Best of our wild blogs: 27 Apr 12

Volunteers needed for Mandai mangrove surveys with Rick
from wild shores of singapore

Things We Find in the Woods Part Eleven
from Crystal and Bryan in Singapore

Coral spawning 2012
from Compressed air junkie

Inspired by Prof Leo Tan!
from wild shores of singapore

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Bag production 'an environmental worry'

3 billion bags used here last year, needing 37m kg of crude oil to make
Lee Jia Xin & Goh Shi Ting Straits Times 27 Apr 12;

PLASTIC bag production in Singapore has been singled out as an environmental worry because of the amount of crude oil it uses.

About 1.2kg of the precious resource goes into every kilogram of bags manufactured, according to a study by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research. Another problem is the amount of carbon dioxide released during the process, which contributes to global warming.

Overall, this kind of production is a cause for concern, the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) told The Straits Times.

Last year, Singaporeans used about 3billion plastic bags, which consume roughly 37 million kg of crude oil and 12 million kg of natural gas. SEC executive director Jose Raymond said it was focusing on reducing the number of bags wasted in Singapore, calling it a 'troubling symptom of our shift towards a throwaway culture'.

He advised consumers to keep a small, reusable bag for unplanned shopping trips, and a larger, durable one in the car for regular visits to the supermarkets.

Each year, more than onetrillion plastic bags are used around the world, less than 2 per cent of which are recycled.

The rest end up in landfills - where they can take up to 1,000 years to break down - or as litter. In Singapore, plastic bags are incinerated along with domestic waste at one of four plants, which meet strict air-emission standards.

One way to reduce plastic bag consumption could be for shops that dish them out to customers to start charging. But retailers and hawker-stall owners say they will not do so until the Government makes it mandatory in case they lose customers to rivals who dispense them for free.

Supermarket chain Sheng Siong Group said it would not charge because 'customers are bound to reject any extra costs to their purchases'.

Dairy Farm Singapore, which runs the Cold Storage, Shop N Save and Giant chains, said any move to reduce plastic bag usage should be approached in a pragmatic manner. 'It is not so simple to just charge for bags to deter people from using them as there are potential implications which need to be considered,' said a spokesman.

For instance, people re-use plastic bags for garbage disposal. Charging for bags may also lead to consumers seeking other sources of free plastic bags.

Smaller retailers were more vocal about what they saw as a move that may see them lose business. Sundry-shop owner Kew Eng Kwog, 73, said one customer chose his Toa Payoh shop over another because he is not 'stingy' about giving out bags. 'If I charge for plastic bags and others don't, I will lose business,' he said.

Shoppers also said they would take their business elsewhere if they were charged.

In a Straits Times poll of 100 Singaporeans - equally divided between young and old - about half said they would not pay. 'We buy things from them, so rightfully, we should be provided with plastic bags, as much as I would like to save the earth,' said housewife Sara Sivaganam, 50.

Mr Pat Stuart, an 81-year-old retiree, said: 'I think it's not fair to us; we still need plastic bags to throw our rubbish. We also need them for practical purposes, to separate dry foodstuff from wet ones.'

Even if retailers across the board start charging, that may not solve the problem of wastage, said 33-year-old tutor Lester Lee. 'People will get over the initial shock of having to pay for plastic bags and start buying them freely.'

Efforts have been made over the years to make consumers more environmentally conscious, with A Bring Your Own Bag Day rolled out by the SEC and National Environment Agency in 2007. The monthly campaign has progressed into a weekly affair, while some retailers have intensified moves to educate consumers.

Retail expert Sarah Lim, a senior lecturer at the Singapore Polytechnic, said retailers are not likely to support the pay system as they are 'torn between supporting the green calling and protecting the business'.

But she added that if consumers have to pay for plastic bags, 'they will be more conscious while shopping, and there will be less impulse buying'.

