The plastic crisis is one of the greatest challenges facing planet earth.
Currently, 12.7 million tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans each year, and the consequences for sealife are tragic, from choking turtles to poisoning whales. Clearly, the main solution is reducing the amount of plastic we use at the source, but people are also turning to technology, lateral thinking and even other species to find the answer to the monstrous behemoth of plastic on planet earth.
The big problem with plastic is that it doesn’t break down or degrade – and which is why we’ve probably got plastic inside our bodies right now. Finding agents that can break down polymers would help vastly.
Aspergillus tubingensis could degrade polyurethane (PU). “The fungus secretes enzymes that degrade the plastics, and in return, the fungus gets food from it by dissolving the plastics.
The Ocean Cleanup
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest accumulation of plastic in the oceans, and it sits between California and Hawaii. It is three times the size of France and its total amount is 80,000 tonnes.
A garbage truck ship will collect the plastic every few months. Using computer simulations and scale models, the group have tested and trialled the system and it is now travelling towards the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Roads made from plastic?
Another idea to come from the Netherlands is a project called PlasticRoad. It is a stretch of bike path in the Dutch city of Zwolle made of recycled plastic – and it is the first of its kind. It is a way of re-using plastic bottles, cups and packaging instead of burning it or putting it in landfill. Currently the road uses 70 per cent recycled plastic, but future plans will use 100 per cent recycled plastic. The company says that it is even more durable than asphalt, takes less time to install and requires less heavy equipment, making the carbon footprint smaller, too.
Seaweed instead of plastic
The fight against plastic has led engineers and designers to search for other materials that could be used for packaging foodstuffs. Bioplastics are made from renewable biomass, usually vegetable fats and oils, cassava starch, woodchips or food waste. Seaweed, however, is the solution used by Indonesian start-up called Evoware. The company works with local seaweed farmers to create sandwich and burger wraps, sachets for flavouring and coffee, and soap packaging, all made out of seaweed.
The biggest problem plastic causes is its effect on ocean life. By 2050, by some estimates, there could be more pieces of plastic than fish in the sea. One idea to stop plastic getting there in the first place is a little more abstract. The Plastic Bank is a social enterprise which pays an above-market rate for plastic waste. People who collect plastic can trade it in for money, items (fuel, cook stoves) or services, such as school fees. The project incentivises people to collect ocean-bound plastic before it enters the waterways while fighting poverty, giving people an income, cleaning up the streets, and reducing the amount of waste that goes into the oceans.