According to a report from BloombergNEF (BNEF), a strategic research provider covering global commodity markets and the technologies driving the transition to a low-carbon economy, steel producers virtually could eliminate carbon emissions through $278 billion of extra investment by 2050, with hydrogen and recycling playing pivotal roles.
Between 73 and 152 million metric tons of food gets wasted each year in the U.S., or over over a third of the country’s food supply, according to a new report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The most commonly wasted foods are fruits and vegetables, followed by dairy and eggs. Over half of all waste occurs at households and restaurants. The food processing sector generates 34 million metric tons of waste per year, the agency said.
EPA said that halving food waste in the U.S. — a goal set by policymakers — would save 3.2 trillion gallons of blue water, 640 million pounds of fertilizer, 262 billion kilowatt hours of energy and 92 million metric ton equivalents of carbon dioxide over 75 million acres of agricultural land. Reducing waste of meats, cereals and fresh fruits and vegetables would have the biggest environmental impact, according to the agency.
Over the past decade, total U.S. food loss and waste has increased by 12% to 14%, according to EPA. Based on these findings, in order for the U.S. to reach its goal of halving food waste by 2030, it will require greater effort from consumers, businesses and legislators.
Plastic waste of all shapes and sizes permeates the world’s oceans. It shows up on beaches, in fish and even in Arctic sea ice. And a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine makes clear that the U.S. is a big part of the problem.
As the report shows, the U.S. produces a large share of the global supply of plastic resin – the precursor material to all plastic industrial and consumer products. It also imports and exports billions of dollars’ worth of plastic products every year.
On a per capita basis, the U.S. produces an order of magnitude more plastic waste than China – a nation often vilified over pollution-related issues. These findings build off a study published in 2020 that concluded that the U.S. is the largest global source of plastic waste, including plastics shipped to other countries that later are mismanaged.
And only a small fraction of plastic in U.S. household waste streams is recycled. The study calls current U.S. recycling systems “grossly insufficient to manage the diversity, complexity and quantity of plastic waste.”
As scientists who study the effects of plastic pollution on marineecosystems, we view this report as an important first step on a long road to reducing ocean plastic pollution. While it’s important to make clear how the U.S. is contributing to ocean plastic waste, we see a need for specific, actionable goals and recommendations to mitigate the plastic pollution crisis, and would have liked to see the report go further in that direction.
Plastic is showing up in seafood
Researchers started documenting marine plastic pollution in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Public and scientific interest in the issue exploded in the early 2000s after oceanographer Charles Moore drew attention to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a region in the central north Pacific where ocean currents concentrate floating plastic trash into spinning collections thousands of miles across.
The new report is a sweeping overview of marine plastic pollution, grounded in science. However, many of its conclusions and recommendations have been proposed in various forms for years, and in our view the report could have done more to advance those discussions.
For example, it strongly recommends developing a national marine debris monitoring program, led by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program. We agree with this proposal, but the report does not address what to monitor, how to do it or what the specific goals of monitoring should be.
Ideally, we believe the federal government should create a coalition of relevant agencies, such as NOAA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health, to tackle plastic pollution. Agencies have done this in the past in response to acute pollution events, such as the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but not for chronic problems like marine debris. The report proposes a cross-government effort as well but does not provide specifics.
An underfunded problem
Actions to detect, track and remove plastic waste from the ocean will require substantial financial support. But there’s little federal funding for marine debris research and cleanup. In 2020, for example, NOAA’s Marine Debris Program budget request was $US7 million, which represents 0.1% of NOAA’s $5.65B 2020 budget. Proposed funding for the Marine Debris Program increased by $9 million for fiscal 2022, which is a step in the right direction.
Even so, making progress on ocean plastic waste will require considerably more funding for academic research, nongovernmental organizations and NOAA’s marine debris activities. Increased support for these programs will help close knowledge gaps, increase public awareness and spur effective action across the entire life cycle of plastics.
Corporate responsibility and equity
The private sector also has a crucial role to play in reducing plastic use and waste. We would have liked to see more discussion in the report of how businesses and industries contribute to the accumulation of ocean plastic waste and their role in solutions.
The report correctly notes that plastic pollution is an environmental justice issue. Minority and low-income communities are disproportionately affected by many activities that produce plastic waste, from oil drilling emissions to toxic chemicals released during the production or incineration of plastics. Some proposals in the report, such as better waste management and increased recycling, may benefit these communities – but only if they are directly involved in planning and carrying them out.
The study also highlights the need to produce less plastic and scale up effective plastic recycling. More public and private funding for solutions like reusable and refillable containers, reduced packaging and standardized plastic recycling processes would increase opportunities for consumers to shift away from single-use disposable products.
Plastic pollution threatens the world’s oceans. It also poses direct and indirect risks to human health. We hope the bipartisan support this study has received is a sign that U.S. leaders are ready to take far-reaching action on this critical environmental problem.
Microplastics dispersed in the environment may enhance antibiotic resistance. A study found the chemical-leaching plastics draw bacteria and other vectors and make them susceptible to antibiotic resistant genes.
Most of the methane gas emitted from Amazon wetlands regions is vented into the atmosphere via tree root systems — with significant emissions occurring even when the ground is not flooded, say researchers.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has proposed energy efficiency requirements for the most common types of light bulbs, which conservation advocates believe will save consumers $300 million each month on their energy bills.
The rule would codify a “backstop,” or minimum efficacy standard, of 45 lumens per watt (lm/W) for general service lamps. DOE’s notice of proposed rulemaking hints at a “staggered implementation” to ease the burden on manufacturers, leading the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) to question whether the Biden administration is moving rapidly enough to combat climate change.
DOE has also finalized a rule revising the agency’s appliance test procedure interim waiver process, which under former President Donald Trump was altered to allow greater flexibility for product manufacturers. Efficiency advocates say those changes allowed inefficient appliances to remain on shelves longer than necessary.
Polyester and nylon are some of the most used materials in the fashion industry, especially in the activewear sector. And yet they are also one of the worst when it comes to environmental cost. Could additive technology be a solution to the problem?
Definite Articles, the brand started by Aaron Sanandres, co-founder and CEO of shirt company Untuckit, launched last month with a mission: to create a more sustainable activewear line, starting with socks. Composed of 51% sustainable nylon, 23% BCI cotton, 23% sustainable recycled polyester and 3% spandex, the sock textiles are composed using Ciclo, a pellet additive that gives them a unique property: They’re degradable at the same rate as natural fibers like wool when in sea water, wastewater treatment plants and landfill conditions.
Procter & Gamble Co (PG.N) has lofty goals for cutting its environmental impact by 2030 but obtaining recycled plastic for more sustainable packaging is challenging, the company’s vice president of global sustainability said at the Reuters Next conference.
Global supply chain issues are making obtaining environmentally sound packaging materials more difficult, Jack McAneny said on Friday, as the consumer goods giant scrambles to meet the demands of an increasingly eco-conscious consumer base.