So Much Plastic Waste….

6a014e5fad2aa4970c014e8ad520da970d-800wi - Copy

There are approximately 300 million tonnes of plastic waste produced globally each year. Over 50% of this is single use disposable plastic eg single use bottles and bags.
But on top of this ridiculous amount of plastic being produced…. the fact is almost every piece of plastic ever made still exists in the world in some form or other, none of it has ‘dissolved’ or fully disintegrated. It has just broken down into smaller and smaller pieces.
A small percent of this plastic waste has been incinerated, but this leads to the release of carbon dioxide and other air pollutants, some carcinogenic.
But what happens to all the rest..?
The rest will end up either in landfill, the ocean, or for a small amount, being recycled.There are approximately 300 million tonnes of plastic waste produced globally each year. Over 50% of this is single use disposable plastic eg single use bottles and bags.

But on top of this ridiculous amount of plastic being produced…. the fact is almost every piece of plastic ever made still exists in the world in some form or other, none of it has ‘dissolved’ or fully disintegrated. It has just broken down into smaller and smaller pieces.

A small percent of this plastic waste has been incinerated, but this leads to the release of carbon dioxide and other air pollutants, some carcinogenic.

But what happens to all the rest..?

The rest will end up either in landfill, the ocean, or for a small amount, being recycled.

A large percentage of our plastic waste ends up in landfill sites, and there it will stay for a very long time. Plastic is estimated to take between 500 and 1000 years to disintegrate, but this really is just an estimate as it has only been around for about 100 years so far.
Globally, over 80% of plastic that is disposed of ends up in landfill sites but this is totally unsustainable due to lack of space. A 2009 study here in Ireland found the island of Ireland generated 482,366 tonnes of plastic waste in that 1 year, 71% of this went to landfill.

Approximately 8 million tonnes of plastic waste enters the ocean each year.
It is now known that none of the plastic that ever entered the ocean has fully disintegrated, it all just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, a process called ‘photodegredation’. There are now trillions of plastic particles in the oceans, most of them “micro plastics” measuring less than 5mm.
There are 5 swirling convergences in the oceans where the plastic waste accumulates and gets broken down into smaller pieces before drifting off again. These are called gyres. The water there has turned to a plastic soup with more plastic than marine life.

Recycling plastics poses a logistical nightmare; there are so many different types and grades of plastic which must be sorted to enable recycling as they cannot be mixed. This increases the cost and decreases incentive.
In a number of EU countries, and the USA, it has now become cheaper to ship plastic, paper and e-waste to Asia for recycling than to process it at home. Between 2000 and 2008, European exports of plastic waste increased by 250% – and about 87% of these exports ended up in the countries that are now known to be the major source of ocean bound plastics.
In many rapidly developing countries, plastic consumption is growing faster than the capacity to manage the waste. A lot of areas don’t have the infrastructure to manage plastic, so even if consumers put their bottles in the right bins, it won’t necessarily end up being recycled.

Now don’t get me wrong on this, I do appreciate plastic and I am well aware of it’s invaluable use when it comes to things like medical equipment for example, my real problem is with the single use disposable stuff. When you stop and think how much oil or gas will go into making just 1 water bottle for it to be used for a total of maybe 10 minutes on a hot day, then that’s it, dumped, discarded, disposed of… now to take it’s place with the millions and millions of tonnes of other disposable plastic items slowly piling up around us.

I really do think it is time we re-thought this whole thing. Since I discovered all this I have become much more conscious about each piece of plastic I buy, what my food is wrapped in; and where possible trying to reduce my own personal consumption. But along with learning to refuse plastic maybe we should start thinking of it as a resource, there certainly is plenty of it!

We are all clever monkeys, surely we can figure this out before we bury ourselves in it….

Leave a Reply