Life Below Water – Plastic Pollution

United Nations Sustainability goal 14 looks at life below the water (1).
The UN goals says…

As much as 8 million tonnes of plastic is entering the oceans every year. That’s a rubbish truck a minute dumped into the ocean somewhere in the world. The micro-plastics overlap with the food prey of many marine animals, particularly those at the base of the food web including copepods, worms and bivalve mussels.

In research done by the University of Exeter every single mussel tested had digested micro-plastics. Organisms from the size of zooplankton to larger species in the food chain contain micro-plastic creating bio-magnification where a plankton may eat just a few grains of micro-plastic, a whale may potentially be consuming many tonnes!
So it’s quite clear that Plastics in the ocean is a huge problem.

So What about Plastic recycling?

So you might think that in the UK we recycle much of our plastic and deal with it in a responsible way. Well sadly that’s not the case. I have contacted several commercial waste contractor with mixed cardboard and plastics recycling in the same way that domestic households in the county do.

The contractor collects the waste where they put it onto a conveyor belt, and through a mixture of hand sorting and optical detection sort the plastic into different types as well as cardboard.

The plastic and cardboard are then bundled up and sold on the commodity market based on the current market price to whoever wants to buy and recycle them.

How does this relate to climate change?
Perhaps surprisingly this rise in ocean plastic pollution is closely related to climate change.

“Reducing pollution impacts on the oceans is important in creating resilience and adaptive capacity for marine species. We need clean habitats for the climate-driven mass-migration that is about to occur in our oceans. There is also new research suggesting that the consumption of microscopic plastic debris by tiny animals in the ocean could weaken the ocean carbon sink.” – University of Exeter

Home compostable materials

These can be used as an alternative where a clear solution or a food contact safe barrier that can’t be achieved with card is required. Home compostable materials can be made from wood pulp. Natureflex is an example of such a material.

This starts to create a circular economy.

The plants are grown on certified sustainable forestry plantations. As they grow they absorb CO2. They are turned into food contact safe packaging. After the packaging is used it can either be home composted, putting nutrients back in the soil, or used in biomass electricity generation with a carbon sink – the carbon sink part is important.

In a subsequent post we’ll look at Ocean acidification, why it’s happening and how we can help.

(1) UN Sustainability Goal 14 – Life below Water
(2) Professor Tamara Galloway – University of Exeter
(3) Packaging News, packaging industry magazine March 2019