By: Judith S. Weis
About a year ago, the network of former AAAS Policy Fellows was discussing a call for session proposals for the 2019 AAAS meeting, the theme of which was going to be interdisciplinarity – “Science Transcending Boundaries.” I had long been thinking that environmental scientists concerned about microplastics needed to interact with textile, materials, and fiber scientists, because the vast majority of microplastics in the environment are microfibers, which come off synthetic clothing in washing machines. I know that environmental scientists can find and describe the problem, but we do not have the skills to solve them. Textile scientists have the skills to re-engineer synthetic clothing so that they won’t shed (as many) microfibers.
I proposed this idea to the group, and it was received with enthusiasm. Margaret Murphy, another former fellow, who had spent her fellowship with EPA working on the microplastics issue agreed to organize it with me.
The proposal “Environmental and Textile Scientists Combating Microplastic Pollution” was accepted by AAAS for the meeting. Its description was as follows:
Plastic pollution caused by human activities is everywhere. Beaches covered with plastic bottles, bags, and straws attest to the problem. Microplastics, tiny pieces ranging from a few millimeters to microns in size, are less obvious, but ubiquitous. They have various sources, but the most abundant type in many areas are microfibers from synthetic textiles such as polyester, which can shed thousands of fibers when used or machine-washed. Many of these fibers are too tiny to be trapped in filters and they flow into sewage systems. Some are trapped by sewage treatment plants, but many enter aquatic systems where they number in the trillions or quadrillions. As they are plastic, they do not readily break down. Found everywhere, even in the deepest parts of the ocean, microplastics can attract chemical pollutants from the water and may be eaten by plankton and larger filter feeders such as clams and oysters. Microfibers and their attached pollutants are passed through food webs, and evidence is growing that eating microplastic harms the health of marine animals. The solution to microfiber pollution may lie in short- and long-term approaches: better filtration systems and the design of synthetic fabrics that do not shed fibers, or switching to natural or biosynthetic alternatives. This session brings together environmental scientists who study microplastic pollution and textile scientists who are developing new synthetic fabrics to discuss the problem and proposed solutions.
The final panel consisted of:
· Dr. Chelsea Rochman, of the University of Toronto (a “rock star” of microplastic research) Chelsea presented general information about microplastic sources, fates and effects, focusing on microfibers;
· Dr. Melik Demirel, a materials scientist at Penn State spoke about the biosynthetic fiber he developed called Squitex, which is comparable to the silk found in squid ring teeth. Squitex, made from squid teeth proteins, is self-healing and completely biodegradable the protein; and
· Sarah Edwards, Director of Eunomia Research & Consulting and Vice President of PWFP who explained a range of policy measures that could be used to reduce microplastics release including:
o Development of standard test measure to quantify the release of microfibers from clothing;
o Setting limits of microfiber release effectively leading to garments that shed the most being removed from the market;
o Extended Producer Responsibility based funding for measures to capture microfibers in the washing machine or as a last resort in the programs to cover the cost
The session had a large interested audience with excellent questions and discussion, making it a huge success.
Following the session, the PR office of Penn State sent out some press releases about Melik Demirels’s work, which were picked up by a number of outlets, for example: https://www.earth.com/news/biosynthetic-fibers-microplastics/. This is the sort of research that can lead to solutions.
The AAAS meeting was the start of a discussion that should continue. Only through multidisciplinary cooperation can the issue of microplastics begin to be tackled.
The Plastic Free Waters Partnership is proud to announce its affiliation with the FCNY!
The Fund for the City of New York was established by the Ford Foundation in 1968 with the mandate to improve the quality of life for all New Yorkers. For over three decades, in partnership with government agencies, nonprofit institutions and foundations, the Fund has developed and helped to implement innovations in policy, programs, practices and technology in order to advance the functioning of government and nonprofit organizations in New York City and beyond.
The Fund seeks out, adapts, applies and assesses ways to enable government and nonprofit agencies to achieve excellence through its core programs—the Cash Flow Loan Program, the Incubator/Partner Project Program, Technology Consulting, the Sloan Public Service Awards, and the Sloan Awards for Excellence in Teaching Science and Mathematics—and through three strategic initiatives: the Center on Government Performance, the Center for Internet Innovation and E-Community Connect.
The Plastic Free Waters Partnership (formerly Trash Free Waters Partnership) voted to approve its new name at an in-person meeting held on June 15, 2017 at the New School in Manhattan.
The new name more accurately reflects the focus areas of the partnership and is more in line with a Sustainable Materials Management philosophy.
The Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA), also known as the Ocean Dumping Act, regulates the transportation and dumping of any material into ocean waters. Learn more about the MPRSA and how EPA protects human health and the marine environment from pollution caused by ocean dumping.
Valencia company will also recycle plastic, reducing purchases by 270 tons per year
LOS ANGELES—The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reached an agreement with Canyon Plastics, Inc. to resolve federal Clean Water Act violations. The company has corrected the deficiencies found at its facility in Valencia, Calif., and obtained a stormwater permit. In addition to paying a $19,000 penalty, Canyon Plastics has committed to install new recycling equipment at a cost of $292,000.
