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Marium, the Dugong Who Charmed Thailand, Dies After Ingesting Plastic (npr.org)
91 points by laurex 66 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 57 comments

>But last week, her caregivers found her listless and bruised, reports the AP.

>In addition to Marium eating plastic, biologists believe she was pursued by an overly aggressive male during the mating season.

>"We assume she wandered off too far from her natural habitat and was chased and eventually attacked by another male dugong or dugongs," Jatuporn Buruspat, director-general of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, told the AP.

It seems that Marium died after being attacked by one or more males. Although the article mentions plastic in her intestines, nowhere does it say that the plastic was the cause of death. There is a good chance that a lot of the marine life invests plastic and we just notice it when we perform a necropsy after a death.

I think that it's a case of sup-par AP reporting. The Thai-language autopsy report is more clear. They found a bunch of plastic bags wadded together in the colon.

Ah that sounds more serious than the "found numerous tiny plastic pieces in her intestines" which had me doubting that was the cause of death.

The more I hear about plastic pollution the more worried I am that it's working as a distraction for air pollution, global warming and problems of the global economy:


I sort of wonder this too. The logic seems simple. Companies are attacked for being bad for the environment. In ways such as fossil fuel consumption it is impossible for them to change. However, in ways such as making packaging slightly lighter or of different materials it is easy to change. Companies support existing environmental groups fixated on fringe issues as a way of appearing progressive while the main issue (which would be costly) goes on touch.

As a resident of California who has seen plastic straws be banned (which are highly visible but small) while millions of other types of waste are allowed I suspect it is the case.

That's more an issue of PR departments pushing out platitudes whilst not actually doing anything.

The solution to plastic pollution is not 'make the container thinner' because the amount of material used is not really relevant. Two thin plastic bags are likely worse than one 3x thickness bag a pollution perspective.

It would be equally silly for companies to talk about "hey we now use 3% less petrol" or whatever. They need to use 90%+ less.

It’s not about platitudes. It’s about raising awareness with a small gesture in hopes it will lead to a bigger change. It already is a pretty needless thing (especially as compostable straws exist) that accumulates in large numbers, and is purely single use. We already have had single use plastic bags banned for a long time in SF, and I cannot imagine going backwards. We need to continue moving onward... not bringing back straws but further reducing this single use plastic lifestyle.

I think you're misreading my comment. I agree with you.

I'm saying that making plastic containers a bit thinner is a platitude (greenwashing), not that reducing plastic use is a platitude.

The meaningful move would be to stop producing single-use plastics entirely. A jar of jam or something that lasts a few weeks is low priority at the moment. A microwave meal is lazy. A plastic fork is just a piss take.

It's all an issue simultaneously.

Theyre all horrible problems that we should be confronting just because companies use tackling plastic as a scapegoat doesn't mean its still not something we should take on. As long as we remember its not the only problem and theres much more to fix.

Whenever you're executing focus is far the biggest multiplier.

Global warming is an existential threat effecting billions of people in a few years, air pollution is killing millions of people every year, but plastic pollution is not proven to be toxic or endangering animal species even though its horrible.

I consider all these articles about plastic pollution to be a kind of "fake news" because they are completely misleading people as to the nature of the problem.

The plastic waste that is entering the oceans is because people in developing countries that lack waste management systems, dump their trash in rivers and it floats out to sea.

The root cause is poverty and corrupt, ineffective governments. It's not a problem that can be resolved by western consumer action or even western legislation.

This has been repeatedly shown to be only partially true. From Sri Lanka, in bite sized form, the common theme of news of a developed country carelessly sending their junk over to be "managed" [1]. Currently an ongoing mini scandal in Sri Lanka regarding the individuals who were taking non recyclable stuff and were found dumping it into waterways.

This doesn't exonerate anyone from what is being done, but the point of entry into the sea for these plastics is not necessarily the point of origin. So take it as we are all in this together. Fighting over who's really to blame is a waste of time.

