As the world’s population continues to grow, so does the amount of garbage that people produce. It compares our current production, use and management of waste with what is projected in the future. Once at sea, much of the plastic trash remains in coastal waters. Ingested plastic waste can greatly reduce the stomach capacity of animals or eventually cause perforation or rupture of the gut. In fact, the East Asia and Pacific regions account for about 60% of the global total for mismanaged plastic waste. From the 1950s to 2015, the production of plastic products grew from virtually zero to about 350 million tons per year. Mechanical systems, such as Mr. Trash Wheel, a litter interceptor in Maryland’s Baltimore Harbor, can be effective at picking up large pieces of plastic, such as foam cups and food containers, from inland waters. Production increased exponentially, from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 448 million tons by 2015. The world's plastic problem in numbers. The problem with plastic is we produce it for things wedon’tneed. Flexible plastic packaging such as plastic bags, films, and labels constitute a significant portion of daily plastic waste. Living organisms, particularly marine animals, can be harmed either by mechanical effects, such as entanglement in plastic objects, problems related to ingestion of plastic waste, or through exposure to chemicals within plastics that interfere with their physiology. The Growing Problem of Plastic Waste Ever since its invention, we have produced and consumed an incredible amount of plastic. From the 1950s to the 1980s, plastics were either simply discarded into landfills or incinerated. "Unmoderated production of plastic products has resulted in unacceptable accumulation of debris in landfills and in natural environments, representing a gross waste of … Plastic accounts for 16% of all municipal solid waste in the U.S. and 50%-80% of the waste littering beaches, oceans, and seabeds. Thanks to recent campaigns, such as Plastic Free July, and government policies such as the UK’s 5p plastic bag tax, there is more awareness than ever about plastic waste. To date, there has no concrete evidence of harmful health effects to humans of ingesting microplastics or ingesting animals with traces of microplastics. These have to be either separated by hand or by special equipment. The next category has a volume of less than half – the building and construction industry at only 65 million tons. However, it’s also a very difficult step as it needs cooperation at the level of the consumers. A classic example is the standard disposable coffee cup, which is made of paper and a thin film of polypropylene for water-resistance. Required fields are marked *, Subscribe to our newsletter to get interesting stories delivered to your inbox! Looking at the plastic production rates per country, China leads the pack by a huge margin at around 60 million tons. But once plastics break down into microplastics and drift throughout the water column in the open ocean, they are virtually impossible to recover. Its operations will also require huge operating costs in terms of power, manpower, and equipment maintenance. Putting up a recycling facility requires a lot of capital and technical capability. Sorting is a significant bottleneck in the plastic recycling process. Collection and sorting remain to be the most critical parts of the process, as it ensures that there is a constant stream of materials for the recycling plant to work with. They were carried to the South Pacific by the South Pacific gyre, a circular ocean current. The peculiar thing about the plastic waste problem is the fact that just about every single person in the world knows about it and recognizes it. Notable examples include China, Indonesia, India, Nigeria, Brazil, Vietnam, and Bangladesh. The ever-growing consumption of goods packaged in plastic and the superior economics of plastic production has made this material an unavoidable part of our daily lives. Single use plastic does have a number of benefits. According to nonprofit Plastic Oceans, roughly half the world’s plastic produce… The other 400 million tons have also ended up either getting discarded in landfills or incinerated. Half of all plastics ever manufactured have been made in the last 15 years. This is likely due to the fact that microplastics are often found in the gut or intestinal tract of animals – parts that humans typically do not eat. With such low margins, it is up to the federal or local governments to jumpstart a plastic recycling program through a combination of policy and capital infusion. Did you know that the average time we use a plastic bag for is just twelve measly minutes? All rights reserved. On land, wind can carry plastic waste or litter throughout the environment. The world has a plastic problem. Technology to help with plastic sorting continues to be developed. Plastics often contain additives making them stronger, more flexible, and durable. Plastic toxins in dumps and from litter can seep into the groundwater, which people drink every day. The production of plastic on its own isn’t necessarily bad. As far as humans are concerned, plastic waste has also been found in the food that we eat. China still leads by accounting for about 28% of mismanaged plastics, but the rest of the group is dominated by countries in South Asia – Indonesia (10%), Philippines (6%), Vietnam (6%), and Thailand (3.2%). There are also