28. June 2018
A FEW FACTS ABOUT PLASTICS
Researchers have recently discovered a plastic bag at the deepest point of the earth, at a depth of around 11,000 metres. The littering of the seas seems unstoppable. A few facts:
- It takes 450 years for a plastic bag to be decomposed – while we usually carry it less than 12 minutes before it ends up in the garbage.
- Every year 500,000 tons of plastic waste land in the oceans.
- 1 million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals die every year from plastic waste, plus countless fish.
- It is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans.
- 300 million tons of this plastic are produced worldwide every year; in 1950 it was “only” 1.5 million tons.
- In the UK alone, 8.5 billion plastic straws are thrown away every year.
THE TOPIC OF PLASTICS IS ON EVERYONE'S LIPS
Unbelievable figures. Figures that are neither tangible nor let you want to stand by and do nothing.
The plastic vortex between Hawaii and California has a total size of about 1.6 million square kilometres – four times the size of Germany. Constant images and new data of huge mountains of waste scattered in the sea: 140 million tons of plastic are already floating in the oceans, and 500,000 tons are added every year. The United Nations estimates that up to 18,000 plastic parts drift on every square kilometre of sea. 99 percent of these do not end up in the huge whirlpools, but disappear somewhere invisible to us and cause major damage to the ecosystems in the form of so-called microplastics.
The dangerous thing about plastic is that it never entirely disappears. It does not rot but decays into ever smaller plastic particles – the microplastic – due to, for example, solar radiation. Microplastics are not only found in the water – researchers have measured 12,000 particles in a litre of Arctic ice – but also in the soil as, for example, the remains of a plastic bag in compost. From there it reaches the groundwater, the rivers and the sea. Microplastics are so microscopic that they cannot be filtered out of the water and it is still completely unclear how they affect us humans. However, it is certain that all kinds of marine animals consume microplastics, including fish, which in turn are consumed by humans, letting the microplastics end up in our organism. Scientists are working at full speed on the question of whether and how this will affect our health. Bisphenol A, phthalate plasticizer, formaldehyde – All these and many other substances contained in plastics are suspected to cause cancer, infertility, allergies and other diseases. It is clear that urgent action is needed, and the amount of microplastics will increase drastically in the years to come. Plastic will keep on finding its way back to us and the mountains of garbage will continue to rise. The first bags, which were produced in the fifties and reached the sea, still swim in it to this day.
This is a major concern; as is the fact that many people are not aware of how much plastic really ends up in the oceans. The European Union wants to work towards banning or pushing back disposable plastic products, which, together with discarded fishing nets, make up the bulk of waste on beaches. In Europe, waste is diligently separated and properly recycled waste does not end up in the sea. However, countless beauty products such as toothpaste, skin peelings, shower gels or face creams contain small microplastic globules to make our teeth whiter, the face more radiant and the skin softer and smoother. This way, the toxic plastic materials not only get into our bodies but also through the drain into the water and thus again into the oceans.
However, most of the plastic waste in the oceans does not come from Europe, but from Asia. Waste separation and recycling are less common in many Asian countries. In addition, the dumps are often located near the sea. Added to this are natural disasters such as tsunamis, some of which have destroyed entire cities and tore them into the sea. All kinds of marine animals get entangled in these remains and die miserably. Fish and birds feed on these wastes, which clog the digestive organs and let them starve to death.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE PLASTIC PROBLEM?
It’s all about consciousness: Ask yourself if you really need this or that product in your life? What are its benefits or can you do without it? Only when we realise that the plastic problem is a global one, it is possible to make a lasting difference. And anyone can limit their plastic consumption with small changes:
- Refrain from using plastic bottles and use bottles made of glass or stainless steel.
- Rethink your daily routine – how often do you use disposable plastic utensils? To-go coffee mugs, plastic bags, cotton swabs, disposable razors… Many of these things we can do without.
- Plastic-free shopping, do not repackage fruit and vegetables and do without multi-packaged food. Reject plastic bags and simply take a fabric carrier bag with you the next time you go grocery shopping.
- Use certified natural cosmetics, these are free of microplastics. Ideally, do not use industrial peelings, because with only one dose of facial peeling, 100,000 microplastic particles end up in the wastewater! Natural alternatives such as sugar-olive oil peelings are the better choice here.
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- Synthetic clothing is made of thousands of small plastic microfibres. Countless tiny microfibres end up in the water cycle with every wash. This is not the case with textiles made from natural materials .
- Use plastic products that you already own for as long as possible and dispose of them properly.
Start with a small change and try to implement one tip at a time. Step by step you can do without unnecessary plastic!