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Environment

Oct 30, 2018

Reaction: The European Single Use Plastic Ban

How big is the problem, and will this new legislation be as effective as we hope? We asked both those who know the oceans and those big corporations that produce the plastic.

WRITTEN BY

Sean Verity

The Outdoor Journal’s mission is to “To educate and inspire all people to experience, enjoy and protect wilderness”. As such, our team from around the world greeted this news with applause. We reached out to our friends who spend their days in or on the oceans, and asked them for their reaction.

However, it’s important to also take a step back to ensure that we capture a thorough and rounded perspective. We have no idea whether the alternatives will do more harm that good, and what other knock on effects any changes might have. We therefore reached out to some of the biggest plastic producers from around the world for their comments too.

Photo: Pixabay | Adege

THE LEGISLATION

On Wednesday the 24th October, members of the European Parliament overwhelmingly voted to enact a complete ban on single use plastics. Announced via a press release, the final count was 571 to 53, with 34 abstentions. However, before this new legislation is put into practice the European Parliament will discuss and negotiate specifics with the European Council of government ministers. We expect a final decision on the 16th December.

Single use plastics will include plates, cutlery, straws, balloon sticks or cotton buds, and make up over 70% of marine litter. In 2021, there are plans to widen the ban to include bags, packaging and fast-food containers made of expanded polystyrene. The consumption of several other items, for which no alternative exists, will have to be reduced by member states by least 25% by 2025.

Frédérique Ries

The Vice chair, Frédérique Ries from Belgium, said that “We have adopted the most ambitious legislation against single-use plastics. It is up to us now to stay the course in the upcoming negotiations with the Council, due to start as early as November. Today’s vote paves the way to a forthcoming and ambitious directive. It is essential in order to protect the marine environment and reduce the costs of environmental damage attributed to plastic pollution in Europe, estimated at 22 billion Euros by 2030.”

CONTEXTUALISING THE SIZE OF THE PROBLEM

Tom de Dorlodot

Tom de Dorlodot: Professional Red Bull sponsored paragliding and paramotoring pilot, Founder of Search Projects, who now lives on the seas. We recently published an update to Tom and Sofia’s story in a recent article.

“It took time… but it’s finally here. The European Parliament just voted to ban single-use plastic by 2021. Even if that might not be enough, it’s amazing news.

People buy, use and throw away plastic everyday but they sometimes forget that there is no such things as “away”. This plastic will stay for hundreds of years on this planet that we call home.

In all my expeditions, I was sad to realize that plastic has reached all corners of the World. It travels with the wind or floats in the rivers, breaks into tiny pieces and gets into our food chain. The other day, I cleaned a fish whose stomach was full of plastic debris, I saw a sea turtle chewing on a plastic bag, thinking it was a jelly fish in the Azores and as I sailed across the seas I was depressed by the quantity of plastic that I saw floating on the surface.

Let’s take measure, let’s be responsible and let’s not forget that besides the new rules and regulations, the biggest difference we can make is by changing our consumer habits.”

Jorge Hauser

Jorge Hauser: The CEO Pelagic Fleet, Underwater photographer, award-winning film producer and ecotourism activist. The Outdoor Journal recently wrote about Jorge and his work.

“When it comes to dangers and threats to the ocean, people usually go to overfishing, which is a big issue, along with coral bleaching and acidification… but we usually tend to undermine the silent, invisible killer: plastic. The thing about plastic is that once used, there’s a very good chance it’ll end in the ocean. Once there, it’ll take it hundreds of years to disintegrate, and even when that happens, the micro-particles pollute fish and seabirds worsening their genetics generation after generation. I have encountered Chinese bottles of water in places as remote and as pristine as Guadalupe Island, and it breaks my heart. If every one of us would stop the consumption of single-use plastics, that would go a long way! Can you imagine an invention more idiotic than the straw? Me neither. Banning these plastics in Europe is a big step in protecting the oceans, and a giant leap for common sense.”

