Medellin Declaration on Marine Litter in Life Cycle Assessment and Management

The Medellin Declaration on Marine Litter in Life Cycle Assessment and Management was developed during the Conferencia Internacional de Análisis de Ciclo de Vida en Latinoamérica, which took place from 12–15 June in Medellin, Colombia. The Declaration calls for an improved handling of plastic resources and is meant to encourage researchers and relevant stakeholders to develop new methodologies to address marine litter better within Life Cycle Assessments.

The declaration has been co-authored by various stakeholders present at the conference and has been revised in an online-consultation process until the 18th of July. The global life cycle community is invited to join the Medelling Declaration, which is available for signature on the FSLCI website at: https://fslci.org/medellindeclaration

Guido Sonnemann, Sonia Valdivia, The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, , Volume 22, Issue 10, pp 1637–1639

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Characterisation of plastic microbeads in facial scrubs and their estimated emissions in Mainland China

Plastic microbeads are often added to personal care and cosmetic products (PCCPs) as an abrasive agent in exfoliants. These beads have been reported to contaminate the aquatic environment and are sufficiently small to be readily ingested by aquatic organisms. Plastic microbeads can be directly released into the aquatic environment with domestic sewage if no sewage treatment is provided, and they can also escape from wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) because of incomplete removal. However, the emissions of microbeads from these two sources have never been estimated for China, and no regulation has been imposed on the use of plastic microbeads in PCCPs. Therefore, in this study, we aimed to estimate the annual microbead emissions in Mainland China from both direct emissions and WWTP emissions. Nine facial scrubs were purchased, and the microbeads in the scrubs were extracted and enumerated. The microbead density in those products ranged from 5219 to 50,391 particles/g, with an average of 20,860 particles/g. Direct emissions arising from the use of facial scrubs were estimated using this average density number, population data, facial scrub usage rate, sewage treatment rate, and a few conservative assumptions. WWTP emissions were calculated by multiplying the annual treated sewage volume and estimated microbead density in sewage. We estimated that, on average, 209.7 trillion microbeads (306.9 tonnes) are emitted into the aquatic environment in Mainland China every year. More than 80% of the emissions originate from incomplete removal in WWTPs, and the remaining 20% is derived from direct emissions. Although the weight of the emitted microbeads only accounts for approximately 0.03% of the plastic waste input into the ocean from China, the number of microbeads emitted far exceeds the previous estimate of plastic debris (>330 μm) on the world’s sea surface. Immediate actions are required to prevent plastic microbeads from entering the aquatic environment.

Pui Kwan Cheung, Lincoln Fok, Water Research, Volume 122, 1 October 2017, Pages 53–61

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Government drops opposition to Bill banning microplastics

The Government has reversed a decision to oppose a Labour Party Bill banning the use of microplastics and microbeads in personal care items including scrubs, soaps, lotions and toothpastes.

Minister for Housing Simon Coveney had originally planned to reject the Prohibition of microplastics Bill on the grounds that it could place Ireland in breach of EU Treaty articles on the free movement of goods and that it was flawed in definitions, enforcement and its “level of ambition”.

But in the Dáil on Thursday he told the Bill’s author, Cork East Labour TD Seán Sherlock, that the Government would not oppose the legislation but would probably abstain and allow it to proceed on the basis that “if and when we produce the Government’s legislative response to this whether in the foreshore Bill or in a separate piece of legislation after the work that needs to be done first”. (…) (irishtimes.com, 4/05/2017)

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Study to provide information supplementing the study on the impact of the use of “oxo-degradable” plastic on the environment”

Oxo-degradable or oxo-biodegradable plastics are conventional plastics, such as High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), commonly used in carrier bags, which also include additives which are designed to promote the oxidation of the material to the point where it embrittles and fragments. This may then be followed by biodegradation by bacteria and fungi at varying rates depending upon the environment. It has been debated for some time whether or not these additives perform in the way in which their manufacturers claim they will, whether they cause harm to the environment, and whether they effectively make plastics recycling more problematic. In November 2014, Members of the European Parliament proposed an outright ban on “oxo-degradable” plastics within the EU. Although this measure was blocked, an amendment to the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive, adopted in May 2015, commits the Commission to examine the impact of the use of oxo-degradable plastic on the environment; “By 27 May 2017, the Commission shall present a report to the European Parliament and to the Council, examining the impact of the use of oxo-degradable plastic carrier bags on the environment and present a legislative proposal, if appropriate.” This study has been undertaken in response to that request and compiles the requisite information regarding environmental impacts of this material, to the extent that such information is available, in order to form an opinion on any appropriate actions to be taken. The report presented here draws on the available scientific literature in order to investigate the claims from the industry with regard to biodegradation in different environments, and compatibility with current recycling processes. Input from key stakeholders—including the industry itself—has been used during the review to understand the impacts of the use of these materials.

