This Week On Earth: February 18 - 25


Plastic Straws Could be Banned in the U.K.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has brought up the question of whether plastic straws should be banned in Britain.

The Marine Conservation Society reports that the U.K. uses about 8.5 billion single-use straws every year. This puts straws in the top 10 items found in beach cleanups.

Another point that Gove made was that it might be easier to outlaw plastic straws post-Brexit. He said that being in the EU may restrict the U.K. from taking some of the environmental steps it wanted to take.

According to the BBC, many businesses and organizations across the UK have taken steps in regulating plastic straw consumption. Several restaurants including Pizza Express and Wagamama have announced that plastic straws would be phased out or made available only on request. The Queen has also acted to reduce plastic straw usage at the Buckingham Palace.

A government spokesman stated that the U.K. is committed to an environmental plan to completely eliminate avoidable plastic by 2042.


How Sustainable Are the Olympics?

In recent years, it has become abundantly clear that climate change may limit the available sites for future Winter Olympics.

Fortunately, the organizers of the current Winter Pyeongchang Games say they want to do what they can to limit the Games’ impact on climate change.

Pyeongchang’s organizing committee estimates the Olympics will generate 1.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Of the total, a little over 30 percent is attributable to transport and accommodations of athletes and spectators.As people travel to and from the Olympics, emissions from their flights hugely contribute to the games' environmental impact.

The organizers plan to launch a fundraising campaign soon for which all of the donations will go towards purchasing internationally traded Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) to offset the Olympics’ carbon emissions. The act of emissions trading allows countries that are over their targets of allowed emissions to buy emission capacity from countries who have not used up their fair share.

The Pyeongchang Games are the first Winter Olympics to obtain the International Organization for Standardization’s ISO 20121 certification, which is designed to aid events in incorporating sustainable practices.

It’s currently difficult to determine Pyeongchang’s environmental legacy, but it is likely to be greener than the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. During construction of the Sochi Games, environmental groups reported illegal dumping of waste products, blockage of animal migration routes, and logging of rare species of trees -- all in a national park.

The $109 million Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium will be torn down after the Paralympic Games in March, so that the South Korean government can avoid spending more money on its maintenance.


Magnitude of Microplastics Found in Northwest Atlantic Fish

A recent study found plastic particles, also known as microplastics, in 73% of deepwater fish in the Northwest Atlantic.

Microplastics are small plastic fragments that have accumulated in the marine environments from the breakdown of larger pieces of plastic.

These plastic fragments can cause health issues for the marine organisms that eat them, including inflammation, reduced feeding, and weight loss.

Though the fish live the majority of their lives in deep water, they do migrate to the surface at night to feed on plankton. This makes the fish vulnerable to ingesting microplastics which float at the top of the ocean.

Microplastic contamination can also travel throughout the marine food chain, when the deepwater wish are consumed by their predators. These deepwater fish serve as a food source for many marine animals, including tuna, dolphins, and seals.