Canyon Plastics, located at 28455 Livingston Avenue, uses large quantities of small plastic pellets, known as “nurdles,” as raw material to manufacture plastic products. During a September 2015 inspection, EPA found the facility did not have a permit to discharge industrial stormwater and had not implemented practices to reduce the discharge of pollutants to local waterways. The inspectors found leaked or spilled nurdles throughout the facility’s waste management area and loading docks, and a lack of containment systems such as mesh screens within storm drain inlets. These deficiencies likely resulted in nurdles polluting Halsey Canyon Creek, a tributary to the Santa Clara River.
“The Santa Clara River is home to the endangered Southern California steelhead trout, and plastic pollution further degrades their habitat,” said Alexis Strauss, EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “Canyon Plastics must install the necessary controls and operate in a way that prevents polluted runoff from reaching the river.”
Nurdles are plastic beads about 1/5 of an inch in diameter. They are widely used in manufacturing and contribute to the growing problem of plastic debris in the nation’s inland and coastal waters. Once nurdles wash into storm drains and out to open water, they can be eaten by fish, birds and other wildlife. Ingested plastic can displace food in the animals’ stomach, and may lead to starvation. In the marine environment, plastic debris has been found to absorb persistent, toxic chemicals that are harmful to humans and have been shown to travel up the food chain.
As part of the settlement, Canyon Plastics will spend $292,000 to purchase and install new equipment that will recycle plastic scraps generated at its facility and use them as raw material for some of its product lines. The new reuse system will reduce the purchase of new plastic by an estimated 270 tons per year.
Under the Clean Water Act, plastic manufacturers are required to obtain authorization under the State’s industrial stormwater permit to discharge stormwater to surface waters. The permit requires the installation of controls and use of best management practices to prevent or minimize the discharges of pollutants in runoff from their operations. Such discharges may contain pollutants such as plastic resin pellets, flakes or powders.
“The Regional Board is pleased to work with U.S. EPA to eliminate discharges of trash and plastics given their significant impacts on fish and wildlife”, said Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board Chair Irma Munoz. “The Santa Clara River is a precious natural resource for our region, and compliance with the industrial stormwater permit in all of our watersheds is crucial to protecting aquatic life from harmful plastic nurdles.”
Today’s action is subject to a 30-day public comment period that ends on January 3, 2017. To provide public comments, or for more information, please visit: https://www.epa.gov/ca/canyon-plastics-inc-proposed-settlement
For more information on the stormwater permits under the Clean Water Act, please visit: https://www.epa.gov/npdes/npdes-stormwater-program
(New York, N.Y. – Sept. 26, 2016) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded $365,000 for projects that will prevent plastic trash from polluting water bodies in New Jersey and New York. The funding was awarded to seven organizations through a competitive grant process run by New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC), and that is aimed at stimulating comprehensive solutions to the burgeoning problem of plastics in lakes, rivers, harbors and oceans.
“Our oceans and lakes and rivers are being choked with plastic debris,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck. “Estimates are that by 2025 there will be 1 ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish in the world’s oceans. These projects offer real solutions that focus on reducing plastic waste at the source.”
Aquatic plastic pollution is getting worse every year. It is estimated that over 8 million metric tons of plastic pollution enter the world’s oceans annually. By 2025, this amount is expected to more than double. A recent study by NY/NJ Baykeeper showed that at least 165 million plastic particles are floating in the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary at any given time.
This grant program is focused on projects that will support the EPA’s Trash Free Waters initiative’s goal of reducing the volume of plastic trash entering fresh and marine water environments, approaching zero-loading of trash into U.S. waters within 10 years.
The recipients of the New York/New Jersey Aquatic Trash Prevention 2016 Grant Program are:
NYC Department of Environmental Protection – $32,500
The NYC Department of Environmental Protection will receive $32,500 to help fund a project that will encourage participating supermarkets and grocery stores to reduce their use of single-use bags. “The Trash Free NYC Waters: Bag Challenge” will use a combination of public outreach, market-based research and creative messaging to educate the supermarket industry and the communities they serve on how their operations and decisions directly impact surrounding waterbodies. The challenge ultimately aims to reduce the pollution of waterbodies by creating a lasting behavior shift in how supermarkets operate and interact with customers, ensuring the long-term preservation of New York City waterbodies.
Project contact: John Brock, 718-595-3845, email@example.com
North Hudson Sewerage Authority – $48,125
The North Hudson Sewerage Authority will use a $48,125 grant to fund its “Preventing Aquatic Trash” program. The Preventing Aquatic Trash program will reduce the volume of plastic trash entering the Hudson River from New Jersey by retrofitting 250 faceplate covers on catch basins in high volume traffic areas in Union City and West New York, New Jersey to capture trash before it enters waterways. The North Hudson Sewerage Authority’s current maintenance staff will install and maintain the faceplate grate covers. This strategy has proven to be effective in reducing trash flow to waterways in other areas and has been successfully implemented by the North Hudson Sewerage Authority in Hoboken, New Jersey. North Hudson Sewerage Authority will measure the effectiveness of this project to reduce plastic trash entering the Hudson by measuring increase of trash captured by maintenance staff when they clean the catch basins.
