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Tiny Plastic Is Everywhere (npr.org)
466 points by francisofascii 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 301 comments



Personal anecdote; just got back from a trip to Hawaii. Many of the beaches there had significant deposits of pebble sized and smaller visible plastic particles. Presumably there’s exponentially more smaller ones that I couldn’t as easily see. Some of the beaches had plastic floating in the water. Locals said it wasn’t island dumped garbage, it was brought in from currents from the ocean. Horrific to see.


Came here to say the same. We stayed in a beachfront house in Laie and the beach was covered in microplastics. Every morning there’d be workers raking the beach to clean it up, but the beaches would be covered in the microplastics again by the end of the day. While I was swimming I’d be surrounded by it as well.

It seemed very much dependent on currents, as beaches further south on the windward shore were still pristine.


I guess in an ocean full of heavier (than most if not all common plastics) sediments and naturally occurring materials the plastic would find it's way to the top (from floating or being just below the surface. It would probably only sink if it was a significant chunk of plastic or something closed with a cap and/or is heavy enough to guarantee sinking.

Maybe there could be some way to help sift things out more quickly? Something the regular beach cleaning / beautification staff could / would do without it adding an entirely new and extenuating task to their work days. My immediate thought was some sort of netting but as you said lots of the microplastics are invisible to the naked eye unless you realllly get down there. That type of net, beyond how expensive it would be having it cover any sort of significant percentage of US / World Beaches, would be pretty much only a nightmare for the majority of sea creatures of all sorts.

The big nets seem good to keep sharks and other nefarious / dangerous sea going animals that could harm humans because the nets are large enough to allow everything BUT those big baddies through. This would be the exact opposite which means literally everything that lives or occasionally travels toward the ocean's coastal areas would be in danger.

What I really want to see is somebody compile, with video, image, audio, and in person interviews with people with first hand accounts / stakes in the ocean's health / stakes in the world's health all of the different types of things like microplastics in the water / on the earth, ice caps melting and the fallout from that, any other evidence about how fast global warming is happening, what types of damage has already happened due to that global warming and obvious water level rise? I think if the average American / Human Earthling saw a video with a large collection of different real life scenarios that are already playing out / have already played out and have a serious, dangerous, and lasting effect on the planet and/or these people's lives / livelihood.


I believe the documentary A Plastic Ocean covers a lot for ocean pollution.

For global warming/climate change- An Inconvenient Truth, which is now probably dated.

I saw a great documentary of the impacts of climate change already being seen in Ladakh firsthand: Jungwa: A Broken Balance. It's pretty depressing to see a village running out of water because of the greed of a society they could never comprehend. Instead they pray for hours, thinking their problems that stem from the environment, are evidence of their own sins. Heartbreaking to see the people that will be impacted the most with the least resources to adapt.


Just got back from a trip asking the Washington State coast, including Westport and Ocean Shores, and Birch Bay near Bellingham.

The beaches were nearly pristine, for the number of people there. I only saw the occasional lost sandal on the various beaches, and a few beer cans near bonfire dugouts. I was surprised at the lack of plastic and debris, given reports like yours.

Is there a state or federal agency that combs America's beaches?


Pacific Northwest coast has ocean current flowing strongly from North to South.. all the way down to California..


The Columbia hits the Pacific like a firehose hitting pavement, where it spreads in all directions - south past Oregon and California, and north past Washington and British Columbia. This flow is slowly eroding Ocean Shores and other coastal towns. The Quinault tribe is asking the Federal Government to give them some of the Olympic National Forest, to replace the coastal part of their reservation which has washed away.


Usually the municipality sweeps the beach every morning.


> Usually the municipality sweeps the beach every morning.

This. People don't realize how costly can be to maintain a beach in a good state.

I remember getting early to the beach seeing one of this https://gfycat.com/gifs/detail/BronzeOldfashionedKarakul

Even more expensive is beach nourishment https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beach_nourishment

Cleaning work is ungrateful because people only notice it when you do a bad job.


Ugh. Sometime in the 90s we went to the Maldives and they used one of those beach nourishment devices early in the morning, every couple of days.

When we went scuba diving and swimming the consequences of their auto-dredging/sand spraying contraption were horrific, extensive and obvious to all. The organised diving trip to the local reef was to a mainly dead, slime covered reef.

Talking with the locals, who were the maintenance and wait staff, made it plain we'd chosen the "wrong" island for experiencing the Maldives.

It was that holiday and the stupidity we saw that significantly changed our environmental awareness and views.


Do they normally comb the privately-owned beaches that border the public beaches too? A lot of Ocean Shores is privately-owned, and it's bordered by private beaches. Most beach wanderers are accidentally trespassing.

Also, how do they clean the beaches where automobiles are not allowed? Part of Ocean Shores beach doesn't allow cars. And what about the miles of sand dunes, rocky beaches, jettys and other places cars can't go? How do so few people keep clean so much coastline? Are they training seagulls and deer to pick up litter? It doesn't scale...


4 months ago took a car to beaches up and down the west and east sides of a Oahu. No hotel / high traffic beaches considered here: bits of plastic across all beaches. A specific light blue tube plastic material never longer than a couple inches was spoted many times on both sides of the island, felt very like vacationing a sand trap for the world's trash.


Visit Cyprus: their south-coast beaches are the worst I've ever seen in the Mediterranean: cigarette butts & plastic caps uniformly distributed in the sand to a depth of about 30cm. Oddly, just to the East, Crete's beaches were spotless, so it must be due to cleanup and not currents. Guessing.


Maybe the Cypriots just litter more. Cigarette butts and bottle caps seems locally generated...


I saw this in Vietnam as well, extremely unattractive beaches covered in plastic bags and smaller plastic waste. On the boat to Quan Lan island I saw Chinese tourists throwing dirty diapers and any other waste overboard as if it was the most normal thing to do.


Where did you visit? Just made our first trip there and visited beaches up and down the west side of Maui and didnt notice anything but the odd bit of beach glass. I'm guessing currents play a large role with this issue.


For those asking for pictures, I didn’t take any of the plastic in the water, only the beach. It was near Laie on Oahu. It seemed current and shoreline dependent.

https://postimg.cc/gallery/2d0q09gqk/


On remote beaches I have visited in Australia there are large items but nothing like the amount of small items in this photo. I wonder if you could use machine learning to automatically classify plastic in photos like this based on color and shape. People could then submit all photos like this from all over the world to build a database of plastic levels, which could be used with ocean currents to provide source information. Maybe it has happened.


Experienced something similar in Phi Phi last year. I was snorkeling in an emerald green lagoon, when a pile of plastic garbage floated into me :(


I went to Koh Lanta in July, the beach was disgusting, covered with garbage, worst I've ever seen. Many beaches in the Philippines, or Indonesia are very dirty too.


I think it's actually because of tsunamis and storms more than just negligence.

An event like the Tōhoku tsunami creates massive amounts of garbage.


[flagged]


A citation is needed for a first person account? Photographs, perhaps.


How would locals know where the garbage came from?


Garbage can sometimes be identified. Think floating bottles with intact labels, yoghurt containers with a specific language, etc. anything so tiny that it can’t be identified is almost by definition part of the global flow because it takes time for plastic to break down.


... and locals are using this logic?


...why wouldn't they be?


They are all commenters on hacker news.


I'm not caught up with the microplastics problem.

But I suspect the locals had read testimony from scientists studying the problem. People really give a shit about pollution in Hawai'i.

It also seems very unlikely that the quantity would be there without ocean currents bringing it in from the big offenders like China.

Hawai'i has a pretty small population of people who are widely very concientious about polluting the ocean, compared to most other people in the world.


Re: microfibers making it into water systems:

This is a con to synthetic fibers that I hadn't been considering before. Recently I learned that cotton has a pretty high environmental footprint (land use, highest pesticide use of any crop, high water consumption) [1], and thus started moving some of my clothing purchases toward polyester-blends (trades the cons of cotton for petrochemical and energy use).

Does anyone have a good grasp on the total environmental impact of these options, considering the entire chain (mining/extraction/cultivation -> disposal/environmental release)?

[1]: https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/CBD-Fiber-Selection... [edit: added source]


Checkout organic cotton and hemp. Much lower environmental footprint.

You can get some really durable, long lasting, organic cotton and hemp blended clothing which is way more durable, breathable and comfortable than you might imagine.

Patagonia (brand) is an easy place to buy organic cotton Tshirts and pants.


Does it really have a smaller footprint? I'd love to see numbers


Not adding eternally polluting particles to the environment seems like it must have smaller footprint


Organic != pollutes less. For example, some organic farms use more than an order of magnitude more (~20x) organic pesticides than regular farms use regular pesticides (by weight). Many of these organic pesticides have the potential for serious health risks. One organic pesticide, Rotenone, which was banned in the US in 2005 but reapproved in 2010, causes "Parkinson's Disease-like symptoms in rats, and has the potential to kill many species, including humans." [0]

Organic farming also often requires more resources (land, water, etc.). The ecological damage of that extra resource use (soil erosion, water diversion) could far surpass any pollutants non-organic farms spew. [0]

I don't know anything about cotton specifically, though.

