Friday, 31 August 2018

What The Media Does Not Tell You About Ocean Plastics

Ocean plastics: what the media does not tell you


The presence of plastics in our oceans has been increasing over the last decade. Currently, about 8 million tons of plastics reach the oceans every year. This is obviously alarming. In this blog post, I will give you complementary insights into the “Ocean Plastics” topic which are not covered by the media. This is intended to help you understanding that while banning (certain) plastics maybe the solution, this does not necessarily have to be the solution.

Let’s start with some facts already proven [1]:
• At the current ocean pollution rate, we will have more plastic than fish by 2050
• Most plastic waste is washed into the oceans by rivers
• 90% of it derives mainly from 10 rivers
• 8 are in Asia: the Yangtze, Indus, Yellow, Hai He, Ganges, Pearl, Amur, Mekong
• 2 are in Africa: the Nile and the Niger

The aforementioned rivers are located in highly populated regions which additionally lack of functional waste management systems. This certainly relates to the high degree of poverty of these regions as well. When people live in fierce conditions having to fight for basic goods such as clean water and food on a daily basis, environmentally friendly waste disposal does not seem big of a concern.

Most of the “ocean plastics” originate from packaging. The consumption of plastics in packaging holds at 35 % of the total plastics consumption. However, not using plastics for food packaging, for instances, would decrease the lifetime of fresh food (meat and vegetables) and increase food waste as the consequence. Besides packaging, plastics play a key role in the constitution of medical devices, aircraft and airspace, automotive, electronics and industrial applications.

When collected by a functional waste management system such as those implemented in developed countries, packaging derived plastic waste can be thermally recycled and serve as energy source. Most of the packaging plastic is based on low cost polyethylene and polypropylene. Both are rich sources of carbon considering their hydrocarbon chemical nature.

In my view, tackling this problem has a lot to do with the increase of wealth in poor and emerging countries as well. When wealth is increased, societies can afford basic care, i.e., food and proper housing on a daily basis. With the basic living requirements fulfilled, they can start taking care of things such as their gardens and streets. Then societies will not want to have plastic bags lying around and dirtying their scene. They will put pressure on governments to handle the waste in a proper way. Governments will have now the financial power to implement and supervise waste management systems which will prevent plastics from ending up into the oceans.

Nevertheless, fact is that we still need to clean up the plastic waste in the ocean. The positive message is that several startups are already successfully testing their cleaning innovations, just to name one here: Boyan Slat’s The Ocean Cleanup shows how you can clean the water with a piping system down to 5 meters [2]. They use the fact that plastic has a low density and stays on the surface and upper water layers. When you think of how many other things are already drowned to the bottom of the ocean, oceans’ plastics clean up may yet offer us a chance to clean up this mess as well.

I hope I could broaden your consciousness about the topic “Ocean Plastics” by bringing to you a complementary view to that that our media is transporting.

Thanks for reading and till next time!
Greetings,
Herwig Juster


Literature:
[1] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/06/90-of-plastic-polluting-our-oceans-comes-from-just-10-rivers
[2] https://www.sciencealert.com/ocean-plastic-collector-pollution-great-pacific-garbage-patch-ocean-cleanup