Plastic, which came into widespread use in the 1950s, was supposed to make our lives easier.
We never thought it would be responsible for so many environmental problems.
Today, it is a real plague.
The problem is simple to describe: it seems that it is everywhere and that it’s impossible to get rid of it…
But even when our plastic waste is sorted in the recycling bin, so much of it is produced that it is sometimes not profitable to recycle it… It is estimated that only 9% of plastic is recycled... 12% is incinerated, and the rest is scattered all over the place, between landfills and natural areas.
So if you’re wondering what plastic is recycled, you should know that it won’t be the solution to the problem…
The problem with plastic is that – even biodegradable – it is not necessarily good for the environment. The term simply means that the components are simple and can be degraded, but mostly only in an industrial environment. The same goes for biobased plastic, also called bioplastic or plant-based plastic. Just because they are made from biomass does not mean they are natural plastics… They also affect nature when they are thrown away…
What is needed is a real collective awareness, and a change in our habits, used to using and then throwing away, such as single-use plastic.
Why is plastic harmful to the environment?
It’s very simple to understand, just think for a moment about the path it can take.
Let’s say we are careful. Imagine that you buy some straws, go for a picnic in a park, and with a gust of wind the straw blows away. What happens to your straw? It may end up in a river through the sewers of our cities, which in turn will reach the sea. Once in the sea, it will break down into small pieces with the sun and other phenomena, until it reaches one of those famous plastic soups.
This is why there is so much plastic in the oceans. But it doesn’t stop there! Otherwise you could just go to one of these 5 “gyres” to collect it and the problem would be solved… The oceans have permanent flows, which means that it can end up anywhere. They don’t stay in these gyres.
It should also be noted that plastic attracts all sorts of viruses and bacteria that stick to it, which can potentially carry diseases.
Another finding is that marine wildlife confuse what is left of this straw and ingest it.
It has been detected that by 2050, if we continue at this rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean… Scientists already estimate that there is often a ratio of one plastic to two plankton.
How many times have we seen dead animals with a stomach full of plastic waste? In 2015, it was calculated that 560 species either ingested plastic or were trapped by it… That’s twice as many in 20 years…
Why is plastic dangerous, even for humans?
This cycle means that when we catch fish, these plastics also end up on our plates. Because that is the basis of our food chain. And today we don’t know how harmful this can be to our health.
We know it is a very complex material and that it contains several chemical substances. We have realised that we should choose BPA-free plastic.
But even BPA-free, it contains other substances that are harmful to the environment too…
Although studies are still scarce, the most common is the flame retardant, even though it’s a chemical that has been slowly banned in many products.
Colleen Jansen, in Ostend, Belgium, noted that all the mussels he had collected contained plastic. We ingest about 11 000 microplastics per year. This is not a significant threshold according to the WHO.
For the moment, the ecological risks are more important than the toxicological risks. However, some scientists still have doubts about the long term. Notably for the cocktail effect that this kind of material would have on our health.
Today, we dump about 5 tons of plastic waste in a lifetime.
Plastic in the sea is a real problem. There are an estimated 50,000 billion microplastics in the oceans.
These are pieces that are less than 5 mm in size.
But the worst thing is that explorers have found that only 1% is visible.
This means that there is a good chance that this waste will end up on the ocean floor. It will then be impossible to get rid of it…
And on the seabed, plastic is well conserved because there is much less light and oxygen…
If we do nothing, we will have ten times more plastic in the oceans by 2025.
Currently, what researchers find most in the seas and oceans are polyethylene (milk bottles, plastic bags) and polypropylene (straws, bottle caps, yoghurt pots).
They have also discovered that with global warming, microplastics are present in the Arctic ice. They estimate that 1,000 billion pieces of waste are released each year as the ice melts…
Researchers in Banyuls sur Mer have also found a bacterium that might be able to degrade these plastics. But there is so much of it in the ocean that it would not be enough.
That’s why today there are many citizens who are looking to adopt a zero waste lifestyle.
If this is a topic that interests you, please join our community.
We will share with you tips on how to live plastic-free. Or at least to reduce your consumption.
Don’t forget that we are a collaborative platform. And we are always looking for good addresses.
If you know of associations or companies that are fighting against plastic, with the circular economy, selling products by weight, or cleaning the oceans, don’t hesitate to recommend them here. Together we can stop plastic pollution!
Read our latest article on plastic recycling to understand more.
- How to improve recycling in Spain: A guide bin by bin.
- Plastic recycling: is it really needed or overrated?