‘Beat Plastic Pollution’ is the theme for World Environment 2018’ urging governments, industry, communities, and individuals to come together and explore sustainable alternatives and urgently reduce the production and excessive use of single-use plastic polluting our oceans, damaging marine life and threatening human health.
World Environment Day is a UN Environmentled global event, the single largest celebration of our environment each year, which takes place on June 5th and is celebrated by thousands of communities worldwide. Since it began in 1972, it has grown to become a global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated across the globe. Most of all, World Environment Day is a day of everyone around the world to take ownership of their environment and to actively engage in the protection of our earth.
Why is plastic problematic?
Plastic as we know it has only really existed for the last 60-70 years, but in that time it has transformed everything from clothing, cooking and catering, to product design, engineering and retailing. There is no question that plastic is a wonder material. But it is precisely plastics’ amazing qualities that now present a burgeoning problem. None of the commonly used plastics are biodegradable.
The only way to permanently dispose of their waste is to through incineration; a process complicated by health and emissions concerns. The estimated total amount of plastic ever made is put at 8.3 billion tonnes. This is as heavy as 25,000 Empire State Buildings in New York, or a billion elephants. More than 70% of the total production is now in waste streams, sent largely to landfill – although too much of it just litters the wider environment, including the oceans.
Experts have been sounding an alarm over the past few years about how plastic pollution is killing huge numbers of seabirds, marine mammals, sea turtles and other creatures and also adversely affecting ocean ecosystems. By one estimate, plastic debris kills over 100 million sea creatures annually. With more than 9 million tonnes of trash ending up in the oceans each year, the world’s oceans are clogged with plastic debris, enough to place five grocery bags full of plastic trash on every foot of every nation’s coastline around the globe. The plastic debris found on ocean floors ranges from shopping bags, bottles, toys, food wrappers and fishing gear to cigarette filters, sunglasses, buckets and toilet seats. Micro plastics are a macro problem From 192 coastal countries across the world, the countries rated as the most responsible for ocean plastic pollution is topped by China, which is responsible for 8.82 million tonnes of plastic waste each year, followed by Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Egypt, Malaysia, Nigeria and Bangladesh. Thailand at No 6 has contributed 1.03 million tonnes of plastic waste.
At a 2017 UN oceans summit, delegates from China, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines said they would work to keep plastics out of the seas. Environmentalists believe the measures proposed are not nearly urgent enough. It’s a global emergency affecting every aspect of our lives. It’s in the water we drink and the food we eat. It’s destroying our beaches and oceans. Erik van Sebille from Utrecht University in the Netherlands is an oceanographer who tracks plastics in our seas. He says: “We’re facing a tsunami of plastic waste, and we need to deal with that. The global waste industry needs to get its act together and make sure that the ever-increasing amounts of plastic waste generated don’t end up in the environment.
Some Plastic Statistics
- 8.3 billion tonnes of virgin plastics have been produced since the 1972
- Half of this material was made in just the past 13 years
- About 30% of the historic production remains in use today
- Of the discarded plastic, roughly 9% has been recycled
- Some 12% has been incinerated, but 79% has gone to landfill
- Shortest-use items are packaging, typically less than a year
- Longest-use products are found in construction and machinery
- Current trends point to 12 billion tonnes of waste by 2050
The extension of China’s ‘Operation Green Fence’ policy came into effect in January, banning the importation of 24 categories of contaminated solid waste including paper, plastics, textiles and some metals.
This caused prices for recyclable materials to crash and left waste management companies in the United States, Europe, Japan and Australia with vast amounts of unsaleable waste. Before the ban, China imported almost 30 million tonnes of waste paper and 7 million tonnes of “recyclable” plastic a year. In January the first-ever Europe-wide strategy on plastics was adopted as a transition towards a more circular economy. Under the new plans, all plastic packaging on the EU market will be recyclable by 2030, the consumption of single-use plastics will be reduced and the intentional use of microplastics will be restricted. Australia is planning to ban all non-recyclable packaging by 2025.
Plastics in Thailand
Thailand needs to change from being the land of the plastic bag In Thailand it seems we can’t live with or without plastic. In Bangkok city workers fight ‘a constant battle’ to remove up to 2000 tons of plastic waste from the sewers each day in a place where only 16% of plastic scrap is recycled annually. According to government figures, Bangkok generates around 11,500 tonnes of waste daily, of which at least one tonne is plastic – a figure that is said to be increasing by 10% every year.
Meanwhile, the average Thai uses no less than eight plastic bags a day, which is far higher than, for example, the 80 plastic bags used annually by consumers in France. In response the Department of Environmental Quality Promotion and Thai PBS has launched a campaign to support community participation in the government’s Zero Waste Society agenda. Director-General of the Department of Environmental Quality, Rutchada Suriyakul Na Ayutya has announced the campaign to encourage communities and the public to reduce waste through the methods of reduce, reuse and recycle. Thailand currently produces 27.4 million tons of waste per year but only 11.7 million is properly disposed of, resulting in landfills that are hazards to the community.
Plenty of plastic but no sign of recycling at the Cha-Am Landfill At a local level comments have been made about boosting recycling rates and cutting pollution. Throughout Thailand recycling is handled mainly by the nongovernment sector and the national recycling rate is around 30%.
Alternatives to Plastic
Cassava plastic ponchos and recycled plastic building materials Compostable, recyclable and even edible packaging is a growing industry A US brewery has created fully biodegradable, compostable and edible six-pack rings.
What Are the Ways to Beat Plastic Pollution?
These 3 solutions are simple and everyone with just a little bit of will can practice them quite easily.
Reduce Plastic Consumption
This is the first and most important step to end plastic pollution. If it is absolutely necessary to use plastic items, make sure that they are re-cycled. Additionally, refuse all such plastic items that only have a one-time use. These include plastic bags, straws, bottles and cups.
Recycle, Recycle, Recycle!
After using a plastic item find a way to re-cycle it yourself (you’ll find plenty of fun ways to do this with just a quick Google search) or sort them separately in domestic waste so that government authorities can easily identify them for recycling.
Join clean-up events
Trash Hero Hua Hin offers the opportunity for anyone to be involved in a local clean-up effort.
Among all the ways to end plastic pollution, this one can actually be a lot of fun! In recent times just one clean-up day by 46 adults and 6 kids cleaned up 300 kg. of trash from just one local beach. For information on the next opportunity to join the group; visit www.facebook.com/trashherohuahin. No registration is required, just turn up on the day and be a part of beating plastic pollution.