Carbon Rangers/Ecozoic Times
Volume 11 No. 6

June, 2018

Planet or Plastic?
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Dear Reader,

UN Focus on Plastic. We recently celebrated World Environment Day on June 5 and World Oceans Day on June 8. At the United Nations , efforts were directed at a single focus for both of these important markers- plastic pollution.   A great many persons, groups, foundations, member states of the UN, civil society platforms and others agreed that this was a special moment to shine the harshest light available on the scourge of single - use plastic and its impact on the planet.  Often we overlook these connections because most people live far from the direct impact of the plastic that has been entering our oceans.  From time to time we get a glimpse when our favorite beach receives an unwelcome flow of plastic waste on the incoming tide.  But the really massive challenges develop more slowly as the plastic floating in the high seas gradually decomposes into microscopic form and is then ingested by sea animals and enters the food chain.

Public Demand?  Sadly, the manufacturers of these plastics have only to point at the public demand for convenience that is afforded by plastic to shift the blame for these horrific events. The public keeps up the demand and more and more plastic appears.  

G7 Outcomes. The G7 Conference recently concluded in Canada on a less than jubilant note.  However, there were several thoughtful outcome documents that are linked below for further study.  I believe these statements can be useful for those attempting to find language for a way forward on these pressing issues on care of Earth.  Statements on energy,  the just transition to a decarbonized world, thoughts on oceans governance, marine litter and climate can be good resources for educators. 

Resources.  I have included in this issue several suggestions and sources for alternative means of addressing the question of how to control plastic pollution where we live.  Some countries will have bigger challenges. Some have had a measure of success at legislative remedies.  The recent decision by China to stop accepting solid waste from the rest of the world has massive implications for the entire planet.  We need to start where we are.  Each of us can do something, the one thing, to start to reverse the flow.  "Reduce, re-use, refuse" is the mantra.  Reduce single use plastic, re-use what you can and whenever possible, refuse the plastic item when offered.  

Pope Francis and Thomas Berry have wisdom for us at the finish of the news stories this month.

Let me hear from you if you have ideas for improving the Carbon Rangers.

Br. Kevin

Edmund Rice International

Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue at Iona

UN Oceans Conference One Year On

Call for Action. The UN Ocean Conference, held at UN Headquarters in June 2017, brought together more than 4000 participants from governments, the UN system and other intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, academia, the scientific community and the private sector. The Conference resulted in a number of ambitious outcomes, including the adoption of the "Our Ocean, Our Future: Call for Action" declaration, co-chairs' summaries of the seven partnership dialogues that were held during the Conference, and over 1400 voluntary commitments made in support of  Sustainable Development Goal 14 by various stakeholders.  SDG 14: 

Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources

UN Special Envoy for the Ocean.  As reported in previous issues of the Ocean Action Newsletter, many important developments related to SDG 14 have taken place since June last year, including: the appointment of the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Ocean Mr. Peter Thomson; the launch of nine new Communities of Ocean Action to follow-up on the voluntary commitments on SDG 14; the proclamation of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development by the United Nations General Assembly; and the decision of the General Assembly to convene an Intergovernmental Conference on an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ Intergovernmental Conference).

Oceans On The Rebound? These Developments Give Us Hope.
By Amanda Leland
Environmental Defense Fund
December 2017
Belize, Philippines, USA Pacific, Fishery Solutions Center
The Philippines announced in October it has partnered with Environmental Defense Fund to implement sustainable and science-based fishing reforms. More than 70 percent of fish stocks in the Philippines for which there is data are considered overfished.  Also in 2017, two more chronically overfished rockfish species from the U.S. Pacific groundfish fishery along the West Coast have been declared “rebuilt” well ahead of schedule.

Belize has emerged as a leader on ocean sustainability, most recently after announcing bold new commitments at the United Nations Oceans Conference in June. The government of Belize has made voluntary commitments to turn the Caribbean nation’s fisheries into an engine for sustainable development and poverty alleviation.  Belize has already taken major steps to protect its magnificent barrier reef, supporting its biodiversity and the fishermen who work there. In doing so, it has established itself as a global leader in sustainable small-scale fishing.

The ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ Is Ballooning, 87,000 Tons of Plastic and Counting
By Livia Albeck-Ripka   NYT  
Photo: Jordi Chias NatGeo
Into the Food Chain. In the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii, hundreds of miles from any major city, plastic bottles, children’s toys, broken electronics, abandoned fishing nets and millions more fragments of debris are floating in the water — at least 87,000 tons’ worth, researchers said Thursday. 
In recent years, this notorious mess has become known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling oceanic graveyard where everyday objects get deposited by the currents. The plastics eventually disintegrate into tiny particles that often get eaten by fish and may ultimately enter our food chain.

Four Times the Size of published Thursday, March 22, 2018, in the journal Scientific Reports quantified the full extent of the so-called garbage patch: It is four to 16 times bigger than previously thought, occupying an area roughly four times the size of California and comprising an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of rubbish. While the patch was once thought to be more akin to a soup of nearly invisible microplastics, scientists now think most of the trash consists of larger pieces. And, they say, it is growing “exponentially.”

Ocean Cleanup Foundation.  “It’s just quite alarming, because you are so far from the mainland,” said Laurent Lebreton, the lead author of the study and an oceanographer with the Ocean Cleanup Foundation, a nonprofit that is developing systems to remove ocean trash and which funded the study. “There’s no one around and you still see those common objects, like crates and bottles.”  However the new study says that the microplastics, while still a problem, account for just 8 percent of the mass of the patch. Until now, most of the sampling used an ocean trawl designed to pick up small particles, and therefore, Mr. Lebreton said, underestimated the number of larger pieces of debris floating in the sea, like bottles, buoys and fishing nets. “Most of the mass is actually large debris, ready to decompose into microplastic,” Mr. Lebreton said.  Read More:  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Additional Images:

Photo:  John Cancalosi  NatGeo
White Stork in plastic bag in Spain.

Photo: Dan Clark
Dead Albatross chick with stomach contents showing plastics.

769 Footballs from around the world's oceans arranged by artist Mandy Barker.

Photograph by Randy Olson / National Geographic.

After sheets of clear plastic trash have been washed in the Buriganga River, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a woman spreads them out to dry, turning them regularly—while also tending to her son. The plastic will eventually be sold to a recycler. Less than a fifth of all plastic gets recycled globally. In the U.S. it’s less than 10 percent.

Guardian 28 March
The plastics crisis is more urgent than you know. Recycling bottles won't fix it
 John Vidal
Ubiquitous.  Since we started engineering polymers to make plastic on a mass scale in the 1950s, this byproduct of the petrochemical industry, which uses about 6% of all the oil we extract a year, has spread to myriad manufacturing processes. Plastic is now ubiquitous, insidious and impossible to avoid. It makes up our clothes, containers, bottles, electronics, food trays, cups and paints. Our cars depend on it, so do our computers, roofs and drain pipes. It's the global packaging material of choice. We sleep on it, wear it, watch it, and are in direct bodily contact with it in one form or other all day and night.
Microplastics... In the past few years, minute microplastics and fibres, measuring the width of a human hair or far less, have been found in an extraordinary range of products, such as honey and sugar, shellfish, bottled and tap water, beer, processed foods, table salt and soft drinks. In one study, 95% of all adults tested in the US had known carcinogenic chemical bisphenol A in their urine. In another, 83% of samples of tap water tested in seven countries were found to contain plastic microfibres. A study published last week revealed plastics contamination in more than 90% of bottled-water samples, which were from 11 different brands. 

Two Million Tons Became 330 Million Tons.  In the 1950s the world made about 2m tonnes of plastic a year. Now that figure is 330m tonnes a year - and it is set to treble again by 2050. It's not enough to return a few plastic bottles, or even to pick up an old mattress on a beach.

Everything Touches Everything Else
 (From ETEE Corporation in Toronto, Canada)
Microbes vs. Plastic.  And here’s the thing - decomposition, compostability, biodegradability - is largely dependent on microbes, tiny organisms that are invisible to the naked eye.  Despite their teenie size, these guys play an enormous role in cleaning up our planet, but because plastic is made up of compounds that don’t naturally occur in nature, microbes turn their nose up at plastic, they simply won’t eat it.   

