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Earth Medicine Science

Remote Pacific Island Is the Most Plastic-Contaminated Spot Yet Surveyed (arstechnica.com) 132

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Plastic is durable -- very, very durable -- which is why we like it. Since it started being mass-produced in the 1950s, annual production has increased 300-fold. Because plastic is so durable, when our kids grow up and we purge our toy chests, or even just when we finish a bottle of laundry detergent or shampoo, it doesn't actually go away. While we're recycling increasing amounts of plastic, a lot of it still ends up in the oceans. Floating garbage patches have brought some attention to the issue of our contamination of the seas. But it's not just the waters themselves that have ended up cluttered with plastic. A recent survey shows that a staggering amount of our stuff is coming ashore on the extremely remote Henderson Island. Henderson Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Pitcairn Group of Islands in the South Pacific, roughly half way between New Zealand and Peru. According to UNESCO, Henderson is one of the best examples we have of an elevated coral atoll ecosystem. It was colonized by Polynesians between the 12th and 15th centuries but has been uninhabited by humans since then. It is of interest to evolutionary biologists because it has 10 plant species and four bird species that are only found there. Despite its uninhabited status and its extremely remote location, a recent survey of beach plastic on Henderson Island revealed that the island has the highest density of debris reported anywhere in the world: an estimated minimum of 37.7 million items weighing 17.6 tons. This represents the total amount of plastic that is produced in the world every 1.98 seconds. Further reading: Here And Now
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Remote Pacific Island Is the Most Plastic-Contaminated Spot Yet Surveyed

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  • by iMadeGhostzilla ( 1851560 ) on Monday May 22, 2017 @08:27PM (#54466961)

    Plastic has great utility (as long as it's safe), it's disposable plastic that's the problem. And much of it is just for convenience that's not necessarily all that convenient.

    As an example -- I've been drinking water from disposable plastic bottles for over a decade and just recently switched to refilling water at my local store. At 50 cents a gallon I pay less for higher quality water in a BPA-free container. I had thought that's too much of a hassle but with "double buffering" it's actually less hassle than the bottled water, it's cheaper, tastier, and supposedly healthier.

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Monday May 22, 2017 @08:36PM (#54467015)

      just recently switched to refilling water at my local store. At 50 cents a gallon ...

      Could please you explain your rationale for doing this instead of just getting water from the faucet in your kitchen?

      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Most tap water is poisoned with fluoride.

        • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Monday May 22, 2017 @08:58PM (#54467129)

          Most tap water is poisoned with fluoride.

          The water sold in the grocery store is usually filtered tap water. The filtering does not remove fluoride. In fact, there is no evidence that it removes anything other than money from your wallet.

          • Proper reverse-osmosis filtration will remove fluoride but the resulting water is too soft and should be buffered salts/electrolytes
            • Proper reverse-osmosis filtration will remove fluoride but the resulting water is too soft and should be buffered salts/electrolytes

              The "bring-your-own-bottle" machines at the grocery store do not use reverse osmosis. They use cheap activated charcoal filters, which do not remove fluoride even when they are changed regularly, which usually aren't. The input is tap water, and the output is, well, basically tap water.

              • The "bring-your-own-bottle" machines at the grocery store do not use reverse osmosis.

                My local hippie co-op has machines for filtered, RO, and DI water.

              • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Tuesday May 23, 2017 @02:54AM (#54468129)
                From the totally correct but doesn't matter department.

                The "bring-your-own-bottle" machines at the grocery store do not use reverse osmosis. They use cheap activated charcoal filters, which do not remove fluoride even when they are changed regularly

                The fluoride doesn't matter (which is why the obsession was used to make a character look ridiculous in "Dr Strangelove") so the charcoal is enough to get rid of annoyances. I've been to places where people live off artesian water with a bit of fluoride and they don't get poisoned by it and die young (good teeth too, but maybe that's diet instead of fluoride).
                Seriously guys, unless you live somewhere like Flint with lead compounds in the water boiling is enough (though reverse osmosis is great for camping).

                The bottled water craze keeps reminding me that Evian is naive spelled backwards.

                • by houghi ( 78078 )

                  Boiling the water? I have been drinking tap water all my life and I am ok. My great-aunt becaÃe 115 and she drank tap water.

                  If your water is undrinkable without boiling it, you have serious problems if you live in a first world country.Â

                  I live in Belgium and drank tap water all over Europe. Never an issue.

