Scientists accidentally create mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles

The breakthrough, spurred by the discovery of plastic-eating bugs at a Japanese dump, could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis

Scientists have created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic drinkings bottles- by collision. The breakthrough could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis by enabling for the first time the full recycling of bottles.

The new research was spurred by the discovery in 2016 of the first bacterium that had naturally evolved to eat plastic, at a trash dump in Japan. Scientists have now uncovered the detailed structure of the crucial enzyme produced by the bug.

The international team then tweaked the enzyme to see how it had evolved, but tests presented they had unknowingly attained the molecule even better at breaking down the PET( polyethylene terephthalate) plastic used for soft drink bottles.” What actually turned out was we improved the enzyme, which was a bit of a shock ,” said Prof John McGeehan, at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who led the research.” It’s great and a real seeing .”

The mutant enzyme takes a few days to start breaking down the plastic- far faster than the centuries it takes in the oceans. But the researchers are optimistic this can be speed up the pace even further and become a viable large-scale process.

” What we are hoping to do is use this enzyme to turn this plastic back into its original components, so we can literally recycle it back to plastic ,” told McGeehan.” It means we won’t need to dig up any more oil and, fundamentally, it should reduce the amount of plastic in the environment .”

About 1m plastic bottles are sold each minute around the globe and, with just 14% recycled, many end up in the oceans where they have polluted even the remotest proportions, harming marine life and potentially people who eat seafood.” It is unbelievably resistant to degradation. Some of those images are horrific ,” said McGeehan.” It is one of these wonder materials that has been made a little bit too well .”

However, currently even those bottles that are recycled can only be was transformed into opaque fibers for garb or carpets. The new enzyme indicates a route to recycle clear plastic bottles back into clear plastic bottles, which could slash the need to produce new plastic.

” You are always up against the fact that petroleum is inexpensive, so virgin PET is cheap ,” told McGeehan.” It is so easy for manufacturers to generate more of that stuff, rather than even to continue efforts to recycle. But I believe there is a public driver here: perception is changing so much that companies are starting to look at how they can properly recycle these .”

The new research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, began by determining the exact structure of the enzyme produced by the Japanese bug. The team used the Diamond Light Source, near Oxford, UK, an intense beam of X-rays that is 10 bn hours brighter than the sun and can reveal individual atoms.

The structure of the enzyme looked very similar to one evolved by many bacteria to break down cutin, a natural polymer used as a protective coating by plants. But when the team manipulated the enzyme to investigate this connection, they accidentally improved its ability to eat PET.

” It is a modest improvement- 20% better- but that is not the point ,” said McGeehan.” It’s incredible because it am saying that the enzyme is not yet optimised. It devotes us scope to use all the technology being implemented in other enzyme development for years and years and make a super-fast enzyme .”

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Industrial enzymes are widely used in, for example, washing powders and biofuel production, They have been made to work up to 1,000 hours faster in a few years, the same timescale McGeehan envisages for the plastic-eating enzyme. A patent has been filed on the specific mutant enzyme by the Portsmouth researchers and those from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado.

One possible improvement being explored is to transplanting the mutant enzyme into an” extremophile bacteria” that they are able survive temperatures above 70 C, at which point PET changes from a glassy to a viscous state, stimulating it likely to degraded 10 -1 00 periods faster.

Earlier work had shown that some fungis can break down PET plastic, which attains up about 20% of global plastic production. But bacteria are far easier to harness for industrial uses.

Other types of plastic could be broken down by bacteria currently evolving in the environment, McGeehan said:” People are now searching vigorously for those working .” PET sinks in seawater but some scientists have conjectured that plastic-eating glitches might one day be sprayed on the huge plastic garbage patches in the oceans to clean them up.

” I suppose[ the new research] is very exciting work, indicating there is strong potential to use enzyme technology to help with society’s growing trash problem ,” told Oliver Jones, a chemist at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, and not part of the research team.

” Enzymes are non-toxic, biodegradable and can be produced in big quantities by microorganisms ,” he said.” There is still a way to go before you could recycle large amounts of plastic with enzymes, and reducing the amount of plastic produced in the first place might, perhaps, be preferable.[ But] this is certainly a step in a positive direction .”

