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Abstract

This conference report summarizes the current challenges of researching microplastics pollution in the ocean as debated by international experts and stakeholders at a workshop held in San Sebastián, Spain, 1-2 October 2019. The transdisciplinary, co-learning approach of this report stressed the need to incorporate multiple perspective in solving the problem of microplastics and resulted in three proposed actions: (i) filtering microplastics from waste waters; (ii) mandatory ecolabels on plastic products packages; and (iii) circular economy of packaging plastics. See our blog post regarding this article: https://science4sustainability.wordpress.com/2021/02/08/drowning-in-plastic-ocean-pollution-as-a-transdisciplinary-challenge/

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... Environmental accumulation of plastics due to the high stability of most commonly used polymers represents a priority problem and, at the same time, the vast majority of currently used polymers are based on non-renewable, fossil resources [3]. In the attempt to find a solution, besides recycling, the upcycling of waste polymers is emerging as highly promising strategy for mitigating plastic pollution [4]. ...
... A dual catalyst approach involving an organic base in combination with a Lewis acid has been developed by Dove et al. [70]. In this case, N-heterocyclic carbenes (NHC1-3), 1,8-diazabicycloundec-7-ene (DBU) and 4-dimethylaminopyridine (DMAP) were selected as the bases (Figure 7), while MgX 2 (X = Cl, Br, I), FeCl 3 , ZnCl 2 , B(Ph) 3 , Bi(OTf) 3 , YCl 3 and AlCl 3 were employed as the Lewis acids. For the latter, the activity order was found to be Mg > Y > Al, while the other species proved completely unreactive. ...
... Another attractive bio-based monomer for polyethers synthesis is isosorbide, a molecule derived from sorbitol. Reineke et al. reported on a cationic and quasi-zwitterionic ROP of an annulated isosorbide derivative (1,4:2,5:3,6-trianhydro-D-mannitol) in the presence of Sc(OTf) 3 and propylene oxide. Depending on the reaction conditions, it was possible to selectively direct the polymerisation towards either linear or cyclic macromolecular architectures ( Figure 26) [126]. ...
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Synthetic polymers have a key role in modern society as they have allowed for great technological advancement since their discovery. However, the use of fossil-fuel-based raw materials and the pollution derived from plastics accumulation in the environment raised enormous concern, driving research efforts toward the identification of more sustainable alternatives. Bio-based functional molecules susceptible to ring-opening (co)polymerisation [RO(C)OP], such as lactones, cyclic carbonates, and oxiranes, represent an attractive source of monomers for the synthesis of more sustainable polymers. In this review, we describe the main advancement in this research field reported during the last seven years. In particular, we describe the preparation of monomers from (renewable) bio-sources such as sugars, terpenes, fatty acids, and carbon dioxide with a focus on structurally novel substrates. Both metal-mediated and organo-catalytic RO(CO)P methods are described, and the properties of derived functional polymers are discussed when relevant.
... Hohn et al. (2020) mention future projections according to which the amount of plastic waste could double by 2050 if no strategies to reduce waste are implemented. The pollution of oceans by plastics is severe (Riechers et al., 2021), because they persist for long periods of time. In fact, some plastics incorporate hazardous chemicals that can be released, some that are heavier than water sink to the ocean floor and cannot be recovered, and microplastics from wastewater treatment plants and the macro plastics broken into small particles end up as persistent pollution (Besseling et al., 2017;Lebreton et al., 2017;Thiel et al., 2018). ...
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This work presents the most important aspects that should be considered for assessing new marine litter reduction and processing technologies. The most relevant technology features are highlighted using a Delphi method capable of gathering and handling a large quantity of valuable data in areas where information is lacking. This relies on judgements provided by recognized experts in a particular area of knowledge, through an organized procedure based on a structured questionnaire and its reiterations. The Delphi process developed in this study completed two rounds. In the first round, a questionnaire with 55 statements (potentially important aspects) was shared with experts and stakeholders from different types of institutions (Administrations, Marinas and Ports; Associations; Companies; Universities; and Research Centers). Appropriate statistical analysis of the responses determined the degree of consensus and the level of importance perceived for each aspect. Feedback information based on analysis of the answers provided during the first round was included in a second round of the survey that focused on the statements that did not gather enough consensus, and therefore needed to be reevaluated by the expert group. After checking the stability of the results between rounds, the conclusions are set out and a list of the aspects to be considered in different decision-making contexts is drawn (from technology development, investment to marketing and policy making) taking into account technical, environmental, socio-economic, and political issues.