                  Crazy how marketing works. People buying water they can get basically for free.

                  • by dbIII ( 701233 )

                    Boiling the water? I have been drinking tap water all my life and I am ok

                    Of course, but untreated water is sometimes a different story.

                • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

                  "Evian is naive spelled backwards."

                  Brilliant...saving that one for future discussions...tyvm.

          • by msauve ( 701917 )
            "The water sold in the grocery store is usually filtered tap water."

            Only some of it. "Drinking" or "purified" water is usually as you say. "Spring" or "mineral" water is usually from a natural source (well). There's also distilled and/or RO water.

            I'm not sure what you mean by "usually," but I suspect sales of spring waters exceeds that of drinking water in locations with palatable municipal water. If the tap water is really bad, it's probably drinking water which sells the most, because it tends to be che
            • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

              Googled answer...

              About 55 percent of bottled water in the United States is spring water, including Crystal Geyser and Arrowhead. The other 45 percent comes from the municipal water supply, meaning that companies, including Aquafina and Dasani, simply treat tap water—the same stuff that comes out of your faucet at home—and bottle it up.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            The filtering does not remove fluoride. In fact, there is no evidence that it removes anything other than money from your wallet.

            Do you realize that in addition to fluoridating water, why, there are studies underway to fluoridate salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk, ice cream? Ice cream, Bill? Children's ice cream!

            You know when fluoridation began?...1946. 1946, Bill. How does that coincide with your post-war Commie conspiracy, huh? It's incredibly obvious, isn't it? A foreign substance is introdu

          • In fact, there is no evidence that it removes anything

            And yet it tastes completely different which can be 100% identified in a double blind study.

            Yeah sure it may not remove some thing that people specifically freak out about for no reason whatsoever but saying that "there is no evidence that it removes anything" is plainly false.

        • by Cmdln Daco ( 1183119 ) on Monday May 22, 2017 @09:07PM (#54467177)

          We have unimaginably good tasting well water here. Good enough that I sometimes ponder if bottling and selling it would be practical. Our well is the deepest on the highway we live on.

          A lot of 'natural' well water has a lot of fluoride in it. Fluoride in water is not something unnatural. It's just that some water doesn't have an adequate amount of fluoride to discourage tooth decay.

          In our case, we just brush with a fluoridated toothpaste ("Pepsodent", a paleo-brand of toothpaste that they sell at Walgreens for $1 a tube) to be sure.

          • >" It's just that some water doesn't have an adequate amount of fluoride to discourage tooth decay."

            There is no need for it in water anymore in first-world countries. Almost every common toothpaste and dental rinse has way more than enough to prevent tooth decay. I can't imagine drinking it is necessary or has been for decades now.

            • by Anonymous Coward

              lets change that around a little to something else you probably also blindly believe:

              there is no need for vaccinations anymore in first-world countries. i can't imagine vaccinations being necessary or having been for decades now.

              **

              fluoride in drinking water, at the right levels, is a huge boost for dental health.. especially among children and teens, and especially among the poor. it is ridiculously inexpensive to do at the municipal water supply. there is no reason not to do it.

              • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

                lets change that around a little to something else you probably also blindly believe:

                there is no need for vaccinations anymore in first-world countries. i can't imagine vaccinations being necessary or having been for decades now.

                **

                fluoride in drinking water, at the right levels, is a huge boost for dental health.. especially among children and teens, and especially among the poor. it is ridiculously inexpensive to do at the municipal water supply. there is no reason not to do it.

                Dental decay isn't contagious.

        • But your teeth will be cavity free when archeologist discover your carcass.
        • by Kiuas ( 1084567 ) on Tuesday May 23, 2017 @05:13AM (#54468413)

          Most tap water is poisoned with fluoride.

          Poisoned? You do know that every single substance, including water itself, is potentially lethal if ingested in excess?

          That's the thing really. It's the dosage that makes something either healthy or unhealthy. The world health organization recommends a level of fluoride of 0,5 mg to 1.0 mg per litre because fluoride has proven benefits for dental health [who.int] at low doses..

