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Ocean cleaning device succeeds in removing plastic for the first time (cnn.com)
401 points by lelf 9 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 272 comments





This has been an interesting discussion but I am surprised at the high level of criticism towards the project. There seems to be two primary critiques of the project:

1. This should not be an area of focus - There are better climate change opportunities to put money towards

2. The project is ineffective and introduces a lot of other environmental problems

For the first point it seems like people are arguing as if it is a binary problem. It isn’t - The threat of climate change / environmental damage is an incredibly complex one that will not be fixed by a single technology / focus/ policy change. For me the questions are a. ’Are existing plastics in our ocean a problem? (yes) b. If someone is passionate about this should they have a crack at improving things? (yes) This is not consuming all the worlds available financing for environmental action so I don’t think wasted resourcing is a particularly good argument. Several commentators also talk about focusing on other ‘lower’ hanging fruit but this is not an objective measure - For a team made up of excellent engineers, oceanographers, fluid dynamics experts etc this may be a lower hanging fruit than trying to implement large scale policy change.

For the second point it comes down to the motivations of the team and their capacity and capability to improve the product. I would presume the team are incredibly passionate about improving the environment and so things like danger to floating marine life, use of diesel in boats etc would absolutely be something they are aware of and actively looking to mitigate. The fact this is (at least) the third iteration demonstrates they are working to improve on what they know is a currently flawed solution - This is development cycle!

This is not to say that critique is bad. Hopefully the team are humble enough to absorb the critique and continue to iterate on their solution to resolve the real issues raised but as long as there is a continued focus on the goal of environmental cleanup and good governance surrounding this I think this is a fantastic project and hopefully it is joined by many more ambitious activities.


I would add that people have noted that the Pacific Garbage Patch is large and has a low density of plastic. I assume that ocean also has a relatively low density of fish altogether but industrial fishing is able to catch a pretty large proportion of these at this point (with beneficial and problem consequences). With plastic not trying to flee and fish moving, it doesn't seems a-priori impossible to create a device that would just skim a large portion of the plastic off.

Of course, unless the world's nation change their policies, this will be moot and environmental destruction generally will accelerate given our present politics. But shitting on this particular project hardly seems a useful way to force this absolutely necessary general change.


> I assume that ocean also has a relatively low density of fish altogether

Interesting assumption but false. The places where fish are located is often pretty dense in fish. That is to say, fish are not evenly distributed. They tend to swim in school of fish, and oceans have vast "desert" areas where the bottom is made of sand and very little else.

The Pacific Garbage Patch is interesting target for cleaning because it has a higher density of plastic compared to other areas. The question is if the density is high. Fishing technique has very little insight to give here beyond technology such as radar and echo sounding, but I am uncertain how effective that would be.

Creating an effective device to clean large swathes of low density ocean is going to require novel designs. For high density areas there are divers, and recreational divers are actually one of the current biggest force in cleaning up water around beaches. The problem is that it does not scale.


The threat, some argue, with the Ocean Cleanup is not so much to "traditional", underwater fish, but rather to an obscure floating type of species known as the neuston [1]. Marine biologists are warning about the impact of the OC on this species because so little is understood of their value to marine life.

[1] The entry is very short on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pleuston#Neuston



I've heard that argument before, and my reaction then and now is: use this opportunity to study the impact of the neuston on other marine life, and the impact of the ocean cleanup on the neuston.

Saying "we don't know, so we shouldn't do anything" is not productive. We know that all that plastic in the ocean is harmful for some marine life, so we clean it up. You can't postpone all action until you know every possible variable, because you never will. Instead, investigate the neuston, investigate the impact of this cleanup, and re-evaluate after we have more data.


Here's a guy who saw a problem. Decided to go out and do something about the problem. Raised money from sponsorships and donations. Did something about the problem.

Hard to see what's not to like.


Thank you for writing this. You've worded it a lot better and more cordial than I could have as I'm really astonished by the level of ignorance in this thread.

It is the same basic attitude that dismissed Dropbox or the iPod. Software Engineers love to think because their field requires constant learning it somehow translates into their ability to understand and pass judgment on fields outside of their own. I think the term is “engineers disease” and it is super frustrating.

At the risk of stating the obvious, The Ocean Cleanup has nothing to do with preventing climate change. That's not to say it is or isn't worthwhile.

While I agree, it also technically is associated since garbage in the ocean is leading to ecological issues, which through chain events can effectively affect the global ecology, which in turn affects the climate. I'm not saying this is any measurable amount, both due to complexity and relativity, but I think it's also important it's not forgotten that how we treat the environment has far-reaching affects one the food chain (and fauna) is affected.

Have we got a clever word for rejecting one cause in favor of another? ”Whataboutism“ seems to miss the mark here.

The world is a big place, there are a lot of things that contribute to problems. I dunno why so many people think there is one way to solve them, or that pursuit of that priority should obviate all others.

For one, what if you’re wrong? If you haven’t hedged your bets you have to start from scratch, maybe undo what you’ve done first. Big problems require many solutions, not big solutions.

I mean, I don’t personally see how they’ll ever get the numbers to work, but you can’t have a marketplace for ideas and then evict everyone. There are some ideas that are similar to these that seem to actually work already, like the giant mesh bags over drain pipes. Who knows where inspiration will come from.


> Have we got a clever word for rejecting one cause in favor of another?

Either/or thinking, false dilemma, false dichotomy, false binary

Any of those resonate?


I see this particular brand of whataboutism a lot. It seems glaringly obvious to me that they're arguing in bad faith.

> This should not be an area of focus - There are better climate change opportunities to put money towards

People who put money should decide the area of focus. Not others.

> The project is ineffective and introduces a lot of other environmental problems

This achievement matters and useful in itself. May be they can figure it out how to scale or will find more commercially viable products from this sort of technology.


Unfortunately the approaches taken by Ocean Cleanup make no sense. What Ocean Cleanup is doing isn't new, they're trying strategies that have previously been tried and found to be uneconomical/ineffective. This startup has received a lot of flak from experts for a reason: they're big on hype but haven't produced any results. Sending big diesel powered boats into the sea to collect a few thousand pounds of plastic is a joke.

If the goal is to capture a gigantic amount of plastic cheaply, just place nets where polluted rivers in southeast Asia meet the sea. Those rivers carry all the plastic waste from the cities to the sea, so that's where the focus should be. But cleaning the rivers in poor parts of the world isn't a sexy hi-tech problem that results in TED talks. So Ocean Cleanup will continue to make more solar-powered autonomous boondoggles and they will accomplish nothing.


...Which is why they built the interceptor which grabs plastic exactly at the source. As their CEO argues, you need to do both. Remove legacy ocean garbage and prevent newer garbage as well.

https://theoceancleanup.com/rivers/


It would surprise me if nets at the mouths of rivers didn't royally screw up the wildlife and/or boat traffic. And what do they do with that plastic they trap? The root problem is those societies have no better way to dispose of plastic than letting it drift to sea. Proper waste collection and disposal services are far preferable to installing a net and telling everyone, "Yo it's ok to throw all your trash in the river now."

This startup is long on hype and has zero results. Ok they spent tons of money to collect a few lbs of trash. The CEO was on Joe Rogan last month telling everyone he was going to clean up half the patch in 5 years (not even sure what that means since it's constantly growing). How much did those ships cost to run per day though? $50k. So he doesn't even have a working POC if you factor in costs. He's just out there on a premature victory tour, doing more harm than good by convincing people that someone else has solved the plastic problem for them. What a hero.


It's not a zero sum game. There are other projects tackling garbage collection and processing on land as well.

> So he doesn't even have a working POC if you factor in costs.

Saying we shouldn't do something because it isn't profitable is what got us into this mess in the first place. Since we've been shitting where we eat, it's about time where we need to start eating our own shit metaphorically. It's better to do this than do nothing. If something more cost efficient comes out in a few years, sure that's great, but we don't quite have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines and waiting/hoping for that to happen.


> "Since we've been shitting where we eat, it's about time where we need to start eating our own shit metaphorically."

Not just metaphorically. Well, the shit is, but not the eating. Apparently there's plastic in our salt and drinking water now, so we are officially eating our own pollution.


I read a report that the average person consumes about a credit card each week.

Edit: A simple google search returns a ton of hits https://phys.org/news/2019-06-consume-credit-card-worth-plas...


This is an impressive level of negativity.

Is it? What cleaned up my country's rivers of plastic after many failed projects was a government program of paying for returned plastic bottles. In poor countries (and that's where the most of plastic comes from) you don't really need complex or super-smart automatic systems to do this job as manual work is cheap. Just pay enough for recycled plastic so that it makes a viable source of profit for those in need, and you'll have a massive army of people collecting waste much more diligent than any net or automated system.

What to do with the plastic is a separate problem that needs proper logistics, but step 1 is removing it from the oceans and rivers. That's where this program is helping.

Also the river cleanup systems are completely automated and solar powered. Where did you get the $50k number from?


If we stopped producing all plastic right now, the oceans would still be full of plastic. Even if we treat the source we'll still need to clean up. The damage has already been done. It won't go away on it's own over time.

It's much cheaper to prevent plastic reaching the ocean than cleaning it up after, so that's where the focus should be. It's not a matter of the damage "already been done". All additional plastic that ends up in the ocean is still bad. Estimates are that 10% of all plastics produced annually ends up in the ocean, about 10 million tonnes annually. That's a staggering amount.

The great pacific garbage patch -- as mentioned in the article -- is twice the size of Texas, but the garbage density is low: only 4 parts per m3. And only 5% of the garbage is at the surface (10 meters deep or so). That's what makes the cleanup fiendishly difficult. So let's focus on the low hanging fruit first.


> so that's where the focus should be.

