On 1st June, the municipality of Sikinos is committed to ban plastic straws in its island and uses instead the biodegradable straws. This decision comes after the environmental programme ‘Sea Change’, created by the foundation A. C. Laskaridis. This partnership implemented on 20th May – European Maritime Day – aims at fighting against plastic pollution of the Mediterranean sea and protect its ecosystem. This ban is accompanied by an educational campaign and awareness actions for the inhabitants and shops. The programme will be extended to other islands of Cyclades in the next months. This initiative comes at the right time just before summertime. Among the waste most frequently found on the Greek islands, plastic straws are classified on 11th place.
Plastic, an heavy material
According to a report of the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) published on October 2017, a French person would throw around 573 kg of waste per year. An increase caused by the evolution of our consumption patterns over 40 years : products that we buy are more and more short-lived. Planned obsolescence, ban of single use plastic products and overwrap… this disposable culture has a cost.
According to a study from the foundation Ellen MacArtur, plastic packaging represent 26% of production volume of plastic and are the most used on the market. At the present time, the value of plastic packaging materials represents an economic loss of 95%, otherside 80 to 120 billions of dollars each year. In 2016, 14% of it has been collected in order to be recycled.
Institutions are tackling the problem
Waste management has become one of the important issue in the last years and various governments understand now the necessity to move forward with a circular economy. In 2015, in France, the law of Energy Transition for the green growth ended the use of single use plastic bags since 2017. There were also other actions in order to reduce and value waste.
This law forecasts to address instances of disposable cups, cutlery and plates starting from 2020. This seems like there is an intense fight against plastic as the European Commission would think about the prohibition of a dozen daily plastic range like stirrers, cotton buds, straws, crockery and other plastic balls. This directive presented on last 28th May has as a goal to promote the use of sustainable materials by the manufacturers and empower them in the process of waste management.
The sea environment as a main victim
Worldwide awareness started with the alarming situation of the oceans. In 2016, studies estimated at more than 150 million tonnes as the number of plastic waste present in the ocean and among it, 62% of plastic packaging of objects found and cleaned across the international coastal areas.
An iconic video, representing this scourge and the limits of plastic collection system, went viral: a turtle with a plastic straw stuck in its nose. 32% of plastic packaging would get lost during the collection procedures and would found dispersed lost in the nature, especially in the oceans. Alarming datas when we know that each year that more than a million of sea birds and 100 000 marine mammals are dying because of this plastic pollution.
A lack of recycling efficiency
Even if recycling is an essential and important element for protecting the environment (in 2014, thanks to recycling, 20 millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide have not been emitted), this solution seems not to be enough to stop this ecological issue.
In 2018, 2 billion people did not have access to collection and recycling facilities. In its recycling annual report, the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) claims that in 2014 only 21,3% of the French plastic deposit post-consumption have been recycled. France is one of the European countries that are less efficient when it comes to recycling plastic waste. A study conducted by the OECD shows wide disparities in the treatment of different resin.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high-density polythene (PE-HD) have a high recycling rate (from 19% to 85%), when for others like polypropylene (PP) and polystyrene (PS/PSE), this ratece is between 1% and 21%.
Some type of resin would not be profitable because of the low quality plastic obtained after recycling. We found them usually in stretch films, disposable crockery, bucket margarine and yoghurt cups, plastic straws, food packaging, egg boxes. For this type of resin, landfill or incineration are still practical (preferred) alternatives for recycling companies due to their cheap prices.
The tip of the iceberg
The lack of lasting economic opportunities is not the only obstacle for recycling these type of plastic. There is another reason: harmful additives are often added to raw plastic material and can be transferred in recycled plastic.
This additives represent health threats, when they are found in food packaging. When some type of plastic are recycled ( as a reminder: only 21,3% in France and 30% in Europe in 2014), it is not possible to recycle, incinerate or bury other type of plastic. We are talking about microbead in beauty and healthcare products (liquid soaps, shower gel, scrubs, toothpaste) and sequins in cosmetic products (nail polish, eyeshadow, gloss and lipsticks).
Do not let yourself be fooled by their tiny seize as these microplastics are one of the biggest poison for the sea fauna and flora. When we rinsed them off in the sink, they ended up discharged in marine environment as they are too small to be subdued in sewage treatment plant.
According figures from the Society for Conservation Biology, more than 471 millions of microbead are discharged in the San Francisco Bay each day for example. Cumulative total over a year could have the size of one and a half football field. Microparticules are swallowed by various species like marine mammals, turtles, seabirds, fish and invertebrates that cannot differentiate them from plankton. Highly toxic, microplastics can create inflammations and lacerations in the digestive tract, cellular necrosis and disrupt the endocrine system.
In the end, what can we do to curb this plastic pollution? It seems essential to act upstream since the shortcomings of the current recycling system, sorting and recycling plastic waste. I f we think about our view on plastic and our way of consuming, each one of us can reduce the ecological and health effects.
- I am becoming a consum’actor :
I do not forget my tote bag for my grocery shopping and when I buy fruits and vegetables in bulk.
At the restaurant, bar or café, I ask to get a beverage without a straw.
When I order a ‘takeaway’ beverage, I bring with me my reusable mug so that they pour it inside.
I avoid buying products with microbead like exfoliation and I use instead of them natural alternative like salt, sugar or coffee ground
I trade my plastic toothbrush and cotton buds for bamboo or reusable Q-tip
- I get involved :
I talk about this issue to my family and friends and I spread the word on social media to bring awareness on it.
I participate on beach, lakes or rivers clean-up operations like Clean Oceans Initiative Surfrider Foundation Europe
I sign the petition of Bas Les Pailles (Stop the straws) to end up with the plastic straws on national soil.