... Packaging, including flexible films and rigid containers, represents the largest single market for the consumption of plastics, with 23 million tons per year (and 92 million tons expected in 2050). In particular, flexible film production is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the packaging industry, with a compound annual growth rate CAGR of 5% [1][2][3]. ...
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Biodegradable polymers suffer from inherent performance limitations that severely limit their practical application. Their functionalization by coating technology is a promising strategy to significantly improve their physical properties for food packaging. In this study, we investigated the double coating technique to produce multifunctional, high barrier and heat-sealable biodegradable films. The systems consisted of a web layer, made of poly(lactide) (PLA) and poly(butylene-adipate-co-terephthalate) (PBAT), which was first coated with a poly(vinyl) alcohol based layer, providing high barrier, and then with a second layer of PLA + ethylene-bis-stereamide (EBS) wax (from 0 to 20%), to provide sealability and improve moisture resistance. The films were fully characterized in terms of chemical, thermal, morphological, surface and functional properties. The dep-osition of the PVOH coating alone, with a thickness of 5 μm, led to a decrease in the oxygen transmission rate from 2200 cm 3 /m 2 d bar, for the neat substrate (thickness of 22 μm), to 8.14 cm 3 /m 2 d bar (thickness of 27 μm). The deposition of the second PLA layer did not affect the barrier properties but provided heat sealability, with a maximum bonding strength equal to 6.53 N/25 mm. The EBS wax incorporation into the PLA slightly increased the surface hydrophobicity, since the water contact angle passed from 65.4°, for the neat polylactide layer, to 71° for the 20% wax concentration. With respect to the substrate, the double-coated films exhibited increased stiffness, with an elastic modulus ca. three times higher, and a reduced elongation at break, which, however still remained above 75%. Overall, the developed double-coated films exhibited performances comparable to those of the most common synthetic polymer films used in the packaging industry, underlining their suit-ability for the packaging of sensitive foods with high O2-barrier requirements.
... Many other actions at different scales might be explored to analyse the dynamics connecting producers/users/actors in charge of disposal, matching them with the patterns observed and reported in publications. Actions finely tuned to the specific context could be proposed, targeting, for example, the reduction of use and alternative choices to plastics (Riechers et al., 2021), as well as monitoring tools. Some of the LAZ components were found linked to beached plastics litter studies and so a data background is likely to be readily available following the conceptual up-take of the LAZ as part of a systems analysis. ...
Article
As sites of floating marine material deposition, sandy beaches accumulate marine litter. While research and assessment on beach litter is increasing and involves various actors (scientists, society and NGOs), there is the need to assess current and future dominant trends, directions and priorities in that research. As such, a textural co-occurrence analysis was applied to published scientific literature. Words were considered both singly and as part of compound terms related to concepts relevant to sandy beach ecology: morphodynamic state; Littoral Active Zone; indicator fauna. Litter as a compound term was also included. The main co-occurrences were found within compounds, with scarce interaction of "morphodynamic state" with the others, indicating the need for further integration of beach ecology paradigms into beached plastics studies. Three approaches are proposed to overcome the research limits highlighted: the unequivocation of terms, the consideration of adequate scales, and the attention to dynamics rather than just patterns.
... rivers, seas, oceans, etc.). It is estimated that by 2050 around 12 billion tonnes of plastic waste could end up in the natural environment (Riechers et al., 2021). The environmental problems caused by the increased consumption of plastics together with society's growing environmental awareness have led to an increase in research into more environmentally friendly polymers. ...