See this a lot. You are using your own limited attention span to argue that others shouldn't be doing the work they are doing because you can only think about one problem at a time. There are 7.7 billion people on this Earth damn it, we can and should work on multiple different parts of a problem at once. The garbage which is in the oceans needs to extracted (and extracted now, before it gets ground into microplastics), and as others have mentioned, other people are working on catching runoff waste at river sources.

I never really understood people who shout from the sidelines that people who are actually working their asses off on the problem are doing it wrong. Have a little more respect.


Not to mention that there are other projects focus on stopping garbage creation at the source of consumers with creating garbage collection and processing programs in these 3rd world areas.

I'm not saying Ocean Cleanup is good at what they're doing. I'm just saying we have no choice but to get good at cleaning up the plastic that is there, because it's not going away on it's own and no amount of prevention will reverse time.

As I've mentioned elsewhere, I also have no confidence that all nations involved in polluting will stop and I suspect we'll still be putting plastic into the ocean for decades to come. Being better at cleaning the ocean may actually be the low-hanging fruit.


Microbes are probably the best answer. There is already evidence that they are eating a large proportion of the plastics and oil that is dumped / spilled into the ocean. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/05/these-tiny-microbes-...

Absolutely. Cleanup is not the whole solution, but part of the solution. We still need to cut down on our plastic use.

And by "we" I don't mean just Europe and the US, though we are definitely culprits too, but I recently learned that about a third of the plastic in the Pacific comes from a single river in China. Filtering it there, or making Chinese more aware of the problem of plastic waste, is absolutely vital.

Still, the cleanup is a great idea.


As many other commenters have pointed out, they are already doing river cleanup with fully deployed systems in many rivers.

If anything, they don't need to focus on one thing because they've shown to be perfectly capable of attacking both challenges effectively.


A quick calculation suggests they would need 10,000 of their river Interceptors, assuming each interceptor can fill a garbage truck worth of plastic daily. That would reduce the amount of plastic dumped in the sea by the 1000 most polluted rivers by about half.

Building, maintaining, and operating 10,000 Interceptors is a huge undertaking, and it requires their full effort and attention.

To my knowledge they currently only have a few prototype Interceptors that don't work very well. They're certainly nowhere near the point where they can build river trash interceptors at scale. Prototypes are relatively easy. Building big machines that work all day every day without breaking down is super hard.


There's only 10 rivers that are the 90% of trash: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/06/90-of-plastic-polluti...

And sure, if they want to launch across 1000 rivers it's going to be a big project. So what? Nobody said it was easy. It seems like your argument is that... they can't do it because it's hard?

If they fail then nothing changes. But they've already started and have the designs finished with the version 2 interceptors working well. Something is better than nothing.


Ocean plastics have a finite lifespan. A significant percentage is unusually stable and lasts more than 20 years, but quite a bit is breaking down every day.

Assuming they could scale this to 20,000 trips per year for 6 billion dollars every year, they might reduce the rate of new plastics by 10%. However, this does not scale as it depended on a specific unusual situation.


And then it breaks down in to smaller bits that the fish can eat and die.

No, you’re describing what happens during the break down process. Afterwards it’s not plastic.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4802224/


There's actually disagreement about oceans self cleaning (or not).

From https://inhabitat.com/the-fallacy-of-cleaning-the-gyres-of-p... (and Flotsametrics):

> to clean the ocean of floating plastic, you don’t need to go out and get it, it will come to you. Yep, that’s right. Oceanographer Curtis Ebbsmeyer, author of, Flotsametrics [33] describes a rarely talked about phenomena that occurs naturally in the ocean called Gyre Memory. Gyre Memory demonstrates that upon each orbit of a gyre, the gyre will spit out about half its contents. These contents will then either enter another current or gyre or wash up on land. As this repeats, it means that eventually, all the plastic in the ocean will be spit

Slat's reply, from https://theoceancleanup.com/updates/responding-to-critics:

> There is no data to support this statement. Actually, using the best models currently available (the Van Sebille and LebretonModels) we attempted to quantify the natural loss of plastics from the gyres, producing a figure of <0.1%/yr. Based on communication between our modelers and the makers of the models, we eventually decided to exclude this figure from the report, because the models are unreliable near the coast. But it’s safe to say a gyre does not spit out half of its contents per rotation. Unfortunately, it appears that the plastic that’s already trapped in the currents of the gyres does not simply go away by itself.


But aren't stopping plastic production.

So that means we need to be as efficient as possible in fixing this, and cleaning the ocean is much more work compared to filtering the mouths of the 10 or so main polluting rivers in Asia.


I agree, we need prevention and cleanup, and we can do both at once, but we must learn to clean the ocean because the plastic is already there.

It's like spilling your lego all over the floor, then saying no we don't need to clean those up, we should focus on making sure we never spill lego again. Even if we stopped all lego from ever spilling, we still have a floor full of lego, so we need to learn how to clean up our lego still.


Nihilism and throwing your hands up and giving up won't help anything.

I think maybe you misunderstood me, the OP is being dismissive of the ocean cleanup effort because he thinks we should focus on prevention. My view is simply that prevention is important but it's too late to prevent the ocean from filling with plastic, so we still need to clean it. We need both.

> collect a few thousand pounds

In a mission to clean up trash floating in the ocean, environmentalists pulled 40 tons (36 metric tons) of abandoned fishing nets this month from an area known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

https://www.voanews.com/science-health/40-tons-fishing-nets-...

40 tons in a month by an NGO funded by donations and sponsors.


For comparison: About 60 tons (53 metric tons) of fishing nets are lost each month, reportedly. [1]

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/06/dumped-f...


It would be nice if fishermen could only use certified nets that costed an hefty fee to encourage strategies to prevent loss of nets and also to provide extra funding to ocean cleanup efforts from the proceeds of these certified nets.

From my experience, small scale local fishermen are very invested in not losing nets. They are a big investments. Most would actually be very happy if nets had some form of fingerprint identification in order to combat theft and illegal fishing, especially if the police could look it up in a central register.

Regulation in this area would be a win-win for almost everyone involved.


Yet, their was more plastic in the Pacific when they left than when they started. Filtering river discharge could make a meaningful difference, what their doing is at best a publicity stunt.

Another 9 million tons (8 million metric tons) of plastic waste, including plastic bottles, bags, toys and other items, flow annually into the ocean from beaches, rivers and creeks, according to experts. So 8,000,000/year vs ~36 per month.

In other words they spent 300,000$ and reduced the oceans added plastic load that month by 0.0054%.


"Filtering river discharge could make a meaningful difference ..."

So basically, what the Ocean Cleanup project is also already doing with their Interceptor systems? https://theoceancleanup.com/rivers/


Sort of, though without the need for a boat or people on it.

My suggestion would be two different lines each collecting from over half the river. One upstream and one down so boats can still easily navigate the channel and 24/7 365 operations are cheap. Further, you need a system designed to operate in floods when the majority of plastics are washed out to sea.


And roughly 75% of that is from East Asia, so that's why people are talking about concentrating on the rivers and promoting recycling/new materials in those areas.

40 tons is about 80 thousand pounds. The above poster said "a few" thousand. 80 is usually more than a few... But, What is the scale of the problem? How much trash is there?

Maybe it is correct to think of 40 tons as not a big dent in the problem, but I'm not sure.


These comments are full of arguments where one person suggests a course of action and another person replies that the alternatives are worse (plastic vs paper, wild fish vs farmed, cleaning up plastic vs cutting carbon). It's impossible for anyone to fully foresee the environmental consequences of the products they buy. This is the reason why the only solutions to these problems is for our governments to impose Pigovian taxes for harms to the environment (and equal subsidies for helps to the environment). Then all the consequences of our choices filter back to us in monetary terms. No other method is capable of weighing all the different factors.

These Cleaning Devices should be placed at the mouth of these 10 rivers. It would prevent 90% of all Ocean plastic.

https://www.dw.com/en/almost-all-plastic-in-the-ocean-comes-...


I think that article is based on outdated information. More recently people have started to look at plastic released on the open sea through fishing, and found it to be bigger than all land-based sources.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/06/dumped-f...


Sorry I think you've misread that article. Gear from fishing is "estimated to make up 10% of ocean plastic pollution".

70% of large things. 10% of total.


Well that's some confusing reporting. The title is "Dumped fishing gear is biggest plastic polluter in ocean, finds report" yet does go on to say 10%.

Greenpeace: "Ghost gear makes up an estimated 10% of the plastic waste in our oceans, but represents a much higher proportion of large plastics found floating at the surface."

https://www.greenpeace.org/africa/en/blogs/8248/ghost-gear-t...


They also built a system called The Interceptor that cleans rivers https://theoceancleanup.com/rivers/

This is really cool technology, should get more advertisement

Over three-quarters of the GPGP mass was carried by debris larger than 5 cm and at least 46% was comprised of fishing nets.

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-22939-w


Joe Rogan recently talked to the organization's founder for a second time, and discussed some of these things.

https://youtu.be/whRVyywTov4


that was a good watch actually, recommended

Meh, I thought Joe failed to ask any tough (but obvious) questions, like for an economic comparison between collection and prevention. The technologically easiest and no doubt cheapest solution is to tax plastic production. Ideally this would help shift us towards greener alternatives (corn based, silica based, paper based, reusables, etc). The revenues can go towards cleanup. I bet we could spend less money to get the same amount of used plastic if we simply paid Kuala Lumpur for their trash. Sounds a bit ludicrous but better than converting the world's waterways into a conveyor belt for trash.

We simply don't have the political will though. So that will fail and so will this.


Why do you expecting that they should solve every problem in the world? It is really parallel (collection until prevention).

They really put down something on the table, pitched for their idea and delivered it. You can go ahead and execute your dream as well.


Why would this fail when its already working?

Fantastic news, but how effective is it?

