How can we help control plastic waste?

Plastic is everywhere, in our house, in children's toys, in clothes, in the office, in the car, in parks, in restaurants, in short... wherever we go we will find some object made of plastic in any of its forms.

It has undergone so much development that it is estimated that half of the plastic in history has been produced in the last 15 years. Unfortunately a very high amount ends up as garbage. According to UN data, about 300 million tons (40 kilos per person per year).

Currently most of the plastic that is manufactured is derived from fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas, however, natural raw materials are being used again.

Its first vestiges date back to the Olmec culture, a pre-Columbian people of Mesoamerica. They played with balls made of rubber, extracting sap from the trees.

The plastic we know today is an invention of the 19th century. After the Second World War, the manufacture and sale of plastics had a great boost. In the `60s they begin to replace wood, cardboard and glass. In the 70's to metals and in the 80's it became the main industry in the world.

Single-use plastics

Single-use plastics make up about 40% of all plastic waste and are currently the major planetary and environmental concern. Five trillion plastic bags are used each year and nearly 70% or more go into the environment or landfill.

Because they don't recycle, tons of plastic bags, cups, cutlery and light bulbs, prepared food containers and wrappers are thrown away daily. For this reason, many countries around the world are limiting its use. The European Union is in the lead and hopes to implement a regulation that prevents its use in 2021.

In Chile in February 2019, plastic bags in supermarkets, warehouses and in retail were prohibited and a Bill limiting the use of other single-use plastics.

According to ASIPLA (Association of Plastic Industry Associations), approximately 990,000 tons of plastic are consumed per year in Chile, of which 17% is of household origin and 83% of industrial origin and others. Of the total, only 8.5% is recycled, therefore it is essential to move forward in limiting its use.

Plastic islands

According to UN figures, between 8 and 13 million tons of plastic enter the ocean every year, which is roughly equivalent to the amount of a garbage truck entering the sea every minute. Of these, only 300,000 tons are visible on the surface and, according to Greenpece, between 60% and 80% are fragments smaller than five millimeters, that is, they are microplastics.

This is how the so-called “garbage patch” have been formed, plastic islands in the so-called oceanic gyres (North Pacific, North Atlantic, Indian, South Pacific and South Atlantic).

To date, seven islands have already been found, veritable floating dumps made up of billions of plastic fragments.

The best known is the North Pacific Garbage Path, the Great Pacific Garbage Path, which was discovered in the 1980s and is the largest. It is calculated that its surface is equivalent to the sum of the Iberian Peninsula and the United States. Its concentration of garbage is one of the highest on the planet, close to one million pieces of waste per square meter. It is growing so fast that, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), in a short time, it could even be seen from space.

Where does so much plastic waste get into the ocean? 80% would come from land and 20% from ships or oil platforms Most of it comes through rivers. The most polluting in the world are those of the Asian continent, such as the Yangtze, Xi and Huangpu of China, and the Ganges of India.

As a result of this, it is estimated that more than 100,000 million marine species die each year due to the ingestion of microplastics or because they become trapped and entangled. According to the World Economic Forum there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050.

For Chile this is particularly worrisome. The South Pacific plastic island is located just off Easter Island, the largest marine protected area in Latin America.

The enormous amount of plastic that floats and is submerged on the seabed, becomes a great threat since the fragments of microplastics mix with the plankton, endangering fish, birds and marine animals that inhabit the area .

According to a study published in Scientific Reports magazine, more than 50% of the garbage that is in the water off the Chilean coast will reach the island. For this reason, it is urgent to work on public policies to protect this area.

Another issue that we cannot fail to mention is that as a result of the Coronavirus, today there is fear that masks and gloves -the garbage of the pandemic- will further aggravate the issue of ocean pollution.

Responsible consumers

As individuals we have a great responsibility and can contribute to change.

In what way?, making us responsible for our garbage, reducing the consumption of single-use plastics, opting for bulk consumption, preferring food that comes in reusable, recyclable and ideally compostable packaging.

For some years now, the industry has been working on the development of bioplastics, from cellulose, agricultural residues, corn and potato starch, which has meant a great advance. The interesting thing about bioplastic is that it is 100% degradable, allows you to reduce your carbon footprint and does not consume non-renewable raw materials.

Did you know that Beenat is a good way to help the use of no more plastic, thanks to the fact that it can be reused in the kitchen and is made with natural products.

Organisms Capable of Decomposing Plastic

There are some studies that advance in this field and indicate that some worms such as mealworms, the Amazon fungus (Pestalotiopsis microspora) and a type of bacteria (Pseudomonas putida) could feed on plastic and transform it into compost.

We leave you a link that may interest you if you want to go deeper into the subject.

Tell us, what other actions can we add to help reduce plastic consumption?