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p class="JARTEAbstract">In this study was analyzed the effect of three different compatibilizers polyethylene-graft-maleic anhydride (PE-g-MA), unmodified halloysite nanotubes (HNTs), and HNTs treated by silanization with (3-glycidyloxypropyl) trimethoxysilane (GLYMO) (silanized HNTs) in blends of bio-based high-density polyethylene (bioPE) and poly(butylene succinate) (PBS) with a weight ratio of (70/30). Each compatibilizer was added in a proportion of (3 phr regarding PBS). Standard samples were obtained by extrusion and subsequent injection molding. The analyzes of the samples were performed by mechanical tests, thermogravimetric analysis (TGA), differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), dynamic mechanical thermal analysis (DMTA), field emission scanning electron microscopy (FESEM), and wettability (θ<sub>w</sub>). Results suggest that the addition of modified HNTs (silanized HNTs) allowed to obtain better properties than samples compatibilized with unmodified HNTs and PE-g-MA, due to it contributes with the improvement in mechanical properties regarding bioPE/PBS blend, for instance, the tensile modulus and elongation at break increase about 8% and 13%, respectively. In addition, it was determined through FESEM images and that silanized HNTs particles were better dispersed over the matrix, which in fact contribute to the enhance in mechanical properties. TGA showed that silanized HNTs delay the degradation temperature regarding the uncompatibilized blend. While DMTA indicated the reduction in the mobility of the chains in samples with unmodified and modified HNTs. Therefore, it was successfully obtained compatibilized bioPE/PBS blends, which constitutes an interesting option to develop new sustainable polymers.</p
... Three-quarters of the interventions considered in this literature review are only proposed and not (yet) implemented. To develop and implement more effective interventions that address the root causes of marine pollution, we suggest the application of inter-and transdisciplinary approaches, which engage with plural scientific perspectives and a diversity of stakeholders (Riechers et al., 2021). Environmental conservation and management have traditionally been addressed within disciplinary boundaries and on a sectoral basis (Coppolillo et al., 2004;Simberloff, 1998). ...
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Despite an increasing understanding of the issue of marine pollution, humanity continues on a largely unsus-tainable trajectory. This study aimed to identify and classify the range of scientific studies and interventions to address coastal and marine pollution. We reviewed 2417 scientific papers published between 2000 and 2018, 741 of which we analysed in depth. To classify pollution interventions, we applied the systems-oriented concept of leverage points, which focuses on places to intervene in complex systems to bring about systemic change. We found that pollution is largely studied as a technical problem and fewer studies engage with pollution as a systemic social-ecological issue. While recognising the importance of technical solutions, we highlight the need to focus on under-researched areas pertaining to the deeper drivers of pollution (e.g. institutions, values) which are needed to fundamentally alter system trajectories.
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This study was a baseline with quantitative data of marine litter along the Gulf of Nicoya, Costa Rica. The objective of the study was to quantify marine litter and its association with human activities in this estuarine gulf. A total of fourteen sandy beaches were cataloged by the degree of urbanization, tourism intensity, beach cleaning programs, and tributary rivers as possible drivers of marine litter presence. The items of the marine litter were separated and weighted by type. Analysis by the clean coastal index (CCI) and multivariate statistics were applied to find spatial patterns in marine litter in the gulf. On beaches with the highest touristic activity, cigarette butts and straws were the main components. Locations with river plume influence, less frequent cleanup, or waste cans showed more bottles, plastic parts, and sanitary waste than beaches in other conditions. A beach in a fisherman town had recently utilized plastic bags, household goods, and boat parts in the marine litter. A wildlife refuge beach showed only small plastic and coffee foam cup fragments that came with currents from other points in the estuary. River basin management, solid waste disposal programs, and environmental education to avoid single-use items combined with correct waste disposal are needed to reduce marine litter in tropical countries focused on ecological tourism.
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The conference Leverage Points 2019 attracted 500 people from all over the world, discussing interventions to create and enable radical changes towards sustainability. The 70 sessions covered the themes of rethinking knowledge, restructuring institutions, reconnecting to nature, systems thinking, transformative research practice, and emergent themes. Keynote speakers from a range of disciplines, within and outside of academia, joined us to offer their own perspectives. Through the three days, radical change emerged as the ethos of the conference, which was reflected in both the format and atmosphere of the event, and in the impact to participants. The conference originated from within the Leverage Points project, run by Leuphana University, funded by the Volkswagen Foundation. The project was inspired by Donella Meadow's essay on intervening in systems (Meadows 1997). During the past five years, 15 postdoctoral and PhD researchers, and eight professors conducted a joint project on this topic at Leuphana University. The conference was the final part of this project.
