All in plastic

This weeks shocking news reminded us how deep we are all in plastic.  Alongside with the usual plastic present in peoples everyday life, plastic occurs to be in places you’ll never think of. A plastic bag was found at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, where scientists were looking for representatives of animal world, not human’s.  This reminds us that plastic pollution problem becomes rampant. How all the planet came to this environmental catastrophe and how to deal with it?!

 Plastic: a toxic love story

After World War II Plastic changed lives of millions of people for better. Space flights were simplified and medicine was revolutionized. Vehicles became lighter in weight, reducing fuel consumption, thus polluting the environment.

Plastic packaging helps keep food fresh, and plastic bottles, to which most complaints are made, help to deliver drinking water to the poorest areas of the planet.

In her book –  the Plastic: A Toxic Love Story book  –  Susan Frankel tells the story of amateur inventor John Wesley Hyatt, who invented celluloid to create billiard balls, which were previously made of ivory.

In addition to reducing ivory consumption, celluloid deprived billiards of aristocratic status and made the game accessible to ordinary people in any bar.

And the era of material abundance began. It became possible to do anything of plastic, what, in view of the cheapness of the material, many took advantage of. Plastic was so cheap that people made products without special need.

Curse of the seas

Nowadays 40 percent of the total volume of plastic is produced for the purpose of single use. Almost half of the plastic in the world has been produced in the last 15 years.

Plastic was invented at the end of the 19th century, but widespread production began only in 1950. Now there are  about nine billion tons of this material on the planet. About six billion of them are waste, 90 percent of which has never been recycled.

Ten percent of plastic trash falls into the oceans. Professor of Engineering at the University of Georgia Jenna Dzhembek underlines that plastic falls into the ocean after it has beensimply dumped on the ground or into the river, mainly in Asia.

It is not established how long plastic disintegrates into molecules. Estimates range from 450 years to infinity, according to National Geographic.

In addition, plastic annually kills millions of marine animals. It is established that 700 species suffered from it, including endangered ones.

Some of them have suffered significant damage: animals are confused to death in abandoned fishing nets or plastic holders for beer cans.

The sufferings of others are not so obvious. Sea animals of all sizes, from zooplankton to whales, began to feed on microplastics — plastic particles no larger than five millimeters in size.

The Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program called this problem “ocean armageddon.”

For example, the Pasig River, which flows through the center of the capital of the Philippines, Manila, and flows into the Manila Bay of the South China Sea was once a profitable shipping route and the object of Filipino pride.

But today Pasig is among the ten most polluted rivers in the world. River waters annually carry 70 thousand tons of plastic into the ocean, as a rule, during monsoons. Back in 1990s, Pasig was recognized as a biologically dead river.

In the world’s oceans, five litter seas have already formed from plastic bottles, fishing nets, toys and other items that cover areas bigger than France.

Despite all these numbers, plastic is increasingly high in use. According to experts, the plastic usage will be doubled in the next 20 years.

The World Economic Forum experts highlight the fact that one-fifth of the world oil production will be used for the plastic production by 2050.

Microplastic in human body

For a long time, scientists wondered why the amount of plastic in the sea does not increase with time, despite the increase in production.

Then  Richard Thompson, marine ecologist, figured out that apparently plastic in the ocean breaks down into millions of small pieces that are difficult to notice.

In his scientific work in 2004, Thompson called these pieces “microplastic”, and as it turned out, he predicted the potential danger of their large-scale accumulation in the World Ocean.

Microplastic is found everywhere: both at the bottom of the deepest places of the ocean and in the Arctic ice, which, according to some estimates, in recent years of intensive melting could release up to a trillion pieces of plastic. On some beaches of the Big Island of Hawaii, up to 15 percent of the sand is plastic.

Microplastic is swallowed by fish, which then gets on the table. Thompson says that there is no evidence of plastic penetration into fish filet, but other chemical elements that are added to plastic may be in the fish tissue and later accumulate in the food chain, getting into the human body.

The ecologist emphasizes that it goes without saying that problem with plastic pollution must be solved right now.

Most researchers believe that microplastic undergoes further disintegration and turns into a so-called “nanoplastic”.

These microscopic crumbs cause them even more concern because, once swallowed, they are much more likely to go from the intestine into the bloodstream or settle in the lungs if they are inhaled.

Plastic affects the health of the soil, the quality of drinking water, and directly the human body as it is swallowed and inhaled.

How to win the war with plastic trash

Plastic pollution is obvious, no one denies it, and to solve the problem, there is no need to redo the entire global energy system, National Geographic says.

Economist Ted Sigler has been working with developing countries for over 25 years in solving the garbage issue.

“The problem ceases to be such, if the solution is known. We know how to collect garbage, everyone can do. We know how to organize its transportation and recycling,” the expert says.

Sigler believes that you only need to create special organizations and systems for this purpose, ideally, before the ocean is irrevocably transformed into plastic soup.

In recent years, some countries and companies have begun to carry out useful initiatives. Kenya has banned plastic bags, threatening with fines and jail.  The EU countries banned all single-use plastic.

Coca-Cola plans to recycle 100 percent of its packaging by 2030. PepsiCo, Amcor and Unilever pledged to recycle 100 percent of reusable, recyclable and compostable packaging by 2025.

“Everyone is counting on a concise solution, but the reality is this: you just need to collect the garbage,” says Sigler.

In mid-March of this year, the regular UN conference on the environment took place in the capital of Kenya, Nairobi. But its participants failed to reach agreement on the main issue: how to put an end to the unrestrained accumulation of plastic waste in the Earth’s biosphere.

As the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program, Jochen Flashbart, stated, the main objectives of the conference were not achieved due to the opposition of a number of countries, primarily the United States.

International environmental organizations have directly accused the United States of blocking a document obliging all countries to reduce the use of plastic and to begin a global fight against plastic pollution.

It leads to a thought that while the plastic pollution problem being only under the consideration on global level, the actions are done on local. Scandinavian countries showed incredible results on litter issues.  Having recycled all their wastes they know no problems with river, water and air pollution. So everything is in our hands.