Plastic pollution has always been an environmental issue of concern to the United Nations, and it is also a common problem faced by mankind. According to statistics, the world produces more than 400 million tons of plastic every year, one-third of which is discarded after only one use, which is equivalent to 2,000 full-loaded trucks dumping plastic waste into rivers, lakes and seas every day.
Are the oceans home to plastic waste?
After the invention of plastic by chemist Leo Hendrik Baekeland in the early 20th century, plastic has been favored by the market for its light weight, durability, flexibility and low production cost. Especially after World War II, plastics began to be mass-produced.
All kinds of plastic products have sprung up, such as beverage bottles, disposable tableware, shopping bags, etc. People’s daily life is almost surrounded by plastic products. From the 1950s to the 1970s, the total amount of plastic in the world was still manageable, so plastic waste was manageable. However, from the 1970s to the 1990s, the production of plastic waste more than tripled, and surprisingly, from the beginning of 2000, the amount of plastic waste surged again, and the growth rate in ten years exceeded that of the past 40 years. Year.
A set of terrible data is that human beings consume about 1 million plastic bottles every minute and use up to 5 trillion plastic bags every year. At this rate, global plastic production is expected to reach 1.1 billion tons by 2050.
Maybe you will wonder why the production of plastic products is still increasing year by year. Is it not enough now? The answer is yes. Because most plastic products are single-use, very little is recycled. Most plastic products have not been recycled, and people can only keep producing plastic, and then keep dumping plastic waste, forming a vicious circle.
In August 2019, a study published in the journal Science Advances reported “plastic snow in the Arctic.” This is not an exaggeration. On Earth, from the Mariana Trench, the deepest ocean, to the highest Mount Everest, there are plastic debris left by human activities. Scientific expedition members have also found plastic particles in Antarctic ice cores and snow samples.
The fluidity of lakes, rivers and oceans makes them the places that carry the most plastic waste, with up to 19 million to 23 million tons of plastic waste flowing into the ocean every year. And about 90% of the debris entering the ocean will stay on the “coastal zone”, that is, the ocean area within 8 kilometers from the coast.
Through the visits of UN investigators, it can be seen that in the Baltic Sea, a large number of plastic bags are floating in the sea ice near the Gulf of Bothnia; in the small border town of Visegrad in Bosnia and Herzegovina, plastic bottles and other garbage have blocked the Drina River. Every year during the rainy season, a large amount of plastic waste piles up on the coastline of Guatemala in Central America. The rubbish washed the coast of Guatemala time and time again from the Motagua River, which rises from the highlands and is recognized as one of the most polluted rivers in the world.
In addition, the Mediterranean Basin, which is densely populated and semi-enclosed, is also the hardest hit area for global marine plastic pollution. But the most notorious is the “garbage patch” in the North Pacific.
In 1997, American oceanographer Charles Moore returned to Los Angeles from Hawaii on a sailboat. He wanted to take a shortcut and sail through the equatorial windless belt, but accidentally fell into a “garbage patch”. He used trawling to salvage garbage and found that the amount of plastic debris was six times that of plankton. “It’s all plastic as far as the eye can see!” he marvels.
Each person eats 15 plastic bags per year
In June 2018, the American “National Geographic” magazine published a thought-provoking cover: a plastic bag floating on the sea, shaped like a huge glacier. It is only a corner exposed on the sea level, and there is still a huge volume hidden under the water surface. The implication is self-evident: plastic pollution as we know it is only the “tip of the iceberg”.
From production, use, to destruction, the process of plastic is full of the word “pollution” and permeates every ecosystem.
First of all, the production of plastics relies on fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas, and a large amount of harmful substances are released during the production process. The more plastic is produced, the more fossil fuels are burned and the more polluting the climate. Moreover, plastic products consume energy and emit greenhouse gases throughout their life cycle, exacerbating the climate crisis in an ongoing negative feedback loop. The process of plastic refining and processing will also release a large amount of exhaust gas and particulate matter, which will endanger the human respiratory, cardiovascular and other systems, and increase the risk of cancer.
The produced plastic products are used in various scenes of human production and life, thus causing harm to soil, water sources, animals and plants, and finally directly endangering human beings.
Agricultural production cannot do without plastics. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, in 2019, agricultural value chains used 12.5 million tons and 37.3 million tons of plastic products in animal and plant production and food packaging, respectively. Over time, these plastics break down into fragments less than 5mm long, which seep into the soil and form microplastics. Microplastics alter the physical structure of soil, impair soil water storage capacity, and inhibit plant root growth and nutrient uptake. Organic fertilizers also contain plastic particles, and they can exist in the soil for more than 100 years, seriously threatening food security.
When a large amount of plastic waste is dumped into rivers and oceans, water pollution comes from it. From tiny zooplankton to gigantic marine mammals, almost all marine species are exposed to plastic waste. Plastic chokes sensitive coral reefs, and marine animals of all kinds are easily entangled in plastic ropes, discarded fishing gear, and more. Even, the ingestion of microplastics by marine organisms at every stage of the food chain can lead to death.