          Now then, let's look at the numbers: [wikipedia.org]

          Referring to a common salt of fluoride, sodium fluoride (NaF), the lethal dose for most adult humans is estimated at 5 to 10 g (which is equivalent to 32 to 64 mg/kg elemental fluoride/kg body weight).[1][2][3] Ingestion of fluoride can produce gastrointestinal discomfort at doses at least 15 to 20 times lower (0.2–0.3 mg/kg or 10 to 15 mg for a 50 kg person) than lethal doses.

          So to even get to the lower bound of gastrointestinal discomfort, someone would have to think anywhere from 10-30 litres of water, and to get to the lethal dose the number goes up to 30-60 litres. At that quantity you're in life danger even if you're drinking fluoride free water because of water intoxication.

          There are understandable reasons for not drinking tap water in certain areas (taste, purity, etc). but fluoride is not one of them. The tap water here in Finland ranks among the best in the world and bottled water consumption is low compared to most western nations, yet do we see cases of people dropping because of the added fluoride? No.

          • by moeinvt ( 851793 )

            Fluoride has benefits for dental health, but mainly in surface application Sunscreen is useful to prevent sunburns, but it's not typically ingested.
            Even if fluoride isn't lethal in "small" quantities, that doesn't prove that it is harmless. Lead isn't lethal in small quantities, but its effect as a neurotoxin is well documented.
            Do a few searches on "fluoride" + "IQ". It's definitely a matter of dosage, but there's evidence that "high" doses can cause developmental defects in children.

      • Primary reason is taste: my tap water, clean though it is, does not taste good to me -- I do not wish to drink it except when I must. It is also very hard. Fluoride is another reason. Reverse osmosis used by the water station where I refill supposedly removes fluoride.

        But at any rate, taste alone is enough of a reason.

        • by labnet ( 457441 )

          RO water is not good for your long term as essential minerals like calcium are removed which can mess with your bones and gut.

        • by hey! ( 33014 )

          An under-sink filter will remove all of the organic-related taste.

          RO is overkill; humans evolved to drink natural water sources with trace minerals in them, so unless you have a specific problem like arsenic contamination or exteremely hard water RO is not doing yourself any favors. Water with moderate mineral content is usually perceived as tasting better than completely pure water.

          As for fluoride, it's one of the most common minerals in the Earth's crust and found as a trace mineral in most surface water

      • Here in Las Vegas, if I drink water from the tap I end up doubled over in pain. And can't work or eat or really do much of anything. Therefor I drink bottled water I buy for $2 for 24 bottles. And it tastes good. Also arrowhead does the same thing so I think that's the only semi filtered water you must be talking about.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Is your town water contaminated? If so you have my sympathies. If not then why the hell would you bother buying the stuff at the supermarket when you can just fill up a glass (or a refillable water bottle if you're going out) at the tap? If you're really fussy you can even buy things called water filters that will (depending on the model) not only filter the water but chill it ready for consumption. There is precisely zero reason to waste money and resources buying it at the store.

    • by sheramil ( 921315 ) on Monday May 22, 2017 @10:22PM (#54467493)

      Plastic has great utility (as long as it's safe), it's disposable plastic that's the problem.

      Disposable plastic isn't the problem. It's partly dumbshits who think plastic should be disposable, and other dumbshits who treat it like it is.

      Having worked in the plastics industry.. it's weird how plastic is incredibly durable, unless you need it to be, in which case it degrades and breaks down almost immediately.. although that could be observation bias.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 22, 2017 @08:47PM (#54467063)

    Look at the containers and material in the photos. They are almost all from fishing or costal areas, and likely from South America.

    Many 3rd world countries just through their trash in the streets and have no concept of public cleanliness. If the trash was coming from the US, you'd see it on our shores as well, but you don't.

    Go look (google) photos of 3rd world country streets, homes and neighborhoods. They just don't have a sanitation system, nor seem to care to create one. Maybe we could export our sanitation tech to India, Ghana, etc...

    • It's one of the mysteries that the H1B geniuses discover in America, "how to avoid cesspools;" for them, it's magic. Think, "Donald Trump Comes to America", only shorter and darker.
    • sanitation tech

      The limitations of sanitation in these countries has nothing at all to do with technology.

  • Mind-boggling (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jenningsthecat ( 1525947 ) on Monday May 22, 2017 @08:48PM (#54467069)

    "... an estimated minimum of 37.7 million items weighing 17.6 tons. This represents the total amount of plastic that is produced in the world every 1.98 seconds".