European Commission, Final report, April 2017, 166 pages

The report

Australian draft plan aims to reduce marine debris

The Australian Government has issued a draft threat abatement plan with strategies to reduce marine debris. The plan specifically targets plastic litter.

It said marine debris, particularly plastic, is harmful to marine wildlife, with impacts caused through entanglement, ingestion and contamination.

The draft threat abatement plan for the impacts of marine debris on vertebrate marine species follows an Australian Senate inquiry on the threat of marine plastic pollution in Australia, which released a report, Toxic tide: the threat of marine plastic, in April 2016. The draft plan said marine debris impacts have been documented for seabirds, marine turtles, cetaceans, sharks and other Australian marine wildlife, including many species listed as threatened.

The Federal Government has sought public comment on the draft plan and will then release a final plan. (…) (plasticsnews.com, 10/04/2017)

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The Portuguese plastic carrier bag tax: The effects on consumers’ behavior

Marine litter from lightweight plastic bags is a global problem that must be solved. A plastic bag tax was implemented in February 2015 to reduce the consumption of plastic grocery bags in Portugal and in turn reduce the potential contribution to marine litter. This study analyzes the effect of the plastic bag tax on consumer behavior to learn how it was received and determine the perceived effectiveness of the tax 4 months after its implementation. In addition, the study assessed how proximity to coastal areas could influence behaviors and opinions. The results showed a 74% reduction of plastic bag consumption with a simultaneously 61% increase of reusable plastic bags after the tax was implemented. Because plastic bags were then reused for shopping instead of garbage bags, however, the consumption of garbage bags increased by 12%. Although reduction was achieved, the tax had no effect on the perception of marine litter or the impact of plastic bags on environment and health. The majority of respondents agree with the tax but view it as an extra revenue to the State. The distance to the coast had no meaningful influence on consumer behavior or on the perception of the tax. Although the tax was able to promote the reduction of plastics, the role of hypermarkets and supermarkets in providing alternatives through the distribution of reusable plastic bags was determinant to ensuring the reduction.

Graça Martinho, Natacha Balaia, Ana Pires, Waste Management, Volume 61, March 2017, Pages 3–12

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From macro- to microplastics – Analysis of EU regulation along the life cycle of plastic bags

Plastic pollution and its environmental effects has received global attention the recent years. However, limited attention has so far been directed towards how plastics are regulated in a life cycle perspective and how regulatory gaps can be addressed in order to limit and prevent environmental exposure and hazards of macro- and microplastics. In this paper, we map European regulation taking outset in the life cycle perspective of plastic carrier bags: from plastic bag production to when it enters the environment. Relevant regulatory frameworks, directives and authorities along the life cycle are identified and their role in regulation of plastics is discussed. Most important regulations were identified as: the EU chemical Regulation, the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive including the amending Directive regarding regulation of the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags, the Waste Framework Directive and the Directive on the Landfill of Waste. The main gaps identified relate to lack of clear definitions of categories of polymers, unambitious recycling rates and lack of consideration of macro- and microplastics in key pieces of legislation. We recommend that polymers are categorized according to whether they are polymers with the same monomer constituents (homopolymers) or with different monomer constituents (copolymers) and that polymers are no longer exempt from registration and evaluation under REACH. Plastics should furthermore have the same high level of monitoring and reporting requirements as hazardous waste involving stricter requirements to labelling, recordkeeping, monitoring and control over the whole lifecycle. Finally, we recommend that more ambitious recycle and recovery targets are set across the EU. Regulation of the consumption of lightweight plastic carrier bags should also apply to heavyweight plastic carrier bags. Last, the Marine and Water Framework Directives should specifically address plastic waste affecting water quality.

Ida M. Steensgaard, Kristian Syberg, Sinja Rist, Nanna B. Hartmann, Alessio Boldrin, Steffen Foss Hansen, Environmental Pollution, Volume 224, May 2017, Pages 289–299

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