What do we need instead? Working to reduce and helping to direct people to recycle wherever possible. From the perspective of the general engineer on hacker news, use tools at your disposal to further the message as far as possible. Even if someone feels encouraged to recycle mostly as a virtue signal, it's fine if they do it correctly.

From developed nations, mandates around plastic consumerism and technology jumps would be great.

Basically more nuanced conversations and positive actions vs "not our problem" write offs.

[1] https://www.instagram.com/tv/B1OWy8nBK8N/?igshid=1qi3c58kyue...

> The root cause is poverty and corrupt, ineffective governments.

The root cause is human nature coupled with literally covering everything in plastic. Effective governments can help put a curb on this by restricting plastic usage.

Western governments should stop outsourcing pollution, whether literally (exporting plastic) or figuratively (allowing trade with environmentally unfriendly governments).

Western governments absolutely can and do apply geopolitical pressure via measures like sanctions, tariffs and trade agreements.

Now whether they have the will to do it over plastic waste (or carbon emissions or democratic governance or human rights) is another matter, because they have only a few tools and there are thousands of priorities competing for those tools.

It also doesn't help with leverage when there is a powerful economic actor which doesn't require any of these terms as conditions of doing business: China.

Alternatively, instead of starving countries to death[0], maybe Western countries should stop sending their trash to third world countries[1][2].

Perhaps it's not the fault of those poorer countries, but instead the fault of the Enlightened West (those that care about carbon emissions, democratic governance and human rights) illegally dumping their garbage onto other countries[3]?

There's something funny about Western governments illegally dumping thousands of tonnes of trash on the shores of poor countries[4] and then people having the audacity to support sanctions - literally punishing the civilians there by starving them through siege - for not having the ability to properly manage the waste.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanctions_against_Iraq#Effects...

[1] https://www.dw.com/en/tired-of-being-trashed-philippines-rea...

[2] http://www.atchuup.com/countries-used-as-dumping-grounds-of-...

[3] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-05-29/malaysia-to-send-tonn...

[4] http://collections.unu.edu/eserv/UNU:6349/PiP_Report.pdf

You're aware that Iraq and the Malaysia are different countries, right? Just checking.

I didn’t realise sieges have different effects depending on which third world country they’re applied to.

This is certainly NOT a waste management issue. As i travelled the world, i noticed one thing. I could always see certain product waste in the same poor regions the world over. Selling plastic to the poor is BIG enterprise.

We are talking about countries with no waste management systems because everything they have relied on thus far, as been entirely biogradable. "Trash bin" is not even in their vocabulary. Thats the floor!

Plastic is a problem because we have capitalistic enterprises entering new markets, and dumping their plastic, overprocessed foods; on poor unsuspecting populations. These supermarkets outcompete hand-to-plate operations in very little time. These enterprises usually follow resource extraction companies. "Give them money, take their resources", and any money they earn, gets funneled back to a mate, in the form of long life overprocessed goods (palm oil, preservatives banned in developed countries, sugar etc)

https://youtu.be/YINCk0zPkWE?t=984 (best video i can find at the moment)

ie. when a new mine is built, a pipeline is created to extract and export those resources. To fatten up the profit, ships that take minerals away, arrive with overprocessed supermarket goods. The mine employ's local workers who used to live a substance life-style, hand-to-mouth. Now the mine destroys the hand-to-mouth foodchain, and replaces it with a more profitable one.

The supeprmarket goods themselves then create health problems. And soon enough, the cycle has been kick started; there is no other way to live - but to depend on the supermarkets, depend on mecidine, which both require money. Need some money for medicine? There is a logger who will help out with that! Good for business, bad for humanity.

The relationship between plastic, exploitation and profit is intrinsically linked. Even at the 1st world scale, Coca-Cola products are 1/3 of all plastic waste in the ocean. They do it because its the cheapest way to preseve and export their sugar laced goods. Exploitation is the basis of the business model. Exploit human desires (we are programmed to seek sugar), exploit weak institutions, exploit weak governance, exploit weak enforcement. Hustle the supply chain so only your products are available. Its the only way to maintain a 10% profit increase each year, once u have hyper-optimised every other facet of the production process.