Prof Adisa Azapagic, at the University of Manchester in the UK, concurred the enzyme could be helpful but added:” A full life-cycle assessment would be needed to ensure the technology does not solve one environmental problem- trash- at the expense of others, including additional greenhouse gas emissions .”

* This article was revised on 17 April 2018 to make clear that PET becomes viscous above 70 C. Its melting point is above 250 C.

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‘Plastic is literally everywhere’: the epidemic attacking Australia’s oceans

It never breaks down and goes away, say scientists struggling to understand the impact of widespread pollution

While heading down the Brisbane river, Jim Hinds once pulled aboard a drunken half-naked man only seconds from” going down for the last period “.

But on this day, like most other days for Hinds, it’s back to the horribly predictable as he launches his barge into the Nerang river on Queensland’s Gold Coast.

Instantly you see it.

Decaying plastic bags hanging from the branches of mangroves like dripping flesh; slicks of plastic water bottles and food containers waiting ashore for the liberation of the next rising tide; the misnamed “disposable” plastic and styrofoam drinking beakers; and other plastic paraphernalia in the different stages of disintegration.

” Everyone knows littering’s wrong- that’s not a secret. But it’s just nonsensical ,” tells Jim. His son Patrick, 21, has jumped ashore to pick up a vinyl football ball and about a dozen soft drinks bottles.

Hinds works for Queensland environmental conservation group Healthy Land and Water. His chore is to travel the coastal waterways and pick up rubbish- he’ll often have one of his two sons with him. His father also used to do the job.

In recent years, he has been grabbing about 10,000 items a month.” Consistently we’re getting plastic bottles- there are so many of them ,” Jim says.

Rubbish
Rubbish strewn on Chilli beach in Queensland. Photo: Tangaroa Blue Foundation

Hinds is working at the coalface of an epidemic of plastic pollution which, Guardian Australia has procured, is attacking Australia’s beaches, waterways and oceans, and the animals that live there.

From the most remote wilderness idylls to city coastlines, scientists and citizens have collected and documented millions of pieces of plastic debris.

Out at sea, expeditions skimming ocean waters, circumnavigating the continent, help find concentrations of plastics as high as 9,000 pieces for every square kilometre.

Sediment taken from the bottom of estuaries operating through busy Australian township contains tiny microplastic pieces and scientists find the same thing when they analyse samples of the ocean floor hundreds of kilometres offshore.

” Plastic is everywhere, all of the time ,” tells Dr Denise Hardesty, a principal research scientist at CSIRO.” It is in the air, the wind, the water and the clay and we find it in as many places as we seem .”

In late 2012 and 2013, Hardesty experienced a series of “gut-wrenching” research trips by floatplane to some of the most remote parts of Australia- the west coast of Tasmania and the Kimberley region in Western Australia.

” These places are pristine … quote, unquote ,” she says.” You stroll on to these beaches and no matter where you are there’s junk and it’s so confronting. Everywhere you go, you see it .”

Hardesty is helping to lead a global CSIRO project to understand how and why plastics are escaping the legitimate waste and recycling streams and where and how they travel. Her team’s tackling trips to so-called pristine beaches were part of a study published in late 2016 that had eventually counted litter at 175 coastal sites around the continent.

About three of every four items documented were plastic and the study concluded a key cause was, simply, littering.” In general, most of the junk is coming from us ,” Hardesty tells.

Tangaroa
Tangaroa Blue volunteers retrieving ghost nets at a beach in Mapoon, Queensland. Photograph: Tangaroa Blue Foundation

The scientific literature is awash with research documenting plastics of all sizes in every environment that’s been studied- from the deep ocean to both the Arctic and Antarctic.

Microplastic is the term used to describe any piece of plastic less than 5mm broad – it’s mostly the broken-apart remnants of straw, fishing nets and all manner of other plastic items, creating trillions of tiny pieces.

Dr Jennifer Lavers, a marine biologist at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, has expended the past 15 years analyse the impacts of plastics.

In 2015 Lavers travelled to one of the most remote places on countries around the world– the uninhabited Henderson Island in the middle of the Pacific- to find this world heritage-listed coral atoll’s beaches strewn with an estimated 37 m pieces of plastic weighing about 17 tonnes– the equivalent of less than two seconds of global plastic production.

Just one washed-up angling net, barely a decade old, was disintegrating into trillions of plastic fibres that gave the surround sand a lucid green splash.

