Plastic production poses a great risk to the environment
Have you ever wondered how much plastic is produced around the world and the impact of this? Look around you, in your house or in your office. How many plastic containers do you see and how many are made of other materials? Do you believe there is a real alternative to plastics or is there just a plain disinterest in cost-efficiently substituting it for a greener material?
Plastic has been industrially produced since 1950. A study published in 2017 in Science Advances magazine concluded that, up to 2015, 8300 million tons of plastic had been generated. This is the equivalent weight of a million Eiffel Towers.
Regarding the destination of all this production, the study says that out of the 8300 million tons of plastic produced, 30% is still being used. As a result, the remaining 70%, around 6000 million tons, are just waste. Out of all the plastic waste, only 9% has been recycled, 12% incinerated and 79% ended up in dumping sites or damaging the environment. The majority of plastics do not degrade in any way, so the waste generated will be with us for hundreds or thousands of years.
Plastic is overly used in the Packaging Industry
The use of plastics is in direct relation with the development of the world countries, as shows the use of plastics per capita in the US (150 Kg/year), Europe (140 kg/year), Japan (116 Kg/year) and Latin America (only 31Kg/year) according to data by BASF AG.
Even though this plastic is used for different purposes like household items, in the construction, mining or agriculture industry. However, the destination that really stands out (around 50% of the plastic produced) is the packaging industry.
For instance, a million water bottles are bought every minute around the world, and this number will sky-rocket by 20% in 2021. Another number: in 2016, 480,000 million water bottles were sold, which placed one on top of the other, would get halfway to the sun.
Consequences of unrecycled plastic waste
What are the direct consequences of this enormous use of plastic and low recycling percentage? Let’s take a look at some data.
Scientists at Ghent University have calculated recently that people that eat seafood intakes at least 11,000 small plastic parts a year. Researchers at Plymouth University found plastic in a third of the fish in the United Kingdom. One of the remotest places on Earth, Henderson island, is located on Southeast Pacific and it has the highest density of human waste in the world. It is covered by 18 tons of plastic.
Some initiatives try to reduce the environmental impact of plastics
Is there anything being done about it or are we just looking away?
For instance, following the example of the water bottles, the 6 main world beverage companies use an average 6.6% polyethylene terephthalate (highly recyclable) in their products, according to Greenpeace. What is more, a third of them does not have clear goals concerning the use of more recycled plastic and none of them aims to achieve the 100% polyethylene terephthalate.
Nevertheless, there are also initiatives like “Packaging-Free Supermarket”, which is no more than the idea of returning to grocery shopping like the old days, with no pre-packaged products.
Another successful effort towards a more sustainable packaging is the winning solution brought by Mark Copal to one of the ennomotive challenges. He created a real eco friendly alternative to plastic packaging of the water bottle six-packs.
Meet Mark Copal, the solver who found an eco-friendly alternative to plastic packaging for water bottles
• Can you introduce yourself briefly? What is your more relevant working experience?
My name is Mark Copal, I live in Eindhoven, a Dutch city rooted in the tech industry (Hometown of Philips, NXP, and ASML) and design (Design Academy and host of the yearly Dutch Design Week).
• What challenges have you participated in? How well did you do in them?
• What kind of challenge do you like most? Why?
• What is your motivation for participating?
• Did you have any experience with this kind of challenges? Have you solved a similar challenge in the past?
• How did you come up with this solution? What was your inspiration?
• What is your point of view regarding the use of plastics in the packaging industry?
•Where is the packaging industry heading to in the future? How are eco-friendly trends affecting this industry?
•Are there real green alternatives to the use of plastics?
Sure there are and some have been around for ages.