Connect with us


Plastics treaty must tackle problem at source



Plastics treaty must tackle problem at source

The new Global Plastics Treaty must tackle the problem at source, researchers say.

An international negotiation meeting (INC-3) in Kenya begins on Monday, aiming to further develop a legally binding treaty on plastic pollution.

Writing in the journal Science, researchers say the treaty must prioritise “upstream” issues: cutting total production and consumption of plastics, phasing out hazardous chemicals and tackling fossil fuel subsidies.

They highlight a “worrying” level of focus on downstream recycling and waste management — when the true solution must address the full life cycle of plastics.

They say the treaty must be holistic — with more focus on early interventions and the people, places and ecosystems most impacted by plastic pollution.

“Right now, simply too much attention and capital is focussed ‘downstream’ — recycling and cleaning up plastic already in the environment, in many cases just after a single use ” said Dr Mengjiao (Melissa) Wang, from Greenpeace Research Laboratories at the University of Exeter.

“That is vital work, but it can only be part of the solution, and only if done in a safe, environmentally sound and socially just way.

“Removing the mess while making more is a doomed strategy. We cannot recycle our way out.

“An effective treaty must be holistic, covering everything from fossil fuel extraction and plastic production to recycling and removing waste that already pollutes our land and ocean.”

Currently, “downstream” recovery and recycling receives 88% of investment money — while just 4% is directed to “upstream” reuse solutions.

The authors say this imbalance comes from “fossil-fuel-entwined political economy of plastics,” which continues to accelerate production, consumption and waste, adding further to the triple Planetary Crisis — climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.

They say the zero draft of the treaty “disproportionately emphasises waste management investment and neglects opportunities” for more efficient and cost-effective upstream strategies like reduction, redesign and reuse.

The researchers say the treaty should require polymer manufacturers to pay a “substantial fee pegged to the quantity of primary plastics produced,” define criteria for strong and independent Extended Producer Responsibility schemes, and ensure both public and private financing align with the zero waste hierarchy by prioritising upstream strategies.

An effective Plastics Treaty to close the back door for fossil fuels

The new treaty could and should become a global mechanism, to close a key loophole left by the Paris Agreement.

“The problem of plastic pollution is huge, and it can feel overwhelming,” said Dr Lucy Woodall, from the University of Exeter.

“But there are opportunities and challenges at each stage of the life cycle of plastics — from fossil fuel extraction onwards.”

Global climate governance aims to stop the burning of fossil fuels, but they could still be extracted and used to make plastics — so the Plastics Treaty provides a not-to-be-missed opportunity to close this “back door.”

In three letters to Science, the researchers — the majority from the Scientists’ Coalition for an Effective Plastics Treaty — highlight several other points that the treaty must include.

“One vital step is to focus on ecosystems,” said Dr Woodall.

“Once in the environment, plastic litter can entangle and choke wildlife, and plastic objects can act as a reservoir for invasive species and concentrate other pollutants.

“Plastics can also break down into potentially toxic micro- and nanoplastics.”

The treaty’s zero draft used terms such as “hotspot” and “cleanup” — putting the focus on concentrations rather than the natural systems and their specific context, therefore the well-being and livelihoods of the nature and people these pollutants affect are ignored.

“This implies that the plastics problem can be solved without considering ecosystem restoration and the disproportionate burden of plastic pollution in some ecosystems,” Dr Woodall said.

“Vibrant ecosystems are vital for biodiversity and human health, so protecting them should be the centre of our approach.”

‘Chemical simplification’

Chemicals in plastics are one of the key barriers to addressing global plastic pollution.

Current regulations don’t require producers to track or publish information on the levels of harmful chemicals.

The authors argue for “chemical simplification,” significantly reducing the production and use of especially hazardous chemicals, and increasing transparency and traceability along the whole supply chain, to fulfil one of the many necessary steps to ensure products can be safely and effectively recycled.

The researchers are hopeful that an effective treaty can be agreed — but some countries are expected to resist more ambitious language and delay the process.

“When we speak to negotiators, they give us a political ‘reality check’ about balancing ambition with getting a treaty agreed in due time,” Dr Wang said.

“In return, our role as scientists is to provide a scientific reality check about the scale of this problem and the solutions that can actually work to bring us back to the safe operating space of the earth.

“We need a treaty that is holistic and ambitious, tackling every stage of this problem — extraction, production, resource allocation — to stop the build-up of plastic waste and harmful chemicals in our planet’s precious ecosystems.”

