Friday, March 6, 2015

How much are we trashing our oceans?

Nearly every piece of plastic still exists on Earth, regardless of whether it's been recycled, broken down into microscopic bits or discarded in the ocean.
And the world keeps producing more of the material -- creating 288 million metric tons of it in 2012. About 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons of it end up in the oceans in 2010, according to a new estimate published in the journal Science.
That report released Thursday ranks countries that generate the most plastic debris into the oceans, with Asian nations taking 13 out of the top 20 spots.

Using World Bank data on 192 coastal countries, researchers estimated that China, the most populous nation, has the most mismanaged plastic waste per year and also generates the most plastic debris that end up in the ocean at 28%.
Mismanaged waste means the material is littered or not properly disposed of-- meaning there isn't a formally managed waste management system.
    "The study is not to point fingers at people, it wasn't to focus on the countries," said lead author Jenna Jambeck. "The purpose was to make a global estimate." But the data set Jambeck and the seven co-authors used was only available on a country-by-country level.

    The countries with the most mismanaged waste are ...

    Eight of the top 10 countries with mismanaged plastic waste are in Asia.

    "Many of them are middle-income countries with rapidly growing economy," said Jambeck of the University of Georgia. "They have also large coastal populations, they have high levels of mismanaged waste, they have trouble keeping up with infrastructure."
    The United States also cracked the top 20 and had a higher rate of waste generation per person at 5.6 pounds per person than China (2.4 pounds).
    Low-income countries were less likely to end up on the list, because of less waste, Jambeck said.

    We're using way more plastic than ever before

    Since 1974, the world has undergone a 620% increase in plastic production, according to the researchers.
    "When the waste was natural material, we could leave it and not think about it," Jambeck said. "Even disposing of it in the land was fine, but plastic has increased 650% in the last 40 years.
    "It's a wake-up call. We need to look at this and the way we're collecting and containing our waste."
    Plastic waste discarded in the ocean raises a number of concerns, scientists say. It may damage ecosystems and marine animals, contaminate our food supply, and lead to chemical leaching.
    Estimates of the time it takes to degrade plastic range from hundreds to thousands of years -- and because plastic has only been around for 100 years, there hasn't been enough time to observe the process, says Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist at Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.
    Meanwhile, plastic waste keeps on growing with more people and more consumption, the report authors wrote.
    "All that consumption is growing, unfortunately the waste management systems around the world are not keeping pace as quickly as the consumption and products -- there's a big mismatch," said Doug Woodring, who was not involved in the study but has worked on the issue of plastics waste at the Ocean Recovery Alliance in Hong Kong.

    Who's responsible?

    Last year, one study in the journal PLOS estimated that a minimum of 5.25 trillion floating plastic particles weighing 268,940 tons are in the ocean. This estimate included only surface plastics, and not the materials that have sunk.
    "A lot of people think of an island of floating garbage, people envision that there are forms of an island you can see on Google Earth -- it's much more diffuse than that," Hoover said. " All of our oceans are plastic soups- everywhere you can go."
    Environmentalists have criticized the rampant use of plastics in packaging that are only used once and then discarded.
    The solutions have to be both local and global, Jambeck said.
    "It's everybody's responsibility. Of course, don't litter and prioritize using reusables," Hoover said. "At the same time there's a responsibility on companies who produce the products found in oceans, to make sure the materials they produce are recyclable, get recycled and look for ways to improve the infrastructure."

    Efforts to reduce plastic waste

    While China topped the list in the report, the country has made some efforts to curb waste. In 2008, China banned free plastic bags and five years later, banned the import of poorly sorted recyclables from other countries including the U.S.
    There are some successful models, said Woodring. For example, Taiwan places a surcharge on plastics sold on a company level and it pays for the sorting, capturing, cleaning and recycling.
    However, some countries lack infrastructure for waste management and recycling.