Additional reporting by Felicia Choo & Miranda Yeo

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$778m oil hub project launched in Johor

But owners stress that it will be complementary to facilities in Singapore
Teo Cheng Wee Straits Times 27 Apr 12;

PENGERANG (Johor): Malaysia has started building a petroleum storage terminal in south-east Johor, in a project that could become a strong competitor to Singapore's facilities on Jurong Island.

The Pengerang Independent Deepwater Petroleum Terminal, which will be built at an initial cost of RM1.9 billion (S$778 million), can store up to 1.3million cubic metres of crude oil and is expected to be completed by 2014. It can be expanded by another 1 million cubic metres if needed.

The terminal is a joint venture between the Johor state government and oil and gas companies Dialog Group from Malaysia and Royal Vopak from the Netherlands. It forms part of the larger Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex, which Malaysia envisions as a top regional oil and gas hub, to drive growth in what has been singled out as a key sector for the country in the coming years.

Analysts have noted several advantages that Pengerang - a previously sleepy fishing village located about 90 minutes from Johor Baru and 20km from beach resort Desaru - has over Singapore. They include its 24m deepwater jetty facilities, which will allow very large carriers to dock and collect or deliver crude oil more easily and cheaply than in Singapore.

The cost of operating in Pengerang is likely to be cheaper as well, with land more abundant. The petroleum complex has already been allocated 91 square km of land by the Johor state government, which is about three times the size of Jurong Island. Singapore's space constraints, on the other hand, recently forced it to start developing alternative storage facilities, such as mega floating structures and underground caverns.

'If the cost advantage is there, Pengerang is certainly a viable option for companies,' said HwangDBS Vickers Research analyst Quah He Wei.

National oil company Petronas will also build a RM60billion refinery and integrated complex in Pengerang, providing further impetus for the area's development. This is set to be ready by 2016.

In his opening address at the terminal's ground-breaking ceremony yesterday, Johor Menteri Besar Abdul Ghani Othman noted that Singapore has over 20 years become one of the top three global players in trading, refining and manufacturing oil and gas products and equipment, despite having no oil resources.

'Perhaps we can do that in 10 years in Pengerang, given the availability of new technology and technical know-how,' he said to applause from the 500-strong crowd, which included senior regional executives in the oil and gas industry. He added that the development is targeted to contribute RM19.78 billion to Malaysia's gross national income and create 14,000 jobs by 2020.

But speaking to reporters later, the project's owners took pains to stress that the project was not a competitor, but instead complementary to Singapore.

'We operate four terminals in Singapore. The independent oil terminal is simply an answer to the demand from our customers for additional capacity, which we can't offer in Singapore because the land is not available to us,' said Vopak Asia president Patrick van der Voort. 'So it's complementary to what's already established around the trading hub in Singapore.'

Dialog Group executive chairman Ngau Boon Keat argued that Asia's appetite for crude oil, which is growing by about 5 per cent a year, creates room for another player in the region. Both Singapore and Pengerang, he noted, are located halfway along the oil shipping route between Asia and the Middle East.

'Companies won't be moving out of Singapore,' he said. 'The business is growing, it's not a stagnant business.'

Mr Quah feels that for now, it is likely that companies operating in Singapore will expand to Pengerang rather than relocate completely. Even then, he thinks the process will take at least about five years.

'Singapore's advantage is its ready market and all the facilities that are already in place,' he said. 'If you look at Iskandar Malaysia, for example, land cost is a fraction of that in Singapore but people are not relocating immediately. They want to watch and see.'

Dialog’s terminal may start operations early 2014
The Star 28 Apr 12;

PETALING JAYA: Dialog Group Bhd’s RM5bil independent deepwater terminal in Pengerang, Johor, is likely to be operational by early 2014, ahead of its original late-2014 target, Affin Investment Bank said.

The brokerage said in a report that the 150-acre project’s land reclamation works, which started in November, was progressing well and on schedule to be completed by April.

