How Plastic Straws Slip Through the Cracks of Waste Management

first_imgOK, maybe that logic didn’t work out so well in Nemo. And many cities are pretty far from the ocean. But even inland cities with high-tech combined sewage treatment programs experience some amount of leakage into local watersheds—when a big storm floods the sewers, or a catchment grate malfunctions, for instance. And many pieces of litter skip the sewage system completely, and get blown or washed directly into a stream, lake, or sea.You’ve probably heard the shakily-sourced statistic that Americans throw away 500 million plastic straws each day (an average of 1.5 straws a day per person, if true). Even if that figure needs work, researchers have plenty of other data showing that straws are a pretty big problem. Thanks to the assiduous record-keeping of global beach cleanup crews, a study published in Science in 2015 calculated that America’s beaches are strewn with about 7.5 billion straws.Of course, those straws don’t just stay there. Wind and rain are constantly forcing debris seaward. Once in the waves, tracking the trash once again gets chaotic. “Coastal zones are complicated, where objects get stuck in eddies, washed back onshore, and moved all over the place,” Lippiatt says. Between the waves and the sun—UV light breaks down many chemical bonds—plastic debris takes a beating. It’s during this time in the coastal zone that many straws get broken down into tiny bits. Earlier this year, a three-year-old video of researchers extracting a long, twisted tube from a reptile’s bleeding nostril went viral. To date, it has accumulated more than 30 million views and set off a moral panic.The straw that broke the turtle’s beak also did a number on the camel’s back. Companies like Starbucks, Ikea, and Hilton hotels have announced policies reducing or eliminating single-use slurping devices. Communities in California, New Jersey, and Florida—plus the metropolis of Seattle—have announced policies to phase out or restrict businesses from selling straws. And has there been backlash to the straw bashing? This is 2018, baby, you know there’s been backlash! Some is just normal anti-environmental crankiness. Some is legit: Plastic straws, especially the bendy ones, are essential for people with disabilities.And some of the critique inspires serious head scratching: Disposable straws account for a very small fraction of the total plastic waste that winds up in the oceans, and are pretty unexceptional in terms of ecological impact (Read about fishing gear’s environmental impact if you really want to put your straw concerns in context). So, if straws are just a small part of a big problem, why not just pour all this anti-straw effort into better waste management overall? Well, straws—by nature of their design and ubiquity—are remarkably good at slipping out of the waste stream and into the wild.“I think the fact that straws are small and used on-the-go lends itself to the fact that they can easily leak into the environment,” says Sherry Lippiatt, the regional coordinator for NOAA’s marine debris program in California. The problem isn’t that straws fall below some size threshold that casual litterbugs use to gauge their guilt. Though size-bias is a real thing when it comes to how people feel about litter, the real problem is that straws literally fall through the waste management cracks. Eventually those bits of debris get sucked offshore. From there, figuring out their fate becomes much simpler. Physical oceanographers actually have charts that tell them roughly how a piece of debris will behave once it’s in the ocean. One of the biggest factors is the object’s windage—that is, how far does it stick out of the water, and how much wind will it catch? The other factor is where the object winds up in the water column. Deeper water tends to move more slowly than at the surface. Intact straws and straw fragments are both unlikely to float on the surface, and are probably more influenced by currents than wind. A lot of the ocean borne-garbage winds up in massive oceanic gyres, like the fabled Pacific Garbage Patch.Not all of it, though. A lot of it probably sinks to the ocean floor, and settles in with the abyssal sediment. And, as YouTube showed, many pieces of plastic pirouetting through the ocean get gobbled up by sea creatures—the vast majority of whom will never be YouTube stars.Heart-wrenching videos aside, and Houdini-like propensity to slip out of waste management systems notwithstanding, there’s still the question of whether banning straws is worth the effort. “I’m not sure that straws