EG, It might be more effective to catch the plastic at source, and put these barriers on river mouths. Especially in Asia, which seems to be aa major 'contributor'. Though perhaps there's also a 'great Atlantic garbage patch'


The same company also has exactly those barriers at major polluting rivers.

Initially it looked like their idea was only feasible in river mouths and not the open ocean. Definitely more efficient to put them in rivers, but now it looks like the ocean is fair game too.


Last I heard, there were serious concerns that these cleanup devices would wind up absolutely devastating ocean ecosystems that naturally form in the same places that plastic piles up: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/01/ocean-cl...

I got this link from a Twitter thread last fall: https://twitter.com/RebeccaRHelm/status/1179861389575245824 The Ocean Cleanup folks responded (there's a link in the thread), and the author who raised concerns responded in turn (also linked). To my eye, it seems like there are some pretty wide open scientific questions about the impacted ecosystems, and I'm not at all convinced that the Ocean Cleanup folks have demonstrated sufficient care about those uncertainties and concerns.


Since the plastic is breaking down (these patches would disappear without supply) and I guess you yourself also doesn't want to pollute the ocean with new plastic not sure why is this an issue.

Or do you suggest to continue to pollute the ocean?


Five Asian Countries Dump More Plastic Into Oceans Than Anyone Else Combined: How You Can Help

https://www.forbes.com/sites/hannahleung/2018/04/21/five-asi...

more focus needs to be placed here. Everyone can do their bit. But they need to do more.


The same guy in the article is also making a device that cleans river water before it goes into the ocean. I think it is a good idea overall.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyZArQMFhQ4


I think it might be useful for governments globally to try to tackle these international problems. We all suffer from plastic in the ocean so its in everyone's interest to stop it.

Cleanup is good, but are there efforts in identifying and cutting off the major inputs? That should be step 1 to have the biggest impact.

As long as there are are literal dump trucks of trash being emptied straight into rivers...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeDY3I841q0

...it feels like we're spinning our wheels in almost comical fashion.


Yes the same startup is trying to collect trash at the mouths of rivers. But even that is not far enough upstream. The problem must be tackled before the trash gets into the river. But how do you convince a developing country to invest in waste disposal infrastructure that has no economic benefit to them? Politics is much harder than tech.

This startup might as well be funded by the petroleum industry. If they can convince the lay person that "we're on it" ie that someone else is solving the plastic issue, and individual consumers can go back to using as much plastic as they wish, it will be a terrific investment.


Rather than remove plastic from the ocean, wouldn't it be easier and better for the environment to just build landfills in developing countries.

Contrary to public perception, landfills are the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of most types of garbage. The challenge is to get the garbage to the landfill.

This also assumes that the landfill is properly prepared. An unlined pit leaching chemicals into underground wells isn't that great.

Yeah but you don't get invited on an international book tour for obvious ideas like that.

They also built a solar-powered plastics interceptor boat to clean at the source.

https://theoceancleanup.com/rivers


Meaningless without metrics such as energy cost per kg removed, etc. Do we have adequate means to reuse or dispose of the waste acquired? Does it have value that improves the metrics, or are there additional costs once the boat comes in? This technology is more useful once we have eliminated the waste SUPPLY, I suspect.

You are forgetting the damage that the plastic is doing for the wildlife / fishes.

The plastic is breaking down to the size that is impossible to capture. This project is needed yesterday already.


Here’s an interesting 2019 New Yorker article about Ocean Cleanup

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/02/04/a-grand-plan-t...


An interesting article re wildlife that lives at the ocean's surface and drifts around in the same way that plastic does and how this may affect it https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/01/ocean-cl... plus their response https://theoceancleanup.com/updates/the-ocean-cleanup-and-th...

The ocean cleanup device is absolutely terrible for floating marine life.

Is there evidence for that? I've seen people claim this, but I haven't seen any supporting evidence for it.

The ocean is big. At the moment, the ocean cleanup is still small. I'd suggest investigating the impact, rather than claiming there is impact without evidence. If it turns out the cure (cleanup) is worse than the disease (plastic), then it makes sense to stop the ocean cleanup. Until then, let's continue and see what this will accomplish.


It's been pointed out by experts in the field of floating marine life[1] [2]. Boyan has not been very co-operative with the scientists raising these concerns.

The current impact is small, but they plan to have loads of these constantly operating - that will cause huge impact.

[1] https://twitter.com/rebeccarhelm/status/1179861389575245824?...

[2] http://www.deepseanews.com/2019/02/the-ocean-cleanup-struggl...


I'm no expert on this issue, but it seems to me that the question here is not merely whether the ocean cleanup will harm marine life, but also whether not cleaning up the ocean will harm marine life. They're not there for something inconsequential, they're there to clean up the plastic, which many people assume is harmful for marine life.

So the question isn't whether the cleanup is harmful, but whether it's more harmful than the alternatives, including not cleaning up.

And since both parties point out how little we know about this, I would expect the answer to this question to be: we have no idea. So that's something that needs to be tested: how much of various kind of life is there before the cleanup, and how much is there after an area has been cleaned up?

Until that is done, we can have no idea how big the impact will be, and in which direction that impact will be. Maybe neuston life will survive the cleanup. Maybe it will recover quickly. Maybe it won't. There might even be organisms that have adapted to the presence of plastic; what do we do with that?

In any case, suggesting that cleaning up plastic from the oceans is going to be a disaster seems to me just as presumptuous as assuming that any particular method of cleaning is going to be totally perfect. It needs to be a process of discovery. Cooperation with the scientific community is absolutely vital. But doing nothing doesn't sound like a good option here.


Not as bad as the plastic.

Boyan Slat was on the Joe Rogan Experience about a month ago. If you're interested in the topic, I recommend you watch (or listen to) it!

We need a law that bans all single use plastic. We should only allow one or two forms of plastic that are guaranteed recyclable and make everything else compostable.

I don't think we need a full ban. The problem is plastic is so damn effective and sooo damn cheap. And that countries in certain parts of the world basically dump straight into the ocean. If all the plastics just go to landfill, they're really not a problem. We have sufficient unused terra firma to store millennia worth of plastic. Space is not an issue, collection is. And that's pretty hard to solve in the long tail of developing nations.

We, as in the United States? Or we, as in every country in the world but mostly the third world?

The first one would be comparatively easy but would do almost no good. The second one would actually help, if it weren’t impossible, but it is.


We, as in humanity, I'd assume. Of course that means we need laws in every country, or a binding international agreement or something. In any case, "we", as in "everybody", need to quit using non-degradable plastic wrappers and bags.

The fact that it can catch microplastics is very impressive.

The article and the press release has no numbers, so it's difficult to estimate how much miroplastic they got. My guess is that the holes in the net are too big to catch microplastic unless it gets stranded with other bigger plastic of plants.

Also, this sentence of the article doesn't make sense:

> The system's success in capturing microplastics came as a welcome surprise since microplastics tend to fall to the ocean floor rather than float on the surface, according to the press release. Since microplasitcs tend to sink, Ocean Cleanup focused on large pieces of plastic.

The plastic float or sink according to it's density, not it's size.


There will be a size below which fluid turbulence determines particle motion rather than particle density. This minimum size will increase for particles with rough surfaces or high shape drag coefficients, or both.

In air, this size is ~ 10µm diameter [1]. In seawater, it should be considerably larger because Reynold's number.

[1] https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/airborne-pa...


If it goes to the top or to the bottom is decided by the density. The difference between the density at the top of the ocean and at the bottom is very small 1.020 g/cm3 vs 1.050 g/cm3 . So it's very difficult to find a plastic that is in between https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seawater#Thermophysical_proper...

I agree that the size is important for the viscosity drag. This is the reason why the centrifuges are use in the lab to separate cells of blood or very small precipitates in solution.

This can explain why a sibling comment says that suspending within 5 meters of the surface. If the plastic "wants" to float, but the waves mix the top few meters and it is so small that the drag don't allow it to reach the surface before the next wave mix it again.

But to go to the bottom of the ocean, the plastic needs a higher density.


Perhaps larger pieces of plastic contain trapped air that increases their bouyancy.

I'm pretty sure "microplasitcs (sic) tend to sink" is bogus nonsense.

They also float, it really depends on the buoyancy. I think I heard that most of the microplastics are suspending within 5 meters of the surface.

Already got the next assignment for this kid once he's done with this project - get rid of space junk. =)

This is great. Doers versus talkers,nice to see a doer get a win

Let's keep in mind that prevention -- less production -- reduces pollution more than cleaning after it's there.

Regulation can help, which results from popular support. Bans and other legislation in cities and nations around the world are resulting from people voicing and acting against plastic and pollution, but we're barely started.

When enough of us act as consumers not to buy polluting products, producers will respond to products not selling by producing less.

I would have thought I couldn't do much until I started avoiding packaged food. A few years' practice led to me filling only one load of garbage per year in 2019, 2018, and 2017 http://joshuaspodek.com/avoiding-food-packaging-2 -- while saving money and time and increasing meals with friends and family and meeting my farmers. Those in food deserts or who had less time asked me to teach them to do it since it helped them.

Food packaging is only one source of plastic. We can avoid other junk too, particularly relevant after Christmas. Anecdotally, here in Manhattan, piles of garbage around discarded pine trees look larger, overflowing with packaging.


The first source of oceans plastic is fishing nets. Ground based sources of oceanic plastic are coastal cities. Rivers in developed countries carry very little plastic to the sea. Actually a fistful of rivers in poor population basin account for most of the inland sources of oceanic plastic.

Your own trash is very unlikely to end up in the ocean.


