Macro, Micro, Marble

It’s grim: Dead marine animals found with plastic waste stuffing their stomachs and throats. Others entangled in plastic. Oceana’s new study describes nearly 1,800 such cases found along coasts in the United States. A long-beaked common dolphin in California, for example, was “found with a food wrapper lodged in its esophagus,” the report says.

Animals from 40 species were harmed by plastic, the report says, “and most of the injured animals were from species listed as endangered or threatened under federal law,” said journalist Dustin Gardiner in his San Francisco Chronicle summary. “They included six species of sea turtles, three species of seals and three of whales.”

The report, Choked, Strangled, Drowned: The plastic crisis unfolding in our oceans, compiles “for the first time the available data (since 2009) on plastic ingestion and entanglements in marine mammals and sea turtles in U.S. waters,” says Kimberly Warner, the report author and a senior scientists at Oceana. What the data show is “an unfolding disaster.” Oceana works on laws and regulations worldwide to stop plastic pollution.

These 1,800 cases are just the documented ones – we know there are so many more. And these are some of the detrimental effects of just large pieces of plastic. Scientists are also working to understand the effects of microparticles.

Moving from Macro to Micro

A new Princeton study shows the mechanism by which microplastics are carried through soil and other porous media, “with implications for preventing the spread and accumulation of contaminants in food and water sources.”

Complete with an entrancing video showing particles traveling, the study reports breakthrough findings in understanding how those particles move through and accumulate in the environment. Researchers previously thought that when microparticles became stuck in an environment they stayed there, but this study showed a “stop-and-start process” and the conditions that control it, explaining how microplastic particles travel much farther distances than previously thought. To learn more about the science and view a video of fluorescent particles traveling, visit the link.

When is plastic not plastic?

We shouldn’t have this much plastic waste, but since we do, and since recycling is failing, can we pretend plastic is something else while we work to find ways to stop plastic pollution? Compressed plastic is one approach, and the products are all the (designer) rage right now.

A recent Architectural Digest piece, “Designers Are Turning Plastic Waste Into Swoon-Worthy Terrazzo,” profiles attractive products and various companies making pressed plastic a valuable – though affordable – commodity.

“Savvy designers have found a way to turn empty food containers, broken lawn chairs, and disposable cutlery into sturdy terrazzo-like slabs by shredding plastic waste into tiny pieces and compressing this waste confetti into flat tiles or sheets with a sheet press machine,” says writer Chris Schalkx.

Ok, so it’s more attractive. It’s eventually going to break down though … so it’s not a solution, but it could be a useful temporary remedy to environmental blight, at least. Check out the link for compelling photos and details.