It’s Raining Plastic and Billions More 'Are Projected to Accumulate'

Why plastic is ubiquitous, not only on beaches after storms, and other climate stories you may have missed but we think you should still know about

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Storms wash plastic bottles onto beaches but microplastics come back to land with the rain everywhere
Storms wash plastic bottles onto beaches but microplastics come back to land with the rain everywhereCredit: lazyllama / shutterstock
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

It’s raining plastic

And you thought acid rain was bad. Plastic is basically eternal but also quite fragile, so it disintegrates into bitty little pieces that get blown away by wind, then it falls from the sky with the rain. And if you think trekking in nature will spare you, think again: More than 1,000 tons of microplastics a year – equivalent to over 120 million plastic water bottles – fall just within the wilderness of the south and central western United States, a team estimates in Science. The paper begins with the sobering estimate: “Eleven billion metric tons of plastic are projected to accumulate in the environment by 2025.” All of which will disintegrate into microplastics. Put in perhaps more familiar terms: in the national parks, microfibers in rain amount to 132 pieces per square meter a day. By the way, new clothing and laundry are a huge contributor to microplastics pollution. Stay loyal to your garb and do short, cold laundry rinses.

Big plastic here and there, microplastics everywhere

Over in Eastern Europe, beaches along the tide-free, 61-mile (98-kilometer) long Curonian Spit were the perfect place to evaluate macro and micro plastic pollution. As reported in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, much relatively big plastic trash was found in the water and beaches, but not spread evenly. Storms were washing plastic to and from the beaches. Not so microplastics: it was evenly distributed and had therefore become background pollution: 50 to 120 particles of microplastic (up to 2 millimeters in size) per kilogram of sand.

Tokyo admits to climate crisis

Moving onto Japan: impelled by extreme typhoons, deadly heat waves and forecasts of extreme rainfall, Japan’s environment ministry finally used the term “climate crisis” for the first time ever in its annual white paper, according to the website NHK. In 2018, more than 95,000 people across Japan were taken to hospital with heatstroke symptoms. The ministry says humanity faces an existential threat from climate change and advocates moving to renewable energy sources. But Japan hasn’t stepped up even its plan to curb emissions, settling merely for reiterating commitments made five years ago.

Clean energy not near being on track

Japan has a lot of company in climate denial. A new report by the International Energy Agency, “Tracking Clean Energy Progress,” says that only six of 46 clean energy sectors – all crucial to minimizing the impact of climate change – are making enough progress to limit warming to under 2 degrees Celsius, Scientific American reports. The IEA stresses it can’t give decision-makers the benefit of the doubt on future responses, let alone future technologies. It checks where the energy world is heading without sugar-coating. Think twice and twice again before voting for climate deniers, people.

Coral islands may ‘evolve’ with sea level rise

Sea level rise is not “maybe,” it’s happening: the only question is how fast and how high. Some low-lying islands have already disappeared beneath the waves, but there may be some good news: scientists now finesse the impression that these islands are all doomed. Some may accrete vertically as the sea rises, if they consist of sediment atop coral (the Maldives is one instance), suggests the team in Science Advances. Such islands are not inert. Over the eons, waves wash over the island, removing reef material and depositing it on the island.

Driven by climate change, global mean sea level rose 11 to 16 centimeters in the 20th century. So how high will it rise in the 21st century? We don’t know. Right now, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is forecasting a “likely” rise of half a meter to a meter by 2100. But the truth is we don’t know – climate pessimists think it could be double that. If all of the glaciers melt, we could be looking at over 80 meters higher than present.

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