlands become wetter. Trapped underwater with little to no oxygen, the organic detritus does not decompose and release carbon dioxide as quickly. And the higher the waters rise, the more underwater storage space exists for the carbon to get buried.

….The trick, of course, is to ensure wetlands do not drown and disappear if waters rise too quickly. “Preservation of coastal wetlands is critical if they are to play a role in sequestering carbon and mitigating climate change,” Rogers said. For coastal wetlands to survive, they need space to migrate inland….

Want to save the planet? Green choices can’t compensate for unsustainable choices… All consumption causes permanent environmental harm

In reality, green options are at best less harmful rather than restorative.The best thing for the environment would of course be for us to consume less overall.
–We should give consumers immediate feedback on how much ‘eco-labeled’ and other products add to the environmental impact of what they are buying. For example, self-scanning systems in supermarkets could provide customers with an accumulated carbon footprint estimate of their shopping basket.

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Sörqvist et al. Why People Harm the Environment Although They Try to Treat It Well: An Evolutionary-Cognitive Perspective on Climate CompensationFrontiers in Psychology, 2019; 10 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00348

A new theory suggests that we think of our relationship with the environment like a social exchange, leading to the belief that ‘environmentally friendly’ behavior can compensate for ‘harmful’ behavior.

But unlike a social misstep, our environmental footprint cannot be smoothed over. Research reveals how advertisers, politicians and economic systems play on the psychology of ‘climate compensation’ — and encourages a more rational approach to environmental responsibility.

…”Reciprocity and balance in social relations have been fundamental to social cooperation, and thus to survival, so the human brain has become specialized through natural selection to compute and seek this balance,” says lead author Patrik Sörqvist, Professor of Environmental Psychology at the University of Gävle, Sweden. “But when applied to climate change, this social give-and-take thinking leads to the misconception that ‘green’ choices can compensate for unsustainable ones.”…. The best thing for the environment would of course be for us to consume less overall...

Climate change is shifting productivity of fisheries worldwide, threatens protein source for >50% of world population

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Fish provide a vital source of protein for over half the world’s population, with over 56 million people employed by or subsisting on fisheries. But climate change is beginning to disrupt the complex, interconnected systems that underpin this major source of food. …

These findings highlight the importance of accounting for the effects of climate change in fisheries management. This means coming up with new tools for assessing the size of fish populations, new strategies for setting catch limits that consider changing productivity, and new agreements for sharing catch between winning and losing regions….

Preventing overfishing will be a critical part of addressing the threat that climate change poses to the world’s fisheries….”It makes fish populations more vulnerable to warming, while warming hinders the recovery of overfished populations.”… Ocean acidification, falling oxygen levels and habitat loss will also impact marine life. More research is necessary to fully understand how climate change will affect fish populations and the livelihoods of people that depend on them.

  1. Christopher M. Free, James T. Thorson, Malin L. Pinsky, Kiva L. Oken, John Wiedenmann, Olaf P. Jensen. Impacts of historical warming on marine fisheries productionScience, 2019 DOI: 10.1126/science.aau1758

Natural climate solutions (through forests, soil and other natural carbon sinks) are not enough: emissions reductions from energy and industry sectors must be accelerated at the same time

Strategies for incorporating Natural Climate Solutions (NCS) with energy and industrial mitigation in the climate portfolio should not be “either/or” but “yes, and.”

Read Science Daily summary here and SCIENCE article here

To stabilize the Earth’s climate for people and ecosystems, it is imperative to ramp up natural climate solutions and, at the same time, accelerate mitigation efforts across the energy and industrial sectors, experts argue in a new article.

Among their findings, the researchers warn that a ten-year delay in emissions reductions from energy and industry could this century result in emissions that negate the net potential emissions reductions benefit of natural climate solutions.

  1. Christa M. Anderson, Ruth S. Defries, Robert Litterman, Pamela A. Matson, Daniel C. Nepstad, Stephen Pacala, William H. Schlesinger, M. Rebecca Shaw, Pete Smith, Christopher Weber, Christopher B. Field. Natural climate solutions are not enoughScience, 2019; 363 (6430): 933-934 DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw2741

World seeing ‘catastrophic collapse’ of insects- 41% in decline and 1/3 heading toward extinction threatening crop pollination and ecosystem food webs

Read Phys.Org. article here

Francisco Sánchez-Bayo et al. Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers, Biological Conservation (2019). DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2019.01.020

Nearly half of all insect species worldwide are in rapid decline and a third could disappear altogether, according to a study warning of dire consequences for crop pollination and natural food chains.

