War on plastic is distracting from more urgent threats to environment

A team of leading environmental experts, spearheaded by the University of Nottingham, have warned that the current war on plastic is detracting from the bigger threats to the environment.

In an article published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal, Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews (WIREs) Water, the 13 experts* say that while plastic waste is an issue, its prominence in the general public’s concern for the environment is overshadowing greater threats, for example, climate change and biodiversity loss.

The interdisciplinary team argue that much of the discourse around plastic waste is based on data that is not always representative of the environments that have been sampled. The aversion to plastic associated with this could encourage the use of alternative materials with potentially greater harmful effects.

The authors warn that plastic pollution dominates the public’s concern for the environment and has been exploited politically, after capturing the attention of the world, for example through emotive imagery of wildlife caught in plastic waste and alarmist headlines. They say small political gestures such as legislation banning cosmetic microplastics, taxing plastic bags, and financial incentives for using reusable containers, as well as the promotion of products as ‘green’ for containing less plastic than alternatives, risks instilling a complacency in society towards other environmental problems that are not as tangible as plastic pollution.

The article’s authors call on the media and others to ensure that the realities of plastic pollution are not misrepresented, particularly in the public dissemination of the issue, and urges government to minimise the environmental impact of over-consumption, however inconvenient, through product design, truly circular waste-management, and considered rather than reactionary policy.

Dr Tom Stanton, a co-author who led the work while in the University of Nottingham’s School of Geography and Food, Water, Waste Research Group, said: “We are seeing unprecedented engagement with environmental issues, particularly plastic pollution, from the public and we believe this presents a once in a generation opportunity to promote other, potentially greater environmental issues.

“This is a key moment in which to highlight and address areas such as ‘throw-away’ culture in society and overhaul waste management. However, if there is a continuation in prioritising plastic, this opportunity will be missed – and at great cost to our environment.”

The article also highlights that plastics are not the only type of polluting material originating from human activity that contaminates the environment. Other examples include natural textile fibres such as cotton and wool, Spheroidal Carbonaceous Particles (remnants of fossil fuels), and brake-wear particles from vehicles – all of which are present in different places, where they may have adverse environmental effects. The authors note that these materials are often much more abundant than microplastics and some, such as glass, aluminium, paper, and natural fibres, are associated with ‘plastic alternatives’ that are marketed as solutions to plastic pollution, but in reality side-step the inconvenience of changing the consumption practices at the root of the problem. The eco-toxicological impacts of some of these materials are less well known than plastic and microplastic pollution, yet they could have significant impacts.

The authors conclude that that a behavioural science approach should be taken to assess society’s relationship with single-use items and throw-away culture, and to overhaul waste mismanagement.

They say there is an understandable desire to minimise the global plastic debris in the environment which should not be discouraged, but positive action to minimise plastic pollution needs to be well informed and should not exacerbate or overshadow other forms of environmental degradation associated with alternative materials.

The article states that solutions are likely to come from a greater focus on designing materials and products that can be recycled, that have their end-of-life built in, and that markets and facilities exist to recycle all plastic waste.

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50 thoughts on “War on plastic is distracting from more urgent threats to environment

      • Griff,

        You’re in fantasy land again. While the effect of CO2 on the climate is finite, it’s far, far smaller than the IPCC requires in order to insure their continued existence. In fact, it’s even less than the claimed lower limit, despite the massive +/- 50% uncertainty. You need to stop denying the conflict of interest at the IPCC that has damaged all legitimate science. It only makes you look foolish.

        Anyone who can accept scientific claims with +/- 50% uncertainty as ‘settled’ (i.e. doubling CO2 results in warming of 3C +/- 1.5C) either has a screw loose of lacks the most basic understanding of how science is supposed to work.

        • Griff is either a Tool or a Fool, co2. These alarmists only come in two basic flavors Tools and Fools:

          Soros funded Tools who earn beer and bong money sitting on comment boards spewing nonsensical non-science, albeit fascist Peer Review board passed, propaganda that comes across as “Nuh Uhh” followed by links to propaganda sites funded by unwitting taxpayers to create Land of Make Believe Hobgoblins.