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Millions of metric tons of plastics are produced annually and transported from land to the oceans. Finding the fate of the plastic debris will help define the impacts of plastic pollution in the ocean. Here, we report the abundances of microplastic in the deepest part of the world’s ocean. We found that microplastic abundances in hadal bottom waters range from 2.06 to 13.51 pieces per litre, several times higher than those in open ocean subsurface water. Moreover, microplastic abundances in hadal sediments of the Mariana Trench vary from 200 to 2200 pieces per litre, distinctly higher than those in most deep sea sediments. These results suggest that manmade plastics have contaminated the most remote and deepest places on the planet. The hadal zone is likely one of the largest sinks for microplastic debris on Earth, with unknown but potentially damaging impacts on this fragile ecosystem.
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The rapid growth of the use and disposal of plastic materials has proved to be a challenge for solid waste management systems with impacts on our environment and ocean. While recycling and the circular economy have been touted as potential solutions, upward of half of the plastic waste intended for recycling has been exported to hundreds of countries around the world. China, which has imported a cumulative 45% of plastic waste since 1992, recently implemented a new policy banning the importation of most plastic waste, begging the question of where the plastic waste will go now. We use commodity trade data for mass and value, region, and income level to illustrate that higher-income countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation have been exporting plastic waste (70% in 2016) to lower-income countries in the East Asia and Pacific for decades. An estimated 111 million metric tons of plastic waste will be displaced with the new Chinese policy by 2030. As 89% of historical exports consist of polymer groups often used in single-use plastic food packaging (polyethylene, polypropylene, and polyethylene terephthalate), bold global ideas and actions for reducing quantities of nonrecyclable materials, redesigning products, and funding domestic plastic waste management are needed.
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IMO/FAO/UNESCO-IOC/UNIDO/WMO/IAEA/UN/UNEP/UNDP Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection GESAMP. Rep. Stud. GESAMP No. 90, 96 p.
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There is emerging agreement that sustainability challenges require new ways of knowledge production and decision-making. One key aspect of sustainability science, therefore, is the involvement of actors from outside academia into the research process in order to integrate the best available knowledge, reconcile values and preferences, as well as create ownership for problems and solution options. Transdisciplinary, community-based, interactive, or participatory research approaches are often suggested as appropriate means to meet both the requirements posed by real-world problems as well as the goals of sustainability science as a transformational scientific field. Dispersed literature on these approaches and a variety of empirical projects applying them make it difficult for interested researchers and practitioners to review and become familiar with key components and design principles of how to do transdisciplinary sustainability research. Starting from a conceptual model of an ideal–typical transdisciplinary research process, this article synthesizes and structures such a set of principles from various strands of the literature and empirical experiences. We then elaborate on them, looking at challenges and some coping strategies as experienced in transdisciplinary sustainability projects in Europe, North America, South America, Africa, and Asia. The article concludes with future research needed in order to further enhance the practice of transdisciplinary sustainability research.
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Plastics have transformed everyday life; usage is increasing and annual production is likely to exceed 300 million tonnes by 2010. In this concluding paper to the Theme Issue on Plastics, the Environment and Human Health, we synthesize current understanding of the benefits and concerns surrounding the use of plastics and look to future priorities, challenges and opportunities. It is evident that plastics bring many societal benefits and offer future technological and medical advances. However, concerns about usage and disposal are diverse and include accumulation of waste in landfills and in natural habitats, physical problems for wildlife resulting from ingestion or entanglement in plastic, the leaching of chemicals from plastic products and the potential for plastics to transfer chemicals to wildlife and humans. However, perhaps the most important overriding concern, which is implicit throughout this volume, is that our current usage is not sustainable. Around 4 per cent of world oil production is used as a feedstock to make plastics and a similar amount is used as energy in the process. Yet over a third of current production is used to make items of packaging, which are then rapidly discarded. Given our declining reserves of fossil fuels, and finite capacity for disposal of waste to landfill, this linear use of hydrocarbons, via packaging and other short-lived applications of plastic, is simply not sustainable. There are solutions, including material reduction, design for end-of-life recyclability, increased recycling capacity, development of bio-based feedstocks, strategies to reduce littering, the application of green chemistry life-cycle analyses and revised risk assessment approaches. Such measures will be most effective through the combined actions of the public, industry, scientists and policymakers. There is some urgency, as the quantity of plastics produced in the first 10 years of the current century is likely to approach the quantity produced in the entire century that preceded.