Marcus Eriksen

Marcus Eriksen: The founder of The 5 Gyres Institute, an organisation that empowers action against the global health crisis of plastic pollution through science, education, and adventure.

“The banning of single-use plastics is the kind of solution the world is looking for. By now, most people have heard about ocean plastics, and likely have heard dozens of solutions to solve the problem, but most are distractions from the long-term solutions that focus on prevention.

Marcus Eriksen

Over the last decade, the plastic pollution issue has tracked the same way other issues have evolved, like the hole in the ozone layer or smog over big cities. Those issues began as over-sensationalized hype fueling public outrage and driving plenty of funding to do science, eventually landing on policy to prevent the problem. Plastic pollution is no different. What began as outrage over fictitious islands of trash in the ocean, followed by an avalanche of new science, is now largely focused on policy to end the harm from single-use throwaway plastics. With this announcement from the European Parliament to ban single-use plastics, it is uplifting to see that real solutions have arrived.”

REACTION FROM THE PLASTIC PRODUCERS

Prior to the announcement of this new legislation we had already begun to see change, or at least the intention to implement change. At the start of the year, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation announced that “Eleven leading brands, retailers, and packaging companies will work towards 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 or earlier.” Together, these 11 companies represent more than 6 million tones of plastic packaging each year, whilst this is still just a drop in the ocean, it is a start.

One of these 11 companies included Mars Incorporated, who told The Outdoor Journal that “Our goal is to get our products to consumers using packaging with the lowest environmental impacts. We’ve made progress but still have work to do together with business, government and civil society. We’ve been a core partner to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative since 2016, and will continue collaborating as a signatory to the Global Commitment to drive further and faster efforts to tackle plastic pollution.

Photo: Pixabay | giogio55

Given that the new single use plastic legislation only applies to the European Union, it’s important that this ruling is only considered to be a contributing element to the wider change that is required. Efforts still needs to be made by companies such as Mars, globally. There is also a UK Plastics Pact in action which could have great significance, given the looming Brexit plans. Should Brexit go ahead, then the UK would not need to abide by this new European legislation. This pact has 4 goals:

  • Eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative (re-use) delivery models
  • 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable
  • 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted
  • 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging

Sainsbury’s, a major UK based chain of supermarkets and member of the UK Plastics Pack, told The Outdoor Journal that they have already taken significant steps, that include:

  • Reducing Sainsbury’s branded packaging by 35% since 2005
  • Nearly 40% of packaging already uses recycled content
  • 83% of Sainsbury’s packaging volume that’s sold is classed as widely recycled

Another of the 11 global corporations who are working towards 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 include PepsiCo. When the Outdoor Journal asked Pepsico for comment, Paul Skehan, Senior Director, EU Public Policy & Government Affairs, shared similar goals to their contemporaries with the same politically correct responses. However, Paul also shared valid concerns: “We have some concerns about specifics outlined in the directive, for example regarding tethering caps to bottles, which industry experts suggest will result in more plastic usage rather than less. We believe there needs to be more focus on improving waste collection and increasing recycling rates which are central issues to addressing the challenges of plastic waste. While we hope this may still be taken into consideration, we will continue to work with partners such as the New Plastics Economy to further these critical areas. We know that to truly achieve a sustainable change in reducing plastic waste requires a collaborative effort with many different groups in society.”

Paul Skehan raises a key point, whilst we all have the right goals in mind and there is clearly a desire to save our oceans, it’s important that the alternative solutions are viable, and do not contribute to the problem in other ways. For example, will a bigger sacrifice be required to produce an alternative material?

Elsewhere, there was further rhetoric, such as British Airways, who told The Outdoor Journal that “We support any initiative that will potentially reduce the use of Single Use Plastics and we are working with our industry association, IATA, to liaise with the EU to understand how we can practically achieve this in our sector”.

Whilst the European ban on single use plastics represents a great step forward, greater research and time needs to be invested into making sure that alternative measures are viable and will effectively contribute to reaching long term goals. The good news is that there now appears to be a global conversation, and perhaps even consensus to ensure change, in one the places that it’s needed most.