[0] https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/science-sushi/httpblogs... (see myths 1 and 3)


> I don't know anything about cotton specifically, though.

According to this article[0] which quotes a cotton industry group, organic cotton takes >2x more water to grow, which is in line with what I'd heard anecdotally.

[0] https://qz.com/990178/your-organic-cotton-t-shirt-might-be-w...


Hemp does not require any use of pesticides. Cotton, on the other hand, uses a wildly disproportionate amount of pesticides for cultivation acreage - stats I’ve seen are 25% of pesticides for 3% of land cultivation.


Perhaps the organic farmers I know are true edge case radicals, but they don’t use any pesticides at all. All soil and weed management tactics.


I believe they are comparing it to regular cotton.


Is it possible to buy a 100% hemp t-shirt?

Also, how about linen shirts? I hear linen is much easier to grow compared to cotton?


It’s logically impossible for organic cotton to have less a footprint.


You can put your microfiber clothes in a specialized bag when washing to help prevent the fibers from making their way into the water systems. Here is one example of a bag: https://www.patagonia.com/product/guppyfriend-washing-bag/O2...


The bag is also plastic..


It's a nylon (polyamide) mesh. It's not going to spew microfibers in the same way that a polyester fleece would. For reference, I found you some micrographs of the materials we're talking about:

poly fleece: https://www-tc.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/wp-content/uploads/201... nylon mesh: https://assets.fishersci.com/TFS-Assets/CCG/product-images/F...


I'm also looking for quality research on the total cost from cradle to grave. Most of what I've seen either only considers part of the cost or gives advice without explaining the reasoning...

For example: it's amazing how much discussion there is around using paper cups vs a ceramic cup. Or when plastic actually might be the best packaging material (keeping food fresh for longer and being lighter to transport).

Can anyone here point to non-biased, well researched articles on this topic? I would imagine academia is a good place, but I don't know where to start.


The best thing to do is probably to buy high quality clothes and keep them for a long time. Don't buy t-shirts (especially printed t-shirts) that wear out quickly and get disposed of. Buy shirts and take care of them. Don't wash them often. Wash then minimally when they become dirty. They'll last you many years this way.


There's this same argument with recycling, reuse, etc. I.E how many times do I have to use my cloth bag before the resources it took is less than that of a normal paper bag. Recycling is the same way, IIRC, aluminum is the only thing that's cheaper to recycle, energy wise.

I really wish more studies would look into the Energy per Ton for creating our consumer products.


That's one thing to consider, but it's ignoring a major aspect - biodegradability. Yes, a plastic bag is in some ways more efficient per ton than a cloth bag but doesn't decompose safely and fast, cloth usually does.


What's worse, adding some inert foreign molecules to the environment, or adding some CO2, excess nitrates, and excess phosphorous, taking down a bit of native vegetation, and revolving some more soil?

I really don't know the answer, but I bet everybody on the anti-plastic crusade doesn't know either. I would really like if somebody cared to do some unbiased studies on this (not the ones full of flaws reinforcing the author desired answer - whatever that it).


You mean, is natural gas extraction and processing more harmful than agriculture and recycling?


It seems plausible that a cloth bag requires a comparable amount of petrochemicals to make than a plastic bag, agriculture is quite fuel intensive and uses a bunch of other nasty chemicals in large amounts, while a few grams of plastic require just a few grams of oil - for me it's hard to tell whether growing sufficient cotton for a single bag (which is quite a bunch of cotton plants) can be done with a few grams of fuel.


Thankfully, this is studied by experts for their entire lives and we don’t have to learn the answers by speculating on Hacker News.

I’ll note that what you’re comparing petroleum based manufacturing to is the most pointlessly intensively harmful and wasteful form of agriculture – growing conventional cotton.


Even without considering the amount of mining required by agriculture, the answer is still non-obvious.


I agree.


>inert foreign molecules

Problem is they're often not inert. The polymers may be, but the bisphenol plasticizers, UV stabilizers, dyes, brominated fire retardants, mold release agents, etc may not be, and they leach out over time.


Do they become reactive inside of living beings? Or just outside due to UV catalyzed hydrolyze?


The molecules I'm speaking of are already reactive. Again it's not just the bulk polymer, there are a bunch of "special ingredients" added to most plastics, plus contaminants introduced during recycling.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Plastics_additives


How do we know that microplastics and other particulate in say human bodies or foods are somehow "inert"?


On the bright side, because it doesn't easily biodegrade, it is a form of carbon capture. If you ignore all of its other bad effects.


Taking oil out of the ground and burning part of it to create plastic out of the other part, and then throwing it away or incinerating it, isn't carbon capture :)


Wool is a great material to consider as well.


I want to believe that materials like wool are the answer, but I fear they're not. Raising animals is carbon intensive, and all those sheep need somewhere to graze. If people switched to wool clothing on a big scale, it would probably lead to mass deforestation.


Sheep can graze in [re]forested pastures, ie silvopasture. This also sequesters carbon.

http://stevegabrielfarmer.wixsite.com/silvopasturebook/singl...

https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/food/silvopasture


I agree that it's not the answer, but I think one of the main lessons we should be learning is that monocultures are not the answer either.

Here in New Zealand, much of our agriculture has shifted from sheep to dairy cows. There's a growing fear (I don't know how justified it really is) that synthetic milk, or even meat, will become a reality and wreck the traditional dairy industry. So, in our situation, maybe more wool use would be a good thing.


Especially for socks during exercise. I find it helps keep my feet dry much more than cotton oe synthetics.


Last year I discovered the joy that is merino wool ski clothes. A friend had a pro-discount on Icebreaker and I stocked up before a ski trip. Excellent stuff.

Here's a good/entertaining video that compares synthetic to merino for ski layers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sh8BFytupwA

His conclusion is that the synthetic was just as warm, but the merino wool did a better job of dissipating .. aromas... and stayed 'clean' longer.

It's unfortunate that a lot of the 'wool' out there is still blended with synthetics for cost or supposed-technical reasons.


I suspect that bamboo clothing is the way to go. Bamboo grows anywhere and requires very little input and no pesticides. I don't know what the carbon footprint of turning it into thread is, though. I suspect still smaller than polyester. Plus, bamboo clothes are super soft.


Bamboo itself is "green" but the process to turn it into textiles is anything but. The marketing of bamboo textiles relies on your assumption, which is why it has so far been doing well.

https://www.treehugger.com/sustainable-fashion/whatever-happ...

https://blogs.wsj.com/informedreader/2007/11/06/bamboo-has-a...

The second article requires a subscription to WSJ but you can find the same information elsewhere on the web.

My philosophy for a long time now has been to take good care of existing clothing/textiles, purchase used as much as possible, and purchase fewer items overall - only what I absolutely need to live my life in a reasonable manner, without excess or mindless purchases.


I did not examine the claims in detail, but a few sport teams announced they will use a kit made from recovered ocean plastics. Probably worth looking into it?

[1]http://www.espn.com/soccer/blog/the-toe-poke/65/post/3569720...


I wonder why hemp fiber didn't get compared independently. From a quick internet search: it is one fiber used in Tencel blend. I think hemp scores better on land usage, but not necessarily in the other categories. Is that your take?


Have you examined organic cotton?


Organic isn't always better for the environment. I can sort of accept people's motivations for organic produce when it's a food product, but for textiles it really doesn't make much sense. Organic cotton requires more water, more land, and more energy than conventional or GMO cotton: https://qz.com/990178/your-organic-cotton-t-shirt-might-be-w...

A better answer in any case is to buy less stuff.


(You might want to add that you're not OP i.e. asteli, the person AdamN directly asked. you have the same writing style, I was almost confused.

If you do edit I'll delete this comment.)


As an individual who wants to make the biggest impact on this issue, what are my options?

I am a UX/UI designer and I wonder what I could do to help rid the world of microplastics. I was thinking off the top of my head:

1. Write a letter to every company that uses exorbitant amount plastic in it's product or packaging (tons of them here in Japan) and try to make them aware of the issue (appeal through emotions - their kids). I figured, if I send 5,000 letters, perhaps I get an action rate of 2%, that could amount to 100 companies acting to reduce their product waste. 2. I could write to every politician that comes in contact with this issue on a regular basis - but what do I tell them? I think it needs to be something very specific and actionable, but maybe it doesn't? 3. I could create a website that helps expose the issue. I think, especially here in Japan people are just unaware of the environmental disaster pending outside their nation. It seems the island as a geographical feature creates a very strong bubble and we hardly ever hear about anything environment related. I could also do the same in U.S. (multi-language site)

That's where my creativity stops... what other things can I, or people like myself do right now to make an impact?

EDIT: If anyone wants to help me make a list of top Japanese company executives (preferably with their email, and or any other personal information we can find - hopefully their kids names), I can write a compelling letter + email to try to get past their gatekeepers.