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Plastic litter has become one of the most serious threats to the marine environment. Over 690 marine species have been impacted by plastic debris with small plastic particles being observed in the digestive tract of organisms from different trophic levels. The physical and chemical properties of microplastics facilitate the sorption of contaminants to the particle surface, serving as a vector of contaminants to organisms following ingestion. Bioaccumulation factors for higher trophic organisms and impacts on wider marine food webs remain unknown. The main objectives of this review were to discuss the factors influencing microplastic ingestion; describe the biological impacts of associated chemical contaminants; highlight evidence for the trophic transfer of microplastics and contaminants within marine food webs and outline the future research priorities to address potential human health concerns. Controlled laboratory studies looking at the effects of microplastics and contaminants on model organisms employ nominal concentrations and consequently have little relevance to the real environment. Few studies have attempted to track the fate of microplastics and mixed contaminants through a complex marine food web using environmentally relevant concentrations to identify the real level of risk. To our knowledge, there has been no attempt to understand the transfer of microplastics and associated contaminants from seafood to humans and the implications for human health. Research is needed to determine bioaccumulation factors for popular seafood items in order to identify the potential impacts on human health.
Article
Plastics, especially from packaging, have gained increasing attention in waste management, driving many policy initiatives to improve the circularity of these materials in the economy to increase resource efficiency. In this context, the EU has proposed increasing targets to encourage the recycling of (plastic) packaging. To accurately calculate the recycling rates, detailed information on the flows of plastic packaging is needed. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to quantitatively and qualitatively investigate the waste management system for plastic packaging in Austria in 2013 using material flow analysis, taking into account the used product types and the polymer composition. The results show that 300,000 ± 3% t/a (35 kg/cap·a) of waste plastic packaging were produced, mainly composed of large and small films and small hollow bodies, including PET bottles. Correspondingly, the polymer composition of the waste stream was dominated by LDPE (46% ± 6%), PET (19% ± 4%) and PP (14% ± 6%). 58% ± 3% was collected separately, and regarding the final treatment, 26% ± 7% of the total waste stream was recovered as re-granulates, whereas the rest was thermally recovered in waste-to-energy plants (40% ± 3%) and the cement industry (33% ± 6%). The targets set by the EU and Austria were reached comfortably, although to reach the proposed future target major technological steps regarding collection and sorting will be needed. However, the current calculation point of the targets, i.e. on the input side of the recycling plant, is not deemed to be fully in line with the overall objective of the circular economy, namely to keep materials in the economy and prevent losses. It is therefore recommended that the targets be calculated with respect to the actual output of the recycling process, provided that the quality of the output products is maintained, to accurately assess the performance of the waste management system.
Article
To date, only a few studies have investigated the attitude of companies towards the EU Ecolabel. This article intends to provide an updated portrait of what are the main motivations that push companies to use the EU Ecolabel, the benefits that companies perceive as deriving from it and the barriers that companies perceive as hindering uptake. In order to answer to these research questions, we have used the data collected by the empirical survey on the EU Ecolabel that ran from April to July 2014. Evidence emerging from the survey shows that companies deem that the EU Ecolabel added-value lies in it being a useful " showcase " tool of their eco-innovation efforts, potentially able to close the information gap with the market (made of consumers above all, but also retailers and public procurers) about their products and services' environmental performance. However, there is evidence throughout the study that, although the EU Ecolabel brings some market rewards, these are fewer than those expected by companies when they first decide to apply for the EU Ecolabel. This is linked to the lack of awareness of the EU Ecolabel by consumers and to the insufficient and inadequate promotion and support granted by public institutions.