Smaller and Smaller.  Which means, according to Popular Science, plastic does not decompose, biodegrade or compost, rather it just breaks down into smaller and smaller plastic pieces.  "Plastics don't biodegrade like organic matter, which means they can't be converted by living organisms into useful compounds for life. Instead, they photodegrade, a process by which photons from the sun's rays pulverize the plastic polymers until they are broken into individual molecules." (Popular Science)

Oceans- More Plastic Than Fish? And this is why there are huge masses of plastic floating around our Oceans (some Scientists like Ellen MacArthur even believe that by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish) and lakes, clogging our landfills and even leaching toxins into our water table.  Link.

Recommendations for Healthy Oceans Generated by the G7 Conference in Canada 

Recommendations from the Environment and Energy Working Group of the G7 Global Task Force: 


Things We May Be Recycling Wrong

Photo Credit: Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
By Livia Albeck-Ripka NYT

Can you recycle coffee cups or greasy pizza boxes? If you’re tossing things in the recycling bin out of sheer hope, you might be an “aspirational recycler.”

Pizza Boxes
Pizza boxes are among the most common offenders when it comes to contamination, waste managers say. The problem is that oil often seeps into the cardboard. The oil cannot be separated from the fiber, making that material less valuable, and less marketable, to buyers.  But that’s not to say you can never recycle a pizza box, said Marjorie Griek, executive director of the National Recycling Coalition, which promotes recycling in the United States. “If you’ve got a few crumbs in there, that’s not an issue,” she said.  Pizza boxes with “small amounts of grease” are O.K. to recycle in New York City, a sanitation department spokeswoman said. If the grease seeps through the cardboard, the box should be put in a composting bin or thrown out, she said.
Remember, there are also two sides to a pizza box. If there’s a side that’s not oily, tear that off and recycle it.

Yogurt Cups
After China banned used plastics this year, many municipalities in the United States no longer accept plastics numbered 3 to 7, which can include things like yogurt cups, butter tubs and vegetable oil bottles. Look at the bottom of a container for a number inside a triangle to see what type it is.  Without China, there is little market for these types of plastic, said Will Posegate, chief operations officer for Garten Services, which manages waste in parts of Oregon. “It’s expensive to get rid of it right now,” he said.  Should you keep the caps on your bottles? Some waste managers say it’s fine (as long as they are screwed on tight), while others advise throwing them in the trash. Check your local recycling website to see which plastic types are still acceptable in your area.

Oily Takeout Containers
Even if a container is labeled correctly for recycling in your area, another contamination culprit is food residue: scraps of pad thai in a plastic tray, or those few drops of bad milk at the bottom of the jug. Washing out food scraps from recyclables can be just as important as putting the right thing in the recycling bin, said Jackie Lang, a spokeswoman for Waste Management in Oregon. You don’t have to scrub containers until they are sparkling clean — that could waste water. But too many scraps of food and liquid can contaminate a load, which could then be sent to a landfill, Ms. Lang said. As much as possible, “keep food and liquids out,” she said.

Plastic Bags 
If you have a trash chute in your building, or a long walk down to the recycling bin, you might have gotten into the habit of collecting your paper, plastics and glass in used plastic bags, but it’s important to note that the bags themselves should not be put in the recycling cart.  While we might wish that plastic bags — notorious for dissolving into microplastics and killing wildlife — could be sent to processors with our other recycling, they shouldn’t be. They create a nightmare for waste managers by plugging up machinery. So remember to dump your recyclables out of the plastic bag when putting them in the recycling bin. Some areas do offer plastic bag drop-offs, which send these nonrigid plastics to special facilities for recycling. Other cities and states have moved to tax, limit or ban the use of plastic bags altogether.

Resource from Catholic Climate Covenant:

Resources from the Earth Day Network:

Teaching Resources from National Geographic Grades 6-12

Laudato Si': On Care For Our Common Home   
Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices. All of these reflect a generous and worthy creativity which brings out the best in human beings. Reusing something instead of immediately discarding it, when done for the right reasons, can be an act of love which expresses our own dignity. ( 212)
  Read More.

Message from Thomas Berry

“If the central pathology that has led to the termination of the Cenozoic is the radical discontinuity established between the human and the nonhuman, then the renewal of life on the planet must be based on the continuity between the human and the other than human as a single integral community. Once this continuity is recognized and accepted, then we will have fulfilled the basic condition that will enable the human to become more present to the Earth in a mutually enhancing manner.” (Thomas Berry, “The University,” in The Great Work, 80).
Photo by Lou Niznik 10–6–1999
Copyright © 2018 Edmund Rice International, All rights reserved.

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