9 innovative ideas to tackle plastic pollution
Plastic pollution has been a persistent issue for a long time, yet we continue to rely on plastic in our daily lives and may continue to do so for decades to come. Regardless of location, we are all surrounded by plastic on a daily basis. But how much do you know about the usage and pollution caused by plastic?
The following are some alarming facts about plastic use, according to Plastic Oceans and National Geographic:
- Annually, we produce over 380 million tons of plastic.
- Half of that plastic is used for single-use purposes, lasting only a few moments.
- Currently, there are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in our oceans.
- Plastic production has seen a significant increase over time, rising from 2.1 million tonnes in 1950 to 147 million in 1993 and 406 million by 2015.
- On average, a plastic bag is used for only 15 minutes before being discarded.
- So far, 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic waste have been generated. Of that, only 9% was recycled, 12% was incinerated, and 79% accumulated in landfills or the environment.
- Plastic can last for centuries, with estimates ranging from 450 years to indefinitely.
- To date, 700 species of marine animals have been reported to have ingested or become entangled in plastic.
- Throughout our lifetimes, humans consume over 40 pounds of plastic.
You may be wondering if plastic is a significant problem, and if using glass bottles instead of plastic bottles would be more environmentally friendly. However, it’s not that simple.
First, making new glass bottles requires sand, and in fact, we use more sand globally than oil (50 billion tons of sand every year), but not all sand can be used to make glass bottles. Additionally, extracting sand from the natural environment can disrupt ecosystems.
Second, glass is also heavier and more fragile than plastic, which leads to greater emissions during transportation.
Third, most glass is not actually recycled. In America, only 33% of waste glass is recycled. Colored glass can only be recycled and melted down with similar colors.
Lastly, according to Goingzerowaste, glass takes one million years to decompose in the environment, and even longer in a landfill.
The reality is that plastic products have become an integral part of our daily lives and finding alternative materials can be challenging. However, there are ways we are trying to adopt to reduce the negative impact of plastic on the environment.
1. New technology is being developed to repurpose old plastic bottles for use in road construction. A stretch of highway in Oroville, California, is the first in the country to be paved in part with recycled plastic. This new road surface is created by mixing plastic bottles with existing asphalt, using the equivalent of roughly 150,000 plastic bottles per mile of the three-lane road.
2. A Norwegian start-up, Othalo, is developing a method to construct houses entirely out of recycled plastic. This involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other non-flammable materials. These components can be used to build up to four-story buildings, with a single home of 60 square meters requiring eight tons of recycled plastic. The company’s factory in Estonia has already begun producing components for building three demonstration homes in Africa.
3. Diageo, one of the world’s largest producers of spirits, has begun releasing one line of its Johnnie Walker whiskey in a paper bottle made from sustainably sourced, food-safe wood pulp. The bottle is 100% plastic-free and completely recyclable. However, it may have a larger environmental footprint due to its weight during shipping, according to the company.
4. Notpla has developed an edible water bottle that can be consumed or composted once finished. This eliminates the need for a traditional plastic bottle. In 2020, they launched their product at a half-marathon in London, which was a highly innovative and attention-grabbing product. They are also expanding its use into other applications such as sachets for ketchup or mayo with takeout orders in restaurants.
5. In some African countries and India, it is possible to see houses constructed with plastic bottles. These bottles, filled with sand, are placed on their sides and stacked one on top of the other, then held together with mud. This technique can use an estimated 7,800 plastic bottles. and is considered to be a cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional building bricks.
6. Narayana Peesapathy has developed a solution for plastic cutlery by creating an edible, nutritious alternative. The spoon is made from flours of jawar (sorghum) mixed with rice and wheat. They contain no chemicals, preservatives, fat, emulsifiers, artificial colors, or milk products, and are 100% natural, biodegradable, and available in a variety of sweet and savory flavors.
7. In 2015, Andrew Turton and Pete Ceglinski started the Seabin project, a floating garbage bin designed to clean up oceans. The device is about the size of a standard garbage bin and can collect up to 20 kilograms of trash at a time, effectively acting as a vacuum cleaner for the ocean.
8. A New York-based startup, LOLIWARE, is working to replace single-use plastic straws with a biodegradable and edible alternative made from seaweed. Seaweed is considered to be a suitable alternative to plastic because it is a renewable resource and can serve as an effective replacement for plastic straws.
9. In 2012, a group of researchers from Yale University discovered a species of mushroom from the Amazon rainforest that has the ability to digest plastic and break down polyurethane into organic matter. This makes it possible for various materials to decompose properly, including organic materials.
Problems will always exist, but so will solutions. Plastic pollution has been a longstanding issue, and with innovative ideas and approaches, it is possible to envision a world without plastic. What do you believe to be the most promising solution to eradicate plastic pollution? Do you have any ideas of your own?
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