“Dialog will subsequently start the construction of tank terminals in July, fabrication works will be carried out in its facility in Tebrau and a temporary workshop in Pengerang.

“We are pleasantly surprised by the good development progress and the revised operational target – these have demonstrated Dialog’s strong project planning and execution capability,” it said.

The terminal, a joint venture between Dialog, Netherlands-based Royal Vopak and the Johor state government, will comprise a harbour port jetty and other marine facilities with a water depth of 24 metres.

It will have the capacity to handle very-large crude carriers and five million cubic metres (cbm) tankage facilities for the handling, storage, processing and distribution of crude oil, petrochemicals and chemical products, according to Affin.

The first phase of the project has an oil storage capacity of 1.3 million cbm and seven berths, with a development cost of RM1.9bil.

Dialog and Royal Vopak, the world’s largest independent storage provider, hold 51% and 49% equity respectively in Pengerang Terminals Sdn Bhd, which in turn owns 90% of Pengerang Independent Terminals Sdn Bhd, the company that manages the terminal.

The Johor government, via its investment arm State Secretary Inc, holds the remaining 10% stake in Pengerang Independent Terminals.

The terminal, together with Petroliam Nasional Bhd’s massive RM60bil refinery and petrochemicals integrated development complex, forms part of the Government’s ambition to transform southern Johor into an oil and gas hub to rival Singapore and Rotterdam.

Meanwhile, Kenanga Research said in a client note: “We continue to like Dialog for its long-term sustainable earnings quality, led by its centralised tankage facilities (CTF) concession business. The new Pengerang CTF should sustain its engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning workflows over the medium term and operating cashflow over the long term.

“We believe Dialog and partners stand a better chance of clinching a second marginal field project, after securing the Balai Marginal Fields, given its strong fundamentals,” it said.

The research unit added that the company’s shares had slipped 7% year-to-date versus the bellwether FTSE Bursa Malaysia KL Composite Index’s 11% rise on concerns over protests against the Pengerang terminal as well as uncertainty in the equity market ahead of the 13th general election.

“However, in our opinion, the concern on the environmental issue is overplayed as the rare earth refinery in Pahang is an isolated case,” it said.

It was reported in early April that over 570 fishermen from 10 villages in Pengerang had filed a suit against the state government and companies running the terminal, claiming that the reclamation works had affected their livelihood.

In the suit, they had asked for RM500,000 each as compensation for the next 10 years.

Dialog finished unchanged at RM2.23 with 2.52 million shares traded.

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Malaysia: A site to behold for bird lovers

R.S.N. Murali The Star 27 Apr 12;

MALACCA: The state government is seeking feedback from ornithologists, birdwatch groups and nature enthusiasts to turn a migratory bird site here into an eco-tourism park.

Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam said the groups could provide details on bird behaviour, migration, ecology and conservation methods before officially declaring Kampung Pengkalan in Alor Gajah, about 38km from here, as a bird sanctuary.

He added that last year, a number of species of migratory birds had turned an abandoned 3.2ha padi field at Jalan Keretapi Lama in Kampung Pengkalan into a resting area.

“Malacca will now have its own exclusive site to woo local and foreign birdwatchers. We want to declare the site as a nature conservation area following the arrival of migratory birds,” he said in an interview yesterday.

Among the types of birds found at the site are several species of heron like the gray heron, little heron, black bittern, black-crowned heron, purple heron and great-bill heron.

The other birds are the white-breasted pink green pigeon, baya weaver, lesser coucaland and yellow-ranted bulbul.

The birds, which fly a migratory route of 12,000km usually fly over the Tanjung Tuan forest reserve before returning to Siberia, China, Mongolia, South Korea, Japan and Indochina.

The site has seen the arrival of about 2,000 birds of various species since Jan 31.

Mohd Ali said initially, the birds arrived in small numbers, but their population had grown gradually over the months.

“We expect the numbers to escalate to a few thousand before the end of May when the migratory season ends.

