“The Plastic Apocalypse” Presentation at Sewickley, PA (2/20/19)

by Duane Nichols on February 18, 2019

The Plastics Apocalype is Here

The Plastic Apocalypse – Action Network

Award-winning National Geographic photographer Randy Olson will present his photos in a program entitled “The Plastic Apocalypse.”

Mr. Olson’s photos of plastics around the world are part of National Geographic’s “Planet or Plastic?” campaign.

Justin Stockdale, Western Regional Director at Pennsylvania Resources Council, Pittsburgh, will discuss the impact of local recycling.

This event is sponsored by Communities First – Sewickley Valley and the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, co-sponsored with SHAPE and Sustainable Sewickley.

The evening starts with a half-hour social at 6:30 p.m. with light hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar, followed by programming at 7 p.m.

Because space is limited, RSVPs are requested.


Start: February 20, 2019• 6:30 PM
End: February 20, 2019• 9:00 PM

Location:Edgeworth Club•511 East Drive, Sewickley, PA 15143
Host Contact Info: communities1sewickley@gmail.com


See also: National Geographic’s Planet or Plastic Campaign

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Claire Gwinnett February 18, 2019 at 9:03 am

The major source of ocean plastic pollution you’ve probably never heard of

Article by Claire Gwinnett, The Conversation, February 14, 2019


“Nurdles” may sound cute but they pose a huge risk to the marine environment. Also known as “mermaid tears”, these small plastic pellets are a feedstock in the plastic industry. Instead of being converted into household items, many end up in the ocean, collecting toxins on their surfaces and being eaten by marine wildlife. Not so cute now, are they?

Nurdles are the building blocks for most plastic goods, from single-use water bottles to televison sets. These small pellets – normally between 1mm and 5mm – are classed as a primary microplastic alongside the microbeads used in cosmetic products – they’re small on purpose, as opposed to other microplastics that break off from larger plastic waste in the ocean.

The small size of nurdles makes them easy to transport as the raw material which can be melted down and moulded into all kinds of plastic products by manufacturers. Unfortunately, mismanagement of these little pellets during transport and processing leads to billions being unintentionally released into rivers and oceans through effluent pipes, blown from land or via industrial spillage.

(Photo: Nurdles – colourful, ubiquitous and deadly for wildlife. Amy Osborne)

“Mermaid tears” is an appropriate nickname when we consider the potential harm that nurdles have on marine life. Their small size, round shape and array of colours make them attractive food – easily mistaken for fish eggs and small prey. This “food” has an extra problem – it comes with a side of noxious chemicals.

The large surface area to size ratio and polymer composition of the nurdle pellets allow persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in seawater to build up on their surfaces. These toxins then transfer to the tissue of organisms which eat them. The problem is in the name – POPs are “persistent”, meaning they don’t go away easily and can remain on the surface of nurdles for years.

Nurdles can also be colonised by microbes that are dangerous to humans. A study investigating nurdles on bathing beaches in East Lothian, Scotland, found that all five beaches tested had nurdles that were covered with E. coli – the bacterium responsible for food poisoning.

Nurdles can be so noxious that people cleaning beaches or recording pellets in scientific surveys are advised not to touch them with their bare skin – which makes sun bathing on many beaches in the summer an unattractive prospect.

So how many nurdles are out there in the ocean and on coastlines? It’s estimated that up to 53 billion nurdles are released annually in the UK from the plastic industry. That’s the same amount of nurdles that it would take to make 88m plastic bottles. So why are nurdles rarely discussed in the plastic pollution debate?

(Photo: Nurdles are the feedstock for most of the single-use plastic products we use every day. Sarah2/Shutterstock)

Luckily, there are organisations raising awareness of nurdles and their prevalence in marine pollution. The Great Global Nurdle Hunt started by Fidra – a charity based in Scotland that addresses environmental issues – and the Marine Conservation Society encourages people to become citizen scientists and gather data on how common these pellets are on beaches around the world.

