The Fight Against Plastic- A Short Round Up
Plastic Trash-by Public Domain Photos is licensed under CC BY 2.0
  • Post published:February 3, 2020

Eight million metric tons. That’s how much plastic is dumped into waterways each year, making its way to the ocean.

Using plastic bags and shampoo bottles, brushing your teeth, washing your face, doing the laundry, having a takeaway cup of coffee, takeaway containers, doing the shopping, wrapping a gift. Many everyday activities impact the environment without us realising it.

The public and science has been trying to target the fight against plastics for a while now but a significant increase was seen in 2017. In 2017, Sir David Attenborough’s TV show ‘Blue Planet 2’ exposed its viewers to some extraordinary and saddening images. A sperm whale trying to eat plastic.

So, do you know how to get rid of your plastics? What has the world been doing to try help?  Here, is a short round up.

Sperm Whale seen chewing on plastic -BBC's Blue Planet 2 with Sir David Attenborough
Sperm Whale seen chewing on plastic -BBC’s Blue Planet 2 with Sir David Attenborough

Are you disposing of your plastics properly?

It may seem like a brain ache now a days with so many different recycling bins and ways to separate stuff out but, in reality, would it actually take that long to check the back of a packet to see where to put it? It could help save the planet if you do!

Here’s the breakdown…

Biodegradable

These types of plastics can be completely broken down by bacteria or other living organisms.

However, this does not mean you can throw it away anywhere. If it is disposed of incorrectly, and put in the wrong environment it won’t have the chance to breakdown properly and will degrade in the same way as conventional plastic.

Compostable

Some compostable plastics can decompose in home compost. Others will only decompose in industrial composting conditions.

It is important to note that, compostable plastic that is certified to an industrial standard will not break down properly in a home composting environment! They need special conditions to break down.

Sadly, you cannot add compostable or biodegradable plastic to most regular recycling systems, as it disrupts the process and the whole lot will be marked for landfill!

A container that is both biodegradable and compostable - courtesy of cc images
A container that is both biodegradable and compostable – courtesy of cc images

New plastic mixes -the Good and the Bad

Bioplastics is a term you may have heard being thrown around when people talk about plastic. But what exactly is a Bioplastic….

BIOPLASTIC– is what you call plastic polymers that can be created from natural sources.

Plant-based bioplastics are mostly created from agricultural products, such as: corn, sugarcane, wheat and by-products such as food waste. However, only 20% of the ingredients making up the plastic need to come from organic materials in order for it to be labelled ‘plant-based’! So, what’s the other 80% being made up of? Fossil fuels?

Plant-based bioplastic can often be found making up cutlery, straws and containers now a days.

Algae has also been a prominent source for replacing plastic. Cyanobacteria found in algae working along side other organically occurring bacteria form the bioplastics. These kinds of plastics are broken down by a biopolymer. Huh? Essentially the same processes that break down wood can break down this kind of plastic.

Some companies have managed to use algae to produce a 100% fossil fuel free and degradable plastic. They can make products like pill capsules, bottles, tide pods, plant pots and travel containers.

Bioplastic "made from corn" cup -rsuehle is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Bioplastic “made from corn” cup -rsuehle is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Power of Sun and Science

One of the most recent findings to combat plastic waste disposal has come from scientists at Nanyang Technological University. The team have discovered a way to break down non- PET plastics such as Styrofoam and most types of single use plastics.

This method of plastic break down involves using a catalyst to dissolve plastics in a solvent. The process is a sustainable one as using sun light reduces the carbon footprint and the product formed is formic acid which, is used in products for cleaning and food preservatives. Formic acid can also be used to generate energy in power plants although, it is unlikely to be replacing the burning of natural gases anytime soon.

NTU SPMS Asst Prof Soo Han Sen with the plastic-photocatalyst mixture. Photo courtesy of Lester Kok, NTU
NTU SPMS Asst Prof Soo Han Sen with the plastic-photocatalyst mixture. Photo courtesy of Lester Kok, NTU

 

What are governments doing about it?

