2018 shone a harsh light on our plastic usage and problem, with many examples of its impact and those working on solutions. It seemed that plastic straws were the easy target for many to play their part. But the problems with plastic aren’t only with the end-user.
At this point the public knows about plastic being dangerous; what isn’t talked about is what it actually looks, and it’s a dump-truck full of plastic into the ocean – each second. Even if it were shown to people, plastic has become such a pervasive material in our lives that its hard to look past its many benefits. From food and water storage, durability, and sterility it is the be-all and end-all. But only 30% of it goes to recycling centres, and the rest either landfill or into nature.
From the depths of many ocean trenches to ice sheets in Antarctica microplastics are slowly filling up our oceans. There are 3 types of microplastics:
- Tiny plastics that are used to create larger plastic products called “nurdles” there are also microbeads in facial, body, and dental products, and washing powders.
- Larger plastics that break down but do not disappear forever.
- Synthetic fibres, like polyester, contain invisible plastic fibres that are shed during washing.
Improper Plastic Disposal
A major component of marine debris plastics enter the water through land and ocean sources. In 2010 scientists concluded that about 8 million metric tons of plastic entered the ocean (equivalent to 90 aircraft carriers), and is growing. Cigarette butts, food wrappers, bottles, straws, cups and plates, utensils, bottle caps, and single-use items are common items that end up in waterways and the ocean.
If they are not disposed of properly they can end up in waterways and the ocean. As plastic is not biodegradable it remains part of the environment forever – whether in its original form floating around with other marine debris or breaking down into microplastics.
While you may think their size does not matter it is showing up in fish and zooplankton (one of the smallest creatures), and studies show you are ingesting microplastics from consuming seafood and the like. When they are in the ocean plastics are able to absorb to various hazardous chemicals that eventually float with other debris and are consumed by marine life.
One solution is to just continually remove the plastic from the environment, but that would be just a stop-gap measure that does not fix the issues at the core. Every single step along the plastic flow can be acted on: from companies, waste management industry, governments, and consumers they all are able to lessen, the impact and ultimately help nature.
An effective measure are companies with recognisable brands not wanting to be the face of garbage. They can do so much as they control the delivery packaging, the raw materials needed, and how they package their products, to the point of changing the attitudes of their customers.
But without an effective plan to do so many companies are left in the dark concerning plastic reduction and how to go about it. To this end the WWF have an “activtion hub” known as ReSource: Plastic; with it comes actions that are measurable and meaningful, tracking progress through another company, and implementing changes coupled with tools and step-by-step guides. Collaboration is its own boon, and ReSource: Plastic links companies, stakeholders, and governments to share their own insights, solutions, discoveries, and investments.
An example of this is Procter & Gambler engaging with others with the intention of creating a framework that is able to recycle a full range of materials to quicken further investment in technologies that are scalable. The director of sustainability of P&G, Jack McAneny, says “We want to share new technology around recycling and recover, since we are not a recycler at heart” and “We benefit from more scale; it helps us achieve our vision”.
It is unfortunate that one problem that affect the world could have such differing takes and policies on regarding waste disposal and recycling – if they even exist. In developing countries the need for waste management has not yet matched its consumption, but investment is starting to address this. An integral piece of waste management is the costs involved with sending trash to a recycling center, which negates any action that large companies may have taken to make their plastic better. Governments can also play their part by legislation and policies that would call on those sectors that could be doing more.
The WWF’s No Plastic in Nature by 2030 is audacious, but it might just be enough to push others to play their part and eventually together towards a united goal.
What Can You Do?
There are many ways you can help:
- Using a water bottle, having a mug with you, using your own utensils for on-the-go meals, and not using single-use plastic bags for shopping.
- Give your unneeded plastics (furniture, dishware, utensils, etc.) to local charities, or give them a local recycling program.
- By cleaning up your neighborhood you can prevent plastics and other foreign objects from entering the natural environment.
- Let others know of your intentions for change by supporting companies that are solving the plastic problem, and formally request your local government for more recycling options, tighter regulations concerning the disposal of waste, and programs to limit plastic use.
Australian Marine Conservation Society. n.d. Microplastics – Australian Marine Conservation Society. [online] Available at: <https://www.marineconservation.org.au/microplastics/>.
Biologicaldiversity.org. n.d. Ocean Plastics Pollution. [online] Available at: <https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/ocean_plastics/>.
Hancock, L., 2019. Plastic Plan. [online] World Wildlife Fund. Available at: <https://www.worldwildlife.org/magazine/issues/fall-2019/articles/plastic-in-the-ocean>.
Oceanservice.noaa.gov. n.d. A Guide to Plastic in the Ocean. [online] Available at: <https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/hazards/marinedebris/plastics-in-the-ocean.html>.
The Ocean Cleanup. n.d. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch | The Ocean Cleanup. [online] Available at: <https://theoceancleanup.com/great-pacific-garbage-patch/>.
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