” You can’t prepare yourself for moments like that ,” she says.

Northern Australia is a known hotspot for these so-called ” ghost nets” that are left to haunt the lives of marine animals. One project, GhostNets Australia, has collected more than 13,000 nets since 2004. A study analysed 9,000 nets found in the north of Australia and estimated that they alone had probably caught between 4,866 and 14,600 turtles.

” Nowhere is safe, and plastic is literally everywhere ,” tells Lavers.” No locating and no species is likely to remain immune for any period of time. It is ubiquitous. We are literally drowning in this stuff .”

Plastic tsunami

Chilli beach is a two-hour drive north from the Aboriginal community of Lockhart River , north of Cairns in Kutini-Payamu national park.

Heidi Taylor, the founder of charity Tangaroa Blue, takes a squad of volunteers, school children and traditional proprietors up to the area each year to clear the beach. In 2013 the first year different groups did a full “clean sweep” of the 7km-long beach, they collected 5.5 tonnes of material.

” But for every one full item, there was probably 100 fragments that were scattered- like colourful confetti through the sand ,” Taylor tells.” Every hour you went to pick something up, it would disintegrate in your hands because it had been there for decades .”

In five years, different groups went from grabbing 5.5 tonnes a visit to only 2.3 tonnes. But in 2017, they assembled seven tonnes, probably thanks to hurricanes in the Pacific pushing older material on to Australia’s shores.

There is an Aboriginal community at Mapoon , north of Weipa on the west of Cape York. Their 14 km beach is another regular location for Tangaroa Blue’s work.

In recent years, an Indonesian government crackdown on illegal angling in the Arafura Sea has watched a drop in the number of ghost nets making the beach.

But in 2017, the group was shocked when they arrived to find 10,601 plastic beverage bottles from a 7km stretch- and most of them were the popular Indonesian brand Danone Aqua.

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” Plastic is one of the most useful materials we have ever made. Our problem is not with plastic as training materials but what we utilize it for. We construct so many things that don’t involve the longevity that plastic has- we don’t need a straw that we will use to sip one drinking that will stay in the environment eternally ,” Taylor says.

As well as running beach cleanup, Tangaroa Blue has coordinated data from cleanups run by other groups around Australia since 2004.

The data encompass 2,460 different sites with more than 878 tonnes of material removed over 14 years , and it presents about three-quarters of what is collected is plastic. For comparison, that’s about the same weight as 535 Holden utes. The database has just recorded its 10 millionth piece of debris.

So, while the evidence for the ubiquity of plastics is clear, Lavers tells much less is known about the impact of this tsunami of plastics on the habitats and species that are taking it in.” When it comes to wildlife our knowledge is constrained to individual level impacts ,” she says.

Even though reports of single whales with stomachs filled with plastic bags and ropes are unbelievably graphic and distressing, Lavers says” the scientific question becomes … so what ?”

Understanding the impact of the ingestion of plastics on whole animal populations and habitats is now a major scientific challenge.” Is plastic either now, or likely to be, a driver of population decline for any devoted species ,” she asks.

” The answer to that question is almost invariably’ we don’t know .’ It isn’t that the plastic doesn’t have the capacity to do that, but it is very difficult to document .”

She says while it’s easier to observe the impact of plastic on a species in a laboratory environment, it is much more difficult to tease apart its impact in the real world when species are already being hit by other impacts such as climate change, coastal developments, disease or overfishing.” We are in a big data gap ,” she says.

In 2013 Lavers published a journal paper looking at Australian flesh-footed shearwater birds. She found they were likely more contaminated by plastic than any other known marine vertebrate studied anywhere else in the world.

But Lavers also hypothesised the plastic ingestion could be cutting the survival rates of chicks by about 11% annually.

” The smaller the piece of plastic, the more species devour it. Everything that’s tiny is at the base of the food web, so it’s not just albatross and sperm whales, you literally have microplastics and nanoplastics being feed by sea cucumbers, corals, clams and muscles, zooplankton and krill- right at the very base of the food web. You have all levels of the food web infiltrated. And where the plastics run, the chemicals follow .”

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A dissected flesh-footed shearwater bird taken from Lord Howe Island in 2017, with plastic pieces from its belly arranged beside it. Photograph: Jennifer Lavers

According to Lavers, research has found that plastics act as a vehicle to transport toxins and metals such as leading, cadmium and arsenic into the tissues of animals.