          Then there is Campus Safe Zone Fools. Indoctrinated with 12 years of public school propaganda followed by 4 to 6 years of advance programming and required reading in aforementioned links to Land Of Make Believe Hobgoblinism. It is an incomprehensible immersion into the faith based belief that – “We are all going to die because the non-deserving masses desire energy enhanced quality of life at affordable living cost that should only be accessible to the enlightened congregants of The Church of the Climate Changeth.” It is only right that church elders, such as Leonardo DiCraprio, ALBORE, et. al. fly private Jets to exotic locations to spread the word and foretell the end of days. Fossil fuel for me but not for thee.

      • Flat lie, griff. Even the bible for you dishonest alarmists, the IPCC reports, finds no evidence of an increase in extreme weather events. Makes sense that there is no increase too. Weather events are driven by temperature differences and that has slightly declined because the cold arctic regions have warmed more than the warm tropics – DECREASING temperature gradients. You know that extreme weather has not increased yet you choose to lie. Why?

      • “CO2 is warming the planet

        You have absolutely NO EVIDENCE for that your brain-numbed mantra regurgitation.

        And it really is GREAT NEWS for the Arctic to be returning a small way toward the Holocene norm,

        Bringing life back to the Arctic seas and helping near extinct Bowhead Whales increase in numbers

        https://partner.sciencenorway.no/arctic-ocean-forskningno-fram-centre/the-ice-retreats–whale-food-returns/1401824

        I know you HATE Arctic sea life, and prefer ice instead of LIFE , but that is because you are a a disgusting, ignorant, small-minded cretin.

      • The planet is still 3 to 5C cooler than it was during the bulk of the Holocene. I don’t see how a little bit of entirely beneficial warming from the bottom of the Little Ice Age is a problem.

        There isn’t a shred of evidence that the world is getting stormier.

        Any other lies you care to spread griff?

      • You have been seriously infected by the CAGW Virus Griff. We will listen to you when you have recovered. Perhaps you should volunteer to test a vaccine if one becomes available.

      • Wow. Western culture & freedom is being destroyed by cultural marxism right in griff’s own locale, and he/she/it is worried about whether or not some water thousands of miles away in uninhabited Arctic hasn’t froze up quite yet? Man, buddy, you’ve got some serious educational shortcomings/corruptions. I guess there’s at least comfort for you in your number of fellow comrades…..

    • And ugly. Before the ‘plastic bag’ tax was introduced in Wales, if you went within a half mile of a major supermarket, most of the trees would have plastic bags caught in them, being slowly shredded by the wind. No longer. The tax is worth it just for that.

      • I have never seen such, and where I live plastic bags are ubiquitous and plentiful. Consumers take them home and throw them away when done, or use them for trash bags.

      • What kind of dystopia do you live in? Why would people throw away the bags before they even got their groceries home? I have a huge pile of bags stored up, waiting their turn to be used for garbage bags or to be bundled up eventually and put in the recycle bin.

          • What, you put your dog in one of those baggies?????

            BTW, a doggie bag is what they used to call the boxes that they put your left over food in at restaurants.

          • Back in the 40’s & 50’s whenever our family would eat at some restaurant, my parents always asked for a doggie bag in which to put the uneaten fat and bones of a steak for our dog to enjoy.

      • Taxing everyone and making their lives harder just because of a you don’t like looking at old plastic bags is so progressive of you.

        BTW, I notice you don’t mention anything about cleaning up those bags that bother you so much.
        Oh no, your only solution is to force others to stop doing things your disapprove of.

          • Harvesting old trees makes room for new trees, new trees need lots more Co2 than old trees. You would think they would be onboard with the new trees agenda, yet they are not. Strange, that.

    • Show me where plastic pollution is “real” and I’ll show you a poor Third World sh#thole country with no pollution laws or waste management infrastructure. The rest of the world doesn’t have a problem with recycling, burying, or incinerating plastic.

    • “Plastic pollution is real”

      It is real but not in an alarming way. The more common types are pretty innocuous:

      Polyethylene terephthalate (polyester) – recyclable plastic bottles, etc.
      Polyethylene (LDPE, HDPD, UHMW) – grocery bags, heavy bottles, trash bins, artificial hips, etc.
      Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) – plumbing, insulation of electrical wires, vinyl siding, etc.
      Polypropylene (PP) – packaging, automotive parts, living hinges (shampoo lids), textiles, etc.
      Polystyrene (PS) – packaging “styrofoam,” soft drink lids, test tubes, petri dishes, etc.
      Polylactic Acid (PLA) – derived from biomass so biodegrades much quicker than other plastics
      Polycarbonate (PC) – transparent with high impact strength. greenhouses, riot gear, etc.
      Acrylic (PMMA) – extremely transparent, scratch resistant. Optical devices
      Acetal (Polyoxymethylene, POM) – very high tensile strength, creep resistances, low friction. Gears etc.
      Nylon (PA) – clothing, reinforcement in car tires, rope or thread, injection molded parts, etc.
      ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) – injection molding, 3D printing, LEGOs

      I am definitely not a plastics expert but my thesis topic was epoxy metal-ion polymers.

      • Just to add a bit, as a chemist:

        The only really difficult plastics are fluorinated hydrocarbons- Teflon and all related materials. The fluorine is extremely reactive and forms a very high energy bond to carbon. This makes it very difficult to make and difficult to break down.
        PVC, polyvinyl chloride is a distant second, but still difficult to breakdown in nature.
        UHMWP, ultra high molecular weight polyethlylene, comes next, particularly if it has been stretch oriented like the newest “super fishing line. It has a very densely packed, resilient structure that slows its physical breakdown, but it still is fairly susceptible to sun/oxygen/micro organisms.

        ALL other carbon based plastics break down quite rapidly in micro sized particles. This explains why the “great garbage whirlpool” in the northern pacific is nearly invisible. By the time almost all plastics get there they’ve been battered into near invisibility.

        About the only things that make it that far are things like huge pieces of styrofoams, plastic kayaks, maybe some car parts, and large pieces of very strong plastics such as glass-reinforced UHMWP.

        Plastics are similar to any other carbon-based product, from tree trunks to plastic bags-they all breakdown fairly rapidly in nature because nature is built on carbon-based polymers.

        • Philo,
          Thank you for the added information. During my working days, we treated chlorinated hydrocarbon-contaminated groundwater by injecting bacteria food and sometimes specific bacteria (Dehalococcoides) to dechlorinate the hydrocarbons. It was done in a large scale. Also, via collection of thousands of samples for PCB analysis, the PCBs do degrade in nature despite their recalcitrant properties. PCBs “weather” from highly chlorinated congeners to less-chlorinated congeners. If it were evaporation, the concentrations would move toward the higher chlorinated congeners but it is just the opposite. Also, PCBs disappear much faster in out-door settings than indoor. I have little experience with fluorinated hydrocarbons but what you say makes complete sense.

  1. What a load of BS. Once again, instead of educating the public on the vast amounts of unrecyclable plastic waste because there is NO MARKET FOR IT, they go off about “behavioral science” to radically change human behavior.

    LOOK, you want to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the environment? Then CREATE A DAMN MARKET TO RECYCLE IT! It’s that freaking simple.

    Over estimate….yea, go tell that to the people who’s beaches and river banks are overflowing with plastic waste and the only thing they can do is burn it and then live with the fumes.

    Cotton and Wool waste? My ass. Learn a little bit about the textile industry and the fast fashion industry before you even TRY to hold natural fiber “waste” which is crap up as polluters of the environment. You want to reduce cotton and wool waste? Then start with the textile market….go ahead, try it and they’ll lynch you before you even know what you did to offend them.

