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‘A sink for microplastics’: 14 million tonnes on ocean floor

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Australia’s science agency finds a volume of microplastics on seafloor more than double the plastic pollution on the surface.

An estimated 14 million tonnes of harmful microplastics may be present in the bottom of the world’s deep oceans as a result of the pervasive use of plastic, according to a world-first study by an Australian science agency.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) analysed the deep ocean 380km (236 miles) from the coast of South Australia and found that the amount of very small plastic particles on the seafloor was more than double the amount of plastic pollution on the surface of the sea globally.

“Our research found that the deep ocean is a sink for microplastics,” said Denise Hardesty, CSIRO’s principal research scientist and co-author of the study.

Millions of tonnes of plastic enter the world’s oceans every year and despite efforts to reduce the use of plastics, the volume of plastics in the marine environment is expected to increase further.

“Plastic pollution that ends up in the ocean deteriorates and breaks down, ending up as microplastics,” said Justine Barrett, the lead researcher in the study at CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere division.

Once in the sea, the plastics gradually disintegrate and can be easily ingested by marine organisms. They can also end up in the human food chain.

“Even the deep ocean is susceptible to the plastic pollution problem,” Barrett said. “The results show microplastics are indeed sinking to the ocean floor.”

Barrett credited the study for expanding our understanding of how the presence of plastic particles affects marine ecosystems, wildlife and even human health.

The study is the first global estimate of how much microplastic there is on the seafloor.

Robotic submarine

Microplastics range in size from 5mm, or the size of a rice grain, down to microscopic size, which makes it easy for them to be ingested by sea creatures.

They include tiny pieces of degraded plastic, and synthetic fibres as well as plastic beads used in cosmetic items and even in toothpaste and laundry powder soap.

The Netherlands was the first to ban plastic microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products in 2014, and the United States followed suit in 2015. But many other countries continue to allow their use.

Microplastics are also the result of larger plastic debris that degrades into smaller and smaller pieces.

CSIRO predicts that the volume of microplastics that will enter the marine environment will increase further in the coming years [File: Clemens Bilan/EPA]

The samples used in the study were collected using a robotic submarine at depths of as much as 3,000 metres (9,842 feet).

Based on the deep-sea plastic densities, the researchers estimated the volume of microplastics on the seafloor worldwide.

Denise Hardesty, a co-author of the study, said there was an urgent need to generate effective plastic pollution solutions.

“By identifying where and how much microplastic there is, we get a better picture of the extent of the problem.

“This will help to inform waste management strategies and create behavioural change and opportunities to stop plastic and other rubbish entering our environment,” she said.

Among the steps that can be taken are the reduction, if not elimination, of single-use plastics and recycling.

“Government, industry and the community need to work together to significantly reduce the amount of litter we see along our beaches and in our oceans.”

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Trump slams US stimulus deal on Twitter as talks continue

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Trump’s evening tweets came hours after all three major stock indexes fell over the ongoing stimulus deadlock.

United States President Donald Trump expressed scepticism that an agreement could be reached with Democratic leaders on a new round of coronavirus aid relief, seemingly torpedoing hopes for a stimulus plan even as talks continue between Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Secretary Treasury Steve Mnuchin.

“Just don’t see any way Nancy Pelosi and Cryin’ Chuck Schumer will be willing to do what is right for our great American workers, or our wonderful USA itself, on Stimulus,” Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday evening. “Their primary focus is BAILING OUT poorly run (and high crime) Democrat cities and states….Should take care of our people. It wasn’t their fault that the Plague came in from China!”

The tweets came after all three financial indexes fell on Wednesday amid dwindling hopes of a stimulus plan before Americans head to the polls on Election Day November 3.

Pelosi has proposed $2.2 trillion to help struggling businesses and families, while the White House rolled out a $1.8 trillion proposal, which Trump has since said he would be willing to go beyond. But Pelosi and Mnuchin are reportedly getting closer to a deal, with the pair due to speak again on Thursday, Pelosi’s spokesman said in a tweet.

Experts have warned the US needs another round of financial relief for struggling businesses and families in order to recover from the pandemic’s economic downturn. The last round of aid expired at the end of July, including an additional $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits meant to shore up workers in addition to state aid.

Earlier this month, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell warned that the country’s entire economic recovery is in danger of derailing if the government does not step up to the plate.

“Too little support would lead to a weak recovery, creating unnecessary hardship for households and businesses,” Powell said during an October 7 event with economists and strategists.

Trump has frequently used Twitter to weigh in on the continuing stimulus talks. On the same day Powell spoke, Trump tweeted that he had told his representatives to halt stimulus negotiations with Democrats until after the election – before making an about-face hours later and urging Democratic legislators to cast targeted financial lines to businesses and households.