Putting a state of the art plastic recycling plant next door to OK Tedi is not going to help. It will just be another parasitic Capitalistic enterprise seeking to exploit, dump and export.

I'm doubtful that humanity will be able to resolve its plastics crisis without a radical, 'immediate' shift in how nations manufacture and consume product. No matter what great research or innovations exist or are on the horizon, we've long passed the point of no return and are entrenched in our habits. There's been a profusion of news illustrating how egregious our situation is and I'm always left wondering how the future is going to look like and in what new ways people are going to adapt.

When I was in Vietnam earlier this year, I finally understood how much of a problem we have. The ocean water was totally clogged with plastic and trash. In North America, we are not seeing what a lot of the rest of the world is dealing with in terms of persistent waste, presumably because we have more land for landfills and money to move trash into them?

You can put a LOT of trash in a small space. The cost of landfills is usually measured in the cost to collect and transport garbage to the landfills. Also, once the landfill is full it is often still usable after the fact. Especially if it is managed properly. Add this to the fact that quarries are creating excellent places to consign garbage.

The big problem is the cost of energy to move and bury the garbage. A lot of third world countries don't have extensive waste management networks like the USA.

I think it's a decent bet that future generations will see our usage of plastic in the past few decades pretty similarly to the way we see the historical usage of asbestos during the middle part of the 20th century.

I really don't think so. Plastics are used because they solve a lot of very real problems for the amount they cost to produce. That's a good thing. The vast majority of the plastic waste in the environment comes from rivers that flow through countries that lack even basic sanitation/garbage collection facilities. A plastic bottle floating down a river has a real potential environmental impact. A plastic bottle sitting in a landfill isn't hurting anything, and isn't going to.

Investing in waste management infrastructure in these communities would essentially solve the plastics problem, even if nothing else was changed. It is, unfortunately, not very exciting to talk about civil waste management infrastructure as the way forward, but it doesn't stop it from being the correct answer.

I want to agree with you, because I am generally pro-technology and pro-plastic. On many levels, plastics are one of the most amazing inventions of the last century.

On the other hand, we're seeing more and more particulate pollution from plastics which won't be solved by adequate disposal. Some plastic products break down and end up in the environment while they are still in use(see plastic clothing fibers for example).

You raise a good point, and I want to be clear, I fully understand that everything involves tradeoffs. Synthetic fibers from washing fleece blankets and clothing are a major source of plastic pollution. With current sewage treatment systems, some of this waste is caught, but not enough. Having cleanable filters on a washing machine's discharge water would be an inexpensive, easy fix, but as far as I know, none currently exist in the consumer space.

But before we throw the baby out with the bathwater, we also have to remember that synthetic clothing keeps people clothed and warm for less environmental impact than most natural fibers- cotton is a resource-intensive crop that has its own waste and pesticide problems, for example. There are a lot of optimizations to be made.

They’ll still exist for a long time, and will be eaten by birds, etc, even in a landfill.

Managing AND reducing waste needs to happen simultaneously.

Plastics that sit undisturbed in the earth are a form of carbon sequestration. That is not a bad thing, as long as they are concentrated in a known place.

Landfills are lot more complex than just dumping trash in a pit. https://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/swfacilities/landfills/needfor... may be of interest. The tl;dr is that properly-managed ones genuinely are a safe form of waste disposal.

Well-designed landfills are probably better than loading plastic into confetti cannons, but calling anything in a man-engineered landfill "undisturbed in the earth" is a stretch.

Plastics sitting in our landfills are, at human timescales, sitting relatively undisturbed on the outer skin of this world, where they are probably a teensy bit less "sequestered" than they were several thousand feet into the crust.

At anything approaching geologic time, some fraction of these feats of engineering will be graciously buried by layer upon layer of new sediments; others will be sundered by the same forces that flatten mountain-ranges and carve canyons, their contents re-circulated through nature's supply chains.

What about burning them?

And then we pollute the air?

I believe you can use catalysts and filters to get reasonably clean exhaust.

How clean is 'reasonably' clean?