Her own studies, and those of other scientists, have shown that such metals can be transferred from the plastics feed by animals into their tissues. Toxic chemicals have also been found to leaching into the tissues of animals via the plastics they have eaten.

” We should not simply wait for or demand more data before we can make a decision ,” she tells.” We should default to the likely outcome. If danger is possible, we should heed the warning and do something to prevent it .”

Policy answer

Campaigners have had some success in persuading governments to introduce receptacle deposit schemes where plastics can be recycled for money. South Australians have been returning plastics and other items since 1977.

In early 2013, the liquor giants Coca-Cola Amatil, Lion Nathan and Schweppes successfully opposed the Northern Territory’s then-new container deposit strategy in the courts. The government changed the rules but reintroduced the strategy, which has been running since August 2013.

The New South Wales scheme has been running since December 2017, while the Australian Capital Territory’s scheme is due to start at the end of June 2018. Queensland tells its scheme will be published in November 2018 and in Western Australia, a program will start in 2019. Tasmania and Victoria have no concrete plans.

These schemes do work. A CSIRO analyze in Australia and the US looked at the numbers of drinks receptacles found in coastal areas where receptacle deposit laws were in place. The analyze found that by financially incentivising members of the public to recycle, there were about 40% fewer plastic drinkings receptacles recorded in litter surveys.

Plastic
Plastic draping plants in the Torres Strait. Photo: Tangaroa Blue Foundation

Bans on single-use plastic bags will roll out this year in Victoria, WA and Queensland, joining existing prohibits in NT, SA, the ACT and Tasmania.

There is a lot of evidence that these schemes have a significant impact on litter ,” Hardesty says.” Cash for receptacles works ,” she tells.” But what I keep coming back to is the thought that all the stuff we find out there was once in a person’s hand. That means you can make a change .”

Lavers agrees that the bans are welcome but tells governments have been far too slow to introduce schemes that have been shown to work.

” If we want change and we want the quantity of plastics going into the ocean to go down, then the rate of change in our society needs to outstrip the rate of plastics going into the ocean ,” she tells.” And right now we are not even close .”

While the new legislation is likely to slow down the wave of plastic pollution hitting Australia’s coastal waters, there’s little that could be done about the mountains of plastic that’s already out there.” I don’t think going out there and cleaning it all up is a super viable proposition ,” she says.

Both Lavers and Hardesty think what’s needed is a societal switching in how communities and industries use and recycle plastics.

” Plastic never actually go forth … where is this magical mystic place we call’ away ‘,” asks Lavers.” We know plastics take anywhere between 100 and 10,000 years to break up … and I don’t use the term’ break down ‘. It never breaks down and goes away .”

Back on the Nerang river and the collect bin on Jim Hinds’s boat is full with plastic strips, balls, suitcases, bottles and food wrappers. He is feeling philosophical but not hopeless.

” I think people are careless ,” he tells.” I don’t think there are a lot of scoundrels.

” I always hope that it’s generational- that the next generation will be better than ours. I guess that’s the great hope .”

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EU declares war on plastic waste

Brussels targets single-use plastics in an urgent clean-up scheme that aims to make all packaging reusable or recyclable by 2030

‘It’s shocking, it’s horrendous’: Ellen MacArthur’s fight against plastic

She broke the solo record for sailing round the world, but now she is dedicating their own lives to an even greater challenge saving it from the destructive tide of plastic pollution

Trophies from her past glories as a competitive yachtswoman are placed discreetly around the 16 th-century building on the Isle of Wight, the base of Dame Ellen MacArthur’soperations today.

On a blackboard in one of the meeting rooms, the targets of a different passion are spelled out. From uncovering the scale of plastic pollution in the oceans to targeting the textile trash of the fashion industry, MacArthur, who in 2005 broke the solo record for sailing round the world, is dedicating her life to saving it.

Now 41, MacArthur dreamed of being a sailor aged four when living in landlocked Derbyshire, and saved up her school lunch fund to buy her first rowboat.

The same single-minded drive to attain her aims is clear in the way she tackles the dream that has consumed her since her early 30 s: to assistance stop humanity using up the world’s finite resources. Indeed, it is unlikely her new passion would have emerged without the experience of her first.