    Black Money: India will have to wait till 2018 for info from Swiss govt

    In its fight against black money menace, India will have to wait till 2018 for Switzerland to provide bank account details of Indians under the 'automatic information exchange' framework.
    Under a global framework, more than 40 jurisdictions including India had agreed to become 'early adopters' of an 'automatic exchange of information' mechanism prepared by global body OECD to help each other in fighting the tax evasion and frauds.
    "This so-called early adopters group plans to collect data from 2016 and exchange information for the first time in September 2017," according to a new report by the Swiss government. However, Switzerland would see its 'first exchange' under this framework taking place in the year 2018. As per the report, as many as 58 countries would see their 'first exchange' taking place in 2017, followed by another 35 in the year 2018. While India is part of the 'First Exchange 2017' group, it will have to wait till 2018 for 'automatic exchange of information' with Switzerland because of the Alpine nation being in the second grouping. The details that would be shared include account number, name, address and date of birth, tax identification number, interest and dividends, receipts from certain insurance policies, credit balances on accounts, as also proceeds from the sale of financial assets.
    Explaining the exchange process, the report said: If a taxpayer in a Country A has a bank account in Country B, the bank would disclose financial account data to authorities in the Country B, which would automatically forward the details to authorities in Country A to help them examine the data. Once in place, the mechanism would help the Indian authorities to have a strong ground while seeking to bring back and tax the funds stashed overseas by its citizens. To curb illicit fund flows and to tax unaccounted wealth stashed abroad, India has stepped up its efforts, including re-negotiating tax treaties with various countries. India expects automatic exchange to help curb this menace.
    Many countries worldwide are taking steps to address the menace of illicit funds being stashed away in tax havens. On ways to prevent black money menace in the future, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has also said that the world is moving towards automatic exchange of information. After meeting his Swiss counterpart Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf in Davos last month, Jaitley said the bilateral agreements with regard to automatic exchange of tax information with various countries, including Switzerland, would be "the long term solution to check this menace."
    As it steps up measures to bring back black money stashed overseas, current law allows the government to re-open tax assessment for cases as old as 16 years. With respect to taxing the unaccounted money overseas, experts said the challenge for the Indian tax authorities would be in building a strong case. Experts opined that the time limit of 16 years provides adequate time to the tax authorities to bring to tax income in relation to assets located outside the country. Grant Thornton Advisory Pvt Ltd's Director Pallavi Bakhru said that first tax authorities would have to build a case that the money lying in off-shore bank accounts in unaccounted and tax liability on such income has escaped assessment.
    "This exercise, would need to be completed for tax authorities to form an opinion that certain income has escaped assessment, which would be needed to issue a notice for re-assessment," she said. KPMG in India's Partner (Tax) Vikas Vasal said the challenge in case of overseas income or assets situated outside India is in getting necessary information and also to collaborate it with sufficient evidence for having a strong case. "Therefore, the relevant provisions in the treaty or the specific information exchange agreements play an important role in this context.
    "In general, roving enquiries are not permitted and information has to be sought for a particular case or a transaction from the overseas authorities," he noted. About loopholes in existing tax law regime that may hurt efforts to recover untaxed money, Bakhru said there is a lack of structured mechanism to recover taxes from foreign assets of non-resident taxpayers. Besides, litigation options are available to taxpayers challenging the tax assessment and consequent tax demands can come in way of government's effort to recover taxes from unaccounted money, Bakhru added. After last week's fresh 'HSBC List' expose, wherein names of 1,195 Indians have been disclosed, the government said that it has taken "vigorous and pro-active measures to expedite investigations in the cases of Indians holding undisclosed foreign accounts/assets abroad". "Useful contacts have been established with foreign governments who might have some further information in this regard. "Based upon credible information of undisclosed foreign bank accounts, fresh references for obtaining further information in more than 600 cases have been made to foreign jurisdictions, under available treaties/agreements.
    The same are being pursued," as per a finance ministry statement.