Given so many parts of the world throw trash into rivers which is one of the main ways we get so much plastic in the ocean, this seems extremely wishful.

Seems like if we could avoid plastic in the first place, or have all plastic be biodegradable in a short time period, we'd be far better off.

You don't think asbestos solved real problems?

I often think this will be known as "The Plastic Age" and we will be known by a layer of it in the sediment like the K-T boundary has iridium.

I've been calling it the Plasticene, and looking around now maybe a few other people do as well.

The plastic layer will sequester the carbon previously sequestered as oil and coal.

Over time it’s possible you’ll get some kind of fungus or yeast that can break the plastic down. This is already getting to be a problem in some modern art galleries where modernist plastic exhibits are slowly dissolving into (and smelling like) arctic acid because some novel strains of yeast showed up that could digest them.

Where can I read more about this?

Agreed, but as a practical matter, we should be clear about where the vast majority of Ocean plastic comes from.


If I'm interpreting that image correctly, a large fraction of plastics is not coming from any of the top 10 sources.

Now what? Nuke India/China?

Also: What's the source of this information?

More like invest in proper waste management and landfill facilities in the cities that border the main rivers in asia.

Seriously, that's the answer. As it stands, a truly staggering amount of waste, of which plastics are only a fraction, is just straight dumped into these rivers because there's no way to handle it locally. Stopping the flow at the source through proven, straightforward waste management techniques would help the environment is innumerable ways, including the plastics problem.

Source: “Export of Plastic Debris by Rivers into the Sea,” by Christian Schmidt et al., in Environmental Science & Technology, Vol. 51, No. 21; November 7, 2017

That data is suspect.

Knowing there is no way those numbers are right I point out it's dodgy looking, get viciously downvoted (probably by some kind of yay US crowd who dislike people living in China having an opinion) but when the source is quoted has literally been corrected by its own authors.[0] Typical HN.

[0] https://pubs.acs.org/doi/suppl/10.1021/acs.est.7b06377/suppl...

I don't know what is "typical HN", but what you have linked to was only a correction in the table headings. They say in the correction notice that it "does not affect the data, only the table headings." They had switched "Model 1" and "Model 2" in the original.


OK. Actually the reason I felt it was unlikely to be correct was that I have lived in both river deltas (a year each in Shanghai, Shenzhen, Zhuhai) as well as travelled extensively (Suzhou, Yangzhou, upper Yangtse, Jiangmen, etc.) and suspect given the manufacturing and residential density and geographic expanse of the lower PRD, it should have significant garbage versus Yangtse. How was the data gathered? Satellite? When was it gathered? The 2017 paper probably uses 2015 or earlier data, there have been substantial improvements on environmental issues in the PRD region (really China-wide) of late, but I'd still be surprised if it's substantially cleaner in plastic refuse terms than the Yangtse.

What is the replacement material? Graphene? It will be a long time before that switch happens.

The shame will be from how we treat our oceans. Dumping garbage and overfishing are perpetrated by psychopaths while average people wail and wring their hands about how they are powerless to do anything.

We need biodegradable plastic bottles now, and an outright ban on styrofoam....

Biodegradability means nothing in the context of plastic that ends up in rivers, seas and oceans. Nothing. That is not a solution.

We need waste control, enforced harsh laws on producers (industries and tourists and waste manager companies), and we needed it a decade ago.

This is what happens when capitalism relies on an externality and that externality is fed up with its bullcrap.

Moral of the history: Nothing can substitute mother's lessons about what to eat and what not. Orphans of species that need a long period of weaning and teaching have more probabilities of die young.

You think the moral has nothing to do with our deliberate industries?

Natural selection. The ecosystem is evolving; if you can't stop yourself from eating plastic you'll be wiped.

Some species cannot stop eating plastic, other populations can but will still be seriously harmed.

Keep in mind that humans introduced plastic and have control over its presence.

Perhaps the term „ecosystem evolution” is too general in this case; ecosystem destruction might be more accurate.

It’s up to us what is the next step. We can leave things up to natural selection, but do we want to?

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