    This article screams of a sponsored rhetoric by the fast fashion industry and the single use plastic industry. And I’ll admit, I those two industries are rather touchy with me.

    But what is sad is that instead of an unbiased look at the entire cycle of plastic production (including recycling), they point the finger and say, “humans bad, need change”.

  2. “A team of leading environmental experts, spearheaded by the University of Nottingham” are the biggest threat to our environment. These leftist idiots are the ones causing EVERY SINGLE environmental problem on this planet. Time to stop their rank insanity and put them, en-mass, to forced labor cleaning up THEIR mess.

    • Really! So university liberals created the plastic problem. I don’t think so. More to the point these liberals are actually saying something sensible fo a change which is that not everything is a simple plastic cased issue. They are also pointing out that plastics are far more useful and often better than alternatives, so going all radical green is not a good thing. Why then are you against what they say, is it perhaps your own bias against university types rather than the message they carry.

      • No, they are simply telling you another lie and you are falling for it. Rather sad. They are the problem, problems must be eliminated.

    • Turbine blades aren’t the target – they’re usually the weapon, when they break off and go flying about at high speed. Miracle that no one hasn’t been killed yet. It would be the “3 Mile Island” for Big Wind.

  3. Why do I have a vision of the Walrus and the Carpenter weeping over the tragic fate of the oysters they are dining on?..
    (The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carroll).
    Cheers
    Mike

  4. The solution is impossible. The worst is that the sorting of the various “non recyclable” plastics is near impossible and atrociously expensive. As I take my mile walk I see the recycle bins out for pickup. Just on the top I see three to five plastic items that are not on the “Allowed” recycling list. These need sorted out at the recycling center. That means a person has to see it on the conveyor belt, recognize it, grab it and place in the trash area. If the wrong plastic item is placed in the wrong pathway than that plastic becomes “TRASH” no one wants to buy it.
    The city I live in has informed us that the Recycling contract is going to be in the order of $2 to $4 Million dollars. Twenty years ago the city got paid for the recyclables. Now we are paying to get rid of it. And that is on trop of the cost of the people being paid to pick up the recyclables. The only thing being recycled is my money. My son works in the plastic extrusion industry, providing needed plastic items for the automobile industry. They have given up on use of any “Recycled” plastic. The only good use is to pulverize it, mix it with high grade pulverized coal and BURN it.

    • You just proved that the solution isn’t impossible – grind it all up and burn it (in a modern, efficient, emission controlled plant). Saves on the cost and energy consumption of collection and sorting of recyclables and generates extra energy that offsets buying and burning fuel.

    • Shred it and mix with cement for footers, post/pole pads, etc etc. Also, why are convicts not doing this repetitive type labor? Got plenty of them laying about sucking up tax dollars.

  5. In my youth plastic was an abomination. Now many years later, I think plastics are pretty damn cool. I love the stuff that is not brittle, strong as metal, virtually indestructible and doesn’t corrode like metal. In retrospect (but impossible to consider at the formative time), skill in plastics engineering is very desirable.

  6. And they don’t seem to notice that the vast majority of the plastic pollution comes from third world countries that won’t do a thing about it. The wealthier the society, the cleaner the environment. Truly poor people can’t afford to care about the environment. Those countries can’t afford garbage collection, so it just gets tossed wherever. (“When there is no food on the table, there is ONE problem. When there is plenty of food on the table, there are many problems.” – old Chinese proverb) The solution would be to help them become wealthy like the western world, and that would include a plentiful supply of inexpensive and reliable energy (fossil fuels) and free enterprise capitalism.

    The way things are now, it’s unlikely third world governments will take action, although we can hope they do. Plastic bans in the advanced western societies would have no impact on the real problem.

    • Just goes to show the hypocrisy of ‘green’. It would be far better for the environment and the people if third world countries were helped with real pollution issues like this, rather than have the UN pushing expensive, unreliable and wasteful green energy on them.