EDIT 2: I am starting a doc to get info on Japanese Execs who have the most impact on this issue. I will try to find ways to communicate action to them in ways that do not cost them, preferably help generate additional revenue. Here is a link to anyone who would like to participate. I think if we crowd-source this issue, we can make an impact: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1biahioKkh7ZbYBxquWaM...


I think it will be a tough sell to go after companies directly as an individual. Unless you are influential yourself, they will only take notice from an entity that dictates or shapes policy. It might be more beneficial to offer your services, perhaps pro-bono, to researchers like the ones cited in the article or to a non-profit with a similar mission. Your effort and hard work can be significantly higher levered with the right organization behind it.


Generally, the highest impact of any individual is mostly minior (of course the collective actions matter, but you are mostly bound to be a tiny gear in massive cultural processes that are nearly out of our control). To increase impact, you need to increase ~net worth. The most effective way of doing that is to ascend existing hierarchies even though that is massively biased by nepotism, looks and imperfect evaluation abilities; but, hey, that's the best we can get out of a system of distributed responsibilities and provided that all alternatives seem to diverge into authoritarianism. It is excessively rare to find alternative ways of having an impact.

If nobody tried, changes would of course occur much less often. So there is that.


I don't believe this. I think humans are capable of rapid change if appealed to their emotions in a powerful way. I think kids are the key to this and I am willing to try it. Imagine if 1000 people wrote urgent messages that actually reached these people who have significant control over how things are produced - that has to make some impact!


Just be prepared to fail. That's all I'm saying. I'm not saying it is futile.


As posts in the thread have made clear, this is a third world problem which is being exported to the rest of us.

A captain for proper sanitation and waste disposal in China and Africa would greatly reduce this problem.


Rather it's a problem we're exporting to the third world.


Before I saw your edit I thought starting an "Executive spam list", say on GitHub, would be a great idea. I see you started a Japanese one, maybe this could/should be expanded to globally or at least add pages for more countries?

Good luck!


Writing helps.

IMHO, doing a little to pick up trash in your local community--parks, rivers, waterways, lakes, beaches--goes a long way, not only for cosmetic reasons, but also to raise awareness.

My sincere belief is that cleaning the trash out of the Earth is something that everyone can get behind and is a monumental task that absolutely must be crowdsourced. The millions of tons of trash out there can really only be picked up and cleaned out by...millions of people.

We must ban plastics worldwide, we must recycle, and we must introduce proper waste management into areas where it is lacking, but we can't wait. Go pick some up!


Donella Meadows 12 points of leverage in a system is worth reading to map out the system and figure out at which point to try to shift to create the biggest change. I also think UX/UI designers have useful skills to design better systems/experiences.


what other things can I, or people like myself do right now to make an impact?

Reduce consumption? I also wish I could have an impact on a large scale, but it seems quixotic. Environmental change is cultural change, and that takes a long time.


Companies won't act as long as the short to mid term profit is still with wasting plastic. Opposing the system (capitalism) as whole is the only way to prevent evironmemtal collapse.



I appreciate NPR for this text mode. They've earned my contribution, because I'd like to encourage others to do the same.


they have that??so excellent!


A small number of countries are responsible for the majority of plastic in the ocean. China is far and away the worst offender:

https://infographic.statista.com/normal/chartoftheday_12211_...

https://www.iswa.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Calendar_2011_03_...


> China is far and away the worst offender

Those data are from 2011, and at the time China was importing huge quantities of plastic from the entire world. This was documented in Plastic China[1], a censored[2] short film which rumor has it was instrumental in getting China to cut down on their mixed plastic imports.[3] I'd be curious how the situation has changed since then.

It's an important distinction. The plastic is coming from Chinese rivers, but that doesn't mean it originated from Chinese consumers. It just means China wasn't rich enough to box it up and ship it across the border (like was done to them).

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooRVhRt1p54

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/28/world/asia/chinas-environ...

[3] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1767769x8


The west benefits from a robust system for handling and landfilling waste. Our responsibility as far as the ocean is in modelling and exporting that culture to nations where the handling systems are not in place. I see this as similar to how the culture of smoking has been "exported" to places where there isn't nearly the same infrastructure present to limit access for kids, prevent second hand smoke exposure, and help people out who want to quit.

So yes, we may not be dumping our millions of daily plastic water bottles down the Mississippi like happens in the Ganges, but we could do a lot of good as a culture by intentionally modelling reusability and repair.


In that vein, I’ve noticed how little many seemingly progressive companies care about plastic waste. Lots of products that I would think are meant to cater to a progressive, “green” crowd use thick packaging apparently to give the product a premium feel. Hint brand water is one example, and a bag of Forager chips I had recently did this too. The thick plastic gives the product a premium feel but is utterly destructive to the earth. However the negative effects are rarely witnessed by either the producers or the consumers, and so they both benefit from the fictional belief that this behavior is okay.

I don’t mean to single out just these manufacturers, as all profit seeking organizations seem to behave in this way where the harms of their actions are quietly ignored. Consumers buy in to this equally, or make some off hand remark about the waste and keep on going. It’s a cultural issue for sure, and I agree that exporting this way of life to places even less equipped to handle it is yet another of those unseen harms we all happily allow ourselves to ignore.

My hope is to combat all these issues by fighting to change our culture at home to one that is radically waste free. We can use the privilege that got us in to this position to help get out of it. We can learn to be waste free. Unfortunately we’re hooked on the disposable culture bad, and I’m not sure if we’ll ever get ourselves off it. We could, but time will tell if we care enough and are creative enough to do it.


Products like chips should be forced to use biodegradable bags (whether wax paper, bioplastics, ...). Similarly, disposable drinking straws, cutlery, the little wrappers they come in, etc. should be biodegradable.

At most it might cost a few cents more per unit, but when millions of them get dumped in a river somewhere, they won’t stay there permanently.

Trying to eliminate packaging altogether is hopeless at this point, I’d wager.


Pepsico's SunChips use a biodegradable bag [1], so it is possible.

[1] https://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2014/03/18/pepsis-biodegradabl...


Sure in the third world.

Doing that in the first world makes about as much sense as a tax on bowel movements because people in India don't use toilets and we need to pay for the increase in communicable diseases.


We noticed this recently with the Quip toothbrush. The whole concept is reasonable, and I get that they're limited to some degree by hygiene regulations, but it's just nuts that your brush tip "refill" shows up every three months in a think, nalgene-bottle-like enclosure. Which is apparently itself recyclable, but it feels like there's got to be a better way.

Quip's statement on the matter: https://help.getquip.com/hc/en-us/articles/360000320463-Is-q...


Where does the chain of responsibility end?

Do the domestic waste management companies that profited from collecting plastics, only to send waste to China bear any responsibility?


Using "sold" instead of "sent" would be more accurate. But I agree that turning a blind eye on what happens next is not ethical.


> >Where does the chain of responsibility end?

With capitalism.

>Do the domestic waste management companies that profited from collecting plastics, only to send waste to China bear any responsibility?

I would say they bear all of the responsibility, or at least the vast majority of it, due to the fact they profited from doing what they knew was irresponsible.


doesn't help that many countries send their recyclables to China as well... If people could handle their own waste instead of shipping it off to another country, might make people more conscientious of their consumerism.


Just learned this recently as well. I live in Korea where I learned they were shipping waste to China. Recently, I believe China shut this off and we've been made much more conscious about our waste in Korea within the past year.


I view this as a positive factor in the fight against plastic waste in the ocean. If we know where the major sources of the waste and concentrate efforts on removing 50% waste in those places, it could have a larger effect than removing 90% of waste from smaller sources such as developed nations that are already putting some effort into not polluting the environment.


Wow, Vietnam vs. US. Such a tiny country producing so much waste in the ocean.


Such a tiny country importing so much waste and dumping it in the ocean. There is every chance that your plastic waste ends up in the ocean via Vietnam.

EDIT: Other countries know that this is happening and should bear their share of the blame.


Oof. I completely forgot about that. I remember seeing a footage of a young boy in Singapore sorting dumped US plastic PC chassis by burning them with a lighter and smelling the fumes.


This is misleading. Plastic is shipped to those countries by other countries.


Plastics should be taxed.


Agreed. There should be a mitigation cost associated with all plastics. Nothing more frustrating than buying a container for some food that will last for millennia meanwhile the food was consumed in a couple minutes...

More generally, I hope more will push for taxes on all things we want to discourage as means of weening off. Oil, coal, plastic, high impact animal products. All of them have huge external costs, none of which are payed by the consumer or producer directly.


If we began taxing externalities to reflect actual total cost to society, consumer behavior would change real quick.

My only concern is that we are too far down to rabbit hole with cheap, ubiquitous, damaging materials that if the true cost was reflected in the price no one could afford anything.


That's my fear as well but that is no excuse at all for not trying though. Because such reason would still never make the no-action option preferable to the action option.


I think not being able to afford these things is the goal though. The trick is in how you do it.

