This website started campaigning against environmental plastic more than four years ago, when 99.99% of the population didn’t realise that it was a problem. Now the problem is much worse and it is going to get much worse still. You have plastic inside your body and your body can’t get rid of it. It comes mostly from sea food (including sea salt) and from plastic food packaging, which sheds molecules directly into what you eat. 83% of the world’s tapwater contains plastic, poisoning the average person with 3-4,000 plastic particles per year.
There are very many different kinds of plastics, some of which are readily biodegradable or even compostable, but most of which have a long duration of persistence in the environment. The plastic object might be broken down mechanically but the individual molecules persist. Plastic is so new that we don’t know for how long, but guestimates of 500 to 1,000 years are a starting position. So far 6.3 billion tons of plastic has been manufactured, about 9% has been recycled and 12% incinerated. So 79% is still in the environment. Here in the UK alone we use more than 5 million tons of plastic every year, of which only about one-quarter is recycled. So 3.75 million tons of plastic go into the environment.
The current campaign against plastics features carrier bags killing turtles in the ocean. Nasty and evil though this is it simplifies an immense problem. Every liter of seawater on the planet, no matter how clear and pristine it looks, now contains plastic. With each week we are putting vast amounts of fresh plastic in the sea and we are not taking any (except for a few token experiments) out. Much sea life exists by filtering water, many shellfish for instance, these are eaten by bigger creatures which in turn are eaten by bigger creatures, and so on. With each step in the food chain the plastic, because it is indigestible, becomes more concentrated in a process called bioaccumulation. It is not really sensible to eat seafood any more.
So let’s take a look at your role in destroying the planet, going beyond the obvious carrier bags, drinking straws and water bottles :
- Synthetic cloth. You might notice that with age and repeated washing your polyester and acrylic garment become lighter and thinner. This is because they gradually shed plastic, from thread size to molecule size pieces. Scientific research has a single average UK 6kg washing load losing 140,00 polycotton particles, half a million polyester particles and 700,000 acrylic particles. Possibly the worst is fleece, one jacket in one wash losing as many as a million pieces of plastic. Multiply this across all the washing machines and you can see thousands of tons of plastic going into the environment every day in the UK alone. There is no way to stop it and there is no way to clean it up. The only answer is to wear wool, cotton, linen, leather, bamboo, mohair, alpaca, cashmere and biodegradable plastic clothing.
- Laminated liquid cartons. These are made of three layers; aluminium, plastic and paper. The aluminium and plastic cannot be separated, so the small number of these packages that are supposedly “recycled” are actually just shredded up and added to building materials. 100 billion of these cartons are made every year. And there is no need, steel cans and glass bottles are 100% recyclable.
- Blister packs for pills. Once you could buy a big glass jar full of aspirin or paracetamol. Now, thanks to typical EU over regulation, all pills come in aluminium/plastic laminated blister packs. Which are not recyclable. The answer, obviously, is to go back to what we had before.
- Disposable razors and multiblade razor cartridges. Once again steel and plastic are bonded so are incredibly difficult to separate, so billions of them end up in the environment every year. The answer is the classical double edged razor. Easily and cheaply 100% recyclable.
- Tampons. These put at least 100 billion pieces of plastic into the environment every year. It is in the applicator, the string, the fibre, the packaging. There are biodegradable alternatives for all four.
- Cosmetic and cleaning product containing microscopic plastic beads, called scrubbers as well as other microplastics. 100% of which end up in the environment.
- Wet wipes which contain plastic in their material to give them strength.
- Teabags, which are very often plastic, even if they don’t look as if they are.
- The world’s huge fishing industry uses plastic nets and lines. These shed plastic, from molecule to fibre size directly into the sea every time they are used. And when fishing gear gets snagged or broken it is just abandoned. Most ship wrecks are shrouded in many layers of these nets.
- Paints and varnishes. Very many of these now contain plastics. Sometimes they call it “latex”. This puts non recyclable plastics directly into the environment. Global paint production is about 30 million tons a year.
- Chewing gum. Not gum at all, nearly all made from non biodegradable, petrochemical based, plastic. Similar to that used in car tyres. But, unlike car tyres, nearly all chewing gum ends up in the environment. More than 100,000 tons a year of it, mostly from just two manufacturers.
So as you can see you are guilty of poisoning the planet for future generations. How can we fix this problem?:
- Because the main carrier and distributor of plastic pollution is the sea it needs global agreement and co-operation to deal with it. A plastic bag dumped in Indonesia can eventually put molecules of plastic in your tap water in Manchester.
- Ban putting any and all non biodegradable plastics into landfill, from which it will leach into groundwater and from thence get everywhere. Incineration and recycling are the only ways to get rid of all plastics. We may well eventually be forced to dig up existing landfills!
- Everything sold containing any non biodegradable plastic at all must have in place a 100% recycling regime. Responsibility must rest with product manufacturers with a punitive consequences for non compliance.
- Plastic must be replaced with other materials in most applications. We managed before, we can manage again. Plastic packaging should be made illegal.
- Education. You didn’t know some of the stuff in the list of villains above. Most people don’t. If they did then personal responsibility and activism would make a big difference.
- Start taking plastic out of the environment, especially the sea. The entire world’s seabed is strewn with plastic. There are high concentration on the surface in the oceanic gyres. But even collecting up the debris from shorelines helps clean up the sea. If everyone worldwide did this regularly it would help a lot. Our sewage, which contains a lot of plastic particles, runs mostly into the sea, we need to develop the technology for sewage works to deal with this.
However bad you think this situation is, it is certainly worse. A threat to life on earth. So start doing your personal bit to help today.