In a move that could lead to a ban on single-use plastics in EU member states by 2021, last week the European Union parliament voted to ban single-use straws, single-use plastic cutlery, stirrers, plastic plates, cotton buds and balloon sticks. The new laws also say that, by 2025, the content of plastic bottles should be 25 per cent recycled.
Plastic is a huge environmental problem, not least for marine life, with 800 species impacted by marine debris, according to the UN.
Frans Timmermans, a European vice-commissioner and champion of the fight on single-use plastics, said, “Today we have taken an important step to reduce littering and plastic pollution in our oceans and seas. We got this, we can do this.”
But some say that, by focusing on straws, environmental activists are forgetting those with disabilities who rely on plastic straws to hydrate, and have asked that policies pushed make exceptions for those who rely on plastic straws.
Campaigners are now pushing for a ban on glitter in Britain, because glitter products come from plastic, making it potentially environmentally hazardous in oceans.
Editors Note: At The Clean Collective, we are very happy to hear about the invention of the world’s first 100% biodegradable glitter, and encourage everyone to choose reusable straws, cutlery, and bamboo or paper-stemmed cotton buds in an effort to reduce single-use plastics.
President Donald Trump exceeded his authority when he reversed bans on offshore drilling in vast parts of the Arctic Ocean and dozens of canyons in the Atlantic Ocean, U.S. judge Sharon Gleason said in a ruling that restored the Obama-era restrictions. “The wording of President Obama’s 2015 and 2016 withdrawals indicates that he intended them to extend indefinitely, and therefore be revocable only by an act of Congress”.
Gleason said that Presidents have the power under a federal law to remove certain lands from development, but cannot revoke these removals. However, the American Petroleum Institute, a defendant in the case, disagreed with the ruling. The Institute said in a statement “In addition to bringing supplies of affordable energy to consumers for decades to come, developing our abundant offshore resources can provide billions in government revenue, create thousands of jobs and will also strengthen our national security”.
On the other hand, Eric Gafe, an attorney with Earthjustice, welcomed the ruling, saying it “shows that the president cannot just trample on the Constitution to do the bidding of his cronies in the fossil fuel industry at the expense of our oceans, wildlife and climate.”
Australia could become the latest country to bring in more severe single-use plastic restrictions after the Labor Party announced plans to ban microbeads and some plastic bags if it returns to power in the 2019 federal elections. Labor leader Bill Shorten said “Plastic has a devastating impact on our natural environment – more than a third of the world’s sea turtles were found to have plastic waste in their stomachs, and it is estimated around 90 per cent of seabirds eat plastic waste.”
The measures form part of a $290-million (£157.61m) plan to improve Australia’s record on plastic pollution and come alongside proposals for a national deposit return scheme (DRS), the appointment of a national waste commissioner, a $60-million (£32.6m) recycling fund and $15 million (£8.15m) of funding to help neighbouring countries clean up the Pacific Ocean.
The plans will be contingent on a Labour win in the upcoming federal election, expected sometime in May, over the ruling Liberal party.
Researchers say they have given timber a makeover to produce a material which could replace plastic or glass in the construction of energy-efficient homes. The new material is not only sturdy, but also transparent and able to store and release heat.
To produce the material, the team took balsa wood and removed its lignin, which gives wood its strength and colour. Acrylic, non-biodegradable and water-repellent, was mixed with another substance called polyethylene glycol, which absorbs energy and melts when it is heated, but hardens when temperature falls, releasing energy in the process. This combination was introduced into the remaining tissues of the wood, filling the pores left by the removal of lignin. The result was a frosted-looking wood-based material which could be used to make buildings more energy-efficient as energy captured from the sun during the day can be released later into the interior.
“We prepared a material that is multifunctional – it can transmit light very well and also it can store heat. We combined these two functions in a single material,” said Céline Montanari of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. However, Montanari said there was plenty of work still to do – including replacing the acrylic with a biodegradable alternative for some applications, scaling up production of the material, and carrying out computer models of buildings to see how transparent wood compares with glass.
A technology that removes carbon dioxide from the air has received significant backing from major fossil fuel companies. British Columbia-based Carbon Engineering has shown that it can extract CO2 in a cost-effective way. The company says that its direct air capture (DAC) process is now able to capture the gas for under one hundred dollars a ton. With its new funding, Carbon Engineering plan to build their first industrial-scale DAC plants which could capture up to one million tons of CO2 from the air every year.
Carbon Engineering’s process is all about sucking in air and exposing it to a chemical solution that concentrates the CO2. Further refinements mean the gas can be purified into a form that can be stored or utilised as a liquid fuel. “The fuel that we make has no sulphur in it, it has these nice linear chains which means it burns cleaner than traditional fuel,” said Carbon Engineering’s Dr Jenny McCahill.
Some climate campaigners are positive about the development of direct air capture technology, but others are worried that it will be used to prolong the fossil fuel era.
International programme director for Stand dot earth, Tzeporah Berman, told BBC News it was a huge concern, “We need to be working together to figure out how we move away completely from fossil fuel – that’s our moral and economic challenge but these technologies provide a false hope that we can continue to depend on fossil fuels and produce and burn them, and technology will fix it – we are way past that point!”