We use over 300 million tons of new plastic every year. Half of this we use just once and usually for less than 12 minutes. 8 million tons of plastic waste ends up in the ocean every year. Over many years, as this plastic waste is carried along by ocean currents, it breaks up into tiny pieces. So much is getting into our ocean that in some places these plastic particles outnumber plankton by a ratio of 26:1. The tiny pieces of plastic attract toxic chemicals released over decades from industry and agriculture, the concentration of which increases as they move up the food chain. Over 600 species of marine life are known to suffer directly from plastic pollution. Birds consume plastic, and an increasing number starve when their stomachs are full of plastic waste. Over 90% of seabirds worldwide have plastic pieces in their stomachs. Plastic is incredibly versatile with properties that make it ideal for many applications. We all use plastic everyday and getting rid of it at this stage is nearly impossible. We can however be more conscious about our plastic usage and invent ways of recycling the material.
IKEA is launching a kitchen made from recycled plastic bottles. Twenty-five plastic bottles are used in each of these kitchen units, designed by Swedish studio Form Us With Love to make “sustainability available for everyone”. Form Us With Love’s CEO Jonas Pettersson says the collection highlights the re-usability of different items:
“A plastic bottle is not waste; it is a resource. Most importantly, this kitchen proves that these materials can be used for household goods in large-scale production…We have to challenge the excuses for not using waste as a resource by showing how to best put these materials back into production, making affordable democratic products that will last.”
Parley and Adidas are running another great recycling project. The Parley A.I.R. Strategy addresses the fast growing and global threat of ocean plastic pollution based on the belief that plastic is a design failure, one that can only be solved if we reinvent the material itself. They are strategizing ways to avoid virgin plastic in supply chains, intercept plastic waste, and ultimately, to redesign new alternatives. Adidas created concept shoes with a goal to transform marine plastic into high performance sportswear such as shoes and swimwear.
Besides attempts to recycle existing plastic, projects to clean the ocean from plastic waste are also ongoing. A well-known and interesting project is The Ocean Cleanup, which claims a full-scale system rollout could clean up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years. Research shows the majority of plastic by mass is currently in the larger debris. By removing the plastic while most of it is still large, they want to prevent it from breaking down into dangerous micro plastics. Boyan Slat started this initiative at age 17, proving everyone can contribute to innovative solutions. By late 2017, the Ocean Cleanup aims to launch the first pilot project in Pacific waters.
Recycling and cleaning existing debris is still not going to solve this problem. We as consumers must change our behaviour and use less plastic. Reducing our use of surplus and single-use disposable plastic items is one of the easiest things we can do to combat this problem. There are endless lists of suggestions that help us reduce our plastic usage. Everybody should be aware of this problem and find their way of contributing to the solution.
Some suggestions we have started following.
- Plastic cutlery – Embrace reusable cutlery.
- Straws – Simply sip your drink.
- Bottled water – Drink from the tap or take a reusable bottle with you.
- Takeaway coffee cups – Buy a reusable cup instead.
- Plastic toothbrushes – Use a bamboo toothbrush.
- Plastic shopping bags – Carry a reusable bag when you go shopping.
- Takeaway containers – Cover dishes with a plate, use and reuse your Ziploc bags.