Data collection helps identify the main sources of this pollution from the plastic industry, which can use the information to improve management of the problem. As there are so many nurdles present in the environment, it takes an army of people to gather information about them. The Hunt takes place over ten days in February each year.

Citizen scientists log their nurdle findings onto a global map that shows the extent of nurdle pollution worldwide and how it’s changed over time. Since 2012, the number of beaches being searched has reached 1610 across six continents, 18 countries and with over 60 organisations involved.

(Photo: Volunteers survey the beach for nurdles. Claire Gwinnett)

This year, Staffordshire University’s Microplastic and Forensic Fibre Research Group took part in efforts to estimate the concentration of nurdles on Hightown beach in Liverpool, UK. An average of 139.8 nurdles per square metre were found. That’s around 140,000 nurdles over 1km of hightide line.

If you’d like to become a citizen scientist and collect nurdle data at your local beach, there are a few useful tips. Have a look at one of the online nurdle ID guides online so that you don’t mistake a polystyrene ball, BB gun pellet or ancient fossil for a nurdle.

Make sure to check seaweed and other marine debris when on the beach – these act like large nurdle nets. Once you’ve collected data, don’t forget to submit your findings to a suitable survey so that that they can be used to fight the pollution problem.

And if you don’t live near the coast, don’t worry – nurdles have been found in most environments, including rivers, lakes and even far inland and away from water. We even found them in soil in our campus. So let’s get nurdle hunting – but don’t forget your gloves.



Madison Dapcevich February 21, 2019 at 10:14 am

Plastic Contaminants Found in Eggs of Some of the World’s Most Isolated Birds

Guest Contributor, Madison Dapcevich, EcoWatch.com, February 20, 2019

Plastics have been recorded in every corner of the world, from the remote icy waters of Antarctica to the bellies of deep-sea fishes. Now, preliminary findings presented at this year’s American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Washington, DC suggest that bird eggs from the high Arctic—one of the most remote wildernesses on the planet—show evidence of contamination from chemicals used in plastics.

Roughly 20 billion pounds of plastic enter the ocean each year, reports Jennifer Provencher of the Canadian Wildlife Service in her findings. Of these, many contain a hormone-disrupting chemical called phthalates. When birds mistake plastic products like bottle caps or cigarette butts for food, the chemicals from these plastics may leach off a mother’s blood system and, as it turns out, get passed down to the eggs encasing their unborn chicks.

“Plastic ingestion reported in seabirds since in the 1980s represents one of the most standardized and widely applied marine plastic data sets available,” wrote Provencher in her presentation summary.

Northern fulmars are large birds similar to albatrosses and spend the majority of their life flying low over the waves in search of food only to return to shore to breed. Researchers tested the eggs of northern fulmar populations in the Lancaster Sound, a remote channel that marks the eastern entrance to Canada’s Northwest Passage and is located more than 100 miles from the nearest human establishment. Of five eggs tested, one tested positive for traces of phthalates. Given their home in one of the most isolated wildernesses on the planet, the northern fulmars tested likely ingest far less plastic than birds found in places where plastic consumption is much higher. The problem is believed to be much more widespread than initial findings suggest.

“Tracking plastic pollution via seabirds has informed policy reduction targets in Europe, but as we learn more about the source and fate of plastic pollution standardized methods are allowing us to gain insight [into] how plastics may be vectors for chemical contaminants in biota, and how birds may be a vector themselves for plastics to move from the marine to the terrestrial environment, illustrating the widespread impact plastics may have on ecosystem health,” reads the presentation summary.

More work is needed to determine if the additives have an effect on the eggs.

“We know that these chemicals are often endocrine disruptors, and we know that they can interrupt hormonal development and cause deformations. But whether they actually cause any harm in the eggs is something we don’t know,” Provencher told The Guardian.

Globally, the majority of plastics found in marine animals include polyethylene, the plastic used in grocery bags and food containers, nylon, and the fibrous olefin found in carpeting and rope. When plastics are mistaken for food, the animal eating it may experience false satiation and blockage, which can ultimately lead to the shutting down of their digestive tract.



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