Great News in Plastics!

In recent years plastics have been in the news consistently due to the damage they are causing to our environments worldwide.  Plastics are a problem as they don’t decompose easily, with estimates stating  that common plastics like PET can take around 500-1000 years to disappear. This is because most bacteria will not eat plastic, meaning there’s not much out there to help it decompose. UV light can break down some plastics into smaller pieces, but this can cause problems as these small pieces are usually made up of harmful chemicals and the size means they are easily ingested by animals, causing them to become a problem in the food chain. Some plastics can be recycled but this is not done enough, meaning there is an overload of plastic globally. This creates problems, not only due to landfills being full of plastic but there’s so much of it littered that our oceans and other environments are also full of it. The issue is global and over recent years people have finally decided to take action and work to combat the problem.

Over the past few years I have began to see more and more news articles on the fight against plastics, a lot of them with depressing outcomes. Then these past few months I have finally seen a few positive plastic news pieces, which is great.  This article has complied some of these great news pieces from the past few weeks to shine a positive light on the plastics war- it is far from over but it’s great to see a little light shining through!

Mushroom- based packaging:

On February 28th, trueactivist.com, reported that IKEA is looking into mushroom-based packaging for its products, instead of polystyrene. Polystyrene takes thousands of years to decompose and is very difficult to recycle. The mushroom-based packaging that would replace it is biodegradable as it is made of mycelium, otherwise known as mushroom roots. It has been developed by US firm Ecovative and is currently used by companies in the US and some in Europe, including Dell. IKEA  is looking into using this packaging in an attempt to reduce waste and be ‘greener’ as a company. Let’s hope they follow through on this fantastic idea.

Agar Plasticity- a plastic substitute:

A new Japanese design company, AMAM, is developing a new substitute for plastics called Agar Plasticity, a product made using agar, a substance found in red algae. The project is still in prototype phases and would require more researches and funding if it was to go further but it is a great step into looking at plastic alternatives. Agar is used in Japan traditionally as a food ingredient and the process for using it as a packaging material is similar. The project hopes that in the future Agar Plasticity could replace the plastics used for many disposable items. It’s early days but an amazing project that will hopefully continue to grow.

Paper replacing plastic:

Johnson and Johnson announced earlier this year that they will no longer use plastic cotton bud sticks. They have pledged that by the end of 2016 they will only use paper cotton bud sticks, a much more biodegradable product, helping to reduce the amount of plastic being flushed into our seas every day. One cotton bud stick does not look like a lot, but one from every household in the UK soon adds up and reducing this will help to keep our seas and beaches cleaner. We can help with this problem from home too by always choosing to buy cotton buds that have paper sticks over plastic. Also remember not to flush any cotton bud sticks, always dispose of them with the household waste, to help keep our seas cleaner.

Plastic eating bacteria:

A team of Japanese researchers have described  a species of bacteria that can break down PET, one of the world’s most-used plastics. The report, published in the journal Science earlier this year, is the first report that shows an organism able to decompose PET. The bacteria, Ideonella sakaiensis, is able to degrade PET in a matter of months in the right conditions. Until this, no organism was known to be able to do it. Although this is exciting news, it is unsure of how this will help as PET is 100% recyclable and is widely recycled already. However, the process in which this bacteria breaks down PET might help researchers to be able to identify other bacteria that can break down other, less recyclable plastics via similar processes.

Plastic bag ban for Bali:

Bali has recently received a lot of bad press over its huge litter problem, with many tourists vowing to boycott the island. Finally the governor of Bali has agreed to ban plastic bags from 2018, a first step in helping to reduce its waste problem. The reason for this ban was a campaign titled ‘Bye Bye Plastic Bags’ started by two teens called Melati and Isabel Wijsen. For the past 3 years they have been working towards a plastic bag ban and they have finally achieved their goal. An amazing news story and a very positive win in the war on plastic.

So there’s five pieces of great news on the plastics war, a few small victories and some exciting research that could lead to some even bigger victories. Let’s hope we continue to see a rise in positive plastic news. And remember, change starts at home. There’s lots of little changes you can make to your daily routine to help reduce the amount of plastic waste you produce.

References

New Seaweed-Based Material Could Replace Plastic Packaging | GOOD. 2016. New Seaweed-Based Material Could Replace Plastic Packaging | GOOD. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.good.is/articles/agar-plasticity-amam-araki-maetani-muraoka-packaging. [Accessed 15 March 2016].

Could This New Material Made From Seaweed be the Future of Plastic? | The Inertia. 2016. Could This New Material Made From Seaweed be the Future of Plastic? | The Inertia. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.theinertia.com/environment/could-this-new-material-made-from-seaweed-be-the-future-of-plastic/. [Accessed 15 March 2016].

Avaaz – Bye-bye plastic bags on Bali. 2016. Avaaz – Bye-bye plastic bags on Bali. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.avaaz.org/en/bye_bye_plastic_bags_on_bali/?rc=fb. [Accessed 15 March 2016].

. 2016. . [ONLINE] Available at: http://byebyeplasticbags.org/. [Accessed 15 March 2016].

Ikea plans mushroom-based packaging as eco-friendly replacement for polystyrene – Telegraph. 2016. Ikea plans mushroom-based packaging as eco-friendly replacement for polystyrene – Telegraph. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/businessandecology/recycling/12172439/Ikea-plans-mushroom-based-packaging-as-eco-friendly-replacement-for-polystyrene.html. [Accessed 15 March 2016].

Ikea to use mushroom-based packaging to replace polystyrene. 2016. Ikea to use mushroom-based packaging to replace polystyrene. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/ikea-use-mushroom-based-packaging-replace-polystyrene-1545846. [Accessed 15 March 2016].

Cotton bud sticks to be made from paper help save sealife – Telegraph. 2016. Cotton bud sticks to be made from paper help save sealife – Telegraph. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/environment/12183883/Cotton-bud-sticks-to-be-made-from-paper-help-save-sealife.html. [Accessed 15 March 2016].

Bacteria able to eat plastic bottles discovered by scientists | Science | News | The Independent. 2016.Bacteria able to eat plastic bottles discovered by scientists | Science | News | The Independent. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/bacteria-able-to-eat-plastic-bottles-discovered-by-scientists-a6927636.html. [Accessed 15 March 2016].

Could a new plastic-eating bacteria help combat this pollution scourge? | Environment | The Guardian. 2016. Could a new plastic-eating bacteria help combat this pollution scourge? | Environment | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/10/could-a-new-plastic-eating-bacteria-help-combat-this-pollution-scourge. [Accessed 15 March 2016].

 

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Rachel Davies

Rachel Davies

Currently studying for an MRes in Wildlife Conservation at the University of Chester. Research focuses on the White-faced Darter, an endangered dragonfly species here in Britain. Rachel also has a blog titled 'working with wildlife'.
Rachel Davies

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