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Ocean plastics raise risk of coral reef disease, says study
Saturday 27 January 2018, 05:00PM
When coral reefs come in contact with plastic trash in the ocean, their risk of becoming diseased skyrockets, said an international study out on Thursday (Jan 25). Researchers examined more than 120,000 corals on 159 reefs – some polluted with plastic, others not – from Indonesia, Australia, Myanmar and Thailand for the study in the journal Science. "We found that the chance of disease increased from four percent to 89 percent when corals are in contact with plastic," said lead author Joleah Lamb, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Australia. Lamb said scientists are still trying to figure out why plastics are so dangerous for coral, which are living organisms that cover about 0.2 percent of the ocean floor – but provide crucial habitat for nearly a million species of young fish. It could be that "plastics make ideal vessels for colonizing microscopic organisms that could trigger disease if they come into contact with corals," she said. "For example, plastic items such as those commonly made of polypropylene, like bottle caps and toothbrushes, have been shown to become heavily inhabited by bacteria that are associated with a globally devastating group of coral diseases known as white syndromes." The problem of plastic pollution is widespread in the world's oceans, and is rapidly getting worse. "We estimate there are 11.1 billion plastic items on coral reefs across the Asia-Pacific and forecast this to increase by 40 percent within seven years," Lamb said. "That equates to an estimated 15.7 billion plastic items on coral reefs across the Asia-Pacific by 2025." Coral reefs are already under stress due to global warming, which boosts diseases and can cause coral to bleach and die.
Billions of tons of plastic waste are piling up and there’s no end in sight
Monday 14 August 2017, 01:00PM
The world has a plastic problem. More than 8.3 billion metric tons of it have been produced on Earth, with most dumped into landfills or the oceans, US researchers reported recently. The report in the journal Science Advances is described as “the first global analysis of all mass-produced plastics,” and warns that an even more dire scenario lies ahead. At the current pace, 12bn metric tons of plastic waste will be discarded in landfills or in the environment by 2050. This amount is about 35,000 times as heavy as the Empire State Building in New York City. “Most plastics don’t biodegrade in any meaningful sense, so the plastic waste humans have generated could be with us for hundreds or even thousands of years,” said Jenna Jambeck, study co-author and associate professor of engineering at the University of Georgia. “Our estimates underscore the need to think critically about the materials we use and our waste management practices.” Researchers compiled their data from production statistics for resins, fibres and additives from a variety of industry sources. The report found that as of 2015, nearly 6.3bn metric tons of plastic waste was generated on our planet. A total of 79% of that plastic waste accumulated in landfills or the environment, including the oceans. Despite widespread efforts toward re-usability, only 9% was recycled. Another 12% was incinerated, a process that can also be harmful to the environment. Recycling is not much help when it comes to plastics, because they do not dissolve in the environment. None of the plastics in widespread use are biodegradable. Just over two tons of plastics were produced globally in 1950, when mass manufacturing of the durable material began, said the report. By 2015, that number skyrocketed to over 440 million tons, outpacing most other man-made materials, with the exception of steel and cement. About half of the total amount of plastics produced from 1950 to 2015 has been made in just the past 13 years. While steel and cement are used for years, most plastic is used in packaging – think plastic water bottles or snack food packaging that are used once and discarded. “Roughly half of all the steel we make goes into construction, so it will have decades of use – plastic is the opposite,” said Roland Geyer, lead author of the paper and associate professor in University of California, Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. “Half of all plastics become waste after four or fewer years of use.” The share of plastics in municipal solid waste increased from less than 1% in 1960 to more than 10% by 2005 in middle- and high-income countries. Plastic debris can now be found in oceans all over the world. The same team of researchers reported in 2015 eight million metric tons of plastic entered the oceans in 2010.