Drastic Plastic

Drastic Plastic

19 November, 2015
UN Warning
Biodegradable Plastics Are Not The Answer To Reducing Marine Litter
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When we see a product labelled ‘biodegradable,’ we would immediately think that it must be safe for the environment. Well not quite! A new report entitled “Biodegradable Plastics and Marine Litter, Misconceptions, Concerns and Impacts on Marine Environment” points out that plastics do not fully disintegrate in marine conditions. In fact there is some evidence suggesting that using a biodegradable label can increase people’s tendency to litter.
 
The report was launched to mark the 20th anniversary of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA), an intergovernmental mechanism hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
 
“Recent estimates from UNEP have shown as much as 20 million tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s oceans each year. Once in the ocean, plastic does not go away, but breaks down into micro plastic particles. This report shows there are no quick fixes, