Plastic made from takeaway food is clogging our oceans, studies show – Mother Jones

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This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

According to the most comprehensive study to date, plastic items from take-away food and drinks dominate the garbage in the oceans.

Disposable bags, plastic bottles, food containers, and food packaging are the four most common items that pollute the oceans and account for nearly half of man-made litter, the researchers found. Only 10 plastic products, including plastic lids and fishing gear, made up three-quarters of the waste because they are widespread and extremely slow to degrade.

The scientists said identifying the main sources of plastic in the ocean made it clear where action was needed to stop the flow of waste at its source. They called for some common disposable items to be banned and for manufacturers to be more responsible.

Actions against plastic straws and cotton swabs in Europe are welcome, the researchers said, but risk a distraction from tackling much more common types of litter. Their results were based on the careful combination of 12 million data points from 36 databases around the world.

“We weren’t surprised that plastic makes up 80% of the garbage, but the high proportion of take-away items surprised us, which isn’t just McDonald’s rubbish, but water bottles, beverage bottles like Coca-Cola and cans is about, ”said Carmen Morales-Caselles of the University of Cádiz, Spain, who led the new research.

“This information will make it easier for policy makers to actually take action to try to turn off the tap on the marine litter that goes into the ocean, rather than just cleaning it up,” she said.

Straws and stirrers made up 2.3% of the litter and cotton swabs and lollipop sticks made up 0.16%. “It is good that there are measures against plastic swab sticks, but if we don’t add the top litter items to that measure, then we are not getting to the heart of the problem – we are being distracted,” said Morales-Caselles.

Prof. Richard Thompson of the University of Plymouth in the UK, who was not part of the research team, said: [this data] Scientifically accurate recorded is incredibly useful. There can be a reluctance to take action that seems very obvious because there is no published study on it. “

The study, published in the journal Nature Sustainability and funded by the BBVA Foundation and the Spanish Ministry of Science, concludes: “Regarding the origin of the garbage, take-away consumables – mainly plastic bags and packaging, food containers and cutlery, plastic and Glass bottles and cans – made up the largest share. “

The analysis included items larger than 3 cm and identifiable, excluding fragments and microplastics. A distinction was made between plastic take-away items and containers for toiletries and household products.

The highest concentration of waste was found on coasts and seabeds near the coast. The scientists said the wind and waves keep sweeping rubbish onto the coasts, where it accumulates on the nearby ocean floor. Catching materials such as ropes and nets were only significant in the open oceans, where they accounted for about half of all waste.

A second study in the same journal looked at the litter that entered the ocean from 42 rivers in Europe and was one of the datasets Morales and colleagues used. It found that Turkey, Italy and the United Kingdom were the top three sources of floating marine litter.

“Containment measures cannot mean cleaning up the estuary,” said Daniel González-Fernández of the University of Cádiz, who led the second study. “You have to stop the garbage at the source so that the plastic doesn’t even get into the environment.”

In May, Greenpeace announced that British plastic waste sent to Turkey for recycling had been incinerated or landfilled and left to pollute the seas. According to other recent research, US and UK citizens produce more plastic waste per person than any other major country.

The researchers recommended banning avoidable plastic items such as disposable bags as the best option. For products that are deemed essential, manufacturers should take more responsibility for the collection and safe disposal of the products, and they also support deposit-return systems.

“This comprehensive study concludes that the best way to tackle plastic pollution is for governments to severely restrict single-use plastic packaging,” said Nina Cabinet, Greenpeace UK plastic activist. “That doesn’t seem to be denied. We will never recycle the amount of plastic waste that we currently produce. “

Thompson said, “What is going on at sea is a symptom of the problem – the source of the problem and the solution are back on land and this is where we must act.”

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