The simplest example is just phasing in a 'negative externality tax'. First year is x * .1, second year is x * .2, etc.

I think the trade tariffs should be done the same way so that we don't just shock and awe and everyone can reposition in ways that works for all while also ultimately addressing the various parties issues. I don't understand the step function style introduction of change - it seems like a really clumsy approach.


Hah, I guarantee it.

The majority of this forum will think from a first world perspective.

Remember that per capita consumption of plastic in India is FAR lower than the first world average.

And then remember that no politician in the world can be elected, unless he promises growth - which directly means more consumption of plastic wrapped goods.

We haven't even seen peak plastic.

In only part jest, I think our best hope is a plastic eating bacterium, which will also mean that plastic ceases to be the wonder compound it is.


But who quantifies the cost of the externalities? Tons of room for political games there.


So we shouldn't try?

Political games are all there is.


>Political games are all there is.

That's not true. A better world is possible, but not if we restrict ourselves to shortminded solutions like taxes and electoral politics. This is a systemic flaw, you can't work inside of the system to try to solve it.


So you have it all worked out then? What do you propose?


So what's the alternative? Innumerate libertarian pipe dreams? Bolshevik revolution?


There's literally centuries of thought on leftist alternatives. I can't sufficiently explain them in a HN comment. But The Conquest of Bread is a good place to start.


Innumerate Libertarian Bolshevik revolution pipe dreams. Well played.


It is lovely to see the phrase "taxing externalities" in use.

This surely is the answer - The issue is getting government to take a scientific and 'holistic' stance on legislating.

The issue is the delay between need becoming known, and governmental action (and, said governmental action is often watered down from internal debate and compromise).

One wonders which will mature first - Government or Consumer atttidues & action. If consumer demands are quicker than the state, then Capitalism will solve this problem (people vote with wallets, and purchase items from organisations that identify and offset externalities) If the state is quicker, then government will solve this problem (Identifying externalities and taxing).

Governmental solving of the problem appears preferable. It is an ideal entity for accountability and governance (by definition of course).


>My only concern is that we are too far down to rabbit hole with cheap, ubiquitous, damaging materials that if the true cost was reflected in the price no one could afford anything.

The reality is even worse than that: since capitalism has produced an increasingly impoverished proletariat, the cheapest most disposable goods are all that's affordable to much of the general population. We have the capability to make clothing that will last years, but we don't because it's not profitable for large corporations and the labor aristocrscy are the only ones who can afford quality goods.

We need to abolish the consumerist mindset inherent to and required by capitalism in order to save the Earth.


This is called a Pigovian tax. I believe that Pigovian taxes are not a good solution for plastics and other multifaceted environmental issues because of the complexity in calculating the total environmental cost of all the externalities of a product.

I think consumers would change their buying behavior if they knew the real cost of their purchases.

For that reason I believe there is a big opportunity (and chance to save the planet) for a startup to calculate this real cost in an automated way and influence buying behavior by making the consumers aware of it.

If the above does not sound like a crazy idea let's connect at http://eepurl.com/dEOz3n (I'm using this list to keep your email private)


Thanks real_cost.

I have been thinking this way for a long time but was unaware of a formal name for this idea/system. Glad to have a name to put to a concept and signed up for your mailing list.

In general, I do think we can price things, after all, we already do, just poorly (existing taxes). I really do agree that we have a pricing problem but I'm an optimist that worse case, we can calculate mitigation costs and then work backwards from there - not to suggest that is the right/best way to do it - just that it is one simple way to do it.


We should be taxing cryptocurrency mining as well.


We do..?


How so?


In the EU it is taxed through VAT on electricity.


Is this a general VAT on electricity or is it an additional fee specifically on mining crypto?

Based on the original comment of "I hope more will push for taxes on all things we want to discourage", my position is that crypto mining should be charged an additional fee for using huge amounts of electricity and negatively impacting the environment for speculative financing activities. Anyone who's concerned about the environmental impact of single occupancy vehicles or raising cattle should be horrified with the amount of energy consumed in mining crypto.


Income tax?


Because plastic is so cheap, producers will pay the tax, continue using plastic, and pass the costs onto consumers.

Given the higher cost of other materials, changing consumer behavior (which is not easy, but it's happening right now, and achievable through further exposure and education) may be the only way to change producers' behavior.

While a tax seems like an easy fix, it may also cause the government to come to rely on income from plastic acting as a deterrent to law-making which discourages the use of plastics.


> While a tax seems like an easy fix, it may also cause the government to come to rely on income from plastic acting as a deterrent to law-making which discourages the use of plastics.

I don't know how common such a thing is, but in Washington state if a tax is labeled as a "fee", it must be earmarked for a specific purpose. If we put a "plastic fee" on products packaged with single-use plastics, and then mandated the raised funds be used to clean up plastic waste, that could be a good way to avoid that very likely outcome.


Then they are going to make the plastic package part of a cheap accessory for whatever they are selling. They are already doing that to boast the feature list of their products: "Practical widget holder included!"


I'd sell a plastics tax as revenue neutral, i.e. coupling it with a tax reduction on something else.


> Because plastic is so cheap, producers will pay the tax, continue using plastic, and pass the costs onto consumers.

That's the point: the higher the tax is, the more attractive the alternatives are.


And then governments will make so much money off of plastax (ha!) that they'll never ban it.


>Because plastic is so cheap, producers will pay the tax, continue using plastic, and pass the costs onto consumers.

This is not how it works. To what degree the tax gets "passed on to consumers" is based on relative elasticity of supply and demand in that market, not on the price of the good. You can read about it in absolutely any introductory microeconomics textbook.


Yes, and in that same microeconomics textbook, it will introduce you to monopoly and oligopoly models that show that markets where there are relatively few parties in one side of a bargain generally have more pricing power (and it's rational for them to use it).

Consumers generally have less pricing power than the relatively fewer producers.

Also, in truly commoditized markets where there's a lot of competition, producers aren't making large profits either, a tax increase in the raw materials must eventually be passed on to the consumer, since producers that fail to raise prices will lose money and be forced to exit the market.

So no matter how you slice it, 'not passing on the cost increase' is just not very likely with clothing, it's mostly a question of how long the price adjustment will take since there is some stickiness in consumer preference.


Producers use plastic because it is the cheapest material that works for their use. Raise the price of plastic, and that equation changes.


Weight is also a major consideration in many applications.


Simple. Raise the tax to a point that glass bottles, perhaps with deposit-return schemes, or cotton clothing is cheaper for the consumer than the synthetic equivalents.

Consumers will buy far more of the now cheaper and more sustainable products and producers who continue using plastic will declare profit warnings and some will become insolvent.

Isn't that's how it's supposed to work?

Governments survived losing income from cigarette taxation thanks to e-cigarettes.


There are externalities to the switch to glass. For example, what about the extra carbon emissions from the extra diesel burn by the trucks shipping the ingredients for the glass to the glass factory, the raw glass to the bottling plants, and the bottled beverages to the supermarkets?

The extra weight of glass over plastic is significant. It's not an easy problem to solve. Hopefully truly compostable plastics will come along to save us, although they themselves emit gases when they decompose, and the additives may have food health risks.


Or maybe truly reusable plastics could work? Some of the plastic bottles used for beverages seem remarkably strong for their weight.


Simple. Raise the tax to a point that glass bottles, perhaps with deposit-return schemes, or cotton clothing is cheaper for the consumer than the synthetic equivalents

But first, make sure you understand all of the environmental costs of alternatives to be sure you're not forcing people into an environmentally worse choice. Farming is not exactly a clean industry.


Too true. Honestly at this point I wish there was a labelling requirement of the environmental and sustainability consequences of everything. Or that it was priced in to everything somehow. It's far too easy to make a very bad choice with the best of intentions.


A carbon tax is exactly that.


A carbon tax only taxes one small part of the full environmental impact of a product.

A synthetic shirt might have less carbon impact than a cotton shirt, but its plastic waste may be poisoning the oceans.

Or, as a made up example, coconut fiber shirt may have environmentally friendly organic degradable waste and a low direct carbon impact, while the demand for coconut caused millions of acres of native forest to be burnt down and replanted with coconut trees. Or maybe it caused the diversion of rivers for irrigation endangering fish and other ecosystems that relied on the rivers. Or maybe the newly planted trees displace food crops, leading to food shortages.

There are a lot of environmental externalities that are hard to account for, and some may not be known for years.


Very true.

However, it's _also_ true that "It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little."


Are Carbon taxes really effective? Democrats get in, carbon taxes come with them. Republicans get in, carbon taxes leave with the democrats. I don't think taxes will ever solve this unless both sides see the issue.


The US has never had a carbon tax, what are you talking about?


There are all kinds of alternatives to plastic. Just look at the world before 1968:

    Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you.
    Just one word.
    Benjamin: Yes, sir.
    Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
    Benjamin: Yes, I am.
    Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
    Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?
    Mr. McGuire: There's a great future in plastics.
    Think about it. Will you think about it?
For example, I just looked at my desk. There's a plastic package with 10 Dixon pencils in it. It could just as well be in a paper envelope.