    If that's true, then it's a staggering and sobering statistic. In nice round numbers, call it 8 tons per second. That's over 690,000 tons of plastic produced per day! Given that plastic is largely made from a non-renewable resource, and that it takes a huge amount of energy to produce, and that much of it is used frivolously... Talk about fouling our own nest! As a species we are remarkably good at choosing short term gain that causes long term pain. Sadness...

    • Not only is plastic not made from a renewable resource, it stores the resource it is made from in a stable inert form.

      Two hundred years from now people will be strip mining and capturing all the plastic that we've littered the planet with, to recover and reuse it. They will curse the people who promoted high-temperature incinerators.

      The lore for the future people will be: "In the dark age after the incinerators were build, humans actually BURNED the plastic, so we do not have it as a resource anymore."

      • Hell, I bet it will take less than 200 years. As soon as a small inexpensive solar powered rover can collect plastic at a profit we'll see little beach comber bots. I give it 20 years unless some 7th grader hasn't already invented one.

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )

        Two hundred years from now people will be strip mining and capturing all the plastic that we've littered the planet with, to recover and reuse it.

        It's very energy intensive to break it down so your suggestion is unlikely while we still have easily accessible gas, oil and coal.
        Of course the exception is the stuff that can be reused in it's current form like PET, where grinding it up and not a lot of heat plus pressure can make something useful.

    • by Kohath ( 38547 )

      So you're suggesting we should buy Dow Chemical stock?

  • hydrocarbons (Score:4, Insightful)

    by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Monday May 22, 2017 @11:24PM (#54467751) Homepage Journal

    I wonder if very many people realizes that plastics are made of hydrocarbons, not unlike fossil fuels like gasoline and diesel. And with the right furnace plastics will burn and produce energy quite nicely. If anyone can put together some automated way to collect lots of ocean trash in one spot, we can shovel it into an incinerator and push some steam turbines along. (yeah, collecting it all is the hard part. technical hurdle but not impossible)

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      I think the Japanese are already doing that. Hot enough and you only have NOx to worry about instead of some of the really nasty stuff you get in a normal plastic fire.
      There's a few "co-generation" incinerators around the world, some a few decades old now.
    • It's almost as much regulatory paperwork to open an incinerator in the USA as a nuclear power plant. That's why we dump most of our trash.
      • It's a real shame too. There are some really foul dumps in my town (San Jose) that could be resolved with a properly engineers incinerator. We have a lot of soil contamination because of the crap we have buried over the years and the geology here. Much of that could have been avoided. A lot of the regulations are because older incinerators release a lot of dioxins when they burn modern garbage (which is mostly plastic). Obviously it's stupid to use 19th century technology against 21st century materials, but

    • Plastics aren't made of hydrocarbons as much as they are a byproduct of processing oil for petrol. And therein lies the problem, a lot of this stuff doesn't burn well, and when it burns it doesn't bode well for the surrounding air.

      The technical problems are more to do with scrubbing and treating the offgasses after burning. After all if it burnt cleanly it wouldn't be sold for cents in the dollar as a byproduct, but rather it would end up in the more valuable fuel mix.

      • If you have a monomer like ethylene, which is a hydrocarbon, you can link it into a polymer like polyethylene, which is still a hydrocarbon although a high weight one. Conceptually the same thing with styrene into polystyren..

        Polyethylene (include LDPE, MDPE and HDPE), polystyrene, and other high molecular weight hydrocarbons are not going to burn in a simple way like methane or gasoline might. But you'll find that under the right pressure and temperature they will decompose and react correctly. In some sit

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This title is not politically correct. It should say: Remote Pacific Island Is the Most Plastic-Enriched Spot Yet Surveyed

  • I dunno I totally see a Family guy spin off on Cast Away ..

    Scene #1: man washes up on deserted island, broken, dehydrated and forgotten

    Scene n+1: man relaxes on hammock woven from canned soda pack rings gorging on canned tuna while he watches Gilligan's island on his reclaimed note S7. camara widens to distance shot showing miles of beach strewn with garbage and a 20 foot pile of fully charged and slightly charred note S7's

  • A typical gross conceptual error as to time frame. Synthetic plastics became ubiquitous in the 1930s. Plastics from natural sources were made in the 19th century. The first patent on a synthetic plastic, Bakalite, was issued in 1906.

    https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/bakelite.html

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