The Outdoor Journal also reached out to Starbucks, Proctor and Gamble, Costa Coffee, Aldi, SAS, McDonalds, Burger King, Lufthansa, Virgin Airways, Coca-Cola, Nestle and Unliever, but they all refused the opportunity to comment.

Cover Photo: Jedimentat44

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Environment

Mar 22, 2019

Youth Climate Strike Goes Global

On March 15th, 1.4 million students in 128 countries boycotted classrooms to rally for climate change. Their message: "Decarbonize, NOW."

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WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

There is perhaps no better example of the complexity of our relationship with science than in the present discourse on climate change. It is, after all, science that gave us the knowledge to extract oil, coal, and natural gas from the earth and harness from their potent molecules the energy to power our cars, homes, and civilizations. The “fossil fuels”, that pantheon of concentrated carbons, have provisioned us with luxuries unimaginable a century ago. They’ve lifted millions of people out of poverty, fed countless hungry children, and erected the infrastructure that bulwarks the modern world. We burn them to transport ourselves across oceans and to the grocery store. By all accounts, the application of science to fossil fuels has resulted in unprecedented progress.

Of course, as most modern scientists, businesspeople, politicians, and kindergarten students can avow, the carbon narrative is not so simple. In fact, “carbon”, an unassuming element with six protons in its nucleus, has become a four-letter-word invoking extractive industry, toxic pollution, and gluttonous capitalism. In an expanding body of scientific research, observers have documented the rising sea levels, erratic weather events, and general planetary imbalance resulting from our injection of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

One striation of scientific ingenuity graced us with a potent source of energy; another damns its overuse. Those committed to a system sustained by fossil fuels champion the best science of yesterday. If the best possible science of today advises opposition to the status quo, our response as individuals and societies reveals our relationship with science. If we don’t heed the sirens of climate change, we are “deniers of science”. It’s difficult to get behind science that prescribes a radical overhaul in lifestyle when fossil fuel science has been doling out apparently limitless comforts. We should also remember that last century, science offered up oil and natural gas as cleaner alternatives to “dirty” coal. But with 97% of climate experts in agreement that fossil-fuel use is causing global climate change, the scientific pendulum has swung again, and we must respond in turn. Perhaps our acquired comforts have made us complacent; as of 2019, we have failed to slash emissions to the targets espoused by our most qualified scientists.

Climate strike in London. Photo by Garry Knight via Flickr.

Winston Churchill, in a 1936 essay entitled “Fifty Years Hence”, addressed our vacillatory relationship with science. His warning, made in the context of burgeoning communism in the Soviet Union, resounds with global aptitude in the contemporary context of climate change:

“There are too many people maintained, not merely in comfort but in existence, by processes unknown a century ago, for us to afford even a temporary check, still less a general setback, without experiencing calamity in its most frightful form.” -Winston Churchill

As he concludes his essay, Churchill calls for precaution and moral sensibility in our pursuit of science:

“After all, this material progress, in itself so splendid, does not meet any of the real needs of the human race…forces terrific and devastating will be in their [our immediate descendants] hands; comforts, activities, amenities, pleasures will crowd upon them, but their hearts will ache, their lives will be barren, if they have not a vision above material things.”

It is necessary to expand the scope of Churchill’s prophecy to account for the ubiquity of the modern problem: “…their planet will be barren, if they have not a vision above material things.” Fossil fuels saddled us with the comforts, activities, amenities, and pleasures of the late 20th and early 21st century: air conditioning, cars, coffee, and capital. But now it is the voices of youth raised above the cacophony of a billion combustion engines who demand the change prescribed by climate science.

They aren’t “too cool for school”—rather, as the students propound, it’s getting too warm for school.

