Tracking plastic waste; beach cleanups; Rail, sea worries | Plastics News

2022-10-15 04:52:52 By : Ms. Lisa Lee

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Jenna Jambeck, the University of Georgia professor of environmental engineering who helped create systems to track plastic pollution, has been named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow for 2022.

She is one of 25 people to receive the honor, often referred to as a "MacArthur Genius Grant." Each fellow also receives an $800,000 "no-strings-attached" cash award.

Jambeck has been involved in tracking marine plastics for decades. Her team developed the Circularity Assessment Protocol as a "rigorous, cost-effective toolkit" to reveal how plastic "flows into a community, how it is consumed, and how it flows out, either through waste management or via leakages into the environment," the foundation wrote.

"Importantly, Jambeck and her team work in partnership with local researchers in conducting assessments. This ensures that there is local ownership and capacity for implementing potential solutions and measuring their effectiveness," the foundation said.

The CAP is used to refine the biggest sources of pollution in any given community and determine how to handle it.

"I think people feel stuck," Jambeck said in the foundation's announcement. "Asking people to simply choose less plastic is like asking people to drive less when their entire transportation system was designed for cars. It is nearly impossible to avoid disposable plastic in the majority of our current world. That's what I hope my work and open data can help to change — so communities can choose what is best for their context, making the power of choice inclusive and accessible to all."

The ability to use the type of data collected during beach cleanups — popular volunteer events for everyone from students to multinational materials companies — also is being used to help determine future legislation and legal action.

As PN's Steve Toloken writes in a story on public policy moves related to plastics, Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law in Washington, says upgraded beach cleanups have become brand audits for litter and waste.

"Communities around the world have taken what was once just beach cleanups and they've turned them into a really extraordinary citizen science operation in which they are not only collecting the plastic, but they are identifying it to the producers and the retailers with great specificity," he said during a recent webinar.

The latest worries about problems with the supply chain in the United States come from both railroads and barges.

On the rail side, members of one of the unions involved in high-profile contract negotiations — involving President Joe Biden and senior members of his administration — during the summer, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division, turned down a proposed contract, which will mean that group will go back to the bargaining table. Both sides have agreed to continue talks until Nov. 19.

Meanwhile, ongoing drought conditions in the Midwest have left Mississippi River water levels so low that some barge traffic has had to stop.

The U.S. Coast Guard said earlier this month that it has had to respond to "multiple barge groundings due to low water levels" in the river. It has restricted traffic on the lower Mississippi.

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