are exceptional in terms of their impact to an ecosystem,” says Kara Lavender Law, a research professor of oceanography at the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. “I think the reason straws have been singled out is because they are a low-hanging fruit. They are something that most of us, though not all, for example some disabled people, children, can easily do without, and by doing so we reduce the amount of plastic trash that is generated and therefore needs to be managed somehow.” Straws may be a small percent of the overall US total—they aren’t even a huge percent of all the small plastic debris that gums up nature’s maw. But a low-hanging fruit is still worth picking.More Great WIRED StoriesReddit goes old school with subreddit chatPhotograph or painting? These landscapes are bothHow a #MeToo group became a tool for harassmentThe simple hook that could make drone deliveries realThe curious case of the deadly superbug yeastLooking for more? Sign up for our daily newsletter and never miss our latest and greatest stories. “Any moment when trash is being transferred from one mode to another, some fraction of it is lost,” Lippiatt says. Between the hand and the garbage can, some slurpers’ straws just miss the connection. And then again, when the trash bag gets removed and put in a bin. Maybe the bag tears on its way into the big bin. Maybe a rat rips a hole because it smelled some half-eaten Taco Bell. Maybe your city installed street receptacles with ridiculously huge slots, such that whenever there’s a big gust of wind, the plastic liner inverts, spewing garbage all over the street (looking at you, Manhattan). Then the trash truck comes. In the process of tossing bags in the back, those workers inevitably, inadvertently, are going to lose some as litter. Especially anything small, light, and easily airborne. Also, straws are plastic, which means many people might mistakenly think they can be recycled. “Something that is often overlooked is peoples’ reaction when they hear about the marine litter problem, they say ‘I don’t litter, and I recycle, so I’m not the problem’,” Lippiatt says. Straws, in fact, cannot be recycled. Recycling plants are big, conveyer-belt driven operations, and straws are so small they just fall off the conveyor belts and onto the recycling plant floors, from whence they are sent to landfills. Another set of bags, another trip in a big truck. Or boat—a huge percentage of US recycling and trash gets shipped away to other countries.Once a straw is outside the bin, odds are it’s going to find its way to water. Weather has an affinity for moving things around, especially those that are round, hollow, small, and light. A city straw might sit in the sticky spot under a trash can for a while, but eventually some wind or rain will probably wash it into a storm drain. “And, as Finding Nemo taught us, all drains lead to the ocean,” Lippiatt says.last_img read more

9 Indonesias volcanoes vs Canary Islands volca

first_img9. Indonesia’s volcanoes vs. Canary Islands‘ volcanoesMany travel to Indonesia to stand face to face with some of the earth’s most violent and active volcanos. There are over 120 here that frequently erupt, making Indonesia the most geographically unstable country in the world. If you fancy your tumultuous volcanic activity in a slightly smaller, and closer to home scale, the Canary Islands have a chain of seven across the islands. Mount Teide in Tenerife boasts the title of being the highest peak in Spain and the third biggest volcano on earth. Surely that’s worth a visit? Do you think Europe can compete with these amazing bucket-list destinations? Let us know in the comments!Need destination inspiration? Get it at the touch of a button with Skyscanner. See where you can go tomorrow with our unique Everywhere search and get inspired for your next trip with our Travel News & Features.ReturnOne wayMulti-cityFromAdd nearby airports ToAdd nearby airportsDepart14/08/2019Return21/08/2019Cabin Class & Travellers1 adult, EconomyDirect flights onlySearch flights Map More: Australia: in pictures3. Mongolian Desert vs. Gran CanariaThe Gobi desert is a fascinating place – there really is something romantic about the idea of setting forth into the wilderness to experience the isolation of this inhospitable environment, with only a camel as your companion. However, you can still experience a desert adventure while on your holidays in the Spanish island of Gran Canaria. Lying on the same latitude as the Sahara, it’s no surprise that the south of the island has some impressive sand dunes… and yes, you can still visit them by camel. More: Not just the Northern Lights: top things to do in Iceland5. Thai islands vs, Italian islandsMany head to Thailand to island hop around some of Southeast Asia’s most beautiful islands. However, in Europe there are plenty of opportunities to do the same. If you don’t fancy going so far away, Italy has many islands from large, popular ones such as Sardinia and Sicily to many more remote ones such as the Pelagi islands, two of which are completely unpopulated. You will still be able to enjoy fantastic weather and gorgeous scenery – without the long-haul flight. 