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Victor Vescovo isn’t your average businessman. Instead of spending his out-of-office time golfing or playing tennis, the 53-year-old retired naval officer enjoys descending to the lowest points in the ocean in his submarine, DSV Limiting Factor, searching for undiscovered species and collecting samples. I mean, who doesn’t, right?

During his four-hour May 1st expedition (in which he broke “Titanic” director James Cameron’s 2012 record for the deepest solo dive in history) he plunged 6.8 miles down into an oceanic region known as the Mariana Trench.


When he was exploring the terrain, however, he noticed something unusual among the shrimp-like amphopods and sea cucumber-looking “sea pigs” — angular metal and plastic objects. One even had writing on it. The ocean floor was littered with garbage. He even found candy wrappers down there, according to CNN.

“It was very disappointing to see obvious human contamination of the deepest point in the ocean,” Vescovo told Reuters.

Scientists plan to test the specimens collected on the expedition to see if they contain microplastics, which generally come from either large pieces of plastic that biodegrade or from microbeads, super tiny pieces of manufactured polyethylene plastic.

Vescovo hopes his discovery will raise awareness about dumping in the ocean as well as put some pressure on governments to tighten regulations.

“It’s not a big garbage collection pool, even though it’s treated as such,” Vescovo said about the ocean.

Obviously, plastic in the ocean is a huge problem, and the fact that we’re finding pieces of it at the ocean’s deepest points means it’s getting worse. But there are things you can do to help stop it.

According to the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy, there are five easy ways you can help keep our oceans trash free. They include properly recycling plastics, drinking water in a reusable bottle instead of disposable plastic bottles, volunteering for coastal cleanups, engaging in green boating practices and making sure your cigarette butts end up in an ashtray and not on the street.

We all need to be more mindful about our trash — especially we’re near large bodies of water, like oceans. So if you are taking a seaside stroll this summer and notice trash on the shoreline, pick it up and toss in a proper waste receptacle. If you don’t, there’s a chance pieces of it could end up in someone’s seafood dinner, maybe even your own.

We learn a lot by paying attention to the little things — in this case, the very little, bug-sized things.

That's what biologist and amateur beekeeper Federica Bertocchini noticed while tending to her beehives in Madrid.

To keep her bees healthy and happy, Bertocchini has to remove pests that move into the hives, including a tiny beeswax-munching caterpillar known as the wax worm.


A comb full of beeswax is a tasty meal for wax worms. Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images.

One day, Bertocchini was clearing out the worms, placing them in a plastic grocery bag. After working for a while, she discovered the plastic bag had developed a bunch of little holes.

The worms were eating their way out!

Plastic-eating caterpillars? Yep, they're real.

What's a freak event to one person can be inspiration to a scientist. Bertocchini decided to put the little critters to the test.

She rounded up some colleagues and gave the caterpillars more polyethylene bags to munch on. Polyethylene makes up about 40% of Europe's plastic demand. Sure enough, the caterpillars started eating through those bags, digesting the plastic, and turning it into ethylene glycol, an odorless compound found in antifreeze.

Taking a step back, Bertocchini's team said this actually makes sense. The worms normally eat wax to survive, and wax and plastic aren't that different, chemically. But this discovery could have big consequences for the environment.

A new way to digest plastic could make a difference both on land and in the ocean.

Humans love their plastic — plastic bottles, milk jugs, sandwich baggies — but unfortunately, we don't pay that much attention to what happens after we use it. Scientists estimate 4 million to 12 million metric tons of plastic enters the oceans each year.

Trash in Manila Bay in 2014. Photo from Jay Directo/AFP/Getty Images

And while ethylene glycol — what the worms are pooping out — isn't exactly great for the environment either, the substance breaks down in weeks instead of the decades or centuries that a polyethylene bag might take.

Caterpillars, bacteria, and other critters have been seen eating or breaking down plastic bags before, though Bertocchini's team said the wax worms broke down plastic faster than any other recent discoveries.

This is a really cool example of scientists learning from nature.

Though the digestion happened pretty quickly compared to other methods, it still took 100 worms 12 hours to eat through a little more than 90 milligrams of plastic. It would take those worms about a month to break down one plastic bag.

Bertocchini and her team don't yet know what exactly it is inside the wax worms that's breaking down the plastic — it might be an enzyme or some kind of gut bacteria — but once they figure that out, they might be able to supercharge the process and harness it for good.

In a news release, Bertocchini's team said they want to find a way to use this discovery to clean up our rivers and oceans. Their paper was published in the scientific journal Current Biology.

Good news for fans of foggy, damp British beaches!

A beautiful day on the beach in Hastings, Sussex. Photo by Peter Trimming/geograph.org.uk.

Thanks to the efforts of local policymakers and environmental activists, it appears those beaches are a lot less plastic-baggy then they were just five years ago.


In 2011, Wales became the first country in the United Kingdom to require customers at supermarkets and retail stores who want a single-use plastic bag to pay a 5-pence surcharge.

Basically, anyone who wanted to take their items home in a plastic bag had to pay about 5 cents per bag.

An old Sainsbury's bag. Photo by Mark Tristan/Flickr.

Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England followed suit just a few years later. Fast-forward to 2016, and it turns out the new rules have actually been making a noticeable difference, at least in terms of how many of the unsightly, bird-intestine-cloggers wash up on shore, according to a BBC report:

"The number of plastic carrier bags found on UK beaches has dropped by almost half, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has said.

The charity's Great British Beach Clean report found just under seven bags per 100 metres of coastline cleaned.

That is a 40% drop from the average 11 bags found in 2015 and is the lowest number in 10 years."



The study wasn't all good news — it also found an increase in plastic bottles and balloon-related litter, and plastic bag trash increased slightly in some regions of England — but overall, the trend seems to be heading in a positive direction.

This is good news for hey-maybe-using-so-much-plastic-just-one-time-is-not-so-good advocates in the United States, who have already won a few key victories in recent years.

A Ralph's supermarket in Hollywood, California. Photo by Yebo420/Wikimedia Commons.

Plastic trash has a nasty habit of poisoning birds, sneaking into the food chain, and winding up in places like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where it hangs out for hundreds of years, breaking down bit by bit without truly biodegrading. As a result, U.S. states and cities have fought back against our propensity to dispense them willy-nilly.

California banned single-use plastic bags at large retailers in 2014 (a ballot measure affirming the ban was approved this year). Though the prohibition measures are fairly new and the effects are difficult to study comprehensively, data on similar measures is largely encouraging.

Cities like Seattle; Austin, Texas; and Cambridge, Massachusetts, have approved similar bans, while New York City and Washington, D.C., have passed surcharge ordinances similar to those in the U.K.

While plastic bag taxes and bans can seem like a small thing, they can help limit fossil fuel use and promote the health and welfare of marine life, two steps that are crucial for creating a less litter-filled planet.

A bag on the beach at Red Wharf Bay in Wales. Photo by John S. Turner/geograph.org.uk.

A plastic bag surcharge may not be the Paris Agreement, but the fact that data is starting to show that incentivizing customers to reuse shopping bags can be effective environmental policy is good news.

What's better? It's the kind of effective environmental policy supported by data you can see right in front of your face every time you lay out on the beach for a tan.

In the grand scheme of saving the planet, less cluttered beaches are a little thing.

But if it's going to take a sea change to save our planet, it can't hurt to start by cleaning the beach.

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Starbucks Upstanders

What do you do with your free time? 17-year-old Destiny Watford spends hers saving her neighborhood.

Destiny lives in Baltimore, a city where more people die from air pollution than homicide — and the homicide rate is nothing to scoff at.

This isn’t an exaggeration; it’s a reality. And the people who live there deal with it every day.


Why is the air pollution so bad? Well, Curtis Bay — a neighborhood in Baltimore — is home to a coal export terminal, the nation’s largest medical waste facility, and an animal rendering plant, to name a few reasons.

All images via Starbucks, used with permission.

In 2012, Destiny learned about a plan to build the country’s largest trash-burning incinerator in Curtis Bay just a mile from her school.

Destiny looked around at her neighborhood, polluted by factory after factory, and decided she’d had enough.

Watch Destiny's full story:

These students banded together and stopped what would have been the nation's largest trash incinerator from being built just a mile away from their school. A Starbucks original series.

Posted by Upworthy on Friday, September 23, 2016

You may wonder, how could the country so completely disregard the health of these residents?

There's a reason Curtis Bay and communities like it are often the proposed sites for these types of facilities (ahem, environmental racism). A study published in Environmental Research Letters revealed that factories using toxic substances and waste plants are usually found in poor neighborhoods — and those neighborhoods are often predominantly made up of people of color.

The phenomenon is nothing new. History has shown time and time again that poor neighborhoods are often used as dumping grounds. See the Flint water crisis.

The communities being affected often don’t have a voice to fight against this injustice. That’s why Destiny is so special.

Determined to stop the incinerator from invading their neighborhood, Destiny and her classmates started a movement.

"Curtis Bay is my home," explained Destiny. "I grew up here. I live here. My family lives here. My friends live here. If a development like this is happening that would be putting our lives at risk, I couldn't ignore it."

She and her peers started Free Your Voice, an organization aimed at stopping the development of the incinerator.

They found out that the Baltimore City Public School System would be purchasing energy from the incinerator and challenged that decision. They won — the school board changed its decision and backed out of the contract. 21 other businesses followed suit.

Then, something even bigger happened.

"We learned that the incinerator’s permit had expired," Destiny said. "This was a huge opportunity for us because with an expired permit, you can’t construct. But it would not matter unless the Maryland Department of the Environment said publicly, 'Your permits are expired.' Which they hadn’t."

Free Your Voice organized protests, with people standing outside late into the night, urging the department to enforce the law and stop the incinerator.

It took months, but eventually the state did declare that the permit was expired, effectively halting all operations.

The community united, and their unified, persistent voice was loud enough to be heard.

Thanks to Destiny and her peers, the future of Curtis Bay — and its air — is clearer.

And Destiny led the charge. Her passion for her community inspired positive change. If more communities follow suit, hopefully together, they can force the tide to change.