We’re the biggest contributor to the waste problem, per new NAS analysis commissioned by Congress
There’s a “deluge” of plastic mucking up the Earth’s oceans, with the United States serving as the biggest contributor to it. That’s according to a new National Academy of Sciences report ordered by Congress that’s imploring the US to come up with a plan to halt the issue in its tracks, or at least to slow it down, reports the Washington Post. According to the nearly 200-page deep dive into the matter, the US produced 42 million metric tons (MMT) of plastic waste in 2016, which was nearly twice as much as China and more than all the member states in the EU combined. Because most plastics are derived from fossil fuels, it can take hundreds of years for some of them to break down.
“The developing plastic waste crisis has been building for decades,” the analysis notes. “The success of the 20th-century miracle invention of plastics has also produced a global scale deluge of plastic waste seemingly everywhere we look.” The numbers suss out to 287 pounds of plastic per American, with about 8 MMT of waste ending up in the oceans annually—”the equivalent of dumping a garbage truck of plastic waste into the ocean every minute,” per the report. It adds that if the trend continues, the world’s seas could be taking in up to 53 MMT per year by 2030, or “roughly half of the total weight of fish caught from the ocean annually.”
The upshot of all this, notes the Hill: The US has to not only work on cleanup efforts but also slash its plastic production to save the oceans of the world, per the report, which notes the nation’s current recycling program is “grossly inefficient.” Margaret Spring, the head of conservation and science for the Monterey Bay Aquarium and chair of the NAS committee that produced the report, tells the Post that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency would be the best options to lead this charge. And if the United States, and the rest of the world, don’t take strong action against such waste? “Plastics will continue to accumulate in the environment, particularly the ocean, with adverse consequences for ecosystems and society,” the report notes. (Read more water pollution stories.)
Source – (NEWSER)
The term “bioplastics” is used to describe both fossil fuel-derived plastics that are biodegradable (they break down to some level at some point in time- could even be thousands of years out), and biomass or renewable resource-derived plastics (termed bio-based plastics).
Fossil fuel-based plastics that are supposedly biodegradable include PBS (polybutylene succinate) and PCL (polycaprolactone) because they can be “degraded with enzymes and microorganisms”; however, studies do not provide timelines for this to occur, or clarification that treated bioplastics (those containing common additives) are able to completely biodegrade within a specified timeline. Since bioplastics can include fossil-fuel-based plastics, products labeled simply as bioplastic do not provide an effective level of plastic pollution prevention.
Oxo-biodegradable means that the plastic (generally a conventional fossil-fuel-based polymer) has an additive that speeds up the degradation process (a pro-oxidant), causing the plastic to break down into smaller particles, especially when exposed to heat or light.
There is no explicit time frame associated with this term and no assurance that the smaller particles will completely biodegrade in a timely manner. In the meantime, these micro or nano-sized plastics become even more bioavailable to wildlife. Oxo-biodegradable products cannot be composted, and they negatively impact the recycling stream by reducing the structural integrity of the final product. Therefore, products labeled as oxo-biodegradable do not provide an effective level of plastic pollution prevention.
Marine Degradable generally means a material has the ability to completely biodegrade under marine environmental conditions including aerobic marine waters or anaerobic marine sediments within a specified timeframe, leaving no toxic substances or residue (doesn’t have any ecotoxicity). Some will only apply this term to non-plastics, such as cellulose materials like paper. A standard providing more clarity, assurance, and testing requirements needs to be provided for this term to be effective and meaningful. On April 1, 2019, TUV Austria released the OK biodegradable MARINE standard which requires that a material is 90 percent degraded (in total or of maximum degradation of a suitable reference substance) within six months, meet specific disintegration requirements, and not have high levels of ecotoxicity.
In industrial composting facility—where they can break the bioplastic down into tiny pieces and compost it with very high heat, along with the proper mix of oxygen and a 2/3 mix of organic substrate.—it will biodegrade or compost over a short amount of time.
Industrial composting takes a few more weeks or months until it is ready to use because the microbial activity needs to balance, and the pile needs to cool. The waste is left in these vessels for seven days and temperature probes ensure that there is sufficient heat to kill any dangerous bacteria – it must achieve a temperature of 140°F for several consecutive days. The waste is then transferred to a maturation pad for the final stage of composting.
And keep in mind, NOTE ALL PLA is compostable, let alone biodegradable. Also, since PLA is an acid, it will raise the acidity of its surroundings as it composts. In the wild, it takes at least 80 years for PLA to decompose. To decompose, it needs specific conditions introduced: Oxygen, a Temperature of 140+ degrees, and a 2/3 Cocktail of an organic substrate.
Contamination is the biggest problem for municipal composting programs. Regular garbage is the most common contaminant. Nonbiodegradable items won’t necessarily harm the composting process, but separating the garbage from the compost can be messy and inefficient. And no one wants to buy compost that contains bits of plastic and other debris. Composting only works as a form of recycling if the resulting product is marketable.
Home composting produces nutrient-rich soil as a result of the breakdown of organic waste such as food scraps, grass clippings, leaves, and tea bags. This occurs over a period of months normally in a backyard compost barrel, or a home compost bin. Home composting will not break down PLA bioplastic products and isn’t suitable for meat, fish, or dairy as the smell can attract vermin.
Home compostable means that materials are able to meet the “compostable” specifications without the need for an industrial composting facility. Under TUV OK Compost HOME certification, the material must
1) biodegrade by 90 percent or more within 365 days
(2) fully disintegrate in a way that makes the materials indistinguishable from the compost soil and
(3) not have measurable ecotoxicity; through backyard compost methods such as worm bins or compost piles.
Home composting for natural food waste like fruits and vegetables, plant debris, and even paper products with minimal ink or chemical processing has some fantastic benefits.