8. Nepal’s Mountains vs. Swiss AlpsOk. Nepal has Everest. And seven other mountains that are among the top ten in the world. Fair enough. Keep them on your to do list. Europe’s mountains may not be able to compete in height, but they certainly can in scenery. The snow covered Swiss Alps for example, are unbelievably beautiful and are a rewarding hike for anyone willing and able to tackle them. We don’t give little old Europe enough credit. Packed into a comparably small space to that of the rest of the world, it has pretty much got everything covered. From beaches to glaciers, our little continent has plenty to offer those unable to trot across the globe. So for every iconic picture you see of some Caribbean coastline or Himalayan mountain range, just remember that there might be an equally bucket list worthy alternative right on your doorstep (or indeed a budget airline flight away).1. Mexico’s beaches vs. Greece’s beachesMany people dream of visiting one of Mexico’s beaches, to drink Mojitos and soak up the sun, but if you’re not able to make the 10 hour flight then a great alternative has to be Greece – one of the best countries for a full-proof beach holiday. Some of the most spectacular have to be in Zante, their white sands and clear waters make them a popular sun-bathing spot. More: 10 of the world’s best beaches: in pictures2. Australia’s coastline vs. Portugal’s AlgarveAustralia’s Twelve Apostles limestone stacks in Victoria are incredible, but Portugal’s Praia da Marinha also packs a punch. The famous Algarve beach is surrounded by crooked rocks and cliffs and has many coves and caves to explore. RelatedAlternative beach holidays for summerFancy a beach holiday, but don’t want to battle through the crowds to find a good spot for your towel? We’ve rounded-up some exciting destinations that are a little off the beaten track – some in far-flung countries such as Japan and Malaysia, while others are a little closer to…50 of the world’s most beautiful beaches: in picturesDreaming of summer and longing to park your bum on some sand? Here’s our selection of 50 of the most perfect beaches in the world, including beautiful spots in Bali, hidden coves in Cornwall and spectacular stretches of black sand in Hawaii.The world’s sunniest short-haul beach destinationsIn the market for a short-haul summer break – a sun-soaked, cheap holiday on the beach which won’t cost the earth? We’ve rounded up the ideal destinations, which means all you need to worry about is the sunscreen! 4. Chile’s glaciers vs. Iceland’s glaciersOk, on this occasion, if this is something on your bucket list, maybe think about saving up for it sooner rather than later. Patagonia’s San Rafael Glacier is melting fast and experts estimate that it will have completely disappeared by 2030. BUT, if you don’t make it across the world in time, Iceland has some of the world’s most incredible ice structures – it’s in the name I guess. Glacier walks are a popular day trip for many tourists (Icelandic Mountain Guides offer a variety of tours) and chances are you might get to tick ‘seeing the Northern Lights’ off your list too. 6. Thai lakes vs. Croatian lakesThe likes of Cheow Lan Lake in Khao Sok National Park are enough to make anyone hop on a plane to Thailand but Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes’ rushing waterfalls and lush surrounding forests make it an equally popular place to visit – and justifiably so. More: Top 10 things to do in Thailand: Tigers, Temples and Muay Thai7. New Zealand’s mountain ranges vs. Italian mountain rangesNew Zealand is the ultimate adventure destination. It’s sprawling mountain ranges make it top of many avid hiker’s travel wish-list, wishing to tackle one of the nine ‘Great Hikes’ and witness some spectacular scenery at the same time. If your budget doesn’t allow you an around the world ticket, Italy’s Alps, Dolomites and Appennino mountain ranges still allow the trepid explorer to lace up their hiking boots and explore the rocky terrain.last_img read more