composite plastic containers that use two different plastics. The policies such as ban on use of plastic bags is reactive and doesn't include people’s perspective thereby loses it’s probability to stick. These include contributing to food safety and hygiene and reducing packaging weight in … Production is expected to double by 2050. But seriously, waste causes endless problems and many trash systems have not been designed to handle such a large amount of garbage. New research shows that larval fish are eating nanofibers in the first days of life, raising new questions about the effects of plastics on fish populations. Most material recovery facilities do not have the technology to process flexible packaging, which means that they often end up in landfills or get incinerated. Production and development of thousands of new plastic products accelerated after World War II, so transforming the modern age that life without plastics would be unrecognizable today. Environmental problems and benefits. Low-income countries do not generate a lot of waste per capita, while high-income countries have more developed plastic recycling facilities. We pomise.). This pollution is a growing problem, and not just because it's ugly: Plastic can kill many kinds of marine life. Plastic bottles need to be crushed and have their caps removed. However, the level at which different people and different countries are invested in helping solve the problem vary greatly. As of the end of 2015, a staggering 55% of all plastic products end up in landfills. However, it’s a good start and one we have to perfect before we can move on to more full-fledged solutions. Consumers need to change their buying behaviors, favoring products that do not use non-recyclable plastics. Plastic waste, or plastic pollution, is ‘the accumulation of plastic objects (e.g. Of the entire volume of plastics that have been produced since the 1950s, only 500 million tons (roughly 6%) have been recycled. As we have gleaned, a plastic recycling facility is not as profitable as facilities that recycle metal or glass. Tests have also confirmed liver and cell damage and disruptions to reproductive systems, prompting some species, such as oysters, to produce fewer eggs. Moreover, there were also microplastic (< 4.75 mm) samples collected that can be traced to earlier than 1990. There’s also the fact that plastic degrades in quality every time it is recycled, making it necessary for “recycled” plastic products to have a blend of both recycled and virgin materials to ensure good product quality. The plastic-makers and supermarkets are rightly held to account. Photograph by Randy Olson, Nat Geo Image Collection, The world's plastic pollution crisis explained, 38 Million Pieces of Plastic Trash Cover This Remote Island, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/habitats/plastic-pollution.html. We developed a model called Plastic-to-Ocean (P₂O) which combines years of accumulated knowledge on global flows of plastic. In fact, the actual longevity of some plastic products has not yet been determined, given that they have only been around for less than 70 years. Trash is also carried to sea by major rivers, which act as conveyor belts, picking up more and more trash as they move downstream. Plastic has come to be considered the scourge of our modern consumerist lifestyles. Whilst the global picture of total plastic waste tells an important story, it does not necessarily help us to understand the ocean plastic problem. Nearly every species of seabird eats plastics. But plastics have also been found to have blocked digestive tracts or pierced organs, causing death. This so-called ‘ single-use plastic ‘ is used to make all kinds of items, such as shopping bags, straws, food wrappers and various packaging. This is the best way for plastic recycling facilities to overcome the disadvantage in economics compared to the continued manufacture and use of virgin plastics. Still, the accumulation of these products has led to increasing amounts of plastic pollution around the world. Significant capital will also have to be spent to implement a system for the collection and sorting of plastic waste. To this day, it can be argued that there is not a single country that has attained a sustainable level of plastic manufacture, use, and recycling. Humans have produced more plasticover the last 10 years than during the whole of the last century. On Henderson Island, an uninhabited atoll in the Pitcairn Group isolated halfway between Chile and New Zealand, scientists found plastic items from Russia, the United States, Europe, South America, Japan, and China. Plastics made from fossil fuels are just over a century old. Once in the ocean, it is difficult—if not impossible—to retrieve plastic waste. To understand the sources of ocean plastic pollution we must take into account multiple factors: proximity of given population centres to the coast, and national waste management strategies. Plastics have done wonders for hygiene and human health. Most of these take the form of microplastics, although plastic fibers have also been detected in items such as salt, beer, or honey. There are … This could be accomplished with improved waste management systems and recycling, better product design that takes into account the short life of disposable packaging, and reduction in manufacturing of unnecessary single-use plastics. Think of it this way: one million plastic bottlesare bought around the world