A revolution when it was first invented, plastic was sold as a cheap solution to using up natural resources – now, plastic waste is destroying the very nature it was designed to protect.
What’s the issue?
The strength and durability of plastic is now working against us; every single piece of plastic ever made is still in existence, taking anywhere from 20 to 500 years or more to decompose, and thanks to today’s throwaway culture, 40% of plastic produced is single use. This means that that straw that you use for half an hour, or that plastic carrier bag you use for five minutes, is going to be around a lot longer than you are. And an estimated 8 million tonnes of this plastic ends up in the ocean.
But why does this matter?
It’s then inevitably ingested by marine life; according to Greenpeace.org, ‘up to 9 out of 10 seabirds, 1 in 3 sea turtles and more than half of whale and dolphin species have ingested plastic.’ If they’re not ingesting it – they’re getting tangled in it – it’s estimated by the Worldwide Fund For Nature that 100,000 marine creatures die as a result of plastic pollution each year.
On land it’s a similar story, with animals such as cows, deer, raccoon, land birds and even elephants found to have died as a result of plastic blockages in their stomachs or from suffocation. Plastic can also adversley affect human health too – it breaks down into tiny particles called microplastics which contaminate our soil and enter our waterways. A study by The University of Newcastle estimates that we may be consuming as much as 5 grams per week each of microplastics – that’s the weight of a credit card!
But wait, I recycle my plastic – is this not working
In a nutshell, no. Of the 8.3 billion tonnes that have been produced, only about 9% has actually been recycled and 12% incinerated; the other 79% is either in landfill or in the environment.
What else is being done?
Companies across the globe are coming up with alternative uses for our plastic waste.
In Kawasaki, Japan, technology companies have put their heads together to try and solve the area’s plastic pollution problems. This resulted in the world’s first ‘Hydrogen Hotel’ being opened in 2018. 195 tonnes of waste plastics are recycled per day, turned into hydrogen (we’re simplifying a complex process here!) which in turn is converted to heat and power to provide 30% of the hotel’s energy needs. They even use waste from the hotel itself such as toothbrushes and haircombs to convert to hydrogen – a process which produces no CO2 pollution, further bolstering the initiative’s environmental credentials.
This could be implemented in other projects and other locations across the world; with it becoming more difficult for countries to export their plastic waste (and quite rightly so) countries will need to find solutions to the increasing plastic problem.
Developing countries are among the most affected by plastic pollution – they want and need products such as food, medical supplies and other items that come with plastic packaging, but they don’t have the technology available to dispose of the waste which means that it is either buried or burned, both of which have environmental implications of their own.
In Indonesia, the University of North Sumatra has developed a plastic and sawdust composite, which locks plastic into a stable form and stops it leaching into soil or blowing away – some of the hazards of landfill. Like in Kawasaki, using plastic waste to create these ‘safe sinks’, as they are known, could be a local solution to a local problem. Further testing is needed to determine whether it is safe enough – flammability could be an issue for example, and it is potentially still susceptible to termites, but these plastic and natural material composites could be used as a sustainable building product for constructing new homes, fencing, a replacement for plastic decking etc – the possibilities are endless.
What’s the end game?
So, whilst there are some great initiatives around the globe to come up with methods of reusing our plastic in a way that causes no further harm to the environment, the fact of the matter is that the only real way to end this problem is to stop using plastic altogether. More needs to be done to lobby against the giant corporations that produce this plastic; we’ve all been brainwashed into thinking that the plastic problem is down to the consumer but we’re just buying what’s readily available and convenient!
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all do our bit though; one of my favourite quotes is ‘zero waste doesn’t need a few people doing it perfectly, it needs millions of people doing it imperfectly’…instead of feeling like you won’t make a difference, every time you make a plastic-free choice, imagine that a million others are doing the same.
You’re probably already familiar with our brilliant range of organic, vegan and plastic-free
cleaning products, but stay tuned for our next blog which will help you do a ‘plastic audit’ on your home!
Small Changes = Big Impact.