  7. From the above article’s fifth paragraph, inserting the “phrase du jour” . . . in this case, “plastics”, into the CAGW alarmists’ Manual for Media Communications, Section on recommended sentences:

    “The article’s authors call on the media and others to ensure that the realities of {insert phrase du jour here} are not misrepresented, particularly in the public dissemination of the issue, and urges government to minimise the environmental impact of over-consumption, however inconvenient, . . . {insert needed actions here}.

  8. You can replace the word Plastic with Climate Change every time that it appears in the article and it makes equal sense (or not).

  9. https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/nsf2026ideamachine/index.jsp#2026Awards
    3 EAGER awards listed about degradation of plastics in the deep ocean.

    https://marinedebris.noaa.gov/sites/default/files/ShorelineFieldGuide2012.pdf
    One of these is a “nurdle patrol.” Keeping shorelines clean may be a good idea, except in the process they sometimes destroy a habitat in use, maybe not the best. NOAA might have better things to do and fund. They give specific guidelines to follow for their database. Another example of data collection that could be better served by collectors doing field work? “Cheshire, A. C., E. Adler, et al. (2009). UNEP/IOC Guidelines on Survey and Monitoring of Marine Litter, UNEP Regional Seas Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission: 132 pp”

  10. In the UK some plastics have a good recycled value like PVC, HDPE etc and can be recycled profitablely. Other materials like LDHD film mainly used for packaging etc, are often contaminated and therefore has no market value.
    Low market value plastcs should be burnt as fuel to generate electricity using the best scrubbing process. Unfortunately this has not been allowed to happen. Local authorities have been content to see this low grade material shipped around the world for ‘reprossesing , turning a blind eye to what happens to this reprocessed material. Their environmental statements are often about ticking boxes and going to enviromental conferences to talk about ; well you have guessed it recycling!

    Our roads are littered with discarded drink cans and plastic packaging. You only have to see the rubbish left behind after a climate protest to realise what the problem is. Its not the fault of plastic that a percentage of the population have no regard for the environment.

    It is hardly surprising that some ends up in the sea.

  11. On my evening walks, no matter what part of london it may be, I see plastic rubbish EVERYWHERE. Now these “covid” masks are EVERYWHERE, It is like stepping around dirty needles… A bench near a hospital has a big bin right next to the bench, 10″ away, yet last night the floor was covered in rubbish 😐

    Oh, I forgot, its raining and windy, Climate chanhe in full effect

  12. Griff is either a Tool or a Fool, co2. These alarmists only come in two basic flavors Tools and Fools:

    Soros funded Tools who earn beer and bong money sitting on comment boards spewing nonsensical non-science, albeit fascist Peer Review board passed, propaganda that comes across as “Nuh Uhh” followed by links to propaganda sites funded by unwitting taxpayers to create Land of Make Believe Hobgoblins.

    Then there is Campus Safe Zone Fools. Indoctrinated with 12 years of public school propaganda followed by 4 to 6 years of advance programming and required reading in aforementioned links to Land Of Make Believe Hobgoblinism. It is an incomprehensible immersion into the faith based belief that – “We are all going to die because the non-deserving masses desire energy enhanced quality of life at affordable living cost that should only be accessible to the enlightened congregants of The Church of the Climate Changeth.” It is only right that church elders, such as Leonardo DiCraprio, ALBORE, et. al. fly private Jets to exotic locations to spread the word and foretell the end of days. Fossil fuel for me but not for thee.

  13. Plastic is a problem, mostly because some people don’t dispose of it properly.

    The opinion piece, however, is about consumerism in general generating waste. I agree with this: everything is now made to throw away instead of lasting for more than 5 minutes before breaking.

    It’s the gimme generations fault.

    Why were a bunch of activists using their university positions, with both their salaries and there “research” funded by governments, allowed to publish their personal world view?

  14. “The authors warn that plastic pollution dominates the public’s concern for the environment and has been exploited politically,”
    You can’t say the same about the vast majority of the public’s concern about CO2, which isn’t even a pollutant; but it has been and is being exploited politically by a minority, and unfortunately a powerful minority.

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