>changing consumer behavior (which is not easy, but it's happening right now, and achievable through further exposure and education)

Shifting the burden of plastic waste onto consumers is extremely naive and foolish. Consumers have very little power compared to multinationals that profit greatly off of plastic waste.


Many states have deposits for cans and bottles and it works pretty well. It should be expanded to more containers.


Hi Walter.

Plastics should be banned, IMHO. But that can only happen step by step. To reach sustainability, we'll need to reduce plastic consumption by >90%. Taxes won't do that.


all types of plastics?


Obviously, the non-biodegradable ones.


Couple of points:

Taxes don't work to work to change behavior, or people would have stopped speeding a long time ago, sugary drinks wouldn't sell in Seattle, and people would stop buying coffee in California. They are an unfortunate excuse used by politicians to fool the public into "hey I'm doing something!".

Instead, innovation is needed around providing biodegradable solutions that can outcompete their plastic counterparts. People will naturally switch to something healthier for the environment when it's more convenient and it saves them money. In this light, taxing plastics looks like an act of desperation admitting that "alternatives will never be as good, we have to help them out!" This actually stalls development on the renewables since an artificially inflated market is created.

Finally, this would become a source of revenue for governments that would be hard to eliminate. When environmentally friendly solutions finally came about, we'll literally have people saying "If we ban plastics, how will we pay for schools?"

There is a huge investment opportunity to replace them in the vast majority of areas. We need research, innovation, and investment, not more taxes.


> Taxes don't work to work to change behavior

This is absolute nonsense and flies in the face of established economic theory backed up by empirical evidence. I don't understand why there are so many people in this thread pulling assertions out of their ass like this. HackerNews is better than that.


Unfortunately the planet Earth is not a laboratory, and correlation is not causation. If a tax is added to cigarettes, and the tax is passed by elected officials, and the elected officials are responding to the attitude of the populace, how do we know it was the tax, and not _the attitude of the populace_ that lead to lower cigarette usage? A classic example of this is the Civil Rights Act. Did racism become abhorrent due to the signing of a bill, or was racism _becoming viewed as abhorrent_, and the bill codified the new cultural attitude? Keep in mind, I am of course not saying this means "no need for laws!", that would be insane - but there is no causal link and there cannot be a causal link, because one cannot do experiments with the human race. This line of thinking splits economics apart into different schools - with my conclusion being economics must be built from pure logic, upon a priori fact, rather that be gleaned by viewing society from afar. "Human Action" by Ludwig von Mises explores this in detail (https://mises.org/sites/default/files/Human%20Action_3.pdf)


I mean, there's an entire area of accounting called tax planning where accountants consult with businesses about how to conduct business to reduce their tax burden. Avoiding paying taxes isn't some obscure thing that people do, it's something you can make a six-figure salary doing as a profession. Additionally, there is no shortage of data for changing taxes. There are more than enough natural experiments as well as actual municipal experiments testing how people react to taxes. It turns out that most people avoid spending money they don't have to. People like money and they go out of their way to keep it.


It’s hard for me to understand how an increase in price - in this case through taxation - wouldn’t adversely affect demand. I’m talking in general. If this were the case then sellers would have infinite pricing power and they clearly don’t have that. Whether the price increase comes as a result of taxation or from the seller increasing prices makes no difference to the buyer. Not even monopolies and cartels have infinite pricing power.


They passed a tax on plastic bags in Boulder (CO).

You go to the supermarket without your reusable bags, suddenly you're _paying_ for the bags.

You better believe that disposable plastic bag usage went _way_ down. People don't like to pay for what they're used to getting for free. It makes them unreasonably angry, in fact.

Angry enough to remember to bring their reusable bags, or to buy some on the spot.


in NZ we have automatic rolling tax increase every year on tobacco, and we see the reduction and is well studied.

We don't need to know absolutely the exact causal link, we just need to know while in this configuration, this trend is happening. Maybe certain things aren't needed for that trend, but like you say, we don't have the capability of much experiementing, we can have a lot of robust debate and make our best educated guesses and try different things and see what happens.


You're confusing the issue by comparing it with something much more complicated.

A tax is another kind of price increase and we do know, empirically, how to study changes in supply and demand. You can get good datasets for it and any company can do experiments by changing prices.

Logic is helpful in understanding how to analyze data but you can't get very far without data.


I'm not sure what you're talking about with the Civil Rights Act because racism is very much alive today but you're very right that planet Earth is not a laboratory.

We don't have time to tinker with taxes in an attempt that we'll prevent total environmental collapse. We need radical solutions yesterday. We shouldn't restrict ourselves to thinking inside the economic system we currently have when it's the economic system we currently have that's gotten us here.


You are correct that it is complicated and drawing firm conclusions is challenging. That doesn't mean we can't draw any conclusions ever.


It became abhorrent because of the bill. The main reason that Kennedy and Johnson supported the civil rights bill was the fear of the escalating violence.


Increasing the cost of something (through taxes) most definitely changes behavior. Just look at a how plastic bag taxes reduced usage or cigarette taxes. The purpose is not to stop plastic usage entirely, but to recognize the true cost of the usage by factoring in the harmful effects now rather than down the road. That make it a fair market, not an artificial one. I agree research and innovation is needed, and tax revenue could help pay for it.


Would you agree that taxes has had a bigger impact on smokers than education [about addiction/cancer] and availability of vaping?


> Taxes don't work to work to change behavior, or people would have stopped speeding a long time ago, sugary drinks wouldn't sell in Seattle, and people would stop buying coffee in California.

You do realize "work" isn't a binary thing?


Cigarettes can be an indicator:

http://www.nber.org/papers/w18326

> Our evidence suggests that increases in cigarette taxes are associated with small decreases in cigarette consumption and that it will take sizable tax increases, on the order of 100%, to decrease adult smoking by as much as 5%.


Yeah, though cigarettes are actually biologically addictive... probably not the best comparison point against plastics.


Canada tried increasing cigarette taxes a lot a couple decades ago. The result was the emergence of a black market, smuggling, and drive-by shootings of the rival smuggling gangs.

The tax was lowered back down.


A small decrease in plastic waste is insufficient. We need radical solutions yesterday, not lackluster solutions three months from now.


Plastic isn't an addictive substance.


All you have to do is look at the evolution of beer cans. Over the decades, you'll see a steady reduction in the amount of metal used in them. This isn't for any environmental or regulatory reasons, it's purely cost reduction, since COGS (Cost Of Goods Sold) reduction is a powerful way to increase profits.


Taxes don't work to change behavior, prices do. To the extent that a tax changes a price, it will change behavior.

> People will naturally switch to something healthier for the environment when it's more convenient and it saves them money.

Right, and one way to make the desired thing save consumers money is to apply tax policy.


Taxes don't have some absolute power to control behavior, but they do influence it to some degree.

(I am not taking a position either for or against taxing this specific issue.)


I'm not sure if anyone has mentioned this yet, but microplastics aren't only in our fish but it's also in American tap water. There is no water filter that I know of available to the consumer public that is fine enough to filter out microplastics of under 3 microns or something like that.

As some commenters have mentioned, these microplastics come from laundry, and more.

I'm currently working on developing disposable pads that are safe with a national Toms one for one model. Current pads and tampons from major brands are made with cotton that can have dioxin as a byproduct from the bleaching process, as well as rayon. Tiny pieces of rayon can get stuck and lead to complications like BVI, bacterial vaginosis. If a tampon can lead to health issues because of the plastic that can disintegrate in her body - I'm kind of really scared about what other type of damage microplastics in our drinking water can do. I mean we already have pictures of what it does to fish. What do microplastics do to the human body?

This is one of the things where I wish I was wrong, so if anyone can educate me on how this is an irrational anxiety, I'd appreciate it!


I bought a 5-stage RO (reverse osmosis) filter on Amazon. This review of my filter [1] says the RO stage filters down to .0001 microns.

"Stage four is a high quality .0001 micron reverse osmosis membrane. This is where most of the hazardous contaminants such as arsenic, lead, and barium are removed."

Does this mean I'm safe from microplastics?

[1] http://www.yourwaterfilterguide.com/apec-roes-50-review/


Update from Manufacturer.

I emailed them earlier. Here’s their response:

“Thank you for contacting APEC Water Systems and I am happy to help!

We aren't for sure if it does remove plastic fibers as the presence have not yet been studied, but since the plastic in water is larger then atomical size the RO membrane should remove it due its 0.0001 micron filter.”


"There is no water filter that I know of available to the consumer public that is fine enough to filter out microplastics of under 3 microns or something like that."

Common, uninteresting point-of-use filters are .5 microns.[1]

Very inexpensive (the tap and the filter) and easy to add to your existing sink as a second tap.

They don't have the flow rate required for a whole house filter, but you can find high flow filters as fine as 5 microns. A whole house 5 micron chained to a .5 micron drinking tap is a pretty bulletproof filtration chain ...

