BY: NUNO DOS SANTOS
Plastic waste is the accumulation of plastic items in the environment that negatively affects the environment, natural habitats, and humans.
Plastic waste is any such materials that are not recycled and instead are landfilled, thrown away indiscriminately or discarded in unregulated dump sites. The mass production of plastics started around 60 years ago, creating circa 8.5 billion tonnes of plastic worldwide. So far, only 10% of these materials have been recycled globally.
Our addiction to plastics is mostly due to the fact that these products are affordable, versatile, and durable. However, most plastics take centuries to degrade (approximately between 50 and 600 years). Practically all the plastic that has been sent to landfills since the late 20th century still exists, and yet we are still consuming and disposing (carelessly) of more of it. In the UK, around 5 million tonnes of plastic are consumed each year and a staggering 75% of it is not recycled.
Public interest in waste management practice is increasing, mostly due to popular documentaries, such as “Blue Planet”, which revealed the devastating effects that irresponsible waste management (or lack of) can have on the natural environment. Consequently, consumers and businesses are becoming more environmentally conscious and are deliberately looking to do business with greener organisations. As we know, most polymers derive from fossil fuels and, conversely, bioplastics are largely plant-based.
The growing interest for biopolymers arises within this context. However, are these the answer that we expect? Well, according to many sources, not exactly. Even though bioplastics can be produced from renewable biomass sources, for example flaxseed, woodchips, food waste, etc., these materials break down in a similar way to ‘normal’ plastic. In fact, most of all UK organic waste treatment facilities cannot treat biodegradable or compostable plastics and they are often sent for incineration or landfill.
This is mostly due to these biopolymers not degrading or breaking down at the same rate as natural biomass, requiring longer time to biodegrade and/or a different constant temperature-range to break down. This summarises why biopolymers are only ‘a seemingly appealing alternative to oil-based Plastics’. The terms can therefore be misleading. For more information, please read the following two sources: ‘Biodegradable’ Plastic Bags and The United Nations Report.
The only way to decrease plastic pollution and waste is to reduce its single-use consumption and adopt a much more sustainable approach by, for example, using more recyclable and/or natural materials, and by observing the waste hierarchy where the focus is on prevention. An efficient, sustainable packaging and waste management service is central to any organisation that aims to improve its environmental and climate change goals. Reducing plastic intake and raising awareness about recycling is essential if we are to eliminate plastic waste and pollution.
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