No. That's incorrect. This study published in Nature (2017) by the Ocean Cleanup researcher contradicts your statement entirely:

https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms15611

> Our model is calibrated against measurements available in the literature. We estimate that between 1.15 and 2.41 million tonnes of plastic waste currently enters the ocean every year from rivers, with over 74% of emissions occurring between May and October. The top 20 polluting rivers, mostly located in Asia, account for 67% of the global total. The findings of this study provide baseline data for ocean plastic mass balance exercises, and assist in prioritizing future plastic debris monitoring and mitigation strategies.

The likelihood of your trash ending up in the ocean depends entirely on where you live and how your trash gets processed.

The only part of your statement that's somewhat correct is that rivers in developed countries carry less plastics to the oceans compared to developing countries. But "very little" is creating a false impression of the problem.

Processing disposable plastic waste is a problem that can be avoided by... not using disposable plastics at all. This is first and foremost a moral choice: whether or not we want to put the health of the ecosystem of which we are part above our own personal short-term convenience.

Thailand banned the use of disposable plastic bags this month:

https://phys.org/news/2020-01-thai-retailers-single-use-plas...

You'd think that the Thai would oppose the ban. That's not what's happening if you gauge the sentiment on social media:

https://www.boredpanda.com/unusual-ways-people-dealing-plast...


Don't make bold statement, exactly like I used to do a few months ago about this very subject :-)

I got pointed to more recent studies by an oceanographer. Here is a Nature (2018) paper stating that the amount of fishing nets were underestimated in previous studies

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-22939-w

> Our model, calibrated with data from multi-vessel and aircraft surveys, predicted at least 79 (45–129) thousand tonnes of ocean plastic are floating inside an area of 1.6 million km2; a figure four to sixteen times higher than previously reported. We explain this difference through the use of more robust methods to quantify larger debris. Over three-quarters of the GPGP mass was carried by debris larger than 5 cm and at least 46% was comprised of fishing nets. Microplastics accounted for 8% of the total mass


Wait, that's comparing very different things here. That's a study on the Great Plastic Garbage Patch in the Pacific ocean specifically. The study I referred to is about the yearly emission of plastics through rivers globally.

Yes, and the article we discuss about is about oceanic plastics.

Without comparison to the amount of plastic coming from fishing nets and coastal cities, this didn't contradict anything in the parent post.

His first assertion isn't based on any actual numbers or research either:

> The first source of oceans plastic is fishing nets.

Whereas the research shows:

> We estimate that between 1.15 and 2.41 million tonnes of plastic waste currently enters the ocean every year from rivers

So, that leaves only two conclusions if you connect both statements: the vast majority of what is disposed by rivers is fishnets, or there's millions of tonnes of fishnets in the oceans next to what's disposed by rivers.


I think it's obviously the second conclusion being asserted. A cursory Google search produced some supporting sources, e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/nov/06/dumped-f...

> The likelihood of your trash ending up in the ocean depends entirely on where you live and how your trash gets processed.

And spodek, to whom lv was replying, lives in the northeast USA, where plastic waste doesn't end up in rivers.

> Processing disposable plastic waste is a problem that can be avoided by... not using disposable plastics at all.

In the first world, it's a solved problem, so it's not a problem you need to avoid.


Is it a solved problem?

Did you know that developed countries export thousands of tonnes of plastic waste to developing countries?

https://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/blog/2019/3/6/1570...

> The U.S. Census Bureau recently published complete 2018 export data for shipments of plastic waste (officially called “waste, paring and scrap”) generated in the U.S. and sent to other countries. As shown in Figure 1, 78% (0.83 million metric tonnes) of the 2018 U.S. plastic waste exports were sent to countries with waste “mismanagement rates” greater than 5%. That means about 157,000 large 20-ft (TEU) shipping containers (429 per day) of U.S. plastic waste were sent in 2018 to countries that are now known to be overwhelmed with plastic waste and major sources of plastic pollution to the ocean. The actual amount of U.S. plastic waste that ends in countries with poor waste management may be even higher than 78% since countries like Canada and South Korea may reexport U.S. plastic waste. The data also indicates that the U.S. continued to export about as much plastic waste to countries with poor waste management as we recycle domestically [1].

Whereas:

https://resource-recycling.com/plastics/2018/08/01/epa-u-s-p...

> The EPA’s Facts and Figures Report states the U.S. in 2015 recycled 9.1 percent of the plastic generated, down from 9.5 percent during the previous year.

Then there's this:

The U.S. used to export waste to China. Until China decided to ban importing waste, leaving the U.S. waste disposal industries with a problem:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NK20t11He14

And finally I'll leave you with these:

https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/uk-plastic-polluti...

https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2018/06/14/china-plastics-b...

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/18/uk-recyc...

https://www.plasticsforchange.org/blog/category/why-are-plas...


And another factor should be put into consideration is that wasted plastics in developed country actually can be recycled. But low quality plastic produced in developing country using those recycled plastics are very unlikely to be recycled again due to high cost.

Anyway exporting, burning and landfills are not real solutions. The highly developed countries published some so called models for the purpose of blaming poor countries for those messes.

The pointing fingers kind of behaves like those are not good strategies to let everyone work together and fix things. But only to make someone feels better about himself and do nothing.


> You'd think that the Thai would oppose the ban

Why? Anti-ecologism is not really a thing in most of the world. It is a far-right thing in a few countries like Brazil and US, but a lot of nations don't consider "fick the environment, I want to save one cent on packaging" to be edgy.


Well its good that you are doing the things you think its correct but please stop with the gratuitous generalization. We don't love pollution as much as you think here in Brazil.

> We don't love pollution as much as you think

The national policies don't reflect this right now.


National policies aren't people. If anything the current state of things prove that Brazilians have no say over their own government through elections wathever side you pick. Please don't be a bigot towards an entire country.

The country and nation are synonyms. You mean to say "don't be a bigot toward a people". Trying to fractionate the discussion between the innumerable number of differing outlooks when speaking about a nation, is not practical or constructive. A nation is a reflection of the people within it, even if it doesn't reflect exactly what an individual or set of the people believe. The enlightenment laid this out. Sort out your administration, you can proselytize about simpler topics, like environmentalism and expect to be understood clearly. Until then, Brazil as a nation, sucks in too many ways to mention.

I explicity pointed out that in these countries it is a far-right thing.

What here is disputing the above comment? Is OP from Asia or something?

> The first source of oceans plastic is fishing nets

So apply what I wrote and you get: eat less fish.

Since this is HN, people will talk about pros and cons of eating fish, but there's only one reason people create fishing nets. If people consume less of things that damage the environment, we will produce less of it and therefore damage less of it. If some populations have to eat it, most can still eat less. I last ate fish in 1990.


An aside: why do those advocating for ways to improve the environment continue to land themselves in a place where their final answer to a problem is "simple: people should just do X instead of Y." These are not solutions, unless you explain how you are going to shift the behavior of billions of people to a point where it makes a real, sustainable difference. Nearly any other approach is more feasible to solving problems. If you are going to say such a thing, to be taken seriously you must articulate how you can re-align incentives to cause such a behavior change to happen at a large scale enough to move the needle. Your own experience doing so also does not move that argument forward in any way.

A system where people still consume as much fish as they please, and our technological and governmental structures lead to downstream processes that mitigate the environmental impact of that situation may not be a globally maximal solution compared to a world where we end fish consumption. But it does have one nice attribute: it may actually be possible to achieve. Personally, I do hold out hope for an even better solution, where we get to consume the foods we love but they are created without the need for animals to live and die to give it to us.


I don't pretend to know how to solve everything, but a few podcast episodes describe my strategy.

https://shows.pippa.io/leadership-and-the-environment/episod...

http://joshuaspodek.com/my-tedx-talk-is-online-find-your-del...

https://shows.pippa.io/leadership-and-the-environment/episod...

https://shows.pippa.io/leadership-and-the-environment/episod...

Many people misinterpret to think I'm saying this strategy will solve everything by itself.

Note that at the root, it's helping people live by their values. Polluting less doesn't create a worse life, however much people who haven't seriously tried fear it will. Nearly all of my guests who act report preferring acting, saving time and money, improving relationships, self-awareness, etc.


Your strategy still suffers from the unattractive aspect of behavior constraint. Human civilisation serves to enable us, not to constrain us. Regulation on the management of fishing nets is far more preferable to me than just advocating people constrain themselves by eating less fish.

The fetish of constraint seems to be popular among environmentalists, but it's certainly not the only way or even most preferable path forward.


It’s also as old as the dawn of technological civilization: there is always an imminent, existential crisis, and the only solution proposed by the least imaginative and most cynical of us is to give up on progress and start rolling back our modern lifestyle and all of its gifts, such as health, longevity, and less scarcity on nearly all fronts.

And yet, every single time, now for hundreds of years, the crisis is solved not through a culture change but through a mixture of regulation and technological progress.


Civilization is equally about regulating behavior that hurts others. Traffic lights, food labeling, laws against murder and theft, building codes, and so on all constrain us. You can punch the air as much as you want. My idea of civilization constrains you from punching someone in the face and you probably value the constraint on others to punch you in the face or steal your stuff.

Pollution hurts other people. Do you want no constraints on dioxin, PCBs, and mercury emissions?


> These are not solutions, unless you explain how you are going to shift the behavior of billions of people to a point where it makes a real, sustainable difference. Nearly any other approach is more feasible to solving problems. If you are going to say such a thing, to be taken seriously you must articulate how you can re-align incentives to cause such a behavior change to happen at a large scale enough to move the needle.

It’s not complicated. Tax the behaviors you want to discourage. Subsidize the behaviors you want to encourage.

You can’t solve all problems that way, because of black markets and other “non-linear” effects, but in this case it is a perfectly reasonable approach.


There's at least one way to get people to eat less meat/fish:

Make plant based alternatives cheaper than the real thing. I would definitely buy impossible meat if it were cheaper than real beef. As it stands it is several times more expensive than real beef. Same for impossible fish (if such a thing were to exist).

