The impact of plastic on our environment has been discussed a multitude of times by different stakeholders, and even as individuals merely living our everyday lives, one thing should have definitely become clearer in the past few years: it is incredibly damaging, especially to our oceans. As a response, the UN drafted a resolution involving 200 countries to cut millions of tons of plastic waste every year. The EU followed with a similar campaign that aims to make all packaging fully reusable or recyclable by 2030.
Perhaps something that could help with these initiatives is the constant innovation of what plastics are available to use. Recently, a team of chemists at Colorado State University created a new kind of recyclable plastic which theoretically be used “infinitely”.
“The polymers can be chemically recycled and reused, in principle, infinitely,” said [Professor Eugene Chen]. “It would be our dream to see this chemically recyclable polymer technology materialise in the marketplace.”
The material they created has similarities with the plastics we currently use in order to be as functional. These include strength, durability, and heat resistance. But one key difference in the chemical composition of the “infinitely” recyclable plastic is its ability to be easily converted back to the molecules that form its building blocks. Because the scientists see that this process does not need toxic chemicals or intensive lab procedures, they promote the potential of the recyclable plastic for commercial use.
[C]ommenting on the new discovery, chemists Dr. Haritz Sardon and Professor Andrew Dove . . . wrote that such discoveries could “lead to a world in which plastics at the end of their life are not considered as waste but as raw materials to generate high value products and virgin plastics . . . This will both incentivise recycling and encourage sustainability.”
Tons of millions of plastic waste could seriously be avoided if there is widespread use of this “infinitely” recyclable plastic. Instead of increasingly causing the death of our oceans, perhaps plastic itself could live a new life again and again.
Each year, an astounding number of plastic products brim over from landfills and into oceans. To reduce this ever-rising amount, companies are dumpster-diving for bottles, up-cycling them into boats and furniture. Although proper disposal remains a primary issue, encouraging a zero-waste lifestyle is just as pressing. To prevent greater damage caused by plastic bottles, Water U.K. is installing refill stations across England.
“This country has some of the best drinking water in the world and we want everyone to benefit from it.” [said Water U.K. chief executive Michael Roberts.]
Users can pinpoint refill stations on a smartphone app. In Bristol alone, the app will ping you to 200 individual fountains. If bottle-users went for a single refill per week for an entire year, the city could shrink waste by 22.3 million bottles.
“This scheme will do that by making it easier for people to refill their bottles wherever they work, rest, shop or play.”
If you’re on a mission to stay healthy, remember that keeping plastic out of oceans is also part of the job.
These days, restaurants are not only serving up delicious new meals, but becoming mindful of their impact on the environment. Chains such as TGI’s are serving vegan burgers to reduce meat consumption, while bay-area cafes are returning oyster shells into oceans. Each bit of effort is unique, while every vision remains the same — to go green. Lavish with five-star establishments, California is taking its eco-consciousness even further against plastic straws. A new law requires sit-down restaurants to dispense straws only if specifically requested.
“Really, what’s at stake here is a few moments of convenience creating a years-long environmental threat,” said David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay.
The bill follows California’s ban on single-use plastics and will hopefully transition into a total ban. Let’s be real. Paper straws are tons better than their plastic counterparts, but not when they thaw into a soggy mess.
“We are aware of the problem we’ve created with plastic and wanted to get away from it as much as possible,” said [Daniel] Parks, the beverage manager at Pagan Idol.
While every activist would prefer a complete wipe-out, it may take others some time to realize straws really aren’t all that.
Since the UN drafted its resolution to allay plastic waste, various superpowers have been succeeding its proposal. Among the campaigners is the European Union, which hopes to produce materials that are fully recyclable by 2030.
“If we don’t do anything about this, 50 years down the road we will have more plastic than fish in the oceans … we have all the seen the images, whether you watch [the BBC’s] Blue Planet, whether you watch the beaches in Asian countries after storms.” [said Dutch diplomat Frans Timmermans.]
Bearing in mind that plastics take 500 years to break down, making them entirely reusable is a smart move. To kick off, the EU is looking to tax single-use plastics, aiming to recycle 55% of materials within 12 years. Versatile, recyclable product designs will help keep oceans comparatively unsoiled.
“More and more it is becoming a health problem because it is degrading, going to little chips, fish are eating it and it is coming back to our dinner table,” said European Commission vice president Jyrki Katainen.
As Europe produces over 25 million tons of plastic waste a year, any start is a good start. The Blue Planet waits for no one.
You know ocean plastics are getting out of hand when beach resorts use them to decorate. According to the U.N., enough is enough. To put an end to plastic pollution, the U.N. Environment Programme drafted a resolution signed by 200 partner countries.
“There is very strong language in this resolution,” [said] Norway’s environment minister, Vidar Helgesen…
“We now have an agreement to explore a legally binding instrument and other measures and that will be done at the international level over the next 18 months.”
Projected to host more plastic than marine life by 2050, the ocean could use a helping hand. The new resolution hopes to slash the eight million tons of plastic that end up tossed every year. Participating countries are aiming to abolish “useless” plastic products such as straws.
“While this is not a treaty, significant progress is being made … 39 governments announced new commitments to reduce the amount of plastic going into the sea,” said the chief of public advocacy at UNEP, Sam Barrat.
Change, like any other, will take time. But at least we’ll no longer be risking plastic chunks in seafood platters.