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Easier to refuse plastic, than to fight its causalities. Tips for ones who care about nature

04/11/2015

Plastic has become the most common material since the beginning of the 20th century, and modern life is unthinkable without it. Unfortunately, what makes it so useful, such as its durability, light weight and low cost, also makes it problematic when it comes to its end of life phase.

Facts about Plastic Pollution

- Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.

- 50 percent of the plastic we use just once and throw away.

- Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times.

- We currently recover only five percent of the plastics we produce.

- One million sea birds and 100000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans.

Dozens of millions of tons of plastic debris end up floating in world oceans broken into micro-plastic, the so-called plastic soup. Micro-plastics are found in the most remote parts of our oceans. Entanglement of turtles by floating plastic bags, sea mammals and birds that die from eating plastic debris and ghost fishing through derelict fishing gear produce shocking pictures. Moreover, plastic is not inert and chemical additives, some of them endocrine disruptors, can migrate into body tissue and enter the food chain.

The massive pollution with plastic debris is therefore emerging as a global challenge that requires a global response. The European Union should be a showcase for how to build a coherent strategy to optimize plastic waste policy. A second challenge is linked to resources conservation. Nearly 50% of plastic waste in the EU is still landfilled. Therefore, much energy and processed raw material is lost instead of being recycled into new products.

In the European Union, it is estimated that around 25 Mt of plastic waste was generated in 2008. Of this 12.1 Mt (48.7%) was landfilled while 12.8 Mt (51.3%) went to recovery, and only 5.3 Mt (21.3%) was recycled. While a projection to 2015 assumes an overall increase of 30 % in the level of mechanical recycling (from 5.3 Mt to 6.9 Mt), landfilling and incineration with energy recovery are expected to remain the predominant waste management pathways.

Plastic is not inert. Conventional plastic contains a large number, and sometimes a large proportion, of chemical additives which can be endocrine disruptors, carcinogenic or provoke other toxic reactions and can, in principle, migrate into the environment, though in small quantities. Small and fine particles (so called micro plastics), result from decades of photo degradation and mechanical abrasion and are of particular concern. They are ubiquitous and reach even the most remote areas with a concentration in water sometimes higher than that of plankton. These micro plastics, and the chemical additives they contain, if ingested in large quantities by marine fauna may have a high potential for contaminating the food chain through predator-prey interaction.

Poor waste management on land, in particular only marginal plastic waste recovery rates, aggravates the problem of plastic marine pollution which is one of the most important emerging global environmental issues. Experts judge that around 80% of marine plastic waste is coming from land. Eight Ways To “Rise Above Plastic.”

  • Choose to reuse when it comes to shopping bags and bottled water. Cloth bags and metal or glass reusable bottles are available locally at great prices.
  • Refuse single-serving packaging, excess packaging, straws and other “disposable” plastics. Carry reusable utensils in your purse, backpack or car to use at bbq’s, potlucks or take-out restaurants.
  • Reduce everyday plastics such as sandwich bags and juice cartons by replacing them with a reusable lunch bag/box that includes a thermos.
  • Bring your to-go mug with you to the coffee shop, smoothie shop or restaurants that let you use them, which is a great way to reduce lids, plastic cups and/or plastic-lined cups.
  • Seek out alternatives to the plastic items that you rely on.
  • Recycle. If you must use plastic, try to choose #1 (PETE) or #2 (HDPE), which are the most commonly recycled plastics. Avoid plastic bags and polystyrene foam as both typically have very low recycling rates.
  • Support plastic bag bans, polystyrene foam bans and bottle recycling bills.
  • Spread the word. Talk to your family and friends about why it is important to reduce plastic in our lives and the nasty impacts of plastic pollution.

Ani Mosyan
YEU journalist


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