2 August 2021
All efforts to keep plastic out of the environment can be undone by natural disasters such as tsunamis and rainstorms. If the heavy rainfall of the last few weeks in Europe is a prediction of things to come, this is exceptionally bad news for the plastic soup.
That we will have heavier rain showers because of climate change is well known. The expectation now is that the showers will move more slowly than before. They will empty all their rain in one area and thus cause even more water damage. Slow-moving rainstorms over land will be fourteen times more common by the end of this century, predicts research in Geophysical Research Letters. The severe weather in mid-July in Germany, Belgium, and the Dutch province of Limburg is both an example of this and a portent of things to come.
In South Limburg, excess rainwater is collected in five hundred buffers. These were calculated to handle extreme rain showers that happen four times a century. They are not able to handle the situation that arose in mid-July. With the water that flowed in from Belgium, towns such as Valkenburg were covered by a huge water surge that no forecast had predicted.
An uncontrolled mass of surging water like that one sweeps everything in its path. When the water level drops, you can find anything and everything downstream: plastic flapping in bushes and furniture and rubbish bins on the banks. The devastation is huge and it takes months before the mess is cleared away at least to some degree.
Rainwater in urban areas is collected in sewerage systems. If these are suddenly unable to collect large quantities, the excess water is drained into the surface water. In mixed sewerage systems, this is a problem because clean rainwater is mixed with dirty sewage water and sanitary waste such as cotton swabs and sanitary towels then ends up in the rivers. Historic inner cities still often have mixed sewerage systems. Much heavier localized rainfall is putting increasing pressure on these sewerage systems which then drain unpurified water away.
INTERNATIONAL ATTENTION IS REQUIRED
Plastic pollution after rainstorms is mostly a problem in countries with limited or no amenities such as buffers and sewerage systems. International attention and research into the relationship between rainstorms and plastic soup are thus required. The most obvious solution for us is to drastically limit the production and usage of plastic.
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