Last week, he tweeted: “STIMULUS! “Go big or go home!!!” even as Senate Republicans expressed support for a pared-down aid package.

On Wednesday, Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, told Fox Business “the president’s willing to lean into this” with Republican senators if a deal is reached.

Talks are continuing as the timeframe for a pre-Election Day vote narrows, with investors around the world closely watching what comes out of Pelosi and Mnuchin’s discussions Thursday.

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Obama says Trump treats presidency ‘like a reality show he can use to get attention’

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Scott Olson/Getty Images/FILE
Scott Olson/Getty Images/FILE

Businessman Andrew Yang will join Young Americans for Biden and youth-focused organizations Student Debt Crisis and Rise, as well as the student loan start-up Savi, for a town hall and phone bank Wednesday.

Yang, a former Democratic presidential candidate and CNN contributor, ran on a platform that emphasized Universal Basic Income and student debt relief for young Americans.

During the virtual event with Yang, Student Debt Crisis, Rise and Savi will announce the launch of a new joint initiative between the groups, which includes a student loan education tool and hotline for student loan borrowers.

“With 45 million student loan borrowers, it’s a massive bloc of voters who could easily tip the election and Rise’s work with Student Debt Crisis is the first concerted effort to define ‘student loan voter’ as a category with political power,” Rise CEO Maxwell Lubin told CNN.

In September, Rise and Student Debt Crisis teamed up to endorse the Biden-Harris ticket. Wednesday’s virtual event with Yang marks the first time the student-focused groups will partner with Savi.

Rise, a student-led advocacy group with chapters on college campuses across the country, has mobilized more than 80,000 students in battle ground states with a get out the vote campaign since the summer, Lubin said. 

Student Debt Crisis is a national organization dedicated to teaching young people how to manage their student loans. They regularly hold clinics to help young people understand their loans and work nationally to reform student debt and higher education policies. 

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Pins and needles: US stocks close lower as stimulus talks drag

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Investors are increasingly worried that Democratic legislators and the White House may not reach a deal on a vital stimulus package before Election Day.

Wall Street’s three major averages closed lower on Wednesday after a volatile trading session, as investors worried whether difficult negotiations in Washington, DC would produce a deal for a fresh United States coronavirus stimulus package.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 97.97 points, or 0.35 percent, at 28,210.82.

The S&P 500 – a gauge for the health of US retirement and college savings reports – lost 0.22 percent, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index shed 0.28 percent.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said that while there are a number of differences between the White House and Congressional Democrats, Republican President Donald Trump was “willing to lean into” working on an agreement.

Before starting afternoon talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said there was still a chance for a deal despite resistance from Senate Republicans, though she acknowledged it might not pass until after the November 3 Election Day.

“As long as she keeps dangling the carrot out there that there’s still a chance that something could get done, investors continue to remain optimistic,” said Michael James, managing director of equity trading at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, California.

“You would rather have more long exposure than have too much cash if an agreement is reached. That’s a big if,” James added.

James said investors were holding out hope a deal could be reached on Thursday.

“Everybody’s going to be sitting on pins and needles waiting for the next headline between now and the end of tomorrow’s trading day,” he explained.

After the closing bell, Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said the day’s session “brings us closer to being able to put pen to paper to write legislation”.

Instead of ploughing money into the market broadly, Michael O’Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading in Stamford, Connecticut said investors picked stocks as they looked at third-quarter financial results.

Of the 11 major industry sectors, nine closed lower, with energy leading the percentage decliners. Communications services was the biggest gainer.

Shares in Snapchat messaging app owner Snap Inc finished up 28 percent after it beat user growth and revenue forecasts, as more people signed up to chat with friends and family during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The news helped boost other social media companies with Facebook Inc up 4 percent and Twitter Inc climbing 8 percent in the communications services index. Smaller social media firm Pinterest Inc also gained close to 9 percent.

Dampening the mood, however, was Netflix Inc, which tumbled almost 7 percent after it kicked off earnings for the market’s high-flyers club. The video-streaming service missed expectations for subscriber growth as competition increased and live sports returned to television.

Shares in electric-car maker Tesla Inc rose 4 percent after the closing bell after it reported quarterly earnings. Tesla beat analysts’ estimates for third-quarter revenue as it made record vehicle deliveries, overcoming disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of the 84 S&P 500 firms that have reported third-quarter results, 85.7 percent have topped expectations for earnings, according to IBES Refinitiv data.

Investors also have their eyes on the upcoming elections. Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden will face off in their second and final debate on Thursday night.

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