every minute, according to The Guardian, and the numbers are rising. Leading the pack are countries like Norway, the US, Singapore, Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, and Hong Kong. Some groups have also proposed requiring brands to display product labels that show recycled content, hoping that consumer-driven demand can act as the incentive to use more recycled material. This is determined by two factors – the market demand for recycled products and government support to incentivize or require plastic recycling. However, the sheer diversity of different plastic products remains to be a problem that is yet to be fully addressed. Plastic to be recycled needs to be clean and free from food residue. In many cases, manufacturing a product made of pure virgin plastic turns out to be cheaper blending in recycled materials. Seals, whales, turtles, and other animals are strangled by abandoned fishing gear or discarded six-pack rings. It’s very grounding – pun intended. However, looking at the per country share of mismanaged waste paints a different picture and highlights how many countries lack the facility or initiative to recycle plastics. This deficiency makes the economics of plastic recycling even worse. Behavioral change at such a massive scale is going to be a slow process and will require the support of environmental advocates and lawmakers. This incident is emblematic of the scale of the plastic waste problem that Indonesia faces. But once caught up in ocean currents, it can be transported around the world. One study found that your average Ozzy will go through 170 bags a year, and that is peanuts compared to China, where two million are used every minute! Despite plastic recycling becoming available, why does solid plastic waste continue to be a problem? The US comes in at second at 38 million tons. This continuous increase has resulted in a cumulative total of 7.8 billion tons of plastic produced during this period, corresponding to more than one ton of plastic for each person alive as of the end of 2015. Plastic waste is a bigger behavioural challenge than an infrastructural or environmental problem, starting from production to consumption, collection, sorting, and wasting. But the problem with plastic is that most of it isn't biodegradable. Plastics have been consumed by land-based animals, including elephants, hyenas, zebras, tigers, camels, cattle, and other large mammals, in some cases causing death. Nowhere is immune. These so-called microplastics are spread throughout the water column and have been found in every corner of the globe, from Mount Everest, the highest peak, to the Mariana Trench, the deepest trough. Once at sea, sunlight, wind, and wave action break down plastic waste into small particles, often less than one-fifth of an inch across. This data emphasizes just how much of mismanaged plastic waste ends up in the ocean, further exacerbating its effect on marine life. The accumulation of solid plastic waste continues to be one of the most pressing environmental problems we are facing today. Millions of animals are killed by plastics every year, from birds to fish to other marine organisms. This corresponds to about 4600 million tons of accumulated plastic waste over the years. That’s the equivalent of setting five garbage bags full of trash on every foot of coastline around the world. On-the-go lifestyles require easily disposable products, such as soda cans or bottles of water. Have you ever been to a rubbish clean-up event? On the other hand, plastics such as Polystyrene (PS) and Polypropylene (PP) are still widely used but remain non-recyclable. Governments can also support reducing plastic waste either by taxing plastic products or providing incentives to companies that provide more sustainable solutions. Here’s a quick summary about what the problems … ready to have your mind expanded by the possibilities and taste a bit of the future before everyone else. Get Bottled water has become an important source of plastic waste, along with single-use straws, cutlery, food containers and other plastic items. The problem of plastic waste is a global one, but for emerging economies that have not yet developed the recycling infrastructure the effects can be felt far more acutely. We do not need to be confronted with the numbers for us to recognize just how big the plastic waste problem is. Even when a plastic recycling system has been put in place, it will require the cooperation of various stakeholders. Effects on humans include disruption of various hormonal mechanisms. Product manufacturers need to come up with packaging solutions that are either biodegradable or more easily recycled. From the onset of plastic recycling in the 1980s to the present, the portion of plastic products that were recycled increased by an average of 0.7% per year. This also means that plastic cannot be recycled infinitely, unlike glass or metal. It can be categorized in primary plastics, such as cigarette butts and bottle caps, or secondary plastics, resulting from the degradation of the primary ones. Plastic waste is a problem – but some solutions are even worse. In Indonesia, plastic is everywhere. As plastic is composed of major toxic pollutants, it has the potential to cause significant harm to the … Americans are generating more plastic trash than ever, and very little of it gets recycled. Fortunately, technology now exists to recycle plastic products. By use, packaging of goods constitutes the greatest volume of usage of plastic products at around 141 million tons. This is especially true of middle-income countries that have poor support for plastic recycling. Plastics remain a huge environmental problem, and recycling isn’t powerful enough to solve it. Plastic recycling is an entire system that relies on several moving parts for it to succeed. It’s been found in the highest mountains and deepest oceans. 