BY OCEAN MATERIAL | Jan 1st 2023 | 7 MINS
Plastic pollution is a major environmental concern that needs to be addressed. In 1950, the world produced 2 million tons of plastic per year, and by 2016, this number had increased to 242 million tons, accounting for 12% of all municipal solid waste. Plastics take hundreds of years to decompose and can release harmful chemicals into the ground when disposed of in landfills. They can also enter ocean waters, where they may be ingested by marine animals and disrupt marine habitats. The environmental impacts of plastic pollution are significant, making it essential to find solutions to this problem. While it is difficult to eliminate plastic completely, there are several tools that can help reduce plastic pollution.
- Plastic Bans
One solution to plastic pollution is the implementation of plastic bans, particularly on single-use plastics. More than 70 countries have implemented full or partial bans on single-use plastic bags, and many have extended these bans to include items such as straws, utensils, and other small plastic items. For example, New Zealand will phase out most single-use plastics by 2025, and India has announced a ban on the manufacture, sale, distribution, and use of single-use plastics starting July 1, 2022. European countries like France and Spain have also targeted plastic packaging for produce in an effort to reduce plastic waste. While progress has been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in a new form of pollution from single-use surgical masks, plastic gloves, and hand sanitizer bottles, it is important for governments to also address the commercial sector as a major producer of plastic waste.
- Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policies are becoming more popular as a solution for plastic pollution in many European countries and several US states. Under an EPR, producers and manufacturers are responsible for the costs and disposal of packaging materials and waste, rather than consumers. Companies are charged for collecting and recycling cardboard boxes, plastic containers, and other packaging materials, as well as the disposal of non-recyclable materials. This encourages companies to produce less plastic packaging and create a market for recycled goods, as it is more expensive to collect and recycle their own plastic products. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 82.2 million tons of containers and packaging were discarded in the US in 2018, and 20 companies produce over half of global plastic waste. While EPR is already in practice in many European countries and Canadian provinces, Maine became the first US state to implement it in July 2021, and other states such as New York and California are also considering implementing it in the coming years.
Bioplastics are made of plants, such as cornstarch and bamboo fibers, instead of oil and other natural materials. They are similar to traditional plastics in terms of properties and durability, and are often recyclable and biodegradable in industrial landfills. They also tend to have a lower environmental impact as the plants used do not require pesticides or chemicals to grow, and their production would reduce the use of fossil fuels, as 8% of the world’s oil is currently used to make plastic. The global market for bioplastics is currently worth around $9 billion, but it still has a long way to go compared to the $1.2 trillion conventional plastic market. However, experts argue that the solution to plastic pollution should not focus on producing more effective bioplastics, but rather on increasing global recycling efforts. At Ocean Material® we do both, we develop effective recycling infrastructure while also developing Bioplastics that are marine degradable and do not harm the marine ecosystems.
- Enzymatic Recycling
Enzymes and plastic-eating bacteria are being developed as a solution for plastic pollution. These methods can break down plastics, allowing for greater recycling efforts and the production of higher-quality recycled plastics. French startup Carbios has developed an enzyme-based process that breaks down and purifies plastic items to create new and purer products, as well as recycling items into clothes that traditional recycling techniques cannot process. This process also requires less energy and emits 17%-43% less greenhouse gas emissions than creating virgin plastics. In 2020, scientists engineered a super-enzyme that can degrade plastic bottles six times faster than previous methods. Researchers in Indonesia are also searching for marine microbes that can effectively break down plastics.
- Effective supply chains
Supply chains for ocean bound plastic aim to divert plastic waste from entering the ocean by collecting it before it reaches the water. This is done through a variety of methods, such as implementing waste management systems in coastal communities, intercepting plastic litter in rivers and waterways, and partnering with local governments and businesses to collect and recycle plastic waste.
By collecting and properly disposing of this plastic waste, we can help to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean, which can have detrimental effects on marine ecosystems and wildlife. These supply chains also provide economic benefits to local communities by providing job opportunities and creating a market for recycled plastic materials.
Furthermore, implementing these supply chains can help to reduce the overall demand for virgin plastic, which is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. By shifting towards a circular economy and reusing plastic materials, we can decrease the need for new plastic production and ultimately help to mitigate the impact of climate change.
Ocean Material® developed a marine plastic recycling model that creates real impact and stops ocean plastic pollution at scale.