In a plastic world...
Polyethylene plastics compromise our marine diversity
Meanwhile in the Pacific Ocean (A.K.A Plastic Ocean):
Researchers have found 750,000 microplastic/km^2 in the garbage patch, marine life is plagued by them. Since plastic is not biodegraded it attracts toxins and heavy metals as it travel the seas. It has also been found that 40% of the world’s oceans are “gyres” which are formed when plastic is accumulated in powerful rotating spirals (Monks, 2016).
Compromising biodiversity in Mexico
Phocoena sinus (vaquita marina/marine cow) is an endemic mexican species, fishing their nutrition source (shrimp and some fish species) is one of the main causes for their almost extinction (only 30 are left). The Mexican government is planning on making massive efforts to save this specie however after putting it on a sanctuary and achieving the population increase, releasing the species into a contaminated sea which by 2050 is predicted to have more kg of plastic than fish, (WEF, 20016) and considering the large percentage of mammals with plastic components in the stomach (Center for Biological Diversity, n.d.) ….might seem a bit counterproductive.
Annually 95% of the value of plastic packaging material worth $80-120 billion is lost to the economy. This is especially alarming considering that plastic packaging, is in it’s majority, a single-use product, and becomes even more alarming when the disposal is not properly made, and ends up in large bodies of water, affecting the ecosystem, of course. A report from 2016 made by the World Economic Forum predicts that, if we continue this way, by 2050, the oceans will contain more weight in plastic than in fish (WEC, 2016).
90% of plastics are made from virgin fossil stocks, taking up a whole 6% of the global oil consumption. Also, whole 32% of plastic packaging escapes collection systems, having economic costs by reducing productivity of vital natural cycles and systems and clogging urban infrastructures. Plastic also contain a blend of chemicals that makes some researchers raise concerns about potential adverse effects on human health and, of course, the environment (WEC, 2016).
Unfortunately…not all countries have as a priority legislate norms concerning plastic treatment, disposal, limiting the production as well as adopting and implementing norms for plastic disposal in the household. In reality, a some governments are dealing with other problems, starvation, corruption, lack of education, unemployment; and other governments are just not interest enough to do so, as well as people might not be demanding it enough for it to happen. For one reason or another it is not being done enough by all, as the World Economic Forum reports it in 2016, only 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling and at least 8 million tons of plastics leak into the ocean annually (WEF, 2016)
Proposals are often criticized for having a long impact at a large scale:
“Many innovations and improvement efforts show potential, but to date these have proved to be too fragmented and uncoordinated to have impact at scale.” (WEC, 2016).
But such a complex issue that englobes economic context, education and even a legal framework towards companies and infrastructure cannot be solved with only one “large scale proposal” or even several, multiple proposals have to work together to ensure we do not reach this future. Meaning that we can implement solutions around our context, a million small steps that sum up to a single effort to reduce the plastic in our oceans.
It would be ideal if plastic production reduces, if our global economy followed a circular model, but in our country it is not done yet, there has been some few movements and actions. For example, a law passed from 2010 that prohibited the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags but only in the biggest (and capital) city of Mexico. The effort is applauded however the law has some leakages…
1. Consideration on what they consider and classify as biodegradable (could be but at 100 years for example and the problem also revolves in the fact during that time what damage could that plastic be doing to the marine ecosystems) and the use of oxo-degradable plastics (problematic with these bags discussed below).
2. What the plastic industry and associations contribute to the economy? The plastic industry in Mexico contributes to the 3% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product). They generate jobs for at least 150,000 people…
Actually in an official study made by the SEMARNAT (Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales/ Governamental organization for the Environment and Natural Resources) and INE (Instituto Nacional de Ecología/ National Ecology Institute) it was shown how HDPE with oxodegradable properties was actually contributing to the greenhouse gases emission by 24% more than non-oxodegradable production in Mexico (SEMARNAT, 2009). Lastly there is a chart that states that only 1.2% of recycled wastes are plastics (SEMARNAT, 2011).
