Of throwaway drinks bottles and flesh-eating bacteria
Plastic can indeed be fantastic, as achievements of recent years prove. Take Diet Coke bottles that don’t shatter and cut the tender toes of bathing beauties tripping along from pool to beach. That a carelessly discarded PET bottle can bob across oceans and get caught in one of its many churning gyres, newspeak for garbage dumps and harming marine life, is an unintended side effect.

The makings of a perfect storm? (Photo: PantherMedia/bennymarty)

Armadas of researchers and hands-on doers, like unflappable Dutchman Boyan Slat and his Ocean Cleanup project, are casting for solutions. But progress is slow, and to what avail when breakthrough discoveries keep sending them back to base?

Wading through the Sarrgosso Sea News, one finds scholarly pages full of horror scenarios rivalling those of tabloid titillation. In the subtropical North Atlantic gyre off Bermuda, you’ll read, researchers have found that plastic waste threatens critical habitat structure and ecosystem services worth “billions of US dollars.”

Nothing surprising about the first. Calculating the side effects of the side effects could be more challenging, and disturbing. The plastic, scientists have found, is bonding with Vibrio vulnificu, the “perfect pathogen” swimming nearby.

Added to the catastrophic effects on sea birds, fish and turtles, as well as the mollusks, barnacles, and copepods they feed on, this flesh-eating bacterium can cause severe foodborne illnesses in the seafood humans eat.

A perfect storm then could trigger a health scare from hell. Remember Covid-19? Medical masks and PMMA shields at grocery check-outs won’t protect against the new “V” disease.

A new challenge for material scientists, or for a more sophisticated clean-up armada with the potential for a happy end? Wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier if humans finally realised the value that went into making those convenience bottles and didn’t casually toss them away?
26.05.2023 [252795-0]
Published on 26.05.2023

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Date of print: 04.06.2023 09:47:03   (Ref: 528562695)
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