[1] https://www.3m.com/3M/en_US/company-us/all-3m-products/~/3M-...


Wow, is there anything 3M doesn't make?


> but microplastics aren't only in our fish but it's also in American tap water

What about Canada and Europe?


Support the ocean cleanup project.

Some people are very sceptical about the project but it's the only project that is trying to collect plastic asap.

Asap = 18 days from now.

https://www.theoceancleanup.com/


>the only project that is trying to collect plastic asap.

There are similar project in UK, Germany, Poland and other Baltic countries, this one is just bigger than all other combined.


I have a bridge project to Hawaii that I'd like to sell you. Some people are very skeptical aout the project but it's the only project that is trying to build a bridge to Hawaii.


If there is a need for such bridge and you can show me your plan, your R&D and a working prototype I might support your bridge project.

Maybe you should check the website and see it for yourself.


Donated


Instead of trying to optimize every last variable to maximize population and minimize side effects, it seems much more reliable and simple to minimize population. So many problems would be solved with 1% of the population. Think of the traffic improvements!

Let's go for laws that limit children to under 47 per family.


It would also be enough if we'd just stopped thriving for this "perpetual growth in everything" idea.

In that context, it's just absurd how falling birth rates in developed nations are made out to be this "bad thing" that needs to be countered by government-sponsored "make more babies" programs, as seen in Russia, Singapore, and some other places.


thanos did nothing wrong!


I strongly suspect that within about 50-100 years something will evolve that can digest all of this plastic. Which will probably cause us as a society to move back to glass and metal as storage components.


"within about 50-100 years"

That's how bottlenecks work, but not evolution. No species is going to evolve in the next century which will be able to suddenly break down plastic and turn it into energy/nutrients.

The ones that do, mostly bacertium and fungi, were pre-disposed to doing so, and didn't suddenly X-men their way into consuming plastic.

As for organisms such as the Chinese mealworm that "eats" plastic bags, jury is still out about whether it's actually chemically converting the plastic or merely biting it into smaller bits.


> No species is going to evolve in the next century which will be able to suddenly break down plastic and turn it into energy/nutrients.

Such a species already exists: https://www.sciencealert.com/new-plastic-munching-bacteria-c...

There are also bacteria that can break down nylon: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nylon-eating_bacteria

I don't understand why people are so dismissive of ideas that are a simple google search away.


The sentence after the one you quoted referenced the species that already exist.

> The ones that do, mostly bacertium and fungi, were pre-disposed to doing so, and didn't suddenly X-men their way into consuming plastic.

Not to be a smartass, but I don't understand why people read a post to the first sentence that upsets them then instantly reply without reading the rest.


The plastics that are broken down by bacteria have side groups or chains that make it feasible to attack them chemically.

Now the question is if something can break down PTFE.


You obviously did not read my post all the way through.


There is a good chance a species already exists that can break down plastics along with whatever else its actual diet is. We would be giving it an environment to flourish.


Species can evolve very fast - in this experiment from a couple years ago E. coli evolved from minimal antibiotic resistance to almost immunity in about 100 days:

https://www.sciencealert.com/watch-this-amazing-video-shows-...


I strongly suspect there’s a speed difference between evolving to survive a newly-hostile environment and evolving to take advantage of new opportunities to thrive.


Something similar to that happened when fungi evolved the ability to break down lignin.

http://feedthedatamonster.com/home/2014/7/11/how-fungi-saved...


50 to 100 years is a very short time.

For millions of years, nothing had the capability to eat dead plant matter. See the carboniferous period.


Why do you strongly suspect this?


Well for one, bacteria already exists that eats plastic: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/351/6278/1196

It's not too far fetched to assume this already-existent bacteria could continue to exist and possibly mutate into something more efficient or proliferate to encompass the entire ocean.


We should genetically engineer this new breed of bacteria and seed the oceans. What could go wrong?


Neat!


No high quality source of hydrocarbons goes unexploited for long.


The carboniferous period lasted 60 million years. We probably have some time to work with.


Locked away in geologically stable layers in a time of cataclysmic climate change. Maybe there's something to that and the oceans will acidify too much for bacteria to evolve to eat the plastic, and there will forever be a "plastic layer" in the geological record to mark this era.

I was thinking more that the plastics in question are free-floating in a soluble medium and thus ripe for digestion by an opportunistic microbe.


I think you mean the "biosphere" rather than "we". Modern humans have existed anywhere from 50k-200k years. Just to put the time scales into context.

EDIT: Just to clarify: As long as disasters happen slowly enough and there are actually local maxima for the species to evolve "into", everything may be fine for "humans"... but those assumptions may be overly optimistic.


He kind of has a point.

There are mutations in microbes all the time that allow plastic digestion, probably millions every day.

Only needs one that really punches through.


And then spreads to eat all the plastic food containers in my kitchen.


And we'll create plastics that are plastic-eater resistant...


Like metal, or various wood fiber based products.


Dwindling oil reserves might actually cause us to switch to plant based plastics (hopefully engineering (slowly) bio degradable ones) or the above mentioned 100% recyclable streams sooner.


Ugh... as if we didn't have enough environmental problems already to deal with.

It seems like a very tricky problem to solve. Plastic is such a wonderful material with so many important applications it is impossible to imagine a modern world without it.

But from what I understand not all plastic products contribute equally much to this problem, so perhaps one can make substitutes for only some key areas to make a difference.


Starting the title of this article with the word "Beer" is misleading. A neat trick, caught my eye.


"Scientists call the tiny pieces "microplastics" and define them as objects smaller than 5 millimeters — about the size of one of the letters on a computer keyboard."

I am not quite understanding this sentence. Size of the letters on a computer keyboard!? What?


An attempt at explaining metric measures to Americans by referencing something readers of an online article should have ready access to.


OK, how about 22 caliber?


could have said 3/16" and it would have been close enough (but either way, it is pretty big)

edit: Most Americans know what 3/16" is, right?


You’d probably be better off rounding up to 1/4”.


the little characters that represent the letters on the keyboard. Look down.


No-print keyboard users would like to have a word with you...


I don't have a link but I recall reading that they can take a sample of ocean water from anywhere on earth, put it under a microscope, and find microscopic pieces of plastic. It truly is everywhere.


We are running a massive experiment on our own race in the search of never ending growth. Glass is fine. Reuse, recycle, cut down on waste.


I saw lot of broken bottles at sides of the roads. I stumped by bare foot on broken bottle once, when I was child, and almost cut it in half. Ceramic is much safer option than glass.


It should be possible to design floating trash collecting buoys in swimming areas that would gather trash due to wave action, no power or active mechanisms needed.

Perhaps someone would go by and empty them every morning.

Hotels and resorts on beaches would love to have something like this.


How would it differentiate between algae, plankton, and natural waste?

What incentive do hospitality services have to perform this on bodies of water they do not have control of? Won’t it just be swapped with the same quality of water the next day?


And the waste companies they empty them to end up dumping them in some other water way.


I wonder how this is going to evolve. Are we going to get used to see garbage everywhere (like in the movie "Idiocracy"), or will we take action?


Can we please have science articles about science and research and leave biographies of scientists out of it? I want to read about plastic. I don't want to read about what the researcher who works on it wanted to do in her childhood.

Please. It's one of the worst things about this type of journalism and constantly gets in a way of a good story.


Serious question: What harm does microplastics do to human body?


With 15 minutes of effort typing commands into a large bioinformatics database, you too can convince yourself that these contaminants may be behind the Diabetes epidemic.

https://medium.com/@InfinoMe/diabetes-time-to-resort-to-plas...


I think it's much more likely that the diabetes epidemic is linked to the insane levels of carb/sugar intake and obesity of so many adults.


We can keep running on the macronutrient treadmill, like we've been doing for 50 years, or we can find molecular evidence that jives with genetics.

Check out this study, where they fed mice water, water+fructose, or water+fructose+BPA. At the end of the experiment, only the BPA containing solutions had elevated liver fat

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0300483X1...


There's a notable lack of dose-response relationship in most of the collected data, and n=12 for each group doesn't inspire confidence even if in some cases the p-value suggests significance. There are already a lot of measurements taken and included in the table where differences were not that large. Were other measurements taken and not reported in the table? Has anyone attempted to reproduce this?

Most importantly, though, that study doesn't indicate whether the effects, if they end up being reproducible, are caused by BPA alone, or the combination of BPA+sugar. It's well known in other scenarios that toxins, when combined with inflammatory foods like sugar, are far worse than they are in the absence of inflammatory foods.

I'm fairly convinced that BPA is slightly bad, I just think alternative plastics may turn out to have other compounds that are also bad, given horrible diets, and the best solution may be to fix the diet, rather than try to eliminate all toxins related to modern plastics (and the same argument may apply to pesticides). Other toxins from modern living will undoubtedly pop up, and if they all cause different and problematic diseases in combination with bad diets, but not so much in combination with good diets, how much energy do we really need to put into studying and eliminating toxins in a giant game of whack-a-mole?


