Plastic pollution is all over the news. Last week British prime minister Theresa May announced new measures to discourage plastic use, as far as practicable, by 2045. First of all the world can’t wait another 27 years for this to happen because it looks increasingly that we are losing the battle against plastic pollution. It is too little too late. Secondly, what does it mean ‘as far as practical’? It does not sound like a serious proposal.
This policy shift looks more like a public relation exercise to earn environmental credentials. It is not a serious measure by any means. We need to tackle plastic pollution now, head on. Who wants the plastic anyway? Consumers can do without it but manufacturers and the big supermarkets can’t. All the plastic packaging is not for the consumer but for the convenience of the industry to extend the shelf life of its products. Consumers want fresh food and not items which only look fresh due to its plastic packaging but have sat on the shelves for months.
According to a recent study in ‘Science Advances,’ about 60 percent of all the plastics produced either went to landfills or have been dumped in the natural environment, including oceans. According to a report from the World Economic Forum, The New Plastics Economy, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, by weight. Due to population growth and rising living standards plastic production is increasing steadily.
According to the research firm, Smithers Pira, plastic packaging is an almost $290 billion-a-year business and it is rising. Total consumption of polyethylene, the most commonly used plastic, will rise to 118 million metric tons in 2022, according to IHS Markit. Packaging materials are by far the biggest demand of plastics in Europe.
The Science Magazine reports that only 9% of all plastic is recycled, 12% is incinerated and 79% is accumulated in landfills or the natural environment.
But there are rays of hope. The food chain ‘Iceland’ just announced that it will end all plastic packaging of its food products by 1 June 2018 and it hopes that the big food retailers will follow suit. Iceland said it was not easy to find alternative packaging materials but they succeeded.
There have been proposals by the prime minister to have a plastic-free aisle in every supermarket, which is welcome, however, the time scale of achieving this by 2042 is unrealistic and it seems the gravity of the problem has not been understood. The supermarkets dragging their feet too.
Louise Edge, a senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said that while initiatives of the big supermarkets were good, “more radical and comprehensive policies” were needed to tackle the plastic waste crisis.
We need to see supermarkets making firm commitments to move away from using disposable plastic packaging altogether, starting with going plastic free in their own brands. – Louise Edge, Greenpeace UK
If we want to turn the tide on plastic we need some tough decisions and we need them now. How much plastic is actually there in the environment?
The ‘Science Magazine’ reports that an estimated 8.3 billion tonnes of virgin plastic have been produced to date and of 2015 about 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste was generated, of which only 9 % was recycled. This is an unsustainable situation.
A floating island of plastic trash has surfaced in the Caribbean, a paradise unspoiled by humans. The video below gives a visual experience of the degree of the problem.
According to photographer Caroline Power, an estimated eight million tonnes of plastics are dumped into the ocean every year.
Midway Atoll, the second largest conservation area in the world and one of the most remote places on the planet, has become a plastic island. CNN’s Nick Patron Walsh has travelled to Midway Island to investigate how the plastic we throw away everyday enters the food chain and eventually, our bodies.
A new continent is discovered in the Pacific Ocean. Researchers concluded that mankind produces so much plastic garbage that it would be possible to cover the entire coastal area of the world with sacks of plastic.
The following is a BBC podcast about the history of plastic, how it became possibly the most popular material of convenience throughout the world, and how the tide has turned against plastic as one of the most polluting substances of our planet.
What about solutions and sustainability? Here is a design of a biodegradable water bottle which breaks down as soon as it is emptied. It is the brainchild of Icelandic product design student Ari Jónsson. The bottle is made from algae.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
This year alone, the UK will use 10.8 billion wet wipes, 16.5 billion pieces of plastic cutlery, 42 billion straws and 4.1 billion single-use drinks cups and lids, the report said
The amount of plastic which the UK is throwing away is set to rocket by over a million tonnes by 2030 – that’s the equivalent of 87,000 more double-decker buses worth of plastic waste each year.
In the US alone we are throwing away 500 million [plastic] straws a day. Your actions make a difference. Next time you go out, refuse that straw, refuse that piece of plastic you don’t really need. – Sheila Morevatis
This is such a beautiful community and we may make the case these things will last in the ocean forever. It makes it hard to carry on about, well, what we gonna do, what can we possibly do without the straw. We’ll learn, we’ll find a way to live. – Bill Miller, restaurant owner
And as we know plastics are forever, they may het broken down into little pieces but they never go away and we’re finding them in more and more marine life. – Spokesperson, City Council, Malibu, California
The following is an interview with Leyna Stemle, a researcher on plastic pollution and wildlife in Ghana, especially on sea turtles.
- Single Use Plastic, we’ve all been asleep at the wheel. The humble plastic straw is the face of a new movement. People are waking up.
- Britain’s Plastic Shame
- We can’t recycle ourselves out of this mess
- A million plastic bottles around the world every minute
- Bottled water could soon be sold in plastic-free, biodegradable bottles
- We Made Plastic. We Depend on It. Now We’re Drowning in It
- Microchip could be key to no single-use plastics
- Life without plastics – an experiment
- The battle to ban plastic bags
- Disposable coffee cups: How big a problem are they for the environment?
- Bioplastics and the Truth About Biodegradable Plastic
- BBC Podcast – The Inquiry: Is the tide on plastic turning?
- Plastic protest at Tesco
- Supermarkets and plastic pollution
- TESCO’s Little Helps Plan on plastics
- Theresa May and her long-term plastic pollution plan
- Plastic pollution in seven charts
- Plastic Recycling: Your questions answered
- The plastic stockpile in the UK after China closes its doors
- Malibu, a leader in environmental protection. Voices of the business community on the ban of plastic (YouTube)
- The final straw in Malibu, California (YouTube)
- Malibu City Council bans plastic straws, utensils and stirs. One man’s alternative, pasta straws (YouTube)
- Plastic bottle and can deposit scheme
- The Norway plastic bottle recycling scheme
- Energy citizens, renewable energy production and demand side flexibility. A study commissioned by Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth Europe, the European Renewable Energy Federation (EREF) and REScoop
- Nurdles and their risk to the marine environment