What’s the solution to plastic pollution?

If you think the world is safe from environmental crisis because stores are finally asking their customers to say no to plastic bags and take their canvas bags to the supermarket, you might want to think again after you read the following plastic pollution facts:

  • Individually, Australians go through approximately 60kg of plastic annually, according to Australian Geographic.
  • Collectively, Australians generate 3 million tonnes of plastic pollution a year, and the WWF notes that only 12 percent of that waste is recycled and 130,000 tonnes of that unrecycled waste ends up in the ocean. On top of that, 95 percent of plastic packaging is discarded after a single use.
  • According to the Department of the Environment and Energy, once it gets in the ocean, plastic pollution entangles, poisons, and chokes seabirds, seals, turtles, and dolphins.
  • The good news is microplastics aren’t presently showing up in the edible parts of marine life, according to National Geographic. The bad news is plenty of the plastic now in the ocean is destined to degrade into “nanoplastics.” These nanoplastics may be present in the crabs, fish, lobsters, mussels, oysters, prawns, and squid you eat in the coming years.
  • The Sydney Morning Herald notes that, in the six decades during which plastic has been in common use, around 6 billion tonnes of plastic pollution has accumulated globally. Just under 80 percent of it has remained on land, and much of it sits in landfills.
  • There’s also vastly more microplastic in the soil than in seawater, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. It’s not clear how much danger “terrestrial microplastic” poses to humans (or animal and plant species), but let’s hope it’s relatively benign.

Spread awareness of the issue

As anyone who remained conscious during chemistry class knows, plastic is in everything. Blankets, carpets, cars, chewing gum, clothes, cosmetics, electronic devices, medical implements, packaging, and sporting equipment. It’s nearly impossible to just ban the use of plastic as, for instance, the Australian government did with leaded petrol.

Environmental activists also haven’t had much luck mobilising the masses. Coles and Woolworths are still attempting to gently wean their customers off single-use plastic bags, but many of those customers are resisting the change.

Even so, many of the initiatives to reduce plastic waste involve individuals making a little extra effort, and Australians are slowly recognising the need to fight the plastic epidemic. In increasing numbers, they are, for example, swearing off straws, using reusable water bottles, and taking heed of plastic recycling tips, such as those provided by the Department of the Environment and Energy.

Encouragingly, several innovative organisations are now using plastic waste in creative ways. ABC reports that a Melbourne company is turning rubbish into roads, while Create Digital notes how researchers are turning recycled plastics into seawalls that will support the recolonisation of marine life. Companies, such as Dresden and Replas, are also keeping things environmentally friendly by using recycled plastics to create more sustainable products.

Prevention is a lot easier than a cure when it comes to plastic pollution, but at least one Australian business aspires to scoop up plastic from the world’s waterways. Two surfers, Andrew Turton and Pete Ceglinski, quit their jobs to create Seabin. Seabins can collect half a tonne of floating debris annually, including microplastics up to 2mm in diameter.

Do your part in the fight

You may be wondering what part you can play in stopping plastic from leaching into arable land, freshwater reservoirs, and bounteous seas. Ideally, you’d quit your job and hole up in a lab until you invented a cheap, endlessly adaptable, biodegradable wonder material capable of replacing plastic. If that’s not practical, think seriously about the following recycling tips:

  • Recycle your cartridges: Australians collectively burn through 34 printer cartridges every minute. These are toxic but mostly recyclable amalgams of plastic, metal, ink, and toner fluid. Fifteen years ago, Planet Ark joined forces with Close the Loop—a business that helps companies reduce their waste—and tech giants, such as HP, to create the Cartridges 4 Planet Ark program. If your organisation uses more than three cartridges a month, it can arrange to get an on-premise recycling box. If your organisation doesn’t qualify for one of those, there’s sure to be a public recycling box at a nearby Australia Post store, Officeworks, Harvey Norman, JB Hi-Fi, or other participating organisation. (You can find the nearest box by entering your organisation’s address here.)
  • Engage in planet-friendly procurement: You could also make a point of purchasing office products that use minimal packaging, can be recycled at the end of their lifecycle, and are at least partly constructed from recycled materials.

The reality of plastic pollution may be a bit daunting, but you can start taking some of these simple steps today to make for a better, environment-friendly tomorrow.