They are led by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Stockholm, Sweden, who sat with a sign on her local parliament steps for the first three weeks of school demanding of her politicians a radical stance against anthropogenic climate change. Since August of 2018, she has attended classes four times a week and went on strike every Friday, initiating the now-global “Fridays for Future” movement. Hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren from the EU and Australia traded algebra for advocacy and joined Thunberg at the end of the school week in a demonstration. One such event galvanized over 35,000 people. They aren’t “too cool for school”—rather, as the protestors propound, it’s getting too warm for school.

Climate strike in London. Photo by Garry Knight via Flickr.

Last December, TOJ spoke to Marlow Baines, a high school student in Boulder, Colorado who is a regional crew director at the youth-based environmental advocacy group Earth Guardians. The non-profit is involved in the Juliana vs. USA climate change lawsuit, in which the youth plaintiffs have asserted a constitutional right to a habitable environment and injurious abridgement of that right by a federal subsidy of fossil fuels. Baines says that since we last spoke, the plaintiffs have filed for a preliminary injunction in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. To tease apart the judicial jargon, this is a court order that would prevent the federal government from issuing new leases and mining permits for extracting coal on federal public lands, leases for offshore oil and gas exploration, and approvals for new fossil fuel infrastructure. According to Baines, the motion for preliminary injunction will give the court an opportunity to mitigate exploitation of Public Trust resources while it considers the Juliana case on interlocutory appeal.

Marlow Baines, regional crew director for Earth Guardians.

Another term plucked from the annals of the judiciary, an interlocutory appeal is issued when the trial judge determines substantial discrepancy over an important question of law that would affect the final outcome of the case. For Juliana vs. USA, the legal questions being challenged are assertions of “specific injury” by climate change, the extent of the public trust doctrine, and the “constitutional right” to a “stable climate system capable of sustaining human life”. If dissent muddies even the premise of the climate change lawsuit, the case has little chance of being heard in court.

“Democratic governments drift along the line of least resistance…smoothing their path with pleasant-sounding platitudes.” -Winston Churchill

With the lawsuit locked up in legal purgatory, Baines and the Earth Guardians took a page from Thunberg’s book and organized a youth climate strike on March 15th in Boulder, Colorado. The event was one of 950 registered strikes in over a hundred countries in which hundreds of thousands of youth boycotted class to fight for an uncertain future. The Boulder locale focused on demands for 100% renewable energy, which was one of governor-elect Jared Polis’s key campaign pledges. Globally, the effort prioritized indigenous groups and ethnic minorities, who are among the most vulnerable demographics. American demonstrators called for ambitious entreatments such as compulsory education on climate change in grades K-8 and the declaration of a national emergency in response to the climate crisis. Given the partisan nature of the topic, these ultimatums will face at least as much pushback as the Juliana lawsuit.

Fridays for Future rally in Germany. Photo by Jorg Farys via Flickr.

“Why should we go to class if you won’t listen to our most educated scientists?”

Why are young people ostensibly more receptive to the realities of climate science? Historically, it’s taken the outcry of a generation poised to confront the consequences of a problem to galvanize action to address the problem. Human myopia is limitless, but time and tide wait for no man. That worn proverb is remarkably applicable to the context of rising sea levels. Also, climate change departs from previous problems in its scale and complexity; it seems preposterous that humanity has subsumed the power to alter entire planetary systems. But the prognosis hits home when you’re young enough to experience the cataclysmic effects of such imbalance.

Fridays for Future rally in Berlin. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

“The changes have been so sudden and so gigantic that no period in history can be compared with the last century. The past no longer enables us even dimly to measure the future.” Churchill’s remark could be severed from its subject—the pace of scientific progress in the 20th century—and neatly reapplied to the erraticism of an over-carbonated climate system. While the March 15th protests were the largest manifestation of the climate change coalition to date, it will take the adults currently in positions of power to implement appropriate policy. Our sitting president has been criticized for his “childish behavior”, but such assertions are a disservice to the children of the climate change movement. Should his administration align itself with scientific consensus, they may yet preserve climatic configurations conducive to the life and liberty of the nation’s youngest citizens.

An Earth Guardians youth climate rally back in Oregon in 2018.

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