” There were lots of subconscious things that happened that I was quite unaware of when I was racing; there were things I would write in the log ,” says MacArthur.” I was racing round the world to try and beat the record, I was completely and utterly fully immersed in the record, I was thinking of nothing outside that … but every now and then I would write something down.

” I remember quite poignantly writing in the log in the barge;’ What I have got on the boat is everything .’ It genuinely struck me that you save everything, everything you have, because you know it’s finite, you know there isn’t any more. What you have on that barge is it, your whole world .”

Back on dry land, away from the intensity of racing, MacArthur began to process the supposes she had on the water. Her newfound fame suddenly became an opportunity.

In the winter after the round-the-world race, MacArthur spent two weeks on an island in the Southern Ocean to movie a programme about the albatross.

” It gave me time to reflect and it induced me think even more deeply about resources ,” she said.” You watch the empty whaling stations down there and you realise that was just a resource- they pulled out 175,000 of them … and then there weren’t any to pull out .”

” The basis of my reasoning was entirely around resources. It was around the pure fact- stemming from what I had learned on the barge- that resources are finite. The more I learned, I just saw this as the greatest challenge I had ever come across. If we are using these resources in a very linear manner we are going to use them up at some stage, and no one knows exactly when .”

Round-the-world
Round-the-world yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur, in 2006. Photo: Chris Ison/ PA

MacArthur realised that if she was to capitalise on her moment of notoriety, her days as a competitive sailor would have to end.

MacArthur researched how best to move away from the disposable economic model to one in which resources are kept in use for as long as possible, then recovered and regenerated into other products and materials. She decided to dedicate herself to acting as a catalyst for change- a undertaking that required her single-minded attention.

” It wasn’t like I was looking to stop sailing, I never guessed I would stop sailing ever, ever, ever , no way ,” she said.” I would have argued 10 years ago I would be racing in 20 years’ day. It was the hardest decision I have ever made to walk away, but I realised I was at a position in my life where doorways had opened that I wasn’t expecting to open and I could use that … that now was the time .”

Within two years of launching her foundation, MacArthur was presenting an analysis on the circular economy to the World Economic Forum. Seven years later, the team has grown from the yachtswoman and a couple of friends to a 100 -strong staff on the Isle of Wight, where she lives with her partner and young newborn. Today she still sails, but just as a hobby.

The foundation’s groundbreaking investigation into plastics made shocking findings: 95% of plastic packaging material- worth $80 -1 20 bn each year- is lost to the economy after a single employ, and after 40 years of recycling merely 5% of plastic is recycled into a similar quality item.

Perhaps the most devastating statistic was the finding that if plastic leakage is not quenched, by 2050 the ocean will contain more plastic than fish by weight.

MacArthur believes it is through global partnerships and” unbelievably frank conversations” with industry that change will naturally come by proving that more fund can be made from circular rather than linear economics.

” We are trying to change a system , not one business. We need to change the style people suppose, the way things are designed, the materials that are put into them ,” she said.

Her optimism is such that she believes change will happen through collaboration, and she has numerous resulting companies, from Nike to Unilever, Google and Renault, as partners.

MacArthur is reticent about a more interventionist, polluter-pays approach, in which companies are forced to move to a less wasteful model through taxation, fines and charges.

” There are mechanisms to speed these things up, regulation or policy change ,” is as far as she will go. Even with plastic packaging, the material which, according to her research, is part of a system that is the hardest to change, she shies away from punitive incentives.

MacArthur says some companies are getting on top of the questions- for example, Unilever, which has pledged to make all plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

” It’s shocking, its horrendous, it’s getting worse not better … but this is a systemic failing and we are trying to go back to the beginning of the pipe and stop that systemic failing through redesigning the system ,” she said.

” It is by working with these companies, with policy makers, with cities, with innovation to design bio-benign products- that we will tackle this. There isn’t a company out there which wants to see its logo in the ocean or in a river .”

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Worlds largest plastics plant rings alarm bells on Texas coast

Communities fear impact on environment, as fossil fuel companies target region in multi-billion dollar move to increase global plastic production

Donald Trump’s state visit to Saudi Arabia in May will perhaps be best remembered by his participation in an all-male sword dance where he awkwardly waved a ceremonial blade in step with his cabinet and their Saudi equivalents.

