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Our Plastic Crisis

From city streets to the arctic ice sheets, plastic pollution has reached every corner of the globe. This isn’t a waste management problem; it’s an unmanageable problem. Only 9% of all plastics ever produced have been recycled. The rest? Find out by reading below

In South Africa, we have a 35% recycling rate (one of the highest in the world thanks to informal pickers). But even then, thats 65% of plastics going to landfill, our environment and the ocean. 

How does packaging fit into the plastic crisis? Plastics used for packaging account for 42 percent (146 million tonnes) of all plastics, globally. 

This is why plastic-recycling isn't a solution:

Even recycled plastics have a limited lifecycle. Unlike glass which can be recycled infinitely, at best, a recycled bottle can only be recycled 7-times before it has degraded to a point of no economic value. But most plastic doesn't even make it to the 7th reincarnation. In reality, high-quality plastics are often recycled just once and are turned into low-quality derivatives immediately. That endless recycling symbol is not so everlasting. 

Plastics which reach the end of their useful life pollute our environment and degrade into micro-plastics which is arguably deadly than visible plastic pollution. Micro-plastics permeate every inch of society and have been a public health crisis. They are showing up in the water we drink, the food we eat, even the air we breath... with untold implications. 

To make matter worse, it's now been discovered that plastic, when exposed to the elements, releases methane and ethylene - two powerful greenhouse gases that can exacerbate climate change.

Compostable Plastics: a viable solution

Compostable plastics, however, form part of the circular economy. Due to their plant-based materials, they are often stronger than traditional plastics and can be (re)used multiple times before being discarded. When they reach the end of their useful life, they degrade into nothing by H20, CO2 and organic matter.  Natural components which have no adverse effects on the environment. In addition, their bio-based materials are carbon-neutral resulting in a bag which also has a lower carbon footprint on the environment. 

Citations:

  1. https://www.surfrider.org/coastal-blog/entry/new-study-shows-plastic-as-source-of-greenhouse-gases-potentially-contribut
  2. https://ourworldindata.org/faq-on-plastics 
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/17/plastic-recycling-myth-what-really-happens-your-rubbish 
  4. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5516159/Plastic-particles-air-supermarket-fish-sample.html 
  5. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/06/you-re-eating-microplastics-in-ways-you-don-t-even-realise
  6. https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2018/04/04/7-things-you-didnt-know-about-plastic-and-recycling/
  7. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/15/microplastics-found-in-more-than-90-of-bottled-water-study-says
  8. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/24/record-levels-of-plastic-discovered-in-arctic-sea-ice