Project contact: Richard J. Wolff, Ph.D, 201-963-6368, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Product Stewardship Institute, Inc. – $56,425
The Product Stewardship Institute (“PSI) will use a $56,425 grant to reduce the amount of single-use plastics— including bags, bottles, cups and lids, straws, and plates— that are used by guests and customers of waterfront commercial properties along Long Island’s North Fork. The Product Stewardship Institute will work with local businesses, including waterfront hotels, restaurants and campgrounds, to measure each business’ “plastic footprint” to determine the amount and types of single-use plastic products they use, and identify reusable, compostable, or recyclable alternatives. PSI will also develop source reduction plans for each business and create procurement policies that will minimize or eliminate the number of disposable plastics each business uses. Finally, the Public Stewardship Institute will develop model municipal and tourism board policies that encourage waterfront businesses to reduce disposable plastic products use, and will create a Marine Debris Prevention Toolkit for Commercial Properties that will provide step-by-step guidance for coastal communities throughout the nation.
Project contact: Scott Cassel, 617-236-4822, email@example.com
Hudson River Foundation/NY-NJ Harbor & Estuary Program – $67,693
The Hudson River Foundation, the NY-NJ Harbor & Estuary Program and Montclair State
University’s Passaic River Institute will use a $67,693 grant to collect data on how litter is generated and dispersed in New Jersey, including “floatables” entering local waterways, in order to target reduction strategies. This project’s objectives will culminate in an outreach campaign to communities and stakeholders in the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary. Ultimately, this project will provide data on the most prominent sources and types of litter so that pollution prevention measures can be targeted by material, by watershed, and by key stakeholders.
Project contact: Ariane Giudicelli, 212-483-7667, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cafeteria Culture – $60,111
Cafeteria Culture, a project of the Fund for the City of New York, will use a $60,111 grant to help fund its COMMUNITY ARTS+MEDIA for TRASH FREE WATERS project. COMMUNITY ARTS+MEDIA for TRASH FREE WATERS is a school-community partnership and demonstration project in three low-income, urban communities of color with the goal of reducing plastic street litter and increasing recycling via youth-led, community-designed education and engagement campaigns that focus on the negative environmental and health impacts of land-based plastic marine pollution. Students at each participating school take on leadership roles in their own community and work with intergenerational teams to conduct litter characterization studies and clean-ups, to pilot and promote rewards systems with local businesses, and to design creative messaging campaigns via social media, short videos and other methods. Videos created through CAM 4 TFW are promoted citywide and nationally via CafCu’s Youtube channel, inspiring other low-income, public housing, and immigrant communities to replicate similar initiatives.
Project contact: Debby Lee Cohen, 917-282-0253, email@example.com
Bronx River Alliance – $52,866
The Bronx River Alliance’s “Project WASTE” (Waterway and Street Trash Elimination) will use a $52,886 grant to reduce the amount of plastic trash entering the Bronx River from upstream sources. Working with NYC Parks’ Natural Resource Group and the New York Botanical Gardens, the Bronx River Alliance will conduct floatable trash assessments at trash collection booms and at accumulation hot spots in upstream, midstream and downstream locations, and will analyze the data to determine the sources of the trash. Staff will conduct outreach to businesses identified as sources to explore options for reducing disposable trash generation, and to provide information to local officials to support infrastructure solutions (such as trash bins and fencing). Alliance staff will also work with 2 Bronx and 2 Westchester High Schools to educate students about the impact of loose trash on the environment, and to support students to generate and carry out their own public awareness projects. Continued trash boom and hot spot assessments will help evaluate the effectiveness of project activities.
Project contact: Michelle Luebke, 718-430-4690, firstname.lastname@example.org
Clean Water Fund – $47,250
The Clean Water Fund will receive $47,250 to fund its “ReThink Disposable in Jersey” program.
The Clean Water Fund’s ReThink Disposable is a voluntary program that helps the food industry reduce solid waste at the source by driving down the use of take-out packaging. This project will provide marine debris education to restaurants, food trucks and other food establishments along the boardwalk and in the downtown areas of Asbury Park, New Jersey. The Clean Water Fund will conduct interactive trainings for up to 10 interested businesses and other stakeholders and will provide technical assistance at 1-4 food establishments or other venues in the city. The Clean Water Fund will also increase the visibility of the project through social media, the organization’s mailing list and through tabling events along the Asbury Park boardwalk and other locations.
Project contact: Amy Goldsmith, 732-963-9826, email@example.com
For more information on the EPA’s trash-free waters program, visit: