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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

Sep 12, 2019

How climate change is driving emigration from Central America

Rising global temperatures, the spread of crop disease and extreme weather events have made coffee harvests unreliable in places like El Salvador. On top of that, market prices are unpredictable.

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Clouds of dust rose behind the wheels of the pickup truck as we hurtled over the back road in Palo Verde, El Salvador. When we got to the stone-paved part of the road, the driver slowed as the truck heaved up and down with the uneven terrain. Riding in the back bed of the truck, Ruben (not his real name) and I talked while we held on tight, sitting on sacks of dried beans that he was taking to market.

“It doesn’t come out right,” he said, “it just doesn’t pay anymore to work the land. I take out a loan for seed, and then I can’t count on making it back to pay off my debt.”

Ruben told me then, for the first time, that he planned to save up his money to migrate out of El Salvador. His story is playing out across Central America among many migrants and would-be migrants.

When I spoke with Ruben, it was 2017, nearly 20 years after I had first spent time in his community, a coffee cooperative in El Salvador’s central highlands founded in the 1990s. Over those two decades, the cooperative’s hopes and dreams of a sustainable livelihood producing coffee for a global market have been dashed.

Rising global temperatures, the spread of crop disease and extreme weather events have made coffee harvests unreliable in places like El Salvador. On top of that, market prices are unpredictable.

In the back of the pickup truck that day, we talked about gangs too. There was increasing criminal activity in the town nearby, and some young people in the town were being harassed and recruited. But this was a relatively new issue for the community, layered on top of the persistent problem of the ecological crisis.

As a cultural anthropologist who studies factors of displacement in El Salvador, I see how Ruben’s situation is reflective of a much broader global phenomenon of people leaving their homes, directly or indirectly due to climate change and the degradation of their local ecosystem. And as environmental conditions are projected to get worse under current trends, this raises unresolved legal questions on the status and security of people like Ruben and his family.

This man lives in the Dry Corridor on the Pacific Coast of Central America, an area that has suffered high rates of poverty and malnutrition.
Todd Post/Bread for the World Institute, CC BY-NC-ND

Land and livelihood

Migration from Central America has gotten a lot of attention these days, including the famous migrant caravans. But much of it focuses on the way migrants from this region – especially El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras – are driven out by gang violence, corruption and political upheaval.

These factors are important and require a response from the international community. But displacement driven by climate change is significant too.

The migrant exodus from Central America includes many people impacted by climate change, although other factors play a part as well.

The link between environmental instability and emigration from the region became apparent in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Earthquakes and hurricanes, especially Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and its aftermath, were ravaging parts of Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Many people from El Salvador and Honduras lived in the U.S. at the time, and the Bush administration granted them Temporary Protected Status. In this way, the government of the United States recognized the inhumanity of sending people back to places struggling with ecological disaster.

In the years since those events, both rapid-onset and long-term environmental crises continue to displace people from their homes worldwide. Studies show that displacement often happens indirectly through the impact of climate change on agricultural livelihoods, with some areas pressured more than others. But some are more dramatic: Both Honduras and Nicaragua are among the top 10 countries most impacted by extreme weather events between 1998 and 2017.

Since 2014, a serious drought has decimated crops in Central America’s so-called dry corridor along the Pacific Coast. By impacting smallholder farmers in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, this drought helps to drive higher levels of migration from the region.

Coffee production, a critical support for these countries’ economies, is especially vulnerable and sensitive to weather variations. A recent outbreak of coffee leaf rust in the region was likely exacerbated by climate change.

The fallout from that plague combines with the recent collapse in global coffee prices to spur desperate farmers to give up.

Compounding factor

These trends have led experts at the World Bank to claim that around 2 million people are likely to be displaced from Central America by the year 2050 due to factors related to climate change. Of course, it’s hard to tease out the “push factor” of climate change from all of the other reasons that people need to leave. And unfortunately, these phenomena interact and tend to exacerbate each other.

Scholars are working hard to assess the scale of the problem and study ways people can adapt. But the problem is challenging. The number of displaced could be even higher – up to almost 4 million – if regional development does not shift to more climate-friendly and inclusive models of agriculture.

People who emigrate from Central America may not always fully realize the role climate change plays in their movement, or think of it as the final trigger given all the other reasons they have to flee. But they know that the crops fail too often, and it’s harder to get clean water than it used to be.

Environmental factors are playing more and more of a role in Central Americans’ decisions to leave home.

Seeking a protected status

Ruben recently contacted me to ask for a reference to a good immigration lawyer. He and his daughter are now in the United States and have an upcoming hearing to determine their status.

Just as he predicted a few years ago, Ruben couldn’t make a living in El Salvador. But he may find it hard to live in the U.S. too, given the mismatch between refugee law and current factors causing displacement.

For several years now, scholars and legal advocates have been asking how to respond to people displaced by environmental conditions. Do existing models of humanitarian response and resettlement work for this new population? Could such persons be recognized as in need of protection under international law, similar to political refugees?

Among the most complicated political questions is who should step up to deal with the harms of climate change, considering that wealthier countries pollute more but are often shielded from the worst effects. How can responsibility be assigned, and more importantly, what is to be done?

In the absence of coordinated action on the part of the global community to mitigate ecological instability and recognize the plight of displaced people, there’s a risk of what some have called “climate apartheid.” In this scenario – climate change combined with closed borders and few migration pathways – millions of people would be forced to choose between increasingly insecure livelihoods and the perils of unauthorized migration.

[ Like what you’ve read? Want more? Sign up for The Conversation’s daily newsletter. ]The Conversation

Miranda Cady Hallett, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Human Rights Center Research Fellow, University of Dayton

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cover Photo: A farmer carries firewood during the dry season in Nicaragua, one of the Central American countries affected by a recent drought. Neil Palmer for CIAT/flickrCC BY-NC-ND

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