3D Insider publishes news, tutorials, and reviews about the latest emerging tech. Low-income countries like India, Pakistan, Tanzania, Senegal, Myanmar, Haiti, Madagascar, and several dozen others have maintained a low per capita rate of generation of plastic waste. Plastic pollution in waterways has long been known to have caused the death of marine species either by ingestion or entanglement. Looking only at the statistics of plastic production per country, it’s easy to spot a trend of rich countries generating more plastic waste. Plastic Bag Waste Another major culprit, plastic bags, create an even bigger problem. The solution is to prevent plastic waste from entering rivers and seas in the first place, many scientists and conservationists—including the National Geographic Society—say. However, they can also be very tough to recycle. Legislation to support plastic recycling can range from outright banning of single-use plastics to setting required levels of recycled content in final goods. With so many expenses involved, it is important for plastic recycling to be economically sustainable. Plastic pollution is caused by the accumulation of plastic waste in the environment. Plastic microfibers, meanwhile, have been found in municipal drinking water systems and drifting through the air. Based on studies conducted on plastic waste that has ended up in shorelines and coastal regions, researchers have found that around 79% of macroplastics are less than 5 years old. Victoria Hattersley spoke with Andrew Almack, CEO and founder of Plastics for Change, about how this problem could be approached by recognizing the value of this ubiquitous material. 2020 National Geographic Partners, LLC. About eight million tonnes of it ends up in the ocean every year, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch covers an estimated area the size of Queensland. Even if recyclable plastics can be isolated at collection, they will still need to be sorted to make sure that they don’t cause problems with recycling equipment. High-income countries generate more plastic waste per person but waste is managed well; thus a small leak into nature. As a testament to how long plastics take to break down, macroplastics (> 200 mm) dating back to the 1950s and 1960s have been found. Plastics and their byproducts are littering our cities, oceans, and waterways, and contributing to health problems in humans and animals. But many of these additives can extend the life of products if they become litter, with some estimates ranging to at least 400 years to break down. Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues, as rapidly increasing production of disposable plastic products overwhelms the world’s ability to deal with them. Plastics revolutionized medicine with life-saving devices, made space travel possible, lightened cars and jets—saving fuel and pollution—and saved lives with helmets, incubators, and equipment for clean drinking water. However, plastic waste in offshore environments tells a different story. In contrast, middle-income countries have undergone rapid industrialization but have failed to in developing their waste management technologies. 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year. The process of plastic recycling is far from perfect. Massive waste problem China has for years struggled to deal with the waste its 1.4 billion residents generate. Aside from plastic bags, one can find everyday objects such as tables and chairs made from plastic too. Before plastic waste even reaches a recycling facility, there are two hurdles to overcome – the fact that not all plastics are recyclable, and not all recyclable plastics are fit to be recycled. THE PROBLEMS WITH PLASTICS. It can get stuck in trees, fences, traffic lights, or other structures. Plastics have helped advance space exploration, aviation, and medicine. The accumulation of solid plastic waste continues to be one of the most pressing environmental problems we are facing today. China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam generate more ocean plastic waste than the rest of the world combined. Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues, as rapidly increasing production of disposable plastic products overwhelms the world’s ability to deal with them. However, this technology also has several limitations. About 700 million tons of plastic waste has been incinerated and about 2500 million tons remain in active use. But the developed world, especially in countries with low recycling rates, also has trouble properly collecting discarded plastics. Every year, about 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans from coastal nations. The effects of microplastic ingestion have not been studied to great detail, but it has been linked to decreased metabolism and inhibited fertility. Waste plastic has become a massive concern, not only in the UK, but globally. Children play on the shore of Manila Bay in the Philippines, which is polluted by plastic waste. Even in countries with well-developed plastic