“We found that the birds have also turned the site into their nesting ground. Hatchlings have been found, and it's possible that birds could make this location their permanent home,” he added.

“We want to promote the annual bird-watching activity at Kampung Pengkalan which will benefit Malacca's tourism industry,” he added.

Mohd Ali said the state government would acquire the privately-owned padi field before gazetting it as an eco-tourism site called the Pengkalan Raptor Watch and Bird Sanctuary.

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Malaysia blueprint to develop rainforest complex

New Straits Times 27 Apr 12;

IPOH: The Perak government will come up with a blueprint for low-impact development in the Belum-Temenggor rainforest complex.

The blueprint is based on guidelines set in an Integrated Master Plan (IMP), prepared by the Northern Corridor Implementation Authority (NCIA).

State Industry, Investment, Entrepreneur Development, Tourism and Women Affairs Committee chairman Datuk Hamidah Osman said the IMP, to be completed next month, would help the state in carrying out sustainable environmental development projects in the area without compromising the natural setting of the 130-million-year-old rainforest.

"The state intends to preserve the natural landscape of Belum-Temenggor as much as possible.

"Apart from development for tourism, the IMP also contains suggestions on a wide range of topics, including conservation efforts, Orang Asli development and welfare as well as protection of the forest resources," she said after opening an international seminar on biodiversity and tourism here yesterday.

About 100 people, including representatives of the tourism industry, Ipoh City Council and non-governmental organisations as well as academicians attended the two-day seminar.

Speaking later, Hamidah said the state government was aware of security issues and improvements required to curb poaching and illegal logging in the 300,000ha forest.

"We will increase the number of park rangers stationed there."

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Indonesia: Conserving Forest Is a Way of Life For Some

Fidelis E. Satriastanti Jakarta Globe 26 Apr 12;

North Halmahera, North Maluku. Forest conservation in Indonesia has long been mired in red tape, obscured by conflicting regulations and undermined by weak law enforcement.

But some of the country’s indigenous groups are getting the job done by relying on their own centuries-old traditions of forest stewardship.

“We have had our own ways to protect the forests for hundreds of years,” Rizal Mahfud, a member of Ngata Toro community in Central Sulawesi, told the Jakarta Globe on the sidelines of the fourth Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago (AMAN) Congress in Tobelo, North Halmahera, last week.

“We don’t need any government programs. We just need to develop [our own].”

Rizal said that without having to rely on written statutes, his community, which now comprises 600 families, has been mapping out land use zones in forests since the 1800s.

The main zone, or wanangkiki , is where people are only allowed to log small trees. The second zone, wana , is for larger logs. For farming, the community can use the omah — old farmland that has been allowed to remain fallow for 35 years — or the pangaleh , which has lain fallow for 25 years.

They can also grow crops in the zone known as pampa , and may only build their homes in the pongata zone, Rizal said.

This age-old way of managing the forest has frequently put the Ngata Toro at loggerheads with the authorities, given that much of their land falls inside the Lore Lindu National Park. “The national park covers 16,000 hectares of the total 22,950 hectares of our community’s living zone,” Rizal said.

“If you talk about forests as being the world’s lungs, what about our lungs? We were there before the national park, so you can’t treat us as though we’re nonexistent. If the authorities respect our existence, we will also respect theirs.”

He added that the indigenous group was only formally recognized as forest stewards by the local authorities last year.

Another success story of sustainable forest management comes from the Iban Dayak community in West Kalimantan, who since 1819 have practiced a quota system for logging trees and mapped their own forest zones.

“We sustain our forest by designating zones for housing and for preservation,” said Samay, an Iban member. “For instance, we don’t touch water catchment areas because that’s our source of clean water. We also allow each family to cut down just five trees a year, and the wood may only be used to build a house.”

The Iban’s forest stewardship methods were certified in 2008 by the Indonesian Ecolabel Foundation as sustainable forest management, making it the first community forest to get the certification.

