Consumption is leading to an increase in demand for plastic production of packaging
Written by: Stephen O’Brien
Our oceans are faced with multiple challenges as we come to the end of 2017, rising ocean tides, melting ice caps and human litter. Plastic litter has been at the epicenter of sea-animal death and the destruction of formally pristine beaches now plagued with waste.
Plastic waste is a catastrophe unfolding due to the demands of the consumer society. Humans from various parts of the world have witnessed massive accumulations of plastic waste that has congealed. On average a normal (500ml) bottle takes 450 years to break down, whereas a plastic bag takes 27 years depending on the micron.
Scale of the issue –
Each year, it is estimated that 4 – 12m metric tons of plastic enters the ocean. A report released in 2016 indicates that by 2050 the amount of plastic in the sea will outweigh the amount of fish. Currently, we are producing 300 million tons of plastic every year, half of which is for single use.
More than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into our oceans every year. A lot of plastic debris in the ocean breaks down into smaller pieces and is ingested by marine life. Subsequently, this becomes potentially harmful for humans if the contaminated fish is consumed.
The ‘disposable’ lifestyle that has been cultivated by companies for the consumer and society, as a whole is estimated to have lead to the production of around 50% of plastic that is used once and then thrown out.
This doesn’t take into account the issues surrounding the reuse of a plastic soft drink/water bottle, which is one of the most prevalent problems present in the plastic epidemic when we consider the fact that most bottles produced are only made for a single use and after being used once become carcinogenic for the consumer.
Packaging equates to 40% of total plastic usage. Annually approximately 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide. To put this large figure in perspective more than one million bags are being used every minute.
The average plastic bag has a working life of 15 minutes and this figure is only rising, as we have produced more plastic in the last ten years than during the whole last century. In 2014, 315 bottles per person were sold in the US alone or in a more striking manner, 100.7 billion plastic beverage bottles. Taking this in comparison 1996 (the first year for available data), 3.8 billion plastic water bottles were sold – in contrast to the 57.3 billion water bottles that were sold in 2014.
57% of those units were plastic water bottles 57.3 billion sold in 2014. Beverage containers amount to 14 % of all litter, which does not include caps and labels, although the figure is expected to be a lot higher if included.
According to the Container Recycling Institute, the process of producing bottled water requires around six times as much water per bottle as there is in the container.
Shockingly 1 in 3 species of marine mammals has been found entangled in marine litter. Over 90% of all seabirds have plastic fragments in their stomach.Broken up pieces of ting plastic attracts toxic chemicals released over decades from industry and agriculture the concentration of which increases as they move up the food chain.
The entry of plastic into our food chain is of concern to human health for the following reasons; Exposure to these types of chemicals has been suggested to contribute to some cancers and infertility, as well as immune, metabolic, cognitive and behavioral disorders.
Current Solution – Contrast Baltimore
Currently, Baltimore has implemented a debris collection system called ‘Baltimore’s Inner Harbour Water Wheel’ or “Mr.Trash Wheel” to locals. It harnesses the power of water and sunlight to collect debris flowing down the Jones Fall River.
Mr. Trash Wheel is activated by the river’s current turning the wheel, which lifts trash and debris from the water and deposits it into a dumpster barge. When the water current is too slow, a solar panel array provides additional power to keep the machine running.
Full dumpsters are towed away by boat, and a new dumpster is put in place. The cycle subsequently repeats in harmony. Imagine having a similar type of efficient debris collector in Dublin’s River Liffey. This would offer a clean source of renewable energy in completing its objective.
Small scale alternative solution –
A small scale floating debris interception device (V5 Seabin) was designed to be installed in the water of marinas, yacht clubs, ports and any water body with a calm environment and services available. Depending on the weather and volume of debris, the Seabin can catch around 1.5kg of floating debris per day. The catch bag of a Seabin can hold up to 12kg of debris, advising users to check twice per day and change the catch bag as required.
The Seabin is powered by a small submersible water pump that is placed underneath the device. This can be powered by; solar, wind, wave or turbine energy depending on the location. current technology and service available.
The water pump energy consumption is approximately USD$1 per day. The Seabin can be adapted and customised to capture a percentage of oil with a simple oil absorption technique. The amount of oils the Seabins captures will increase in parallel with the technology as it develops.
Large-scale alternative solution –
In 2013, Boyan Slat a Dutch national 19 years-old at the time, executed a concept that he believed could remove mass amounts of waste from our oceans with a passive design and little equipment. A year later Slat’s NGO, ‘The Ocean Cleanup,’ raised $2.2 million in the most successful nonprofit crowdfunding campaign ever carried out in history.
‘Back in 2013, Boyan Slat, a then 19-year-old Dutch national, dreamed up a concept he believed could remove mountains of waste from our oceans with a passive design and little equipment. A year later his NGO, the Ocean Cleanup, raised $2.2 million in the most successful nonprofit crowdfunding campaign in history. In his concept, large floating barriers would be deployed — theoretically catching debris as currents ran through them.
After two years of testing, the Ocean Cleanup deployed its first pilot barrier in the second quarter of last year. The 100-meter segment will be constructed in the North Sea, about 14 miles off the coast of the Netherlands. Researchers will “monitor the effects of real-life sea conditions, with a focus on waves and currents,” to better prepare for a full-scale launch, the nonprofit said in a press release.’
Lindsey Kratochwill in an article for The Guardian spoke with experts who question the feasibility of the initiative to meet it’s founders aspiration – “The Ocean Cleanup is continuing to test and refine the concept. After the crowdfunding campaign in 2014, Slat hired 35 more employees “to really get some speed and tackle these challenges”.
The team has done a series of six expeditions since 2013 to measure the depth and size of ocean plastics within the gyre, the results of which will be published in a study that Slat says he “will be submitting to a high-impact open-access peer reviewed journal”.
We have an issue of plastic in our oceans that we need to address before it is too late, if not for us and our children, at least for the marine life, who are subjected to the toxic ecosystem we have cultivated beneath the surface of the water. There are many solutions around the world that individuals, companies, and society as a whole, could potentially integrate. The necessary first step is discussing ‘How Ireland will act on this knowledge going forward and nationally how will we address this ongoing issue?’
If you want to get involved with reducing plastic waste in the ocean, please follow the link below and sign the petition – Click Here –