This is not uncommon. In Mumbai, India, millions of seabirds die each year from plastic waste in the ocean; a pilot whale was found off the coast of Thailand with more than 80 pieces of plastic in its carcass; a pregnant sperm whale was stranded in a port in Italy Dead, it had 23kg of plastic in its body.
There are also some marine plastic waste washed back to the land by sea water, and then scattered in the jungle and vegetation. This pollution kills and maims wildlife when they ingest or become entangled in this plastic waste.
In the environment of plastic waste, we cannot escape. It is no exaggeration to say that each person on the planet consumes more than 50,000 plastic particles per year, which is equivalent to eating 15 plastic bags per year. A study published in the journal “Environmental Science and Technology” in 2019 also showed that people can consume more than 70,000 plastic particles per year on average, and people who only drink bottled water for a long time may drink an additional 90,000 plastic particles every year.
How to solve plastic pollution?
Global media attention has been drawn to repeated setbacks to the tourism industry as a result of plastic pollution and the infestation of mosquitoes that carry dengue fever in the Caribbean. And more people who are not seen, those in the “sacrificed area” are still silently enduring the harm of plastic waste. These “sacrificed areas” refer to groups who suffer from environmental injustice due to increased plastic pollution, and they live near facilities such as open pit mines, oil refineries, steel plants and coal-fired power stations.
A boat sits on a plastic littered beach in Paranaque, Philippines, facing Manila Bay. Not far away, several children are sorting plastic waste, which they rely on for a living. For Filipinos, such scenes are not uncommon.
Poverty is the root cause of the huge amount of plastic waste in the Philippines. Being “tricked” by multinational companies, low-income consumers in developing countries such as the Philippines like to buy large quantities of fast-moving consumer goods in cheap disposable plastic packaging. This is a strategic move by businessmen to increase their market share and profits. According to survey data from the environmental organization BFFP, Coca-Cola, Philip Morris International, Global Robina, Philippine Mineral Water Resources, and Japan Tobacco are all sources of serious plastic pollution in the country.
A circular economy for plastic recycling can mitigate the threat posed by plastic waste to marine ecology. In the middle image on the right page, old plastic bottles can be used as tools for shellfish farming.
The Philippines consumes 163 million small plastic bags every day, contributing non-stop to the region’s ocean plastic pollution. Accumulated plastic waste accumulates on land, clogs coastlines, and part of it flows into the ocean, where it drifts around the world with ocean currents. The Philippines “contributes” a third of the 80% of ocean plastic that comes from Asian rivers.
In fact, plastic pollution is not a new problem, the problem is that it has not been well solved. In October 1972, the 27th session of the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution to designate June 5th as the “World Environment Day” and emphasized the issue of plastic pollution at many subsequent meetings.
In 2021, the United Nations passed a vote to recognize that it is a basic human right for people to live in a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and issued a series of initiatives to promote and guide the solution to plastic pollution, and countries have also begun or continued vigorously. “Campaign to reduce plastic”.
The Netherlands is one of the countries taking ambitious action on the life cycle of plastics. The country’s Minister of the Environment has repeatedly stated: “The Netherlands and the entire European society are fully committed to reducing the production and consumption of single-use plastics, which can and must be replaced with durable and sustainable alternatives.” Israeli Browder
Project The college’s research team extracted mucus from some jellyfish, allowing it to “trap” tiny particles in the water and accelerate sedimentation, thereby more efficiently removing pollutants such as plastic particles. The researchers also plan to put the latest research results into practical applications, such as developing biofilters for wastewater treatment to reduce nanoscale microplastics entering the soil and ocean.
The Chinese government and the International Bamboo and Rattan Organization jointly launched the “Replace Plastic with Bamboo” initiative. Compared with plastic products, bamboo has good toughness, strong plasticity, short growth cycle, convenient planting, and has the natural advantages of replacing plastic. Substituting bamboo for plastic can increase the proportion of green bamboo products used and reduce plastic pollution.
The bottom photo on the left page was taken in Kiev, Ukraine, where discarded Coca-Cola containers are being transported to a garbage dump. The top photo on the right page was taken in a slum near the port of Manila, showing that the river has been polluted with plastic waste.
This year’s United Nations Environment Assembly is an “ultimatum” on plastic pollution. Heads of state and environment ministers from 175 countries have approved a historic resolution to end plastic pollution and plan to reach a legally binding international agreement by the end of 2024.
At the conference, UNEP released the report Cutting the Roots: How the World Can End Plastic Pollution and Create a Circular Economy, proposing to adopt systemic changes to transform the market in order to achieve a plastic circular economy and end plastic pollution. The report also calls for the three major market reforms of “reuse, recycling, repositioning and product diversification” that require governments, businesses and consumers to unite to break their dependence on plastics.
The cost of investing in systemic change is high, at an estimated $65 billion per year, but this is far less than the externalities of avoiding the associated costs of air pollution, marine ecosystem degradation, and litigation. Such systemic change could even help create a net increase of 700,000 jobs in most low-income countries by 2040, improving the livelihoods of millions of workers in informal settings.