But the community’s efforts at forest zoning have still not been officially acknowledged by authorities in their home district of Kapuas Hulu.

“We’ve been trying to get acknowledgment for our mapping since 1998 from the local government, but still nothing,” Samay said. “We need that acknowledgment because we’re worried that our lands could be changed for other uses. It’s not for us, it’s for our children and grandchildren.”

Noer Fauzi Rachman, a senior researcher at the Sajogyo Institute, said indigenous peoples did not need money for support, only formal acknowledgement of their land rights.

“They already consider themselves rich with the land and resources that they have,” he said.

“But they hate the government for giving away their lands to companies. What they want is a government that will give them support and security.”

Abdon Nababan, secretary general of AMAN, said more needed to be done to protect the traditional ways of forest stewardship that had proved effective for hundreds of years.

“Indigenous people have their own concept of wealth that’s different from that of city dwellers,” he said.

“They might have brighter smiles than you do. But their smiles are fading because their lands, their lives are being taken from them, and we want to return that smile.”

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Eight Species of Wild Fish Have Been Detected in Aquaculture Feed

ScienceDaily 25 Apr 12;

Researchers from the University of Oviedo have for the first time analysed a DNA fragment from commercial feed for aquarium cichlids, aquaculture of salmon and marine fish in aquariums. The results show that in order to manufacture this feed, eight species of high trophic level fish have been used, some of them coming directly from extractive fisheries.

Aquaculture initially came as an ecological initiative to reduce pressure from fishing and to cover human food needs. However, a problem has emerged: consumers prefer carnivore species, like salmon and cod that require tons of high quality protein for their quick, optimum development.

"If these proteins are obtained from extractive fisheries, aquaculture stops being an alternative to over-fishing and starts contributing to it, turning it into a risk for natural marine ecosystems" Alba Ardura, lead author of the study published in 'Fisheries Research' and researcher in the department of Functional Biology at the University of Oviedo said.

The research team analysed a DNA fragment from commercial feed made for aquarium cichlids, aquaculture of salmon and marine fish in aquariums. After removing oil and fat from the feed, DNA sequences were obtained and compared with public databases to identify the species found.

From fish feed samples, supplied by manufacturers and bought in animal shops, researchers identified eight species of wild marine fish that were from high trophic levels in the food chain.

Industrial waste from processing and commercialisation for human consumption of Peruvian anchoveta (Engraulis ringens), European sprat (Sprattus sprattus), Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus), whiting (Merlangius merlangus), Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus), Pacific sandlance (Ammodytes personatus), jack mackerel (Trachurus symmetricus), and blue mackerel (Scomber australasicus), allow fish meal for aquaculture fish to be made.

Nonetheless, according to the researcher "some of the species found in this feed are commercialised fresh without being processed and they suspect that they came to the feed directly from extractive fisheries." This is the case with herring and Pacific sandlance.

The research suggests that aquaculture is partly maintained by fisheries, and aquaculture fishes are fed by wild fish sold "whole" (without being processed) and fresh directly from fishing vessels.

Vegetable proteins, an alternative

"If species from extractive fishing are used to feed farm fish, aquaculture does not help minimise over-fishing" warns the expert who suggests "urgently" revising the composition of aquaculture feed to replace them with other proteins. The aim is to reduce the exploitation of natural fish populations.

Ardura proposes increasing efforts to gain high quality proteins from other sources, such as vegetable proteins, which supplement farmed fish's nutritional needs. This way they will be able to "minimise the impact of aquaculture on wild populations."

Journal Reference:

A. Ardura, J.L. Horreo, E. Hernandez, A. Jardon, I.G. Pola, J.L. Martinez, E. Garcia-Vazquez. Forensic DNA analysis reveals use of high trophic level marine fish in commercial aquaculture fish meals. Fisheries Research, 2012; 115-116: 115 DOI: 10.1016/j.fishres.2011.08.011

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Sea change in salinity heralds shift in rainfall

David Fogarty Reuters 26 Apr 12;

(Reuters) - Scientists have detected a clear change in salinity of the world's oceans and have found that the cycle that drives rainfall and evaporation has intensified more than thought because of global warming.