If impossible fish sticks taste nearly identical to real fish sticks, but it's cheaper and plant-based, why wouldn't your average consumer buy impossible fish sticks for their kids?


Lots of fish sticks are made from tilapia, which are plant feeding fresh water fish. They're basically impossible fish sticks.

Just one reason: imitation beef is often highly processed, while beef itself is all natural.

We already eat too much fish as it is and stocks all over the world in dire state, plastic or no plastic. Millions depend on them for their survival, but many of us don't and could eat less.

This type of thinking essentially amounts to planning an economy, but the currency is pollution instead of effort. This doesn’t work. Money does it infinitely better, and that’s what we need to use here, too: tax pollution appropriately and the actual pollutants will automatically surface. Money works extremely well for this, but we need to apply it correctly. Polluting is too cheap.

Case in point: farmed fish doesn’t require fishing nets.* Adjust it again, “don’t eat wild fish.” Until they release a new type of hemp net that is bio degradable, or a new type of fyke that doesn’t tear. Now you need to update it again. Meanwhile you’re always behind, and the real polluters will remain one step ahead. You’re playing a never ending game of whack-a-mole that money has been designed to solve.

* edit: Reading some sibling comments this comes with many caveats. Which, in a way, further proves the point.


Or eat aquacultured fish from your region. For example from an aquaponic system. But there are few viable commercial operations on the market so far.

The large scale fish farms also pollute heavily.

The operations described by your OP aren’t large scale fish farms.

Absolutely!

Sustainable, low emission recirculating aquaculture comes at a price. It is not yet clear whether customers are willing to pay the premium for products from a good solution.


Aren't aquacultured fish fed with fishmeal, which means even more fishing nets due to the conversion inefficiencies of carnivorous fish?

At the time fishmeal and fish oil are neccessary to supply certain nutrients, lysin and methionine for example, but suppliers have been successfully reducing the amount of fishmeal and oil in recent times.

The goal is to reduce it to a minimum.

Not all fishmeal is unsustainable. The slaughtering residue from wild catch and from aquaculture as well as the bycatch are ressources for fish feed that we should not waste.


Curiously, overfishing used to be a serious environmental problem before global warming and plastic took over public awareness. It's done far more harm to fish numbers than those other things are predicted to, but people still weren't convinced enough to eat less fish.

Or eat line&pole caught fish. It's much more expensive, especially the canned tuna, but I feel like if I can afford the more sustainable option then it's my responsibility

Can you point me a specific brand of canned tuna? I was totally unaware there were line caught options.

Searching for "pole and line caught tuna" will turn up a bunch. If you are in the US, Wild Planet probably has the best grocery store distribution. Raincoast seems bigger in Canada, but has some US distribution. American Tuna sells on Amazon and is great.

One of the other differences that most of the line caught tuna brands cook the raw tuna directly in the can, rather than cooking first and then canning. This results in much better texture. Other than price, it's a superior product in almost every way.


I believe Wild Planet is what I buy - it's printed on the can for sure

Can’t recall off the tip of my head but brands usually advertise on the packaging if the fish is line-and-pole caught.

Don't forget that about half of world's fish and seafood come from aquaculture, it's a very doubtful advice.

In general, advices to reduce consumption of anything to solve environmental problems are missing the point. Goal is not to get back to the stone age and thus clear up the environment (even that won't work: stone age people destroyed environment even worse than us, they eradicated whole lot of species of big animals and destroyed the tundro-steppe by disturbing the nitrogen cycle - however destructive we are now we didn't manage to destroy a single whole biome, yet). Goal is to make more with less. Increase consumption of everything, while fixing environmental issues. This is what will happen anyway: majority of the world is still poor and they are catching up. It will be absolutely awful and elitist to say them: no you can't catch up pals, you will ruin the environment if you try! They want and they will catch up with the Western world. And the Western world also can't go back to their level: someone has to move technologies ahead...


Since I live next to the Baltic Sea and is regular reminded how fertilizer runoff from surrounding agricultural is causing environmental catastrophe, maybe people should consume less products that use fertilizers. If the current trend continue we will see the Baltic sea turning into the dead sea in just a few decades. Fishing has almost already ceased to exist here because there just aren't any living things left, and the dead zones are expanding fast every year from a lack of oxygen.

Getting the world population to start eat food which is not actively harming the environment is not going to easy.


If people consume less of things that damage the environment, we will produce less of it and therefore damage less of it.

Fish don't damage the environment. Fishing nets do, when thrown into the ocean by irresponsible fishermen. Eating less fish would punish all fishermen, including the environmentally-responsible ones. What we need instead is a better enforcement of existing laws against env. pollution.


Do discarded fishing nets really cause more harm to fish than actively used ones? The whole job of fishermen is to kill fish. How can you say they're environmentally responsible for not losing their nets? The environmental problems caused by fishing already exist and are far more severe than those caused by plastic which so far are mostly only theoretical or imaginary. The UN says that "half the world's fishing fleet could be scrapped with no change in catch." That's how much overfishing they're doing. It's not environmentally responsible.

Everything you consume in a non-sustainable society is going to damage environment. The pressure to find a solution is not solely on the consumer. It is on the producers as well.

Fishing does not require that fishing nets be abandonned in the sea. I suspect it would take not a lot of innovation nor a lot of costs to cut this pollution dramatically.


Not all coastal cities. Multiple studies have sourced most ocean plastic to Chinese rivers and coastal cities (90th percentile) followed by India and a few other places.

Why do we have to pretend that all coastal cities are equally at fault when this is clearly not true? Are people afraid its somehow racist? It has nothing to do with race but with certain governments that just don't care. It's become a pet peeve of mine when charges of racism is used to deflect political criticism of governments.

In the US dumping trash in rivers is a crime and will get you in serious trouble: large fines, seizure of trucks and equipment, maybe even criminal charges.


> Your own trash is very unlikely to end up in the ocean.

Except if you live in Asia or a developing country, which is a large percentage of the world population. After traveling through that region I can honestly say that I am not surprised to see so much plastic in the oceans. People dump trash in the water, throw plastic bottles on the ground, waste and recycling infrastructure is largely non-existent. Even in richer middle tier countries like China people just toss their plastic into the rivers.


when visiting some island resorts (like 2 hour boat ride out) in thailand i was shocked at how much plastic garbage was floating around those otherwise beautiful islands...

it’s my opinion these things need to become laws and business, not just individuals need to be fined heavily for jut dumping trash out


I was at the beach today (UK) and there was more net than I could carry. It was in about 100 bits that I tied together into a giant ball. There were around 60 plastic bottles, a few big plastic cans (oil) and lots of micro plastic.

> Your own trash is very unlikely to end up in the ocean.

Daily, I see people getting rid of the plastic wrapping around their new cigarette pack by throwing it out the car window or just dropping it straight to the ground. It's that type of plastic that makes its way to the city's runoff which makes its way to streams/rivers/lakes/oceans/etc. After any significant amount of rain, there's a few places I can drive by to see where the trash from throughout the city has washed into the grassy areas around bends in creaks/rivers. It's a good visual example of where the plastic pollution is originating.


Cellophane is biodegradable:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cellophane

Most people worry about the wrong thing. If you live in the West, you're not appreciably contributing to ocean plastic pollution (and no, you're almost certainly not doing so by "shipping your garbage to china" either). Smokers, definitely not contributing to plastic pollution.


> Smokers, definitely not contributing to plastic pollution

National Geographic and Phys.org report otherwise: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/08/cigar... and https://phys.org/news/2019-07-cigarette-butts-forgotten-plas...

Others producing more doesn't reduce their pollution.


Cellulose acetate aka cigarette butts, turns into dirt 4 months in the soil or a few years out in the open sunlight[1]. It's vastly more biodegradable than your hoodie, your socks, your Starbucks cup or even something like dried up egg yolk. I don't think people should throw it on the ground, because trash barrels and ash trays are there for a reason, but it's basically not an environmental problem at all. It's just unsightly litter.

> Others producing more doesn't reduce their pollution.

If you actually want to solve environmental problems, how about solving actual problems instead of picking on lower class cigarette smokers who aren't causing any issues? It sure seems like an awful lot of "environmentalism" is nothing more than a disgusting social class pose.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cellulose_acetate



I'm really not so sure cigarette packing is cellophane [0]. Just because something is biodegradable doesn't mean it's cool to just chuck it out the window. While that cellophane is still intact (it's main use is to keep out moisture) is traveling along water ways/drains where it can clog up the works.

[0]https://meshrinkwrap.com/news/cigarette-packaging-explained/


Strawman. There are many things that, like tossing biodegradable stuff out the window, aren't cool that don't appreciably contribute to ocean plastic pollution.

How about eating fish?

Our own trash is shipped to Asia first and then it ends up in some of those rivers. We pay Asian countries a lot to take our garbage.

We pay other countries to take our garbage only because we prefer to imagine it is being recycled. It's not like we don't have enough landfill space here, if we were willing to treat it as the trash that it is.

Yea there was a great two part planet money series on recycling this year. And the economic take away is that the current state of recycling in the US is broken and we have more than enough landfill space for thousands of years. One idea was to just burn it which this mentioned is what some European countries are doing.

https://www.npr.org/2019/07/09/739893511/episode-925-a-mob-b...

https://www.npr.org/2019/07/12/741283641/episode-926-so-shou...


> Your own trash is very unlikely to end up in the ocean.

Except that the plastic waste of certain countries tends to get "exported" to these places and then dumped there - if it doesn't get dumped into the ocean before it can even get there.

The poorest places don't tend to generate so much plastic waste because it is mostly a by-product of "luxury goods" (read: trash) in developed countries bought by clueless consumers.