Source link

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply


New snake discovery rewrites history, points to North America’s role in snake evolution




Plastics treaty must tackle problem at source

A new species of fossil snake unearthed in Wyoming is rewriting our understanding of snake evolution. The discovery, based on four remarkably well-preserved specimens found curled together in a burrow, reveals a new species named Hibernophis breithaupti. This snake lived in North America 34 million years ago and sheds light on the origin and diversification of boas and pythons.

Hibernophis breithaupti has unique anatomical features, in part because the specimens are articulated — meaning they were found all in one piece with the bones still arranged in the proper order — which is unusual for fossil snakes. Researchers believe it may be an early member of Booidea, a group that includes modern boas and pythons. Modern boas are widespread in the Americas, but their early evolution is not well understood.These new and very complete fossils add important new information, in particular, on the evolution of small, burrowing boas known as rubber boas.

Traditionally, there has been much debate on the evolution of small burrowing boas. Hibernophis breithaupti shows that northern and more central parts of North America might have been a key hub for their development. The discovery of these snakes curled together also hints at the oldest potential evidence for a behavior familiar to us today — hibernation in groups.

“Modern garter snakes are famous for gathering by the thousands to hibernate together in dens and burrows,” says Michael Caldwell, a U of A paleontologist who co-led the research along with his former graduate student Jasmine Croghan, and collaborators from Australia and Brazil. “They do this to conserve heat through the effect created by the ball of hibernating animals. It’s fascinating to see possible evidence of such social behavior or hibernation dating back 34 million years.”

Source link

Continue Reading


Good timing: Study unravels how our brains track time




Plastics treaty must tackle problem at source

Ever hear the old adage that time flies when you’re having fun? A new study by a team of UNLV researchers suggests that there’s a lot of truth to the trope.

Many people think of their brains as being intrinsically synced to the human-made clocks on their electronic devices, counting time in very specific, minute-by-minute increments. But the study, published this month in the latest issue of the peer-reviewed Cell Press journal Current Biology, showed that our brains don’t work that way.

By analyzing changes in brain activity patterns, the research team found that we perceive the passage of time based on the number of experiences we have — not some kind of internal clock. What’s more, increasing speed or output during an activity appears to affect how our brains perceive time.

“We tell time in our own experience by things we do, things that happen to us,” said James Hyman, a UNLV associate professor of psychology and the study’s senior author. “When we’re still and we’re bored, time goes very slowly because we’re not doing anything or nothing is happening. On the contrary, when a lot of events happen, each one of those activities is advancing our brains forward. And if this is how our brains objectively tell time, then the more that we do and the more that happens to us, the faster time goes.”

Methodology and Findings

The findings are based on analysis of activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a portion of the brain important for monitoring activity and tracking experiences. To do this, rodents were tasked with using their noses to respond to a prompt 200 times.

Scientists already knew that brain patterns are similar, but slightly different, each time you do a repetitive motion, so they set out to answer: Is it possible to detect whether these slight differences in brain pattern changes correspond with doing the first versus 200th motion in series? And does the amount of time it takes to complete a series of motions impact brain wave activity?

By comparing pattern changes throughout the course of the task, researchers observed that there are indeed detectable changes in brain activity that occur as one moves from the beginning to middle to end of carrying out a task. And regardless of how slowly or quickly the animals moved, the brain patterns followed the same path. The patterns were consistent when researchers applied a machine learning-based mathematical model to predict the flow of brain activity, bolstering evidence that it’s experiences — not time, or a prescribed number of minutes, as you would measure it on a clock — that produce changes in our neurons’ activity patterns.

Hyman drove home the crux of the findings by sharing an anecdote of two factory workers tasked with making 100 widgets during their shift, with one worker completing the task in 30 minutes and the other in 90 minutes.

“The length of time it took to complete the task didn’t impact the brain patterns. The brain is not a clock; it acts like a counter,” Hyman explained. “Our brains register a vibe, a feeling about time. …And what that means for our workers making widgets is that you can tell the difference between making widget No. 85 and widget No. 60, but not necessarily between No. 85 and No. 88.”

But exactly “how” does the brain count? Researchers discovered that as the brain progresses through a task involving a series of motions, various small groups of firing cells begin to collaborate — essentially passing off the task to a different group of neurons every few repetitions, similar to runners passing the baton in a relay race.

“So, the cells are working together and over time randomly align to get the job done: one cell will take a few tasks and then another takes a few tasks,” Hyman said. “The cells are tracking motions and, thus, chunks of activities and time over the course of the task.”

And the study’s findings about our brains’ perception of time applies to activities-based actions other than physical motions too.