But a little-noted bargain signed prior to the ceremony is set to worsen a vast problem the world has yet to fully confront- plastic pollution.

In front of a seated Trump and King Salman, Saudi officers posed for photos shaking hands with secretary of state Rex Tillerson and Darren Woods, Tillerson’s successor as chief executive of the oil and gas giant ExxonMobil.

Rex
Rex Tillerson and Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Muhammad bin Nayef shake hands after signing an agreement in Riyadh on 21 May 2017. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/ Getty Images

Woods was there to seal a $10 bn agreement with the state-owned Saudi Basic Industries Corporation( Sabic) to build the world’s largest plastics facility on the Texas coast, the spearhead of a US boom that will create an enormous new glut of bottles, food packaging, polyester dres and other products that are already, once disposed, choking the world’s oceans and food chains.

Lavished with more than$ 1bn in tax breaks by local authorities in Texas to locate the plant on farmland just north of Corpus Christi, Exxon and its Saudi partner have promised the ethane steam “cracker” facility will create thousands of new jobs. Trump called the deal a” true American success narrative” in a White House statement that included paragraphs copied directly from an Exxon corporate press release.

The Exxon-Sabic project, which will annually create 1.8 m tonnes of ethylene, a key building block of plastics, is just one of 11 chemical, refining, lubricant and gas projects Exxon is building along the US Gulf coast. The region is being divvied up in a multi-billion dollar move by fossil fuel companies that will fuel an anticipated 40% rise in global plastic production over the next decade.

The new plants are likely to have consequences for the climate and the air breathed in by people living on the US Gulf coast. An analysis of 184 planned chemical plants, many of them strung along the coast of Texas and Louisiana, presented they would collectively emit around 216 m tons of greenhouse gases a year once complete.

” Many of these projects are approved so quickly that you are left with highly polluting operations ,” said Eric Schaeffer, a former senior official at the US Environmental Protection Agency, who prepared the analysis for the Guardian.

” The Gulf coast is a place already covered in pipelines and storage tanks, but it’s now transforming. The scale is overwhelming. Residents will have to decide how much more of this they are prepared to take .”

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A tanker at the Port of Corpus Christi in Corpus Christi, Texas. Photo: Bloomberg/ Bloomberg via Getty Images

Exxon’s plastics plant crept up speedily on the residents of San Patricio County, which lies on the north shore of Corpus Christi Bay, around 200 miles south-west of Houston. Last year, the county and then the local school district announced proposals to offer huge tax breaks to a mysterious entity called Project Yosemite.

A hastily-assembled group of concerned citizens discovered this was, in fact, the Exxon-Sabic venture, and used public meetings to protest the place of the proposed plant, which is within two miles of a secondary school. Both the district and school district voted to offer the tax breaks to successfully entice Exxon to the area.

” We caused a ruckus ,” said Errol Summerlin, a retired legal aid lawyer who became a visible sign of protest at public meetings by wearing a red #No Exxon T-shirt.” Exxon bullied their way in here and are tearing the community apart. All our local officials said they wanted it on a different site but Exxon wouldn’t budge .”

Opponents of the sprawling plant advise that it will make trillions of small polyethylene pellets that will unavoidably find their way into the bay and surrounding scenery, where they would be gobbled by fish or endangered species such as the whooping crane and piping plover.

The facility will also release millions of gallons of piping hot effluent into the bay, a prospect that has scared fishers, and suck up 20 m gallons of water a day in part of the US that has been parched by drought.

The consortium, known as Gulf Coast Growth Ventures, is now awaiting permits from state authorities, which could be granted within a few months, permitting construction to begin by 2019.

” Some people have moved away from here because they see it as inevitable ,” said Summerlin, who has lived in the area since 1984.

” We are not naive, we understand who we are up against. If you set Exxon’s money together with the Saudi royal family’s, then lord have mercy, that’s an enormous ring of wealth. But some of us believe’ to heck with this, if you want it you will at the least have to fight for it .’ Are we to be completely surrounded by industry here ?”

Gulf Coast Ventures, which declined to comment, has now been stated environmental protection is a “key priority” and will impose emissions controls and use bleach in its cool towers to improve the quality of its wastewater.