Article
A linear economy approach results in many environmental challenges: resources become depleted and end up as waste and emissions. One of the key strategies to overcome these problems is using waste as a resource, i.e. evolving toward a circular economy. To monitor this transition, suitable indicators are needed that focus on sustainability issues whilst taking into account the technical reality. In this paper, we develop such an indicator to quantify the circular economy performance of different plastic waste treatment options. This indicator is based on the technical quality of the plastic waste stream and evaluates resource consumption by using the Cumulative Exergy Extraction from the Natural Environment (CEENE) method. To illustrate the use of this new indicator, it was applied in a case study on post-industrial plastic waste treatment. The results show that the indicator can be a very useful approach to guide waste streams towards their optimal valorization option, based on quality of the waste flow and the environmental benefit of the different options.
Article
The Stockholm Convention bans toxic chemicals on its persistent organic pollutants (POPs) list in order to promote cleaner production and prevent POPs accumulation in the global environment. The original ‘dirty dozen’ set of POPs has been expanded to include some of the brominated diphenyl ether flame retardants (POP-BDEs). In addition to cleaner production, there is an urgent need for increased resource efficiency to address the finite amount of raw materials on Earth. Recycling plastic enhances resource efficiency and is part of the circular economy approach, but how clean are the materials we are recycling? With the help of a new screening method and detailed analyses, we set out to investigate where these largely obsolete BDEs were showing up in Dutch automotive and electronics waste streams, calculate mass flows and determine to what extent they are entering the new product chains. Our study revealed that banned BDEs and other toxic flame retardants are found at high concentrations in certain plastic materials destined for recycling markets. They were also found in a variety of new consumer products, including children's toys. A mass flow analysis showed that 22% of all the POP-BDE in waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is expected to end up in recycled plastics because these toxic, bioaccumulative and persistent substances are currently not effectively separated out of plastic waste streams. In the automotive sector, this is 14%, while an additional 19% is expected to end up in second-hand parts (reuse). These results raise the issue of delicate trade-offs between consumer safety/cleaner production and resource efficiency. As petroleum intensive materials, plastic products ought to be repaired, reused, remanufactured and recycled, making good use of the ‘inner circles’ of the circular economy. Keeping hazardous substances – whether they are well known POPs or emerging contaminants – out of products and plastic waste streams could make these cycles work better for businesses, people and nature.
Article
There has been a considerable increase on research of the ecological consequences of microplastics released into the environment, but only a handful of works have focused on the nano-sized particles of polymer-based materials. Though their presence has been difficult to adequately ascertain, due to the inherent technical difficulties for isolating and quantifying them, there is an overall consensus that these are not only present in the environment – either directly released or as the result of weathering of larger fragments – but that they also pose a significant threat to the environment and human health, as well. The reduced size of these particulates (< 1 μm) makes them susceptible of ingestion by organisms that are at the base of the food-chain. Moreover, the characteristic high surface area-to-volume ratio of nanoparticles may add to their potential hazardous effects, as other contaminants, such as persistent organic pollutants, could be adsorbed and undergo bioaccumulation and bioamplification phenomena.
Article
Plastic debris in the marine environment is widely documented, but the quantity of plastic entering the ocean from waste generated on land is unknown. By linking worldwide data on solid waste, population density, and economic status, we estimated the mass of land-based plastic waste entering the ocean. We calculate that 275 million metric tons (MT) of plastic waste was generated in 192 coastal countries in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million MT entering the ocean. Population size and the quality of waste management systems largely determine which countries contribute the greatest mass of uncaptured waste available to become plastic marine debris. Without waste management infrastructure improvements, the cumulative quantity of plastic waste available to enter the ocean from land is predicted to increase by an order of magnitude by 2025. Copyright © 2015, American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Article
In ecological economics the terms sustainable development and transdisciplinarity are closely related. It is shown that this close relation is due to the fact that research for sustainable development has to be issue oriented and reflect the diversity, complexity and dynamics of the processes involved as well as their variability between specific problem situations. Furthermore, the knowledge of people involved and their needs and interests at stake have to be taken into account. There are three basic and interrelated questions about issues to be addressed in sustainability research: (1) In which way do processes constitute a problem field and where are the needs for change? (2) What are more sustainable practices? (3) How can existing practices be transformed? To treat them properly, transdisciplinary research is needed. The emergence of transdisciplinary research in the North and the South is described. By distinguishing analytically among basic, applied and transdisciplinary research the challenges that have to be tackled in transdisciplinary projects are analyzed.
How People Harness Their Collective Wisdom and Power to Construct the Future in Co-laboratories of Democracy
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