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Science Deadline: 10 August 2018

Science Deadline: Ban on plastic bags, bowel screening review and 'hothouse Earth'

Single-use plastic bags banned

The Government has pledged to rid the country of single-use plastic shopping bags over the next year.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage made the announcement in Wellington on Friday morning.

"We're phasing-out single-use plastic bags so we can better look after our environment and safeguard New Zealand's clean, green reputation," Ardern said, according to the NZ Herald.

Ardern said plastic was the single biggest subject school children wrote to her about, and this year 65,000 Kiwis signed a petitioncalling for an outright ban on bags.

The Packaging Forum, an industry group with a focus on recycling said a ban would set a level playing field for the retail industry, but wants to see compostable and degradable plastics included in the proposal, Stuff reported.

"New Zealand does not yet have a standard for compostable packaging, nor does the current infrastructure take most of these products in the volumes presented, which means they will mostly end up in a landfill," Soft Plastics Recycling Scheme manager Lyn Mayes said.

Confusion around biodegradable and compostable plastics made recent headlines following a report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Simon Upton, who said the Government needed to step in and assume greater responsibility.

Globally more than 40 countries have banned plastic bags, The Guardian said. The UN reports that the first to do so was Bangladesh in 2002.

The Government has released a consultation document for people who want more information.

The SMC is gathering expert reaction to the announcement.

Quoted: Stuff

"Much of the Canterbury mudfish habitat is on private land and is severely impacted by agriculture," she said.

"[I]t’s sad but not surprising that the loss of aquatic and other wetland habitat has had a major impact on Canterbury mudfish and other wetland-dependent indigenous freshwater fish."


Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage on the plight
of the Canterbury mudfish,
as highlighted by DOC's
review of the conservation status of freshwater fish.


Bowel screening under review

An independent review has outlined shortcomings of the national bowel screening programme (NBSP) pilot and made a range of recommendations for a successful roll-out.

The review was commissioned by Health Minister Dr David Clark in February after it was found that some patients who should have been screened in the pilot phase weren’t – some of whom were later diagnosed with bowel cancer.

In announcing the outcome of the review on Wednesday, the minister apologised unreservedly to families of those affected by problems in the pilot.

Review chairman Professor Gregor Coster said this issue “highlights the impact of the lack of investment” in the IT system for the Waitemata pilot.

“It has been contended that the Ministry of Health decision-makers did not fully understand the clinical implications of these issues,” the NZ Herald reported.

Recommendations included better project management and clinical oversight, improved IT systems, greater engagement with Māori and Pasifika groups, better relationships with DHBs and external organisations, and a workforce development plan.

The review said the colonoscopy workforce capacity remained a “significant risk and is constraining the current National Bowel Screening Programme (NBSP) roll-out”, Health Central reported.

The Ministry of Health has committed to implementing the recommendations, and will publish the actions it will take in early-2019, then report on progress a year later.

The SMC rounded up coverage of the report.

Hothouse Earth

The possibility Earth could enter an irreversible ‘hothouse climate’ with rising sea levels of between 10 and 60 metres has been brought to light in a new paper from the journal PNAS.


In the paper, Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene, a team of international researchers warn that if Earth breaks a temperature threshold it will bring much higher global average temperatures than have occurred at any time in the Holocene.

TVNZ reported: “The impacts of a hothouse earth pathway on human societies would likely be massive, sometimes abrupt, and undoubtedly disruptive,” lead researcher, Australian National University professor Will Steffen, said.

Speaking to Breakfast, AUT Head of Environment Sciences Len Gillman said the temperature targets set in the Paris Agreement needed to be adjusted to see more action taken with greater urgency.

“We’re looking at 30-60 years at the point when we might be hitting the first of those tipping points – things like the loss of sea ice.”

But on independent climate news site, Grist, meteorologist Eric Holthaus wrote it was important to understand this concept is no foregone conclusion, but the “breathlessness” of many media headlines dangerously fostered hopelessness.

“Liverman and the other authors anticipated a defeatist response and published a multi-page document of possible solutions which, when combined with other research on the most important actions people can take, gives a blueprint for hope, not despair,” he wrote.

That said, the paper still paints a “very worrying picture,” which reinforced the need for immediate action, Victoria University climate scientist Professor James Renwick told the NZ Herald.

“It makes yet another great case for taking serious action now – we’ve got to start reducing emissions immediately, because this could be down the pipeline… and it would be terrifically bad news if it was.”

The SMC rounded up coverage of the report.


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