Ocean plastic plague threatens seabirds

Read the full story from Environmental News Network.

Already 60% of seabird species have plastic in their guts, often as much as 8% of their body weight. And with ocean plastic increasing exponentially, that figure will rise to 99% by 2050, threatening some birds’ survival. Unless we act.

Many of you may have already seen the photographs of albatross carcasses full of undigested plastic junk. But how representative is that of the wider issue facing seabirds?

To help answer that question, we carried out the first worldwide analysis of the threat posed by plastic pollution to seabird species worldwide.

Our study, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that nearly 60% of all seabird species studied so far have had plastic in their gut.

Ban on plastic bags no sure bet for environment

Read the full commentary by Adam Minter.

When the city council in Austin, Texas, passed a single-use plastic shopping bag ban in 2013, it assumed environmental benefits would follow. The calculation was reasonable enough: Fewer single-use bags in circulation would mean less waste at city landfills.

Two years later, an assessment commissioned by the city finds that the ban is having an unintended effect — people are now throwing away heavy-duty reusable plastic bags at an unprecedented rate. The city’s good intentions have proven all too vulnerable to the laws of supply and demand.

Garbage ‘patch’ is much worse than believed, entrepreneur says

Read the full story at SFGate.

It is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — a mass of plastic floating debris estimated to be twice the size of Texas and concentrated between California and Hawaii.

But to Boyan Slat, the 21-year-old Dutch entrepreneur who is orchestrating what he envisions as the largest ocean cleanup effort in history, “patch” is far too gentle a term. He prefers “ticking time bomb.”

16 simple ways to reduce plastic waste

Read the full story at Mother Nature Network.

Plastic is found in virtually everything these days. Your food and hygiene products are packaged in it. Your car, phone and computer are made from it. And you might even chew on it daily in the form of gum. While most plastics are touted as recyclable, the reality is that they’re “downcycled.” A plastic milk carton can never be recycled into another carton — it can be made into a lower-quality item like plastic lumber, which can’t be recycled.

How big is our plastic problem? Of the 30 million tons of plastic waste generated in the U.S. in 2009, only 7 percent was recovered for recycling. This plastic waste ends up in landfills, beaches, rivers and oceans and contributes to such devastating problems as the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch, a swirling vortex of garbage the size of a continent where plastic outnumbers plankton. Plus, most plastic is made from oil.

Luckily, there are simple steps you can take that will dramatically decrease the amount of plastic waste you generate.

Producing ethylene from algae

Read the full story in Algae Industry Magazine.

Currently made most often from petroleum and natural gas, ethylene is used in the manufacture of plastics and polyester, and ranks as the largest petrochemical produced by volume around the world. But the process of making ethylene requires considerable amounts of energy and releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Researchers in Japan in the late 1990s discovered a blue-green alga, Synechococcus sp. PCC 7942, could be modified to produce ethylene via photosynthesis by the introduction of the gene that codes for an ethylene-forming enzyme, or EFE. But that strain ran into problems as the amount of ethylene produced declined over time and, by the fourth generation of the cyanobacterium production, stopped entirely.

Building on that research, Dr. Jianping Yu, a research scientist in the Photobiology Group at the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, turned his attention to a different cyanobacterium, Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803. Dr. Yu, who joined NREL in 2005, earned his doctorate from Michigan State University for his research into that strain.

The 5 Plastics That Nobody Should Be Using

Read the full post at MindBodyGreen.

Tom Szaky and Albe Zakes, the eco-entrepreneurs behind global recycling company TerraCycle, have a pretty unique take on trash. Their new book, Make Garbage Great, explores the history of human waste and presents some creative ideas to make less of it in the future. Here’s what they have to say about plastic.

Human beings manufacture nearly 200 billion pounds of plastic every year. To really grasp that figure, consider these facts: there are also about 200 billion stars in the Milky Way and approximately the same number of galaxies in the entire universe.

We are endangering the long-term well-being of the planet because of a desire for short-term wealth and material objects. As a consumer, the power to purchase is directly in your hands. Here are five plastic products everyone should be avoiding.

Meet the companies trying to break our plastic addiction

Read the full story in GreenBiz.

The fate of the world’s oceans may rest inside a stainless steel tank not quite the size of a small beer keg. Inside, genetically modified bacteria turn corn syrup into a churning mass of polymers that can be used to produce a wide variety of common plastics.

“It’s a bit like making yogurt,” said Oliver Peoples, chief scientific officer of Metabolix, Inc.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts–based company where bioplastics take shape in laboratory-scale fermentation chambers is one of a growing number of businesses and institutions working to develop cost-competitive, more environmentally friendly replacements for conventional plastics, which are made from fossil fuels, fail to decompose and are turning our oceans into seas of floating plastic.