Dealing with a global plastic problem


You will encounter plastic pollution almost anywhere in the world. Even the beaches of remote tropical islands are littered with plastic waste. A recent study published in the journal Nature characterized 414 million plastic parts – 238 tons – on a remote chain of islands in the Indian Ocean. The study’s lead author, Jennifer Lavers of the University of Tasmania’s Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, said this was an indicator of the staggering amount of plastic waste floating in the oceans:

“Islands like these are like canaries in a coal mine and it is becoming increasingly urgent that we respond to the warnings they give us. Plastic pollution is ubiquitous in our oceans and remote islands are an ideal place to get an objective view of the amount of plastic waste that is now circling the globe. “

Many are familiar with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an accumulation of several large areas of marine debris in the North Pacific. The total area of ​​this garbage stain – which consists largely of plastic garbage – covers an area that estimated twice the size of Texas. Made up of more than 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic with an estimated weight of 80,000 tons, the patch poses a serious threat to marine life such as whales, sea turtles, fish and birds.

Remote plastic dumps may be out of sight for most people, but they still affect people’s health everywhere. Plastics decompose in the environment and their breakdown products such as bisphenol A (BPA) are known to interfere with human hormonal function. Researchers even find microplastics in human organs.

But why should plastic pollution be such a serious environmental threat? Are we not recycling our plastics?

It is true that many of us throw our plastics in the trash. We assume it will be sorted and reused. But still a lot of this “recycled plastic” ends up in landfills.

The problem, in short, is that used plastics just don’t have much value. In most cases it is cheaper to source new plastics than to recycle them. But there are two things that can change this dynamic: global laws to combat plastic pollution and new technologies to recycle and reuse used plastics.

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A growing number of community and conservation organizations have urged President Joe Biden to take action to deal with the plastic pollution crisis. A Los Angeles Times Editors also asked President Biden is due to take the lead in pushing for a global treaty within the Group of Seven (G7) countries.

Support for a global deal on plastic pollution, like the Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to curb carbon emissions, is growing. More than two-thirds of the UN member states and the EU have said they are open to a plastic pollution deal.

Climate agreements have driven innovations in the area of ​​reducing CO2 emissions. Plastic pollution agreements for the manufacture, use and reuse of plastics could do the same.

In the next article, I’ll cover some of the technical challenges involved in dealing with used plastics, as well as a Canadian company that is innovatively addressing this problem.

From Robert Rapier via rapier.com

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