For instance I will never understand the people who buy plastic-wrapped pre-sliced "salami" that hardly resembles the real thing in anything but name. I recently saw croissants(!) getting sold off the shelf in a supermarket. How the hell do you even make that work? Of course they were wrapped in plastic. I don't even want to know how they them make them last long enough. No way they're still crisp outside if the whole thing hasn't turned into a rock.

I feel like some people will buy something not despite it being a plastic wrapped faint imitation of the real thing - but because it is.


I find it mind boggling that organic produce in Switzerland is often sold in plastic packaging. Of course some consumers seem to be focused on the promise of health benefits from avoiding pesticides themselves, but as far as I know reducing the impact of agricultural runoff was the primary reason the term was popularised in the first place. Wrapping the end product in plastic seems to completely defeat the purpose.

It can significantly reduce food waste. Better to have a little bit of plastic than to discard a larger percentage of the produce, because ecologically that would be even more expensive.

You're touching indirectly on a hugely fundamental thing here: the price of production and the price consumers pay for food.

Why does agriculture produce an excess that doesn't get sold? Because the less is produced, the more prohibitively expensive production becomes per unit due to power laws. Hence why it's far more cost effective to cultivate a large volume of livestock compared to sustenance farming.

Meat is a great example. As the demand for cheap meat is high, agricultural enterprises have optimized their production of livestock in order to attain an optimum profit margin per individual unit. For instance, the financial upkeep of infrastructure remains the same whether you have one 1 cow or 10 cows. If you raise and sell 10 cows, the production cost per individual cow goes down. Then there's market demand and supply. The cheaper the price per unit, the more an enterprise needs to produce if it wants to stay competitive. Hence why mega-farms exist.

While the financial cost or production per unit of food has dropped exponentially in the 20th century, the carbon cost for that same unit has increased tremendously.

Harking back to your original statement about plastic. It's true that wrapping food in plastic allows for longer conservation per unit. But then this effect is largely negated because:

Producers will keep on producing excess volumes in order to drive financial production costs down and meet market prices. Retail chains will keep buying large bulk quantities to drive costs down and throw the unsold excess away. What you conserve in your fridge gets wasted elsewhere along the entire chain from cradle to consumer. The carbon costs, however, pretty much remain the same.

Production and processing of disposable plastic wrapping just adds to the carbon cost of excess production.

One conclusion you could draw from all of this is that we simply shifted the cost of food consumption from a financial to an ecological cost. If we want to reduce emissions created by industrialized farming, then there are few options ahead of us.

There's the technological road in which we look for ways of capturing excess emissions, but this might prove extremely hard and raises all kinds of ethical questions re: GMO's or how we treat animals. How much wiggle room do we have to implement solutions that keep the consumer price of food as they are?

The other road is... produce less, reduce production an order of magnitueds in order to reduce carbon emissions and pay the actual cost of food as a consumer. That is, increase the price of meat and other produce so it reflects the true cost of the impact on the environment.

When you start thinking about the true cost of food, then you may look at the past and at how we approach food. Our culinary culture around the world. With the advent of globalization and mass-consumption, something else happened: the gradual replacement of local cuisine - based on local produce and associated habits - by western diets which contains ingredients with a high carbon cost.

I recommend watching Michael Pollan's Cooked series on Netflix in order to get the idea of what cooking really means across the world and the impact of this evolution on our dietary choices. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epMAq5WYJk4).

Our habits and behaviour as consumers really is one of the big keys to this problem.

When you come to think of it, there's little reason why millions of people in Europe or America should be able to buy tiger prawns on a daily basis produced in the Mekong delta at discount prices worth pennies. If there is a high demand for tiger prawns, then that's likely a demand created because of their mere availability and low price in supermarket chains.


> For instance I will never understand the people who buy plastic-wrapped pre-sliced "salami"

Well, if I don't buy it presliced from the butcher I always buy packaged presliced milano salami, because it's nearly impossible to slice it thin enough with a knife. There is also not really a difference in quality. Both products are imported from Italy anyway.


My butcher slices it, and weighs it out, and wraps it in recycled paper, which I store in glass containers at home.

I've had croissants individually wrapped (e.g. at airports and other grab and go type places) and wrapped as a group (supermarkets and warehouse stores), and while neither are as good as buying fresh from a bakery, they're surprisingly good. The ones from Costco can last a few days before they're too dry to be good. If you care more about convenience than utmost quality, plastic does a pretty good job.

In fact, I can't recall the last time I've had a croissant from a bakery, and I have definitely purchased dozens of packaged, off-the-shelf croissants in that time. Even though they're not as good as fresh, they're still good, to the point where it's not worth the time or extra money to go to the bakery.

This is true for many other products as well. My grocery store butcher packages everything in plastic wrap, even if you get it from the counter (I think they have paper upon request). My self-serve, bulk foods company (WinCo) requires you to use their plastic bags instead of bringing your own containers (simplifies checkout process). Nearly everything I could want to buy is more conveniently purchased wrapped in plastic.

People but plastic-wrapped products because of convenience, not because they prefer the packaging. I honestly prefer getting meat wrapped in paper because it's much easier to unwrap than plastic. I prefer getting bakery items in a paper bag than a clamshell or cellophane wrap, again, because it's easier to unpackage. However, to get those items packaged that way, I need to go out of my way, and specialty shops tend to have less reliable inventories because they're lower volume businesses.

I doubt anyone prefers wasteful, inconvenient packaging, people just prefer convenience, and wasteful, inconvenient packaging is more convenient for stores, so that's what gets used. If you want to change the world, make a more convenient, cost-effective way to package things than plastic.


“When enough of us act as consumers not to buy polluting products, producers will respond to products not selling by producing less.”

This argument bothers me a great deal. It takes a simple solution (regulation) and turns it into a complicated distributed solution (convincing the majority of consumers to make the right decision) prone to disinformation campaigns, green washing, confusion, and simple lack of attention.

We have governments for reasons. This is one of those reasons. They need to do their job and stop using our behaviour as an excuse for inaction.


These things are not mutually exclusive. You can (and should) both do your best to consume as ethically as possible, and advocate, vote, etc. for action. I find it troubling how readily so many of us are to change nothing about our behavior and point the finger at some scapegoat. The unfortunate reality is:

- the more money we spend on <thing> the more <thing>’s manufacturer has to lobby for its continued existence

- the more we standardize that product as “normal” we make regulating it less politically viable (see blowback re: plastic straws)


Paper straws are horrible! They get soggy so quickly! Also paper bags cause more harm than plastic, and it wouldn't surprise me if the same were true of straws. At home i use stainless straws but when I'm out I refuse paper straws. Why can't someone make a recyclable straw?

Recyclable is worse than reusable, both are worse than reducing use in the first place. Best option is giving a drink in a mug or cup. Customer can provide a takeaway container or bring their own mug. All behaviour needs to be adjusted -- individual, and corporate via regulation.

This whole expectation of disposability is the problem in the first place.

> paper bags cause more harm than plastic

Citation needed. As I understand it, they can be more harmful if unsustainable methods of production are used. Unbleached paper from sustainable forestry should be less harmful. It may not be cheaper. Cheapest should not be the only aim. c.f. regulation.


I would say cheapest should be one aim, but that we should try to include all the costs.

What do people use straws for in the first place? Just drink out of the cup.

Yeah I agree. I mostly get a straw for ice tea, which comes in styrofoam... Styrofoam is unfortunate. It is super easy to recycle, but too inefficient to transport. I've been trying to come up with a solar powered Styrofoam recycler that stores up blocks of solid polystyrene for pickup. The hard part is knowing people will put other things in to mess it up. Otherwise a tank of gasoline to dissolve it with a closed evaporation loop is all you would need.

Most common reason to use a straw is when drinking from a vessel that's full of ice.

It's funny how luxurious a simple ice-filled straw-included one-time-use styrofoam cup of Coke from the McDonald's drive-thru is, really, and how much we take it for granted.


In a democracy, getting regulation passed is also a complicated distributed problem subject to all those problems.

>>We have governments for reasons.

How Authoritarian of you, what other area's of life should the governments of the world control for everyone denying them their human right of choice?

It is sad to me that as civilization "advances" more and more people want to go back to a time where people were subjects of their government, instead of free people. I know it has only been a few hundred years of human civilization where people have had any kind of freedom, why are we so willing to give all of that up?

The types of invasive regulations that will require increasing food costs, as well as lowering shelf life for every day people will cause massive problems for not only the poor but the middle class as well.

What is next mandatory vegan artisanal organic diet to save the climate? Each meal having to be hand picked by a local farmer that day.


> It is sad to me that as civilization "advances" more and more people want to go back to a time where people were subjects of their government, instead of free people.

It's not just an arbitrary decision, promoted by some power structure. Our phylogeny is conclusively based around groups coordinating for optimal reward.

ie Cooperation has worked out better than being individuals.

"Free People" is a meaningless categorization without social context. Even anarchists have labels and limits, even if they are individually arbitrary. Deciding how to behave individually is not a decision in a vacuum when living in the same regional bounds as others. In modern times, the region is global, as the impacts of an individual utilizing technology can have recognizable impact.


> It is sad to me that as civilization "advances" more and more people want to go back to a time where people were subjects of their government, instead of free people.

if you live in a real democracy, is it really authoritarian that a majority decide that we want to live in a cleaner world?

the earth isn’t some computer program where you have infinite ram and can just alloc as much as you want, at some point you start pushing other process out of memory, and you wonder why stuff starts crashing and freezing...

(i’ll stop with the computer analogy now ^^)


>>if you live in a real democracy,

I don't, nor do I want to. I live in a Constitutional Representative Republic. where the majority is not allowed by the constitution to invoke their mob rule on others

The Founders of my nation did not trust democracy any more than they trusted monarch's and I agree with them

I desire individualism, and individual rights not democracy and mob rule

>>the earth isn’t some computer program where you have infinite ram and can just alloc as much as you want, at some point you start pushing other process out of memory, and you wonder why stuff starts crashing and freezing...