recycling facilities, there are still technological limitations that prevent them from attaining higher recycling rates. A major part of why some countries have failed to adapt higher plastic recycling rates is a lack of government support to the initiative in the form of policy. I enjoy running when I'm not thinking about tech. The trend appears to be skewed towards middle-income countries such as Sri Lanka, Maldives, Fiji, Egypt, Malaysia, and South Africa. Most of the plastic trash in the oceans, Earth’s last sink, flows from land. Microplastics have been found in more than 100 aquatic species, including fish, shrimp, and mussels destined for our dinner plates. The ever-growing consumption of goods packaged in plastic and the superior economics of plastic production has made this material an … Plastic waste accumulates in areas of the ocean where winds create swirling circular currents, known as gyres, which suck in any floating debris. Stomachs so packed with plastics reduce the urge to eat, causing starvation. Plastic pollution is suffocating the planet. Tiny plastic, big problem Scientists find that tiny pieces of plastic travel great distances, threatening the ocean ecosystem Pieces of plastic float here in ocean water. The gravity of the problem of mismanaged plastics lies in the fact that they can persist for several decades, even if they eventually end up breaking down as microplastics. The plastic waste problem became so drastic in Bandung that the army had to be called in to assist. It doesn't rot, like paper or food, so instead it can hang around in the environment for hundreds of years. Nearly 700 species, including endangered ones, are known to have been affected by plastics. A more pronounced trend shows that mismanaged plastic wastes are concentrated in countries with large coastal populations. Up until the 1980s, the idea of recycling plastic was unheard of. We’ve even discovered tiny plastic waste in Britain's most iconic and remote rivers, lakes and reservoirs – including the seemingly crystal-clear waters of the Lake District.. Who is affected by plastic pollution? The growing demand for companies, products and services that are tackling this problem presents an exciting opportunity for both businesses and investors. Let’s look at the current state of plastic recycling, its challenges, and how people and groups around the world are working to address these challenges. We need to fix the waste problem … Around 3% of plastic waste produced annually ends up in oceans – or about 8 million tons by the end of 2015. The Plastic Waste Problem. Your email address will not be published. Most of the deaths to animals are caused by entanglement or starvation. It’s expensive, requires a lot of work, and does not fully address the problem of plastic waste accumulation. Of this portion, only 100 million tons remain in active use. For instance, common recyclable plastics include High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) and Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET). However, this trend does not hold when we look at the data of mismanaged plastic waste per country. Plastic trash has become so ubiquitous it has prompted efforts to write a global treaty negotiated by the United Nations. In many cases, these tiny bits pass through the digestive system and are expelled without consequence. However, all these measures are moot if governments will not invest in the material recovery technologies. In countries like China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, and Thailand, a cursory walk down any street will reveal plastic packaging that is not segregated in any form to prepare them for recycling. The following are some of the common challenges. Globally, an estimated 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic waste have been disposed of with 9% of that being recycled , 12% incinerated and 79% going to landfill. I love diving into the latest and greatest in emerging technologies and seeing what they can do. Many of these products, such as plastic bags and food wrappers, have a lifespan of mere minutes to hours, yet they may persist in the environment for hundreds of years. Plastic pollution is most visible in developing Asian and African nations, where garbage collection systems are often inefficient or nonexistent. (There won’t be any spam. The limitation in plastic recycling isn’t just limited to middle-income countries and those in coastal areas. The conveniences plastics offer, however, led to a throw-away culture that reveals the material’s dark side: today, single-use plastics account for 40 percent of the plastic produced every year. Through our programs, we help our clients recycle 3.3 million pounds of plastic waste each month. The problem is that most of us use more plastic than we need to, and half of the plastic we produce is designed to be used just once and chucked away. Plastic waste often does not decompose and can last centuries in landfill, or else end up as litter in the natural environment, which in turn can pollute soils, rivers and oceans, and harm the creatures that inhabit them. Recycling just one ton of plastic saves 685 gallons of oil, 5,774 kilowatt hours of energy, and frees up 30 cubic yards of landfill space. Your email address will not be published. Whatever the problem, iSustain will work to find a solution that is beneficial to both the client and our planet. 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