The finding published on Friday helps refine estimates of how different parts of the globe will be affected by increased rainfall or more intense droughts as the planet heats up, affecting crops, water supplies and flood defenses.

Scientists led by Paul Durack of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory reported clear changes in salinity patterns across the world's oceans between 1950 and 2000.

Oceans cover 71 percent of the planet's surface and store 97 percent of the world's water and are therefore the main source of moisture in the atmosphere through evaporation.

The global cycle of rainfall and evaporation of water from the land and surface of the ocean comprise the global water cycle, with some areas such as the tropics naturally wetter and others, such as large parts of Australia, the United States or northern Africa, drier.

Some ocean regions are saltier, meaning less rainfall and others are fresher, meaning high rainfall, making salinity measurements a good way to measure changes in rainfall patterns.

Durack and team, in a study published in the journal Science, found that the water cycle intensified 4 percent from 1950-2000, twice as much as projected by climate models.

"These changes suggest that arid regions have become drier and high rainfall regions have become wetter in response to observed global warming," Durack, a post-doctoral fellow, said in a statement.

Scientists have long understood the link between evaporation and rainfall and ocean surface salinity levels but have struggled to accurately quantify the relationship.


Durack and team combined salinity data from 1950-2000 and the relationship between salinity, rainfall and evaporation in climate models to find that for every degree Celsius of warming at the Earth's surface, the water cycle strengthens by 8 percent.

Temperature data shows the planet heated up by 0.5 deg C between 1950-2000. But climate models suggest the world is on track to warm by 3 deg C by the end of the century unless the current growth of greenhouse gas emissions is quickly halted.

A warming of that magnitude would mean the water cycle intensifying by up to 24 percent, with wet regions getting wetter and dry regions drier.

"This has big implications for dry regions, such as Australia, which are already dry," Durack said in an email to Reuters.

He said he believed his team's work was the first to formally quantify the link between the water cycle and salinity change.

"Once we developed the relationship between salinity and evaporation-rainfall change in models, we could then use this relationship to scale our observed salinity change estimate to provide an inferred evaporation-rainfall change estimate."

He said ocean salinity data might now receive more attention as a health check on the world's climate, boosted by measurements from 3,500 robotic devices called Argos deployed across the world's oceans and satellites.

Over the past decade, the Argo float system has revolutionized the way scientists understand how oceans operate by providing a large amount of data on temperature, salinity and other indicators.

"It's a Goldilocks' time for oceanography because we're had this abundant new source of data from the Argo system that we've been able to use to better understand the oceans and how they are changing," Durack said.

(Editing by Ed Davies)

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Following Garbage's Long Journey Around The Earth

NPR 26 Apr 12;

Americans generate more trash than anyone else on the planet: more than 7 pounds per person each day.

About 69 percent of that trash goes immediately into landfills. And most landfill trash is made up of containers and packaging — almost all of which should be recycled, says Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Edward Humes,

"It's instant trash," he says. "We pay for this stuff, and it goes right into the waste bin, and we're not capturing it the way our recycling programs are intending us to capture it. We're just sticking it in the ground and building mountains out of it."

Humes' new book Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash follows the journey that trash takes as it makes its way from garbage containers through landfills, sanitation plants and scrap heaps. He tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that because much of our trash is immediately hidden from our daily lives, it's easier for us to be wasteful.

"We don't see the consequences of our wastefulness," he says. "We have built waste into our entire consumer culture to the point where we don't notice it anymore because of these conveniences we've created for hiding our garbage. ... In a difficult economic environment, it's just crazy to take all this material and just bury it in the ground."