But environmentalists have long tangled with the operators of plastic plants along the Gulf coast and are sceptical Exxon will demonstrate a better neighbour. At Point Comfort, further north up the coast from Corpus Christi, Formosa Plastics has been accused of contributing to the wrecking of the local shrimping industry by riddling the water with dumped plastic pellets and powders.

” I feel like how Geronimo felt when he saw all the settlers coming in ,” said Diane Wilson, a former commercial shrimper who has waged a long combat against Formosa and is now suing the company over its alleged pollution.

” The industry only expands and expands and expands. It’s like seeing your home destroyed. My household was in the shrimping industry for 100 years and I never thought it would all just go within a decade .”

The resurgence in industry along the Gulf coast has buoyed those voters who warmed to Trump’s caustic laments over the loss of US manufacturing muscle to Mexico, China and other countries. Trump has promised” tasks, undertakings, undertakings” from the new expansion, quantified by industry groups as is available on the hundreds of thousands over the coming decade.

But the administration’s enthusiasm for fossil fuel is also worsening roiling opposes across the US over the spread of oil and gas pipelines. The vast Dakota Access project, which sparked fierce conflicts between native American tribes and police in North Dakota, has caused fresh consternation with a plan to build a 162 -mile pipeline at its tail, which would bring oil to Louisiana.

A protest camp, similar to the one near the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, has taken root in the road of the Bayou Bridge pipeline, which recently got its stamp of approval from the federal government. The pipeline would cross the Atchafalaya Basin, the largest wetland in the US. Five plastics plants, one of them backed by Dow Chemical, are also planned for the surrounding area, simply north of New Orleans.

” This is already one of the most polluted areas of the US and yet as a society we seem to be willing to ruin people’s lives for plastic ,” said Cherri Foytlin, who heads their home communities group that warns a gas pipeline leak would befoul the wetland and cripple the local crawfish industry.

Foytlin, who is of Navajo and Cherokee decent, moved to the Gulf coast because her then-husband was an oil worker. The BP oil spill of 2010 brought an epiphany for Foytlin while she was helping tend to dying pelicans, an activism that has been further provoked by the Trump administration’s peeling away of environmental regulations and the uprising at Standing Rock.

” We are not Standing Rock, but I expect “weve got to” set our bodies on the line at some phase in a nonviolent style” she said.” I have yet to see one of these companies come in and not poison the community. I’ll believe it when I see it.

” It’s silly to think we should destroy the planet for a few moments of convenience. My granny didn’t have plastic beakers, we employed old mixing jars. I don’t need that junk. We should recycle or induce things out of timber or glass. I entail, how much more plastic do we need anyway ?”

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Plastic fibres found in tap water around the world, study reveals

Exclusive: Tests demonstrate billions of people globally are drinking water contaminated by plastic particles, with 83% of samples found to be polluted

Microplastic contamination has been may be in tap water in countries around the world, leading to calls from scientists for urgent research on the implications for health.

Scores of tap water samples from more than a dozen nations were analysed by scientists for an investigation by Orb Media, who shared the findings with the Guardian. Overall, 83% of the samples were polluted with plastic fibres.

The US had the highest contamination rate, at 94%, with plastic fibers found in tap water sampled at sites including Congress builds, the US Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York. Lebanon and India had the next highest rates.

European nations including the UK, Germany and France had the lowest contamination rate, but this was still 72%. The median number of fibers found in each 500 ml sample ranged from 4.8 in the US to 1.9 in Europe.

The new analyses indicate the ubiquitous extent of microplastic contamination in the global environment. Previous run has been largely focused on plastic pollution in the oceans, which suggests people are eating microplastics via contaminated seafood.

” We have enough data from looking at wildlife, and potential impacts that it’s having on wildlife, to be concerned ,” said Dr Sherri Mason, a microplastic expert at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who supervised the analyses for Orb.” If it’s impacting[ wildlife ], then how do we think that it’s not going to somehow impact us ?”

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A magnified image of garment microfibres from washing machine effluent. One analyze found that a fleece coat can shed as many as 250,000 fibres per clean. Photo: Politenes of Rozalia Project

A separate small examine in the Republic of Ireland released in June also find microplastic contamination in a handful of tap water and well samples.” We don’t know what the[ health] impact is and for the above reasons we should follow the precautionary principle and put enough endeavor into it now, immediately, so we can find out what the real risks are ,” said Dr Anne Marie Mahon at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, who conducted the research.

Mahon said there were two principal concerns: very small plastic particles and the chemicals or pathogens that microplastics can harbour.” If the fibres are there, it is possible that the nanoparticles are there too that we can’t measure ,” she said.” Once they are in the nanometre scope they can really penetrate a cell and that means they can penetrate organs, and that would be fretting .” The Orb analyses caught particles of more than 2.5 microns in size, 2,500 times bigger than a nanometre.

Microplastics can attract bacteria found in sewage, Mahon said:” Some studies have shown there are more harmful pathogens on microplastics downstream of wastewater therapy plants .”

Plastic fibres found in tap water across the world

Microplastics are also known to contain and assimilate toxic chemicals and research on wild animals shows they are released in the body. Prof Richard Thompson, at Plymouth University, UK, told Orb:” It became clear very early on that the plastic would release those chemicals and that actually, the conditions in the gut would facilitate genuinely quite rapid release .” His research has shown microplastics are found in a third of fish caught in the UK.

The scale of global microplastic contamination is only starting to become clear, with examines in Germany receiving fibres and fragments in all of the 24 brew brands they tested, as well as in honey and sugar. In Paris in 2015, researchers discovered microplastic falling from the air, which they estimated deposits three to 10 tonnes of fibres on the city each year, and that it was also present in the air in people’s homes.

This research led Frank Kelly, prof of environmental health at King’s College London, to tell a UK parliamentary investigation in 2016:” If we inhale them in they could potentially deliver chemicals to the lower parts of our lungs and maybe even across into our circulation .” Having ensure the Orb data, Kelly told the Guardian that research is urgently needed to determine whether ingesting plastic particles is a health risk.

The new research tested 159 samples utilizing a standard technique to eliminate contamination from other sources and was performed at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. The samples came from across the world, including from Uganda, Ecuador and Indonesia.

How microplastics end up in drinking water is for now a mystery, but the atmosphere is one obvious source, with fibres shed by the everyday wear and tear of clothes and carpets. Tumble dryers are another potential source, with almost 80% of US households having dryers that usually vent to the open air.

” We actually think that the lakes[ and other water bodies] can be contaminated by cumulative atmospheric inputs ,” told Johnny Gasperi, at the University Paris-Est Creteil, who did the Paris analyses.” What we observed in Paris tends to demonstrate that a huge amount of fibres are present in atmospheric fallout .”

Plastic fibers may also be flushed into water systems, with a recent survey seeing that each cycle of a clean machine could release 700,000 fibers into the environment. Rains could also sweep up microplastic pollution, which could explain why the household wells being implemented in Indonesia were found to be contaminated.

In Beirut, Lebanon, the water supply comes from natural springs but 94% of the samples were polluted.” This research merely scratches the surface, but it seems to be a very itchy one ,” told Hussam Hawwa, at the environmental consultancy Difaf, which collected samples for Orb.

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This planktonic arrow worm, Sagitta setosa, has eaten a blue plastic fibre about 3mm long. Plankton support the entire marine food chain. Photo: Richard Kirby/ Courtesy of Orb Media

Current standard water treatment systems do not filter out all of the microplastics, Mahon said:” There is nowhere actually where you can say these are being trapped 100%. In terms of fibers, the diameter is 10 microns across and it would be very unusual to find that level of filtration in our drinking water systems .”

Bottled water may not provide a microplastic-free alternative to tapwater, as the they were also found in a few cases samples of commercial bottled water tested in the US for Orb.

Almost 300 m tonnes of plastic is made per year and, with merely 20% recycled or incinerated, much of it aims up littering the air, land and ocean. A report in July find 8.3 bn tonnes of plastic has been produced since the 1950 s, with the researchers warns that plastic waste has become ubiquitous in the environment.

” We are increasingly smothering ecosystems in plastic and I am very worried that there may be all kinds of unintended, adverse consequences that we will only find out about once it is too late ,” told Prof Roland Geyer, from the University of California and Santa Barbara, who led the study.

Mahon said the new tap water analyses create a red flag, but that more work is needed to replicate the results, find the causes of contamination and evaluate the possible health impacts.

She said plastics are very useful, but that management of the waste is necessary drastically improved:” We need plastics in our lives, but it is us that is doing the damage by discarding them in very careless ways .”

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