“This is the part of the brain we use for tracking something like a conversation through dinner,” Hyman said. “Think of the flow of conversation and you can recall things earlier and later in the dinner. But to pick apart one sentence from the next in your memory, it’s impossible. But you know you talked about one topic at the start, another topic during dessert, and another at the end.”

By observing the rodents who worked quickly, scientists also concluded that keeping up a good pace helps influence time perception: “The more we do, the faster time moves. They say that time flies when you’re having fun. As opposed to having fun, maybe it should be ‘time flies when you’re doing a lot’.”


While there’s already a wealth of information on brain processes over very short time scales of less than a second, Hyman said that the UNLV study is groundbreaking in its examination of brain patterns and perception of time over a span of just a few minutes to hours — “which is how we live much of our life: one hour at a time. ”

“This is among the first studies looking at behavioral time scales in this particular part of the brain called the ACC, which we know is so important for our behavior and our emotions,” Hyman said.

The ACC is implicated in most psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders, and is a concentration area for mood disorders, PTSD, addiction, and anxiety. ACC function is also central to various dementias including Alzheimer’s disease, which is characterized by distortions in time. The ACC has long been linked to helping humans with sequencing events or tasks such as following recipes, and the research team speculates that their findings about time perception might fall within this realm.

While the findings are a breakthrough, more research is needed. Still, Hyman said, the preliminary findings posit some potentially helpful tidbits about time perception and its likely connection to memory processes for everyday citizens’ daily lives. For example, researchers speculate that it could lend insights for navigating things like school assignments or even breakups.

“If we want to remember something, we may want to slow down by studying in short bouts and take time before engaging in the next activity. Give yourself quiet times to not move,” Hyman said. “Conversely, if you want to move on from something quickly, get involved in an activity right away.”

Hyman said there’s also a huge relationship between the ACC, emotion, and cognition. Thinking of the brain as a physical entity that one can take ownership over might help us control our subjective experiences.

“When things move faster, we tend to think it’s more fun — or sometimes overwhelming. But we don’t need to think of it as being a purely psychological experience, as fun or overwhelming; rather, if you view it as a physical process, it can be helpful,” he said. “If it’s overwhelming, slow down or if you’re bored, add activities. People already do this, but it’s empowering to know it’s a way to work your own mental health, since our brains are working like this already.”

Source link

Continue Reading


Another intermediate-mass black hole discovered at the center of our galaxy




Plastics treaty must tackle problem at source

While researching a cluster of stars in the immediate vicinity of the supermassive black hole SgrA* (Sagittarius A*) at the centre of our galaxy, an international team of researchers led by PD Dr Florian Peißker has found signs of another, intermediate-mass black hole. Despite enormous research efforts, only about ten of these intermediate-mass black holes have been found in our entire universe so far. Scientists believe that they formed shortly after the Big Bang. By merging, they act as ‘seeds’ for supermassive black holes. The study ‘The Evaporating Massive Embedded Stellar Cluster IRS 13 Close to Sgr A*. II. Kinematic structure’ was published in The Astrophysical Journal.

The analysed star cluster IRS 13 is located 0.1 light years from the centre of our galaxy. This is very close in astronomical terms, but would still require travelling from one end of our solar system to the other twenty times to cover the distance. The researchers noticed that the stars in IRS 13 move in an unexpectedly orderly pattern. They had actually expected the stars to be arranged randomly. Two conclusions can be drawn from this regular pattern: On the one hand, IRS 13 appears to interact with SgrA*, which leads to the orderly motion of the stars. On the other hand, there must be something inside the cluster for it to be able to maintain its observed compact shape.

Multi-wavelength observations with the Very Large Telescope as well as the ALMA and Chandra telescopes now suggest that the reason for the compact shape of IRS 13 could be an intermediate-mass black hole located at the centre of the star cluster. This would be supported by the fact that the researchers were able to observe characteristic X-rays and ionized gas rotating at a speed of several 100 km/s in a ring around the suspected location of the intermediate-mass black hole.

Another indication of the presence of an intermediate-mass black hole is the unusually high density of the star cluster, which is higher than that of any other known density of a star cluster in our Milky Way. “IRS 13 appears to be an essential building block for the growth of our central black hole SgrA*,” said Florian Peißker, first author of the study. “This fascinating star cluster has continued to surprise the scientific community ever since it was discovered around twenty years ago. At first it was thought to be an unusually heavy star. With the high-resolution data, however, we can now confirm the building-block composition with an intermediate-mass black hole at the centre.” Planned observations with the James Webb Space Telescope and the Extremely Large Telescope, which is currently under construction, will provide further insights into the processes within the star cluster.

Source link

Continue Reading