I 100% agree with this, I disagree that a Authoritarian Centrally managed government is the best or ideal way to allocate though resources

I am not going to get into a computer analogy, but I tend to following Geo-Libertarian philosophy as a structure for human organization


> I live in a Constitutional Representative Republic. where the majority is not allowed by the constitution to invoke their mob rule on others

Instead, that privilege is reserved to a minority privileged by geographic distribution, which is much better.*

* If you are in the privileged minority; not so much otherwise.


>A few years' practice led to me filling only one load of garbage per year in 2019, 2018, and 2017

That's impressive. I've been trying to reduce plastic use on a room by room basis, and it's tough as almost every product has a plastic component in the packaging at least. The kitchen has been the most difficult thus far; for example, I cannot find a alternative to mayonnaise in a plastic jar. I've tried making my own but this is a work in progress as I haven't got it quite right yet.

I heard a commentator say (paraphrased) 'Buy food that looks like food. The more writing there is on it, the less reason to buy'. This was in the context of healthy eating which has a great side-effect of generating less garbage. And vice versa.


Honestly, I would continue to focus on the easier stuff first. If the choice becomes "make your own", move on to another product because that's a very time consuming path to do down. The only "staple" I make regularly is yogurt because it's easy, healthy (I control the sugar content), I can do a lot at once, saves money, and generates a ton less waste.

Everything else in my pantry is either purchased infrequently or requires a lot of work to make myself that I've moved on to other things. Instead of trying to create those things, I try to reduce my use of them. Making mayo or ketchup isn't worth it IMO (mustard is easy though), and they're not particularly healthy either, so I just try to reduce how much I eat them.

I think reducing waste should involve a more complete review of our lifestyle, not just replacing items one by one. For example, I only really use mayonnaise when making certain sandwiches, and I only eat those sandwiches because they're convenient and semi healthy. Instead of figuring out how to make mayonnaise more ecologically sustainable, I instead look for more healthy foods that I can make more convenient, like salads, burritos, and sir fry, all of which don't need mayonnaise.


I'd suggest this recipe:

https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2011/10/two-minute-mayon...

If you have an immersion blender, it takes literally 2 minutes, and is fool-proof. Doing it other ways, such as manually or a food processor is a little trickier. I've done this way now for a while and never need to buy mayonnaise anymore. Kenji has a vegan recipe too using aquafaba if you're in to that.


Experience teaches how to avoid packaging. For example, I had your mayonnaise issue with vinegar until I started making my own, which turns out incredibly easy and fun.

My bulk food store sells soy sauce, soap, and other things into containers I bring.

With mayonnaise, you might consider my solution for oil: stop buying it. I haven't used oil in years and eat a lot more nuts. Everyone's tastes are unique, but I love this trade.


I'm guessing the answer is you've gone vegan, but I gotta ask... eggs, milk, cheese and meat? how do you do get them without packaging?

Bea Johnson talks about meat and cheese in some of her videos https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=bea+johnson&oq=....

I see the egg vendors at the farmers market filling cartons that people bring, then stacking the cartons they brought the eggs in, I presume to reuse.

My top strategy is to lose taste in such things, like everyone I know looks at cigarettes. People's diets are their business, but I used to eat a lot of those things and now find them not remotely like food.


Milk in glass bottles. Meat is wrapped in paper. Eggs go in a a paper carton. Cheese is tricky, most markets still wrap cut cheese in plastic, so I have to buy it from an actual cheese shop that uses waxed paper. Consequently I don’t eat much cheese.

You can just buy whole head of cheese and it's not only can be stored in fridge for months without getting bad, but also almost always matured in wax to begin with. Of course not all cheeses sold this way, but certainly most are never packed with plastic until product get to the end of supply chain at grocery store.

It's alao cheaper to buy this way and quality of product on your table going to be much higher.


Isn't paper going to be thrown out anyway? And I've read that wax paper especially is difficult to recycle.

Pretty sure wax paper can be composted.

Buy from a local farmer or butcher. And eggs usually come in compostable packaging.

The problem is most people don’t care and won’t change even with this information. Society pretty much runs on consumption. While I 100% agree that reduction is a better solution it only works if it’s applied.

Regulation? Decent waste retrieval and processing. Plenty of trash bins and pay people (you know, employees) to pick up what others don't.

And remember that most plastics that end up in the ocean are from south-east Asia. Part of which are likely exported from Europe and / or the US.


The funny thing is people confuse recycling with reducing ocean plastic. I've had conversations like this "Why do you recycle?" "Because plastic kills birds." "But only if it gets washed out to sea, right?" "Yea, sometimes it blows away from the landfill or an abandoned landfill erodes into a river.".

Then a newspaper report of volunteers cleaning rubbish off the beach has them complaining that it's mostly plastic items people put in their recycling bins that got blown out and washed down the drain into the sea.

People see news about the ocean plastic and somehow assume the moral thing they've been taught about recycling is the cure. They don't want to know that it's mostly fishing gear and rubbish from S.E. Asian cities where people directly drop rubbish into the rivers on purpose.


Also relentless public shaming. Like, who’s idea was it to put micro plastics in shower gels and stuff? I want to know their names and the whole chain of management that made it happen. They should be publicly humiliated, win international prizes for shittiest inventions, etc. Why is it that we only celebrate good contributions and never reflect on the bad with same degree of publicity?

I really like this idea. It has a fun element, which the subject desperately needs. Could be like the Ig Nobel prize[0], but for products/inventions that do the most harm, that make the world a worse place. Although I guess people wouldn't turn up to accept their prize. Maybe something like it already exists?

[0] which celebrates "unusual or trivial achievements in scientific research", mostly papers with totally absurd-sounding titles. https://www.improbable.com/ig-about/

The associated Luxuriant Flowing Hair Clubs for Scientists is possibly even more awesome. https://www.improbable.com/hair/


I think we should focus more on remedial treatments for these problems, because I don't believe humanity has it in itself to prevent it from continuing any time soon.

I agree that we need to try and achieve prevention. Consumer action has proved nearly powerless though, frankly. There will never be enough consumer buy in. We've been campaigning for recycling for decades and it's gotten us here. Our modern lives are built on oil and plastic, not even the ones who care and try are doing good enough. You're far and wide an outlier, you would probably have a hard time convincing other avid recyclers to go to your level, to say nothing of the consuming majority.

We are going to need to prescribe this change, not ask politely for it. Through regulation and economic policies. If there is a buck to be made you will have the immense power of capitalism on your side, the same forces that cause the situation can be used against it. Perhaps if we tax oil so much that plastic stops being a cheap material, and plastic recycling and recapture from the oceans becomes profitable, technology and investment in fixing the oceans can prosper.


It's really only a matter of changing packaging in supermarkets.

It's the sort of thing that could be done in a blanket fashion within a couple of years if a major government just stepped up and said "no bullshit plastic waste everywhere".

That is to say - it's preventable as soon as a major government says so.

Unfortunately none of them seem to have the balls. It's fine and dandy to spend multiple years on political fluff (see UK), but god forbid we make any serious changes in packaging regulation.


Thailand just banned disposable plastic bags... and the Thai seem to have totally embraced the decision:

https://www.boredpanda.com/unusual-ways-people-dealing-plast...

https://thethaiger.com/hot-news/plastics/majority-of-thais-s...

As far as the U.K is concerned: it will off the use of plastic straws, cotton buds and drink stirrers in april 2020:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/22/england-...

Following a complete ban adopted by the European Parliament in 2018 which will be implemented across all members of the union:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/24/european...

Seems like politicians do have balls to tackle the problem.

Sadly, we lost so much time over the past decades when everyone knew that this was a problem.


None of those items are packaging. Carrier bags are optionally taken by individuals.

Most of my household waste and that of those around me is endless plastic trays, cling films, bottles from tiny package sizes with high surface area etc.

Even if it's not polluting it's annoying because it takes up so much space unnecessarily. I'd rather go to the store with a bottle and fill it.

That's what is not being addressed. Most people can just stop using straws. Buying food without OTT packaging for most means going to a different town which has a hippie health foods store with bins or whatever and paying over the odds.


Plastic packaging isn't the leading cause of plastic in the oceans mind you. But I agree wholeheartedly, it's up to government policy to fix this. Consumers have proven they won't give it up. Businesses are economically encouraged to keep it around. There is no hope outside of regulation.

Sure, but stuff like plastic bottles are everywhere and they're essentially completely pointless. People use them because they can, but if they didn't exist, it would be no great loss at all.

It's absolutely sickening how in the food department of a supermarket it has become pretty much impossible to avoid plastic packaging. Everything that I could buy in paper wrappings only a few years ago is now wrapped in plastic. Even things like apples and sliced cheese now come with plastic attached in some way or other.

Never mind the stuff in plastic clamshells that doesn't need packaging at all. (Scissors for instance)


If you live in a developed country, you can be quite confident that your plastic rubbish won’t reach the ocean on human time scales.

It’s almost a non-issue, especially considering the existential threat that is climate change.

(The climate impact of plastic packaging is negligible)


I live by the Hudson River and see plastic in it every time I go. That's not even trying to look for it. It's always there. I volunteer in beach clean-ups and there is always more trash than anyone can pick up.

Plastic kills wildlife, disrupts our systems, and such. Mentioning climate is a red herring. Actually, it isn't since plastic production takes energy and its profits contribute to drilling fossil fuels.


yeah, i'm not sure how plastic waste has become such a hot issue recently, when the immediate threat is climate change and plastic waste is such a small contributor to climate change.

plastic helps us reduce food waste, and food waste is a contributor to climate change. reducing plastic usage where it's unnecessary is obviously good, but plastic isn't inherently bad. sometimes it really is the best solution, even in single-use form.