Note that this study specifically showed that fructose alone did not increase liver fat content unless BPA was present in the solution. See figure 3, but yes, I agree that it would have been nice if they tried BPA without the fructose.

This really does make sense. When that pathway is suppressed, the adipogenic program is activated, which turns on the SREBP-1 pathway and stores lipid droplets. Without this pathway activated, fructose is processed and exported out of the liver, preventing harm to the liver.

I would argue that we should really test every new manmade chemical against a library of our proteins before we synthesize anything new and introduce millions of tons of it to the world. Not doing so can have disasterous consequences.

Samuel Epstein, before he died, documented a great many examples of horror stories we just barely averted. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQoc6WP3QJo


I havent yet seen other studies comparing BPA with carb ingestion, but I hope they are done. Its important to root out the effect since BPA lines every single soda-pop can.

Aside from that though, there are many other mouse studies.

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1365-2605....

As well as studies showing that BPA in human urine is associated with insulin resistance and obesity

https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/97/2/E223/2836542


> We can keep running on the macronutrient treadmill,

People reach obesity from overeating, no matter what their choice of calorie-dense foods, but it's typically sugar or fats, and sugar is the cheapest/most available.

Being obese is clearly a causative factor towards T2B [1]. How are these obvious truths 'running on a treadmill'?

[1] https://www.diabetes.co.uk/diabetes-and-obesity.html


The treadmill is the endless debate over whether or not fats vs carbs are more obesogenic. This debate continues ad-nauseum and distracts from more nuanced explanations.

High fat consumption raises inflammatory profiles through mechanisms that are poorly understood. Carbohydrates seem to cause similar inflammation, but this is largely do to advanced gylcation end-products created from fructose, specifically.

Overeating is not interesting. The reason people do overeat is very interesting, and if you hit the literature you find that this is largely driven by damage to the hypothalamus by environmental exposure.


> Overeating is not interesting. The reason people do overeat is very interesting

What if it's not. What if people just overeat because life is boring, and food tastes good, and we all have differing levels of willpower & education on nutrition?

> if you hit the literature you find that this is largely driven by damage to the hypothalamus by environmental exposure.

Sounds like nonsense, can you elaborate?


> What if it's not. What if people just overeat because life is boring, and food tastes good, and we all have differing levels of willpower & education on nutrition?

Then we need to explain why this suddenly became a problem in the 1970s. Life is more boring now? We all lost our willpower? People understood nutrition better before that? Something has changed, either in humanity or the environment. My bet is the environment.


Was there enough extremely cheap and tasty food before the 1970s?


There is a specific part of the hypothalamus called the arcuate nucleus. It lacks a blood brain barrier, because the neurons there have a special function to sense blood-born hormones like insulin and leptin. When sensed, the brain interprets this as a "full tank of gas" and suppresses appetite while increasing metabolism.

Since theres no blood brain barrier here, these neurons get damaged easily due to things in the blood. When that happens, they don't see leptin anymore, and obesity develops. Fructose and high fat diets have both been shown to cause inflammation here. (hypothalamic gliosis)

heres a random selection of many papers http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/65/3/551.figure...

We also know that certain viruses show up in obese people (adenovirus36). As the field develops, I would not be surprised if labs demonstrate both viral infection of the hypothalamic ARC and damage by endocrine disruptors there.


"We can keep running on the macronutrient treadmill, like we've been doing for 50 years, or we can find molecular evidence that jives with genetics."

Yes, let's ignore 50+ years of established science that is parsimonious with everything we know about the molecular biology of insulin resistance, and dump it in favor of a fringe theory, based on a single paper about a mouse study, where there's not even a plausible explanatory mechanism.

Folks, stop downvoting simply because someone provides a link. The parent is spouting pseudo-scientific nonsense.


There are literally hundreds of papers on BPA and its links with diabetes. The only difference now is that we have the molecular culprit behind the trend.

https://www.ucsusa.org/our-work/center-science-and-democracy...


"There are literally hundreds of papers on BPA and its links with diabetes."

There are literally not. The review you've linked to cites a handful of papers involving minor effects observed in mouse studies.

Moreover, the paper you originally cited proves nothing even approximating a mechanism. I'm not suggesting anything about the safety of BPA, but it's utter nonsense to claim that it is a more plausible explanation for the diabetes epidemic than sugar consumption.

A few mouse studies do not change 50+ years of established science on the relationship between sugar and diabetes.


But is it really?

Elevated blood glucose, as in Type 2 Diabetes, has LONG been known to be primarily driven by excessive production of glucose by the liver due to liver insulin resistance. In fact, the way that the drug metformin improves diabetes is by shutting that pathway down.

http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/50/8/1807.short

Thats not dietary, thats the hormone insulin being ignored by the liver. This is further complicated by the fact that peripheral tissues, like muscle, are themselves insulin resistant.

The TCF7L2 pathway has been shown to be down-regulated in all of these tissues in diabetics.


TCF7L2 is a transcription factor. It is involved in many pathways in human biology, of which diabetes is one.

Observing that it is downregulated in diabetics provides no evidence for or against any theories concerning BPA.


It's also the most statistically significant gene, in the whole dang genome, associated with Type 2 Diabetes.

And out of a compound library of 20k chemicals, BPA had the top effect on it.

Seems significant to me

Also worth noting that BPA has been shown to specifically effect the occupancy of TCF7L2 at transcription factor binding sites in Chip-Seq experiments.

http://press.endocrine.org/doi/abs/10.1210/endo-meetings.201...

Lastly, before calling someone else's claims psuedoscientific, you may want to do some homework and check your previous biases. We could certainly use someone with your skills to help model BPAs interaction with the Androgen receptor. Might just save millions of lives....


No, there literally are hundreds. Look at the graph in pubmed.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=bisphenol+a

Forgive me, but I don't have time for this.


It’s interesting to notice that what we have here is one industry being villified, and then possibly passing the buck, only to point at another industry as possibly to blame.

It’s pretty interesting to think about how easy it is to muddy the waters like this. Something starts off as a direct medical concern, but then sprals into a secondary contamination problem. Both are bad. Plastics are bad for a variety of reasons, and sugars definitely contribute to obesity.

But, horomonal factors really cannot be shrugged at. There’s some serious distortion affecting people for the past 20 or more years, and it’s nothing normal. Is it birth control pills being dumped down the drain, and recirculating into the drinking water? Is it ibuprofen messing with people who have over dosed on their analgesic NSAIDs?

One thing’s for sure modern civilization has inteoduced many complications, all simultaneously, and that is likely the biggest mistake of all.

Also, I’m not sure you’ve used the word “parsimonious” correctly? Are you trying to say they’ve been “very careful” or “strict”? I think it’d be more appropriate to replace it with “well aligned” or “concomitant” if a vocabulary word should be preferred.


But what about other countries than the US? Japan, Europe? They use lots of plastic too. I haven’t heard of a diabetes epidemic there yet though.


Trends in prevalence of diabetes in Asian countries, doi: 10.4239/wjd.v3.i6.110 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3382707/

Diabetes in Asia and the Pacific: Implications for the Global Epidemic, https://doi.org/10.2337/dc15-1536 ( http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/39/3/472 )

Someone needs to do a dietary and sociological study of Vietnam, because it looks like they've been least affected by the diabetes epidemic, up until the early 2010s at least.


and yet, most everything came in glass until about 25 years ago..


Thats about when things got really bad

http://www.diabetesandenvironment.org/home/incidence


Maybe interplay between both ? too much carbs and too many toxins making our bodies even worse at handling the load.


Packaging food in plastic containers provides easier access to snackfoods, and allows you to carry them in more places to allow opportunistic snacking.

While the plastic itself may not be directly causing diabetes, the increased availability of food might be allowing people to overeat and give themselves diabetes.


I'm intrigued, still the sceptic in me thinks that most victims of type 2 diabetes are probably just victims of the simpler answer, which is occupying a body that has been exposed to too great amounts of fat (from especially oils and other processed foods) over too great a time period.

However, I can only imagine the amount of harm continued consumption of plastic over a long period of time will do to a body, and I foresee that it will become clear that an increasing amount of people will be dealing with problems from precisely that in the next couple of decades.


I've always heard that rising levels of carbs and sugars consumption have caused rises in Type 2, not fats and oils. I am no expert though.


Carbs nor sugar causes T2 diabetes. Simply put, sugar (refined or in food with a high glycemic level) becomes dangerous when you are diabetic because you body can't handle it because the arteries are plagued (from overconsumption of fat) so the sugar becomes trapped in the blood instead of escaping and being processed as it should, and as it's trapped in the blood it will build up to dangerous levels.

The reason you've always heard that (processed) carbs and sugars causes it, is probably because processed carbs and sugar is most often served with huge amounts of fat. Think oils and animal fat in cakes, candy, fries and so on. In any way, it isn't the cause, the cause is the fat, but rising levels of carbs and sugar go hand in hand with rising levels of fat.


Insulin resistance is related to inadequate muscle mass/protein.

