Unveiling the Culprits Causes of Plastic Pollution in the Ocean

For John Weinstein, Ph.D., Department Head of Biology at The Citadel, the harm that plastics cause to marine ecosystems is his life’s work.

But DHEC closed the case without issuing a penalty in October, “after evaluating the multiple steps the facility had taken to prevent future spills,” an agency spokeswoman told The State Media Co. Since then, the Charleston Waterkeeper has tracked down nurdles along swaths of South Carolina’s coast, following scientific guidelines for surveying them. The nonprofit has consistently found the highest concentrations closest to Frontier’s facility, and has collected more than 17,000 of the nurdles as far north as the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge near Awendaw, S.C., and as far south as Edisto Beach in Colleton County. That amount is just a sliver of the actual number in the waterways, clarified Andrew Wunderley, executive director of the Waterkeeper, since it represents only the nurdles picked up by a single person for a few minutes at a time.

Because it believes neither Frontier nor any enforcement agency has taken effective steps to stop the pollution, this March, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit against the company on behalf of the Waterkeeper and the S.C. Coastal Conservation League.

Frontier has denied the claims, saying it is being unfairly targeted as the source of the pollution.

Last week, the judge presiding over the case rejected each of Frontier’s arguments opposing the suit, allowing it to continue. He also ordered the S.C. Ports Authority (SPA), a quasi-public state agency that owns and operates the port and whose board is appointed by the governor, to comply with a subpoena to provide information about Frontier to the nonprofits. The agency had previously tried to quash the request.

Now, never-before-seen documents reviewed by The State Media Co. — reported here for the first time — reveal leadership at the Ports Authority has been helping shield Frontier and its business supplier from scrutiny despite internally noting that the company was responsible for spills. And in emails exchanged in private, leaders of both organizations sometimes seemed to dismiss ecological concerns or public accountability, the documents show.

The issue

Plastic waste makes up a large proportion of the debris collected on New Zealand beaches, with single use plastics such a food wrappers and plastic bags being the largest culprits. Most of the plastic in the ocean originates on land, being carried to the estuaries and coasts by rivers. Managing this plastic on land before it reaches the river could be the key to stemming the tide of marine-bound plastics. In order to do this the project will focus on the following key questions:

  • Where does all the plastic come from?
  • How much and what types of plastics are carried by rivers?

The goal of this project is to understand the sources and fate of plastic pollution carried by urban rivers using the Kaiwharawhara Stream as a case study. This knowledge will help us to improve our understanding of plastic pollution sources and pathways and identify key locations and seasons of plastic release into the environment.

The approach

The design of this research will draw on a ki uta ki tai approach—from the mountains to the sea—and consider the movement and impacts of plastic pollution along the length of the Kaiwharawhara Stream.

  • 2018-19 Develop and test protocols for monitoring of macro (more than 5 mm) and microplastics (less than 5 mm) in freshwaters. In collaboration with Taranaki Whānui, develop a cultural monitoring framework to quantify the state of plastic pollution at culturally significant sites over time.
  • 2019-20 Quantify the different ways plastics enter the stream. Evaluate these sources, including the type and amount of plastics they contribute, and how this contribution changes over time. Monitor plastic concentrations in water and sediment to understand seasonality of stream inputs and catchment characteristics which may influence where plastics accumulate.
  • 2020-21 Assess how plastics change over time in the stream, breaking down into smaller pieces, and how this change is influenced by human modification to the stream environment. In collaboration with Taranaki Whānui, describe the impacts of different plastics loads at culturally significant sites on mana whenua values.

Ranked: The top 10 countries that dump the most plastic into the ocean

The amount of plastics which are dumped in the oceans annually poses a danger to our already endangered marine life

Countries are continuing to dump larger quantities of plastic into the oceans annually and our marine life is paying the price.

Plastic waste is still one of the largest environmental concerns we face in the 21st century. But which countries dump the most waste into our oceans?

A recent report by packaging company RAJA reveals the top culprits worldwide producing the most plastic. India was found to be the worst country for plastic waste in the oceans in 2020, with some 126.5 million kg of plastic per year being dumped.

The weight of plastic waste dumped by India is equivalent to the weight of over 250 thousand bottlenose dolphins, one of the most commonly found dolphin species in the ocean.

Despite the United States producing double the amount of India’s plastic waste annually (42 billion kg), only 2.4 million kg of it ends up in our oceans.

Unsplash/Canva

This could be due to the fact that the US is well-known for exporting its waste to other countries including ones with poor waste management systems like India or places in Africa as well as to countries with good waste management systems.

In 2018 the Plastic Pollution Coalition reported that the United States had exported 157 thousand shipping containers filled with plastic waste, this was equivalent to approximately 1.07 million kg of plastic.

The plastic was shipped to some good quality waste-managing countries like Canada, South Korea and Taiwan. But larger quantities of waste were also shipped to countries with poor waste management systems such as Malaysia, Thailand and India, which took on 19 per cent, 10 per cent and 12 per cent of US plastic waste respectively.

When large countries like the US ship their plastic waste abroad they are able to claim it has been recycled. This fulfills the obligation for developed countries to effect a greater positive change for the environment.

Why is plastic in our oceans such a problem?

Plastic pollution destroys our marine life and ocean biodiversity and countries with a higher GDP tend to cause the most damage. Whilst plastic is a useful material and has many societal functions – its durable composition means that it takes much longer to break down.

For example, plastic microbeads (a mostly globally banned element normally found in cosmetics) cause harm to marine life and never biodegrade, thus affecting the environment long after they have been introduced to the water supply. They also contain toxic chemicals which are consumed by fish and then can eventually enter the human supply chain.

 

Sean Teer manages Envision, a not-for-profit turning plastic bottle tops that would otherwise go to landfill into prosthetic hands and arms. Based in Werribee, the project aims to change the lives of as many disadvantaged people as possible in countries like Cambodia and India. Supported by the global Coca‑Cola Foundation, Melbourne based not-for-profit Envision is in the process of turning bottle caps into mobility aids, or artificial plastic limbs.

Achievements:

  • Set up and ran Progressive Personnel – First centrally based employer marketing service of its type in Australia for Disability Services
  • Author of a number of Articles and book on Job Seeking
  • National Finalist, Best Supervisor Work for the Dole Prime Minister’s Award 2005
  • Author of Self Development Book – Master the Art of Happiness
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