Useful conclusions from these studies include the fact that not because something can be degraded doesn’t mean it is more environmentally friendly, therefore rethinking laws like the one mentioned above with specifying more on new obtaining methods, recycling and not using non-renewable resources would be more useful. Once conclusion made was that HDPE and LDPE in their oxodegradable form had more negative environmental impact out of the 6 plastics evaluated. Polypropylene bags have less impact only if they are adequately recycled. And they remarked the fact that from an environmental point of view, prohibiting PE plastic bags was not the most environmentally responsible solution because not only the production of oxodegradable plastics had more negative impact but if they did not implement recycling measures needed could be more harmful.
So, in the end the problem with one use plastic components is not only the disposal and the very grave issue of contamination marine ecosystems and urban areas, the resulting costs and loss of biodiversity but adding up to the carbon footprint (the amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted due to the consumption of fossil fuels by a particular activity) and using non-renewable resources.
How our solution is compatible with solution key points extracted from both UN’s page and World Economic Forum:
Enforce and strengthen legislation to stop marine litter (UN, 2017).- Invest in research to develop non-toxic material (UN, 2017).- PHA is biodegradable, it is used by bacteria as carbon storage, so producers can eat it under food deprivation conditions. (please visit the PHA degradation studies and PHA as a bioplastic)
Circular economy (WEF, 2016)- Compatible with the model due to two main proposals: the first using a waste from Tequila production Agave bagasse as carbon source, and our second proposal using lactic waste waters from the dairy industry, which is also a very important economic force in Mexico. Agronomy is another consideration, it is not the only Agave type in Mexico, other types are used for production of different beverages, our project can be easily adapted to fit them as well, having more national reach... (Please visit our Entrepreneurship, and Integrated Human practices)
Not using fossil fuels for the production of plastic (WEF, 2016):since the source of our bioplastic does not come from fossil fuels, the carbon footprint is drastically reduced.
It is important to know that our solution applies to our context but our production processes can be modified to address necessities of other countries, e.g. sugar bagasse, or other residual vegetal sources, the important thing to notice is that our process is more environmentally friendly in several stages (please check our Entrepreneurship, environmental analysis).
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Judith L. Fridovich-Keil (2017) Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from: https://www.britannica.com/technology/bioplastic
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Greene,J (2012) PLA and PHA Biodegradation in the Marine Environment. California State University. Retrieved from: http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/publications/Documents/1435%5C20121435.pdf
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Chow, L. These 5 Countries Account for 60% of Plastic Pollution in Oceans (2015). EcoWatch. Retrieved from: https://www.ecowatch.com/these-5-countries-account-for-60-of-plastic-pollution-in-oceans-1882107531.html
Valdivia, M. (2013). La verdad de los plásticos oxo-biodegradables. America Retail. Retrieved from: http://www.america-retail.com/destacado/la-verdad-de-las-bolsas-oxo-biodegradables-3/
Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, (19 January 2016) More Plastic than Fish in the Ocean by 2050: Report Offers Blueprint for Change https://www.weforum.org/press/2016/01/more-plastic-than-fish-in-the-ocean-by-2050-report-offers-blueprint-for-change/
UN (2017). UN’s mission to keep plastics out of oceans and marine life. Retrieved from: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=56638#.WbaddKKHjdb OCEAN PLASTICS POLLUTION (n.d.) Center for Biological Diversity. Retrieved from: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/ocean_plastics/
Estudio comparativo de bolsas de plástico degradables versus convencionales mediante la herramienta de Análisis de Ciclo de Vida (2009) SEMARNAT Retrieved from: http://www.inecc.gob.mx/descargas/dgcenica/estudio_comp_bolsas.pdf
Informe de residuos sólidos urbanos (2011). SEMARNAT. Retrieved from: http://apps1.semarnat.gob.mx/dgeia/informe_12/pdf/Cap7_residuos.pdf
Monks, K. (2016). Un 'océano de plástico' está acabando con la vida marina en el Pacífico. CNN. Retrieved from: http://cnnespanol.cnn.com/2016/07/18/un-oceano-de-plastico-esta-acabando-con-la-vida-marina-en-el-pacifico/
The New Plastics Economy Rethinking the future of plastics (2016) World Economic Forum. Retrieved from: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_New_Plastics_Economy.pdf