Even in landfills, plastics pollute water and soil via phthalates and Bisphenol A.

https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/plastic...


I don't see anywhere in the linked article making your claim.

It’s there:

> Chemical effects are especially problematic at the decomposition stage. Additives such as phthalates and Bisphenol A (widely known as BPA) leach out of plastic particles. These additives are known for their hormonal effects and can disrupt the hormone system of vertebrates and invertebrates alike. In addition, nano-sized particles may cause inflammation, traverse cellular barriers, and even cross highly selective membranes such as the blood-brain barrier or the placenta. Within the cell, they can trigger changes in gene expression and biochemical reactions, among other things.


"Even in landfills" per OPs claim. I don't see that claim being made in your selection there.

Decomposition... would occur... in landfill...

Landfills... are lined... so.. they don't... leach... into... groundwater..

You're forgetting the incentives to externalize such things. Developed countries love to pass their trash on to others who will be far less scrupulous.

For instance, it's been documented that most non final nuclear waste in France goes to sit in large open vats in eastern Europe. As far as the French nuclear industry is concerned, it's being "recycled".


> you can be quite confident that your plastic rubbish won’t reach the ocean

Alas this appears to be false. Plastic is being exported to Thailand et al for "recycling", since china has stopped accepting lowgrade rubbish.

This means that when they "process" it, can can endup being dumped in rivers, or blown by the wind. https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/uk-plastic-polluti...

Now, one can argue that plastic is a permanent store of carbon. The problem is that we continue to produce plastic, which releases loads of carbon.

So unless we reduce, reuse, and as a last resort recycled, we are continue to have issues.


The climate impact of paper bags is higher - even with recycling

That said, plastic bags do reach rivers in the west - far more than other plastic packaging. It might only be 1/10th of 1%, but that’s still a million bags a year clogging our rivers in the UK alone (at least until the number reduced)


> The climate impact of paper bags is higher - even with recycling

Plastic poisons wildlife and kills in other ways, so climate is a secondary, though significant, problem with plastic.

In any case, the impact of using bags you already have -- that is, no new bags -- is far lower and practical. Thrift stores are overflowing with canvas bags companies give away that people haven't yet learned to stop accepting since they have so many. I'm still using a bag I got in the 90s and refusing new ones.


Even tho most developed countries ship it overseas?

>Never mind the stuff in plastic clamshells that doesn't need packaging at all. (Scissors for instance)

Nice example. I hate the fact that I have to use a pair of scissors to open up a brand new pair of scissors. I've been under the impression that the use of the plastic packaging has been a focus on stop-loss from theft. That makes sense to a degree in the retail environment. Remember when CDs came in those big boxes so people wouldn't shove them down their pants?

The styrofoam shrink wrapped packages of meat is another one that gets me. I much prefer going to the butcher where the meat comes wrapped in paper. However, it's much more convenient for shoppers to walk up to a display to get prepackaged servings rather than waiting in line for the butcher.


>The styrofoam shrink wrapped packages of meat is another one that gets me

The grocery store near me used to wrap up all the meat from their in house butcher in paper with a string - it was neat. Now they wrap it in plastic on those styrofoam trays. But to make it worse, they wrap each individual item in plastic, so if you buy a few pounds of chicken you end up with about 6 individual containers of chicken. Its insane.


The meat industry hates this weird trick against meat packaging.

The weird thing is that paper tends to cost more energy to produce than plastic, so in that sense plastic can be seen as the more environment-friendly choice. But yes, there's lots of stuff that doesn't need packaging at all.

The problem is plastic lasts for decades or even centuries, ends up in the oceans, becoming food for fish that then choke on it.

More energy in production for paper while true, also means that with solar and other renewable getting cheaper, that argument will be a distraction.


> sliced cheese

Well why are you buying cheese pre-sliced? If you opt for pre-sliced cheese, and pre-peeled oranges, and whatever then yeah you're going to need more packaging and you're being wasteful.

If you buy a block of cheese then you don't need as much packaging, and you can wrap it in just paper. I'm sure you can manage the slicing part yourself when you get it home.


Unfortunately from what I see where I live they use plastic coated paper to wrap cheese or meat, and this is not recyclable either as paper or as plastic. It's used because it keeps any moisture or fat inside, won't not stick to the product making it harder to peel off, and allows the package to be heat sealed which is what most customers want.

If you go to dutch market and buy a piece of old cheese they will cut it with a steel wire even though the have knives around. You can imagine slicing it for a sandwich would be challenging with a wire

Because with pre-teen kids in the house buying your cheese in block form is going to end up in the ER, especially if it is old cheese.

Unsliced cheese is dangerous - that's your argument?

Ancedata: the lady who works at the cafe near my mom's house sliced her finger clean off making a sandwich. They managed to reattach it and (I've heard) it's healing nicely.

If you wish to read it that way you are welcome to.

Even if you are being totally serious and this is a problem you have... why not buy cheese in blocks and then slice it for your children?

It's not a problem I have because the supermarket sells sliced cheese. Besides that the problem is not with the cheese in slices per se but with the packaging (see top of the thread) and unsliced cheese is also sold in plastic.

Can you explain what you mean?

We really like 'hard' cheeses and hard is literally rock hard. Getting it sliced is practical. Even adults have trouble slicing cheese that hard themselves (I can do it, but then again, I used to run a metal workshop ;) ).

Well, hard cheeses you usually use a normal knife to take pieces from. Semi-hard/normal hard, the ones you usually buy in block form, especially in families, are easily sliced with a "cheese slicer" (lacking the proper name, if it has it). Kids can for sure use a cheese slicer, in many countries, cheese blocks is the most common (by far) way to consume cheese.

I live in the place where those cheeses originate (Netherlands), and there is no way you're going to properly slice old Dutch with a cheese slicer, if it works at all.

I can see an argument for why buying bread sliced is nonsense, ditto with Salami (though some of that Hungarian stuff is quite impressive, wonder how it would fare on the Rockwell test) and other stuff people slice up for sandwiches.


> and there is no way you're going to properly slice old Dutch with a cheese slicer, if it works at all.

For sure, and I agree. But AFAIK, hard cheeses like that is not what most people eat and what you find in most supermarkets (outside of Netherlands). And fine, if the cheese is so hard to slice yourself, wrap a couple of slices in some plastic. Problem is when everything, including semi-hard cheese, is double wrapped in plastic.


It was just an example, really. Not sure why everyone is so bothered by the fact that the cheese is sold sliced, besides the blocks are sold in plastic as well so it wouldn't change much.

> why everyone is so bothered by the fact that the cheese is sold sliced

Because it's unnecessary. For example, where I live, the cheese package is plastic first, and then in-between each slice there is a sheet of plastic. Then since the packages only contain 10 slices, people buy multiple of them.

It's a complete waste when there could be just one layer of plastic, or people could buy block cheese (unless, they live in Netherlands, only buy hard cheese and who's name start with "j" and ends with "acquesm")

The point is try to figure out how we can replace plastic with something better, in the cases where it makes sense to replace it. Common things like cheese-packaging makes sense to care about, as all other plastic packaging.


Every kind of food processing or pre-processing is essentially not necessary. That doesn't mean that people will stop doing it. But we're concentrating on the packaging, not on what is bought and sliced cheese can be sold just fine without 'spacers' especially when it is old... (It is the younger cheeses that tend to stick)

So, it is simple: replace plastic with paper. Done. Ditto for almost everything else packaged in plastic. Besides, the plastic that ends up getting burned releases very poisonous compounds into the eco-system (dioxins).


I think people are picturing Velveeta slices: https://duckduckgo.com/?q=Velveeta+slices&t=ffcm&atb=v60-1&i...

That barely qualifies as cheese.

Oh I know, thus the indignation (maybe.) One way or another you seem to have touched a nerve, eh? :-)

In the eighties and before this did not seem to be a problem.

In the eighties and before people cutting themselves while cutting hard cheese was pretty common.

Just like you can cut your meats yourself, you can slice your bread yourself and so on this is mostly a convenience, but in case of hard cheese if you've never tried slicing Old Dutch you maybe should try it first.

Even the stores can have trouble slicing it. Anyway, no need to take my word, just buy some if you can and give it a shot, and let me know how it worked out. Using a cheese slicer isn't going to work either, you'll need a very sharp knife and a steady hand and it will take a lot of force.


I usually do not have much trouble cutting Old Amsterdam with a cheese slicer. But perhaps it's is not old enough ;).

When we lived in Germany, the cheese counter people in the supermarket we terrified when I asked for Old Amsterdam, worried that I'd want to have it sliced ;).


"Old Amsterdam" is for tourists, and isn't old. It is actually a cheese that didn't exist until a few years ago, and actually simply is medium aged Gouda. But that doesn't sell nearly as well.

Next time you are in NL (anywhere will do), find a half decent cheese shop and get yourself some "overjargige kaas", you'll love it if you like Old Amsterdam.


"Old Amsterdam" is for tourists, and isn't old. [...] Next time you are in NL (anywhere will do),

I have been born and raised in The Netherlands. I have eaten plenty of old Dutch cheeses during my lifetime.

The thing is, Old Amsterdam is one of the few old(-tasting) Dutch cheeses that you can easily get abroad, such as in rural German, which is where I picked up that admittedly bad habit ;).


I can send you a selection of others if you want, email in my profile. It's the one thing I miss about NL when I'm abroad.

I’ve never heard of this. Why?

Because old dutch cheese is super hard.

This is the good stuff:

https://www.hollandkaascentrum.com/hollandse-kaas/oude-brokk...


We moved away from paper because we wanted to save the rainforest, now we're killing the oceans and forgot that the rainforests still need saving.

No paper bags were ever made of rainforest hardwoods.

For people in the US: does the SF zero waste lady still has followers ?

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