Some landfills, including Puente Hills near Los Angeles, manufacture energy from the methane gas that's produced during trash's decomposition process.

"There is so much trash in this landfill that it generates enough electricity to power 70,000 homes," he says. "And a number of privately run landfills have adopted some of these methods and are either making fuel or generating power with [the methane from the trash production]."

Humes says capturing the methane gas to make energy is better than allowing it to escape into the atmosphere, but that doesn't mean it's the most efficient way to make energy.

"It's still a losing proposition, but it's better than nothing," he says. "The real solution is just to stop putting so much stuff in giant burial mounds, but that's a really tough nut to crack."

Humes' investigation into garbage's journey around the Earth didn't stop on land. He also met with scientists who study the 5 massive gyres of trash particles swirling around in the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Created by the convergence of ocean currents and wind, the gyres contain masses of litter that aren't entirely visible by the human eye.

"What we're actually seeing in the ocean is this kind of chowder of plastic — these tiny particles that are the size of plankton," he says. "It's plastic that has been weathered and broken down by the elements into these little bits, and it's getting into the food chain."

Humes says it's estimated that the weight of plastic finding its way into the sea each year is equivalent to the weight of 40 aircraft carriers. Fish then eat the bits of corroded plastic, confusing it for plankton.

"We are eating the fish that are eating the plastic, but the scarier part is that these little bits of plastic become sponges for some potentially dangerous chemicals that are released into the marine environment, and we may be ingesting that, too," he says. "Nobody knows for sure yet. We know that the plastic does attract these chemicals and that fish are eating it. How much it actually works its way into the food chain is still unknown but being researched now."

The cost to clean up these plastic gyres is staggering, he says.

"So a lot of the efforts are being focused on trying to reduce the amount of plastic that gets into the ocean in the first place," he says.

Interview Highlights

On trash incineration programs

"The image in America is so poor that it's really had a difficult time getting traction, and in some places it has been attempted, it has been disastrous because of mismanagement," he says. "The entire city of Harrisburg [Pa.] is bankrupt now because of the way they failed to manage their trash burners. So it's gotten a black eye in the U.S."

On the largest active landfill in the United States, Puente Hills, which is more than 500 feet tall and has been collecting garbage for more than 60 years

"It's actually filled a valley that used to be a dairy farm and is now a mountain built of trash. ... It's 500 feet tall, so when you stand atop it, you're standing on the biggest man-made structure in California. It is a plateau of garbage. The smell varies. One day I was up there and it smelled like Christmas trees because they were mulching pine trees up there. Other times, it is the most noxious, rotting, sulphuric smell, and literally, it burns the nostrils as you inhale it. But the smell is not as impressive as the sheer scale of this place. It has 130 tons of garbage contained in this mountain. It is a high point in the south end of Los Angeles, so you can see the entire basin of Los Angeles by standing on a mountain of its trash."

On how trash is estimated by the EPA

"Every landfill weighs the stuff that comes in, [but] the EPA doesn't do that. They purport to measure trash and issue an official trash bible every year, but it's an indirect method. They calculate how much stuff we manufacture in the U.S. and what its life expectancy is, and they crunch these numbers and they sort of predict how much trash will be thrown away. And unfortunately, it vastly underestimates the trash that we make."

On China trading trash as an export/import product

"They're finding value in material we're not able to find value in and paying relatively little for it — shipping it immense distances with enormous environmental impact involved in that, and then using it to manufacture products they're shipping back to us. And we're buying and basically turning it into trash again, and then it's an endless cycle. It's an incredibly wasteful process. You think of all of these 12,000-mile journeys with giant cargo vessels shipping this material. The perverse economies of it work because of the nature of our consumer economy, but it's an incredibly wasteful process."

Paper or plastic?

"The correct answer is neither, if you want to have the best solution. ... In terms of the actual greenhouse gas impact, a paper bag tends to be higher."

Listen the interview on NPR

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