Research has linked diabetes to inflammation, which may be related to body chemistry or infection or both.


> Insulin resistance is related to inadequate muscle mass/protein.

Source? Insulin resistance is literally a drop in insulin sensitivity caused by intramyocellular lipid, which is the build-up of fat inside muscle cells.

> Research has linked diabetes to inflammation, which may be related to body chemistry or infection or both.

Not as one being the cause of the other. If I'm not mistaken, they are both symptoms caused by for example saturated fat and (possibly) increased BPA consumption, not caused by one another.



As you probably are aware off after having read that study, it doesn't negate the lipotoxicity hypothesis, but merely proposes that it is probably not the only cause and that the role of a decline in muscle mass is perhaps also a key player specifically for the elderly where significant decline in muscle mass is typical, but obviously not so much in other population where it isn't.

However, very interesting read indeed, thank you!


Type 2 Diabetes is caused by carbs/sugar overconsumption, not fats. A ketogenic diet (high fat, moderate protein, low carb) diet reverses T2D in most people.


Carbs nor sugar causes T2 diabetes. Simply put, sugar (refined or in food with a high glycemic level) becomes dangerous when you are diabetic because you body can't handle it because the arteries are plagued (from overconsumption of fat) so the sugar becomes trapped in the blood instead of escaping and being processed as it should, and as it's trapped in the blood it will build up to dangerous levels.

The reason a ketogenic diet reverses type 2 diabetes in some people are because either a) those people go from eating extremely unhealthy to following a specific diet or b) they eat less calories than their bodies use thus they loose weight and thus the plague built-up can reverse. A ketogenic diet that allows too much fat will give you type 2 diabetes just like any other diet that allows for too high fat consumption.


It is much much harder to consume enough fats to have the same caloric intake as carbs. That’s the whole reason keto works.


That's irrelevant. It's still the fat that causes type 2 diabetes. That doesn't mean keto can't work because it clearly can as long as it doesn't lead to overconsumption of fat.

Also there are different kinds of carbs. As long as you keep to whole-food carbs, you practically can't eat too many (except for a few kinds like nuts and seeds and avocados) because you will be full long before it's too much. It's a different story with processed carbs, where you almost have eaten too much just by looking at them.


I see this copy pasta replicated several times.

What do you mean by "cause type 2 diabetes"? Type 2, you body is simply not making a sufficient amount of insulin to get the desired effect. In many cases, this is because the individual has developed "insulin resistance" but the pancreas is producing what would be an adequate amount otherwise. And this is usually due to "fat", as in, fat stores in that individual. It is not directly related to consumption of fat.

EDIT: This does not take into account other causes of type 2 diabetes and only deals with a single scenario.


> Type 2, you body is simply not making a sufficient amount of insulin to get the desired effect.

No, that is type 1.

> In many cases, this is because the individual has developed "insulin resistance" but the pancreas is producing what would be an adequate amount otherwise. And this is usually due to "fat", as in, fat stores in that individual. It is not directly related to consumption of fat.

Indeed, but the body prioriteses food, and it's easier for the body to store saturated fat than carbs, and since people in the western world where diabetes and other heart diseases rule, over consumption of whole-food carbs doesn't, but instead oils and other fatty-food does, so I'd say that is more likely the cause. Also the studies done supports this. You could check out this[1] 5 min video and this[2] that talks about a few studies that showed that insulin resistance decreases and diabetics of 20 years gets off insulin in mere weeks, on the same amount of calories, after they switch to a diet that prioriteses whole-food carbs over fat. All studies referenced in the videos are linked to.

[1]: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/what-causes-insulin-resista... [2]: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/how-not-to-die-from-diabete...


This is not true (whole food carbs vs processed food). Carbs are carbs, and should be avoided as much as possible (no more than 20-30g/day).


This is nonsense. The healthiest populations in the world eat large volumes of carbs and have for millenia. Lumping all carbohydrates under the bucket term "carbs" makes as much sense as lumping all drugs under a single term.

Eating complex, unrefined carbs is overall the healthiest way to get the calories you need to keep your body fueled.


I can only recommend that you go and do some research on the difference between whole-food carbs and processed carbs, because that is a very unhealthy (and unscientific) view on probably the single most important nutrient for the human body taking into account the fact that carbs is literally what evolution selected as our preferred brain-fuel, not ketone bodies.

Gibbon1 6 months ago [flagged]

> fredsir

Stop downvoting people you simply disagree with.


Attacking another user like that will get you banned here. Please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and follow the rules when posting.


I haven't been downvoting anybody. I don't even have a downvote button.


[flagged]


I wish I could but I can't so I shan't.


IMHO, the contamination of the food supply with rancid vegetable oil is a more important factor in the diabetes epidemic. Almost all of the vegetable oils at grocery stores are refined so customers don't realize they're using rancid oils. Vegetable oil is useful as biodiesel, and for making paints and stains.

  A drying oil is an oil that hardens to a tough, solid film 
  after a period of exposure to air. The oil hardens through 
  a chemical reaction in which the components crosslink (and 
  hence, polymerize) by the action of oxygen (not through 
  the evaporation of water or other solvents). Drying oils 
  are a key component of oil paint and some varnishes. Some 
  commonly used drying oils include linseed oil, tung oil, 
  poppy seed oil, perilla oil, and walnut oil. Their use has 
  declined over the past several decades, as they have been 
  replaced by alkyd resins and other binders. 
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drying_oil


Refined oils have nothing to do with being rancid it’s an extraction technique that uses heat instead of pressing.

Refined oil will go rancid in the kitchen just as easily as cold pressed and you will noticed since it will smell sweet and then putrid.

Common cooking oils including canola do not oxidize well nor do they dry well which is why you would not use them on say wood because they will not dry and will just go rancid.


> Refined oils have nothing to do with being rancid it’s an extraction technique that uses heat instead of pressing.

The petroleum distillate hexane is used to extract the oil from seed meal, then is boiled off: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vegetable_oil#Solvent_extracti...

The specific step I'm referring to is "steam deodorization": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vegetable_oil#Deodorization


And this has nothing to do with the oil being rancid deodorization is used to remove any water soluble solvents that may have been used in the process of extracting the oil.

If you are going to link to Wikipedia at least bother reading the damn article.

If you want to talk about the potential health impact of oils then erucic acid consumption might be a topic for discussion despite the lack of conclusive research on the subject so excessive canola oil consumption might be an issue despite it being capped at 2% in the US and 5% in the EU if you consume enough of it you might cause cardio vascular damage if the existing correlated data also indicates causation.

But vegetable oils in general are not bad and are not sold as rancid that’s wrong, if you want to be on the extreme edge of the safe line then you can substitute canola oil with coconut, sunflower or peanut oil quite easily and these days also without paying a premium.


What does the blocktext and link have to do with your supposition?


Most so-called "vegetable oils" were traditionally used as drying oils. This was before the paint industry figured out how to use petroleum distillates in their products in the mid-20th century.

Linseed oil was renamed "flaxseed oil" when the market for stain made with linseed oil dried up.

Containers of vegetable oils typically develop a sticky film on them, due to the drying oil effect.


Maybe I'm not viewing this with the proper historical context, but I don't understand why you are saying the market for linseed oil has "dried up" for non-food uses. Boiled linseed oil, which contains linseed oil, is probably the most common oil based finish for woodworking.

I also looked at this website about "Linseed oil market analysis" [1], which shows that Paints & Varnishes is still the largest user of linseed oil. Then processed foods, then pharma, then cosmetic, then flooring (which is probably also as a finish).

I'm eye-balling the graphs because they don't have a table, but it looks like processed foods is only about 20% of the market. That might be a lot, I don't know, but it doesn't seem fair to say all this excess linseed oil is going into foods because there is no other use for it.

1: https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/linseed-...


... strictly speaking you’re certainly correct that there is still a significant non-food use for linseed and the other vegetable oils. But there were only limited food uses for polyunsaturated oils before deodorization and hydrogenation techniques were figured out in the early-mid 20th century. People might [have] measured out a tablespoon for their cooking pan, whereas today people use these oils prolifically.


This process sounds similar to seasoning a cast iron pan. Does that mean using a seasoned cast iron pan can play a factor in diabetes, since you're in taking more rancid fats?


Putting aside the fact that the claim made about rancid oil is pure fiction, the answer to your question is no. A cast iron pan is seasoned by carbonizing and polymerizing the oil under high heat, and what’s left can’t go rancid and isn’t really oil anymore.


It’s a very different process “seasoning” creates a thin carbon layer on the surface of them metal and essentially what it does is to fill all the small gaps that normally would allow food to get into and stick it’s essentially very simmilar to Teflon and other non-stick coatings.


That is exactly what pan seasoning is. It's why the oil you use matters. The patina on a seasoned pan is a crosslinked polymer.

The chemicals that make rancid oils taste and smell bad are generally the smaller bits that come off the molecule when its double bonds are attacked by oxygen: the aldehydes and ketones, and the short saturated fatty acids like butyric acid.


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