Whether you like it or not, the great problem we have with plastic is a very simple factor: its tremendous success. And the explanation is as simple as it gets. It is convenient. Plastic is a durable, versatile, flexible, long-lasting, and cheap material. Which makes it the first go-to material to design and produce general use tools.
Plastic is simply everywhere. Containers, caps, electronics, bottles, toys, covers. Everything around you is wrapped in plastic! To give you a perspective, about 1 Million plastic bottles are sold worldwide every single minute. And this is a big problem, because we simply aren’t able to recycle enough, as only 9% of Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles have ended up in disposal facilities over the last 70 years. Most of it is instead found in the oceans. Estimates say that by following this trend in 2050 we will end up having more plastic than fish in the ocean.
So if you are looking to reduce your personal plastic consumption, here’s some advice to become more sustainable in your day to day routine.
Use bars of soap instead of buying new plastic bottles. If this isn’t your thing, use refillable soap for your existing empty bottles.
Switch to a wooden toothbrush - they cause less harm to the environment. Some of them even include exchangeable brushes so you can keep the body of your toothbrush even when you are done using it.
Adopt natural loofah sponges. SpongeBob would be proud of you! Plastic sponges do the job as efficiently, but natural sponges are the most natural way of absorbing water.
Use glass containers to store your food and liquids. They are more durable, they don’t release chemicals and they also look nicer!
Look for reusable wraps. They are washable, reusable, and compostable, made out of eco-friendly ingredients like cotton, sustainably harvested beeswax, organic jojoba oil, and tree resin.
Buy your food and detergents in bulk. This will reduce the amount of plastic packaging and hence reduce your overall plastic consumption. Plus, products sold in bulk are usually cheaper!
Use metal straws. Exactly like your cutlery, straws don’t need to be plastic-based. You can wash them, and reuse them as many times as you like while cutting your use of plastics.
In recent years, researchers have discovered alternatives to single-use plastic water bottles and have generated some prototypes, often derived from plants, that supposedly degrade in natural environments. But these bottles can often only degrade in highly controlled environments. An environment that has high levels of heat and moisture, allowing microbes to break down the polymer. In more realistic conditions, outside of a specifically controlled environment, that degradation may not and most likely not occur. These bottles also often contain plastic linings or chemicals that are unable to naturally degrade.
Pretty much the same applies to single-use degradable plastic bags. Studies have found out that the degradation of bioplastics in sea turtles is no different than regular plastics. These bags can also be composted in the right conditions, but way too often they end up in landfills or ecosystems where they release greenhouse gas emissions into the environment, and harm the species around them.
So, what’s the alternative here?
A number of startups are working to create plastic alternatives from various materials. A startup based in Turkey (Biolive) is creating a range of bioplastic granules obtained from olive seeds that result in bio-based, partially biodegradable products that can decompose in a year. Oleuropein, a substance found in olive seeds, is an antioxidant that extends the life of bioplastic while also composting the material into fertilizer within a year.
Golden Compound, a German-based startup, has patented the Sustainable Sunflower Plastic Compound bioplastic – referred to as S²PC. It's reinforced with sunflower hulls, and is being moulded into everything from office furniture to recyclable transport, storage boxes and crates.
A UK project MarinaTex is using fish skin and scales – 500,000 tons of which are generated annually in the UK alone – bound with red algae to make a compostable plastic alternative that can replace single-use plastics such as bakery bags and sandwich packs.
Maybe the most important trends to look at, are the resilient and biodegradable fungal mycelia-based materials which, unlike oil-based plastic, "create no toxic byproducts." An emerging successful brand utilizing fungi is Reishi, a sustainable, fine mycelium leather substitute created from a woven cellular microstructure derived from mushrooms. The compound emulates the collagen structure of animal leathers, making fine mycelium both sustainable and versatile.
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