More than 112 countries, regions and cities across the world have restricted the sale of various single -use plastics items. The number of contributing regions is only expected to grow.

Below is a list of countries that have banned single- use plastics in some form:

  • Albania- In the summer of 2018 banned the use of single-use plastic bags that were too small for recycling or reusing
  • Antigua and Barbuda -banned plastic bags in 2016 and introduced a fine for residents caught importing banned plastics in 2019
  • Bangladesh- was the first country in the world to ban thin plastic bags in 2002.
  • Cameroon-2014 banned the import production and sale of non-biodegradable plastics
  • China- by the end of 2020 will ban non-degradable bags, restaurants will not be able to use single use straws
  • Columbia- Banned plastic bags smaller than 12×12 inches and introduced a tax for larger bags in 2016
  • Georgia- Banned plastic bags in 2018
  • Romania- Early 2018 the senate banned plastic shopping bags
  • Rwanda- Was one of the first countries in the world to ban plastic bags in 2008
  • Samoa- In early 2019 banned the use of most single-use plastics and will eventually spread to include Styrofoam.
  • Senegal- Banned plastic bags in 2015
  • South Korea- banned most plastic bags in early 2019. However, this law does not apply to items used for “wet” produce such as meat and fish.
  • Tunisia- Introduced a ban on non-biodegradable bags in supermarkets in 2017. They plan to ban all plastic bags by 2020.
  • Zimbabwe- In 2017 the government banned the use of polystyrene and announced it would issue fines to anyone breaking the law.
The European Union flag - courtesy of cc images
The European Union flag – courtesy of cc images

 

The European Union voted in 2019 that the following items would be banned in the EU by 2021:

  • Single-use plastic cutlery (forks, knives, spoons and chopsticks)
  • Single-use plastic plates
  • Plastic straws
  • Cotton bud sticks made of plastic
  • Plastic balloon sticks
  • Oxo-degradable plastics and food containers and expanded polystyrene cups

 

End Thoughts

It is truly great to see the change in attitude towards plastic waste from the general public, to governments and scientist.

Bioplastics are definitely a step in the right direction to try reduce the plastic problem, but they aren’t always so simple to dispose of which is the main issue here. Another concern will soon arise with having too many bioplastics around because they aren’t being disposed of properly.

Governments have started to cut back on the use and allowance of single-use plastics in the country but, considering the serious state of the plastics issue is it enough?

Perhaps it is better to avoid plastic altogether-is this your New Years Resolutions?

Here are some ideas to help you along the way:

  • Wrap your food in reusable bee’s wax paper.
  • Shop in bulk to reduce packaging.
  • Use a reusable fabric bag to put your shopping in.
  • Go to stores where you can take your own containers to buy products like nuts and cereal.
  • Use a bar of soap instead of a bottle.
  • Make sure your facewash doesn’t contain microbeads.
  • Invest in a fiber collecting bag for your washing machine.
  • Carry reusable water bottles and travel cups.

 


Izzy David

Onboard Naturalist/Biologist for SpringTide Whale Watching & Eco Tours


 

Interesting links:

Plant based plastics:

https://www.natracare.com/blog/plant-based-plastics-perfect-solution-or-huge-problem/

Algae plastics:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/ericmack/2018/09/21/algotek-algae-plastic-to-change-the-world-by-disappearing/#745eb86e41db

NTU sunlight breakdown:

https://mothership.sg/2020/01/ntu-scientists-plastic-waste-sunlight/?fbclid=IwAR0BTtf0Y_BLVagkUn0iCvs3YrVHyV4f7oD7vSChIkaTM1gVt-n15glNpWI

Countries that have banned plastics:

https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/14-unexpected-countries-that-have-banned-single-use-plastics

EU plastics ban:

https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20190321IPR32111/parliament-seals-ban-on-throwaway-plastics-by-2021

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