When abundance correlates to apathy: the plastic backlash
Since the emergence of plastic in the 1950s, a world of possibilities opened up. Anything and everything could be made from plastic because plastic is cheap. However, the efficiency and abundance of this material had led the planet into a flood of 9.2 billion tonnes of plastic. 75% of which turn into waste that doesn’t reach the recycling system. When did we lose touch?
The surge of single-use plastic has outrun the systems designed to manage their waste. This overflow is the reason why oceans are under such a threat.
Until recently, the majority of the US and European recycling was only sorted in their home territories and then shipped to China for the actual recycling to take place. Of late China decided to cease this activity. This short-circuit means that the many developed countries that relied on these poor structures to mitigate their misuse are left scrambling for new affordable alternatives.
As most plastic is petroleum-based, it is not biodegradable. This presents a problem as too often plastic carelessly ends up in landfills where it is buried or finds its way into the ocean and other water streams. Non-biodegradable plastic means the polymers will not decompose into a natural substance like soil but rather will degrade (break down) into minute fragments that realize the toxic chemicals which were initially used to harden the plastic. This process can take hundreds of years or never.
There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to plastic waste. The mass scale and accumulation of nano plastics and microplastic is alarming. It is these somewhat invisible fragments and also very visible discards like plastic bottles, bags and coffee cups that have been estimated to kill millions of marine animals annually, ranging from 700 species, many of which are endangered such as the Sea Turtle, Blue Whale, Krill, Hector’s Dolphins and the Hammerhead Shark just to name a few. Plastics also end up in the fish we eat, and then in our own bodies.
Some countries are taking responsibility for this self-inflicted problem by enforcing policies that will stir change and phase out it out. The European Commission has recently revealed plans that will aim to recycle at least half of all packaging by 2030 as well as stating that many single-use items, including coffee cups, take away packaging and plastic straws, would be banned altogether. Kenya also joined a growing list of nations that have banned plastic bags, imposing steep fines and jail time if violated. France has also stated that it will ban plastic plates and cups by 2020. Bans on plastic microbeads in cosmetics, like exfoliants are to be enforced by the U.S., Canada, the U.K.
Changing these problems is a multifaceted approach between collective action and policy change. As waste is a human-made phenomena reduction of it can also be at the hands of its main culprits, us. Here are some advised adjustments:
Forgo purchasing plastic-wrapped, single-use products when possible. Voiding single-use plastics is not as easy as we would like to think but try to attend markets where you can buy loose fruit and veg, and if they need protection request a paper bag or cardboard box or make your own produce bag.
Know what and what cannot be recycled: Many products that we think can be recycled can not and are ignorantly put into the recycling bin which clogs up the system. So look for the appropriate recycling symbol.
Reuse: many argue that plastic is not the problem but rather the way we use and reuse it. So if you do purchase plastic or have found yourself surrounded by it think of ways you can stretch out its lifespan.
Avoid clothes with polyester. When you wash textiles containing polyester the microplastics are leached into the waterways and are presenting big health problems for marine life. It is important to know that in some cases, small percentages of polymers can increase durability, and on items which aren’t washed frequently (like jackets, backpacks) the microfibre issue isn’t as present. If you do have clothes with polyester in them, consider buying a Cora Ball.
Finally, our garments need to be protected and if you’re a customer of ours you’ll notice that each one of the products shipped to you is wrapped in single-use plastic. This is something which breaks our hearts and we are dedicating quite some time to phasing this out as soon as possible. In the meantime, we are guided by Patagonia who perhaps does the most interesting work in this realm. We are balancing the interplay between waste and resource consumption endemic in clothes being ruined in transit and storage. We would love to hear from you if you know of any ways we can address this problem. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Text curation by Michelle Torres.