Discarded PPE in seas a ‘new type of pollution’, French cleanup group says

UNTV News   •   June 10, 2020   •   249

FRANCE – Amid the global coronavirus pandemic, more and more protective equipment is ending up in the sea, a French clean-up group warned on Tuesday (June 9).

Volunteer divers who are part of the association Operation Mer Propre say they have seen discarded face masks and latex gloves floating underwater during their operations around the French coast for a month.

“For a month now, we’re starting to see these masks. It’s a new type of pollution,” association founder Laurent Lombard told Reuters in an interview via video call.

The main cause is littering, Lombard said.

Since France emerged from a strict eight-week lockdown last month, people are using personal protective equipment (PPE) in public and some are throwing used masks and gloves on the street. When it rains that gets washed into the sea.

Although for the moment PPE constitutes “not even 1 percent” of the total 3 tonnes of trash collected underwater by the group since its foundation last year, Lombard said he is wary that the problem could worsen as the pandemic drags on.

Aware of the situation, government leaders have called on the public to dispose of their used PPE properly.

France’s environment ministry in late May increased fines for these infractions, from 68 to 135 euros, rising to 750 euros depending on the severity of the offence.

Lombard said that the new rule should be strictly enforced.

“The message is really to throw your masks in trash bins,” he said.

“It’s a matter of common sense,” he concluded.

(Production: Ardee Napolitano, George Sargent)

From rice fields to trash fields: Indonesian farmers find profit in pollution

Robie de Guzman   •   August 16, 2019

Once home to rice farmers and their luscious green paddy fields, this Indonesian village is now a dump for truckloads of rubbish.

As Indonesia looks to tackle the country’s growing mountain of trash, the residents of East Java’s 200-hectare Bangun village have found a way to reel in profit from the problem — by opening their gates to garbage trucks and choosing to turn their fertile fields into rubbish sorting plots.

The health and environmental repercussions for Bangun village might be huge, said non-government organization, Ecological Observation and Wetlands Conservation (ECOTON), which has been observing the issue in the area for the last five years.

Now, more than 60 percent of the village residents have opted to enter the rubbish sorting business, and for the time being, that looks unlikely to drop.

“If I’m farming, I need to wait three months to get results, but if I’m sorting rubbish, we can make money in a day, two days or even a week,” said one farmer, Siti Maimanah.

On average, a worker in Bangun can earn between $7-14 per week picking through the sea of paper and plastic, and that can rise to $35 if the piles are particularly high – a tempting proposition when the farming alternative would leave them waiting with nothing for weeks on weeks, said Maimanah.

Ecoton said it has obtained evidence that the garbage in the area is imported from at least 54 countries around the world, including Europe, the United States, Australia, and Asia, under the pretense it is ‘paper waste’. Reuters found plastic packaging amongst the piles, including from Canada and the United States.

That’s adding on top of the huge amount of garbage the world’s fourth-most populous country with 260 million people generates on its own.

Earlier this year, the city of Surabaya sent back more than 200 tonnes of trash to Australia and U.S. as part of efforts to push back ‘foreign trash’ amid a spike in imports from Western countries after China banned imports.

“Our country has been labeled a dirty country and now America is adding their rubbish on top. Sending this garbage is clearly a violation of the law,” said Ecoton’s protest coordinator, Prigi Arisandi, during a recent protest in front of the U.S. consulate in Indonesia’s second-biggest city, Surabaya.

The archipelago of more than 17,000 islands has been struggling to cope with the waste, with much of it going into landfill and often eventually seeping out to pollute rivers and oceans. According to a 2015 study published in the Science journal, Indonesia was the world’s second-biggest contributor of plastic pollutants in the oceans.

The mountain of trash in Bangun village is also not going to vanish overnight despite the government’s efforts and plan to set up waste-to-energy plants across the country.

And for now, Indonesians like Maimanah say their day-to-day survival is far more important than the environment. (REUTERS)

(Production: Prasto Wardoyo, Heru Asprihanto, Angie Teo, Natasha Howitt)

Microplastics contaminating air, scientists warn

Robie de Guzman   •   August 16, 2019

German and Swiss scientists have published a study suggesting that microplastic is being blown vast distances through the air and dumped when it snows, underscoring the threat the growing form of pollution poses to marine life in even the remotest waters on the planet.

The team, from the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), analyzed snow samples in Germany, the Swiss Alps and on the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard to confirm that the snow in all places contained high concentrations of plastic fragments, known as microplastic.

“It’s readily apparent that the majority of the microplastic in the snow comes from the air,” lead researcher Melanie Bergmann said in a press release.

The highest concentration in samples was collected in a rural area in Germany’s southern province of Bavaria, totaling to 154,000 particles per liter. The snow in the Arctic contained up to 14,400 particles per liter in comparison.

Researchers found particles of nitrile rubber, acrylates and paints containing plastics in their snow samples.

The study, published on Wednesday (August 14), is reinforced by research conducted by a U.S.-led team of scientists in the Northwest Passage. The team found the material trapped in ice taken from Lancaster Sound, an isolated stretch of water in the Canadian Arctic, which they had assumed might be relatively sheltered from drifting plastic pollution.

Eighteen ice cores of up to 2 meters (6.5 feet) long were drawn from four locations, containing visible plastic beads and filaments of various shapes and sizes.

The plastic fragments serve to highlight how the waste problem has reached epidemic proportions.

The United Nations estimates that 100 million tonnes of plastic have been dumped in the oceans to date. (REUTERS)

(Production: Barbara Woolsey)

Waves of cuttlefish wash up on shore in Chile

admin   •   February 13, 2019

Dead cuttlefish on the shore and tourists and locals in Bahia Inglesia, Chile on February 10, 2019 | Reuters

Thousands of cuttlefish have mysteriously washed up on shore in Chile’s Bahia Inglesa, amidst pollution fears in this coastal area that is one of the country’s main tourist hotspots.

Locals say such an incident has not happened before, and environmental authorities are investigating and have warned locals not to eat the fish.

There are fears that the waves of dead fish could damage the region’s fishing industry, a major driver of the local economy.

Bahia Inglesa is a popular summer destination for Chile, with thousands attracted to the area’s pristine beaches. — Reuters

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