…”We estimate the current proportion of insect species in decline—41 percent—to be twice as high as that of vertebrates,” or animals with a backbone, Francisco Sanchez-Bayo of the University of Sydney and Kris Wyckhuys of the University of Queensland in Australia reported.

“At present, a third of all insect species are threatened with extinction.”….

….Experts estimate that flying insects across Europe have declined 80 percent on average, causing bird populations to drop by more than 400 million in three decades.

Only a few species of insects—mainly in the tropics—are thought to have suffered due to climate change, while some in northern climes have expanded their range as temperatures warm.

In the long run, however, scientists fear that global warming could become another major driver of insect demise….

Microplastic contamination found in common source of groundwater

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Read ScienceDaily Summary here

Samuel V. Panno, Walton R. Kelly, John Scott, Wei Zheng, Rachael E. McNeish, Nancy Holm, Timothy J. Hoellein, Elizabeth L. Baranski. Microplastic Contamination in Karst Groundwater SystemsGroundwater, 2019; DOI: 10.1111/gwat.12862

Microplastics contaminate the world’s surface waters, yet scientists have only just begun to explore their presence in groundwater systems. A new study is the first to report microplastics in fractured limestone aquifers — a groundwater source that accounts for 25 percent of the global drinking water supply. …

…The researchers identified a variety of household and personal health contaminants along with the microplastics, a hint that the fibers may have originated from household septic systems.

“Imagine how many thousands of polyester fibers find their way into a septic system from just doing a load of laundry,” Scott said. “Then consider the potential for those fluids to leak into the groundwater supply, especially in these types of aquifers where surface water interacts so readily with groundwater.”…

Plastic in Britain’s seals, dolphins and whales

University of Exeter Read full Science Daily summary here

  1. S. E. Nelms, J. Barnett, A. Brownlow, N. J. Davison, R. Deaville, T. S. Galloway, P. K. Lindeque, D. Santillo, B. J. Godley. Microplastics in marine mammals stranded around the British coast: ubiquitous but transitory?Scientific Reports, 2019; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-37428-3

Microplastics have been found in the guts of every marine mammal examined in a new study of animals washed up on Britain’s shores.

Researchers from the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) examined 50 animals from 10 species of dolphins, seals and whales — and found microplastics (less than 5mm) in them all.

Most of the particles (84%) were synthetic fibres — which can come from sources including clothes, fishing nets and toothbrushes — while the rest were fragments, whose possible sources include food packaging and plastic bottles.

“It’s shocking — but not surprising — that every animal had ingested microplastics,” said lead author Sarah Nelms, of the University of Exeter and PML.

“The number of particles in each animal was relatively low (average of 5.5 particles per animal), suggesting they eventually pass through the digestive system, or are regurgitated.

“We don’t yet know what effects the microplastics, or the chemicals on and in them, might have on marine mammals.

“More research is needed to better understand the potential impacts on animal health.”…

Climate change tipping point could be coming sooner — Vegetation and soil may not be able to sequester as much carbon due to variability in soil moisture

A net gain of carbon on the land surface, would actually be almost twice as high if it weren’t for the variability in soil moisture

Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science Read full ScienceDaily article here

  • Julia K. Green, Sonia I. Seneviratne, Alexis M. Berg, Kirsten L. Findell, Stefan Hagemann, David M. Lawrence & Pierre Gentine. Large influence of soil moisture on long-term terrestrial carbon uptakeNature, 2019 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0848-x

A new study confirms the urgency to tackle climate change. While it’s known that extreme weather events can affect the year-to-year variability in carbon uptake, and some researchers have suggested that there may be longer-term effects, this study is the first to actually quantify the effects through the 21st century and demonstrates that wetter-than-normal years do not compensate for losses in carbon uptake during dryer-than-normal years, caused by events such as droughts or heatwaves.

…Anthropogenic emissions of CO2 — emissions caused by human activities — are increasing the concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere and producing unnatural changes to the planet’s climate system. The effects of these emissions on global warming are only being partially abated by the land and ocean. Currently, the ocean and terrestrial biosphere (forests, savannas, etc.) are absorbing about 50% of these releases — explaining the bleaching of coral reefs and acidification of the ocean, as well as the increase of carbon storage in our forests.

“It is unclear, however, whether the land can continue to uptake anthropogenic emissions at the current rates,” says Pierre Gentine…