Oceans of Plastic

Part 3: 3 REASONS WHY WE SHOULDN’T PRODUCE MORE PLASTIC THAN WE NEED

―Producing more plastic than we need is unsustainable because all plastics are derived from organic products and none are energy-efficient to produce. 

Synthesizing too much plastic from petroleum or gas is a waste of non-renewable natural resources. Nowadays 8% of the global oil production is devoted to the making of these so-called conventional plastics: 4% as feedstock and 4% during manufacture. As an example, producing a 1L plastic water bottle requires about a quarter of a liter of oil.

That plastics can now be made from a wide range of renewable feedstocks (corn, sugarcane, soy, canola, etc.) doesn’t change anything. Bioplastics still consume fossil fuels for their making and often contain petroleum. Most importantly, they are problematic on a large scale because they take up agricultural land. The yet small production of bioplastics (see below chart) already competes with food crops for arable plots, which means we are clearing Continue reading

Oceans of plastic

Part 2: AN ILL-MANAGED POLLUTION PROBLEM

You may want to read Part 1: How we filled the oceans with plastic in just over 60 years, for a better understanding of the present blog.


The standard for the rational management of plastics (and other materials) through their life cycle is the concept of “waste hierarchy”. Loosely implemented by western countries over the past forty years, it has led to more or less sustainable outcomes in Europe and the United States.

Lansink Ladder (1979)

B, C and D are waste recovery operations. According to the European Court of Justice, the “principal objective [of waste recovery] is that the waste serve a useful purpose in replacing other materials which would have had to be used for that purpose, thereby conserving natural resources” (Abfall Service AG, C-6/00, 2002, known as the “ASA” case). This is also the definition of the 2008 Waste Framework directive (see below).

The waste hierarchy concept was first formulated in Europe by the 1975 waste framework directive (75/442/EEC), which encouraged the “reduction of quantities of certain wastes, the treatment of waste for its recycling and re-use, the recovery of raw materials and/or the production of energy from certain waste”. Refined by The Netherlands in 1979, the waste hierarchy became known as the Lansink Ladder, which ranked waste management options from the most to the least desirable for the environment.

Today, the sustainable logic that inspired the waste hierarchy and Lansink Ladder makes sense from an environmental and resource-efficiency perspective Continue reading

Oceans of Plastic

Part 1: HOW WE FILLED THE OCEANS WITH PLASTIC IN JUST OVER 60 YEARS

“Man-made items of debris are now found in marine habitats throughout the world, from the poles to the equator, from shorelines and estuaries to remote areas of the high seas, and from the sea surface to the ocean floor.”

Impacts of Marine Debris on Biodiversity, UNEP Report, 2012

Seabirds lead a precarious existence. Their marine habitats worldwide are littered with so much plastic trash that they often mistake plastic for food. As a result, scientists recently estimated that 90% of all individual seabirds have ingested plastic debris by now, compared to only 5% in 1960.

This finding is alarming but not surprising. Continue reading

Quiberon: a former French island turned presque-isle

Presqu'ile de Quiberon

A NASA screenshot of the Presqu’ile de Quiberon

Situated in the Morbihan region of Brittany, the Presqu’île de Quiberon is a small French peninsula that used to be an island. Long ago, strong winds and currents formed a flat sandy isthmus that reattached the 9 km² territory to the mainland. Dubbed Isthme de Penthièvre, the narrow arm is no wider than 22 m in parts, just enough for cars and trains to circulate. Vulnerable to storms, it has been enlarged and reinforced by man-made dikes on several occasions since the 19th century.

Nowadays, Quiberon is a restful, invigorating and somewhat picturesque sea resort that welcomes thousands of visitors each year. Yet, tourism has not always been the dominant sector. From the second half of the 19th century fishing, especially sardine fishing, and canning concurrently developed as core industries leading to the peninsula’s Continue reading

Fischland-Darß-Zingst: a land of flats and contrasts

Fischland-Darss-Zingst Peninsula

A postcard map of Fischland-Darss-Zingst

In proportion to its size Germany has little coastline. The few shore bits suitable for a sea holiday along the North and Baltic Seas are therefore highly prized by the Germans. One popular destination is the Fischland-Darss-Zingst Peninsula. A two-hour train ride from Rostock (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern), this region is a must-see and budget destination during the low season. Most of the 45 km long peninsula belongs to the Nationalpark Vorpommersche-Boddenlandschaft. The site is a prime wetland area that boasts stunning wilderness and its fairly small size makes it a fine location for wildlife exploration.

A RICH BLEND OF SCENERY

Woodland, moorland, meadows, bogs, lagoons, dunes, white sandy beaches and salt marshes compose the diverse landscape.

Pines and European beeches dominate the woodland vegetation, infusing great contrast into the 5,800 ha local forest―the Darßwald. The reddish trunks of the former warm up the colors of the fern-rich understory while the curious shapes of the latter evoke an enchanted forest. Continue reading

Paris and Ile-de-France: a parrots’ heaven

If you ever spotted apple-green birds the size of a turtledove with bright red bills during one of your strolls around Paris, you are neither colorblind nor sleepwalking. You merely sighted one of the many rose-ringed parakeets (Psittacula krameri) that have made Paris and its vast suburbs their home.

Native of India and Sub-Saharan Africa, these tropical birds were named after the faint pink neck-ring—bordered by a thin coal-black line—present in adult males but missing in females and immature individuals. Although rose-ringed parakeets generally display a green plumage, color variations exist and some individuals are completely yellow (see below). Both sexes can mimic human voices, an ability that has made the bird a popular pet since Antiquity where skilled individuals cost more than a slave.

Parakeets were introduced in Ile-de-France by accident Continue reading

The cranes of Bayreuth

white-naped crane (Grus or Antigone vipio) from the Tierpark Röhrensee, a mini-zoo situated in Bayreuth, Germany. The few cages and enclosures are distributed along the alleys of a small public park, on free display for its visitors.

I caught the birds in the middle of a preening session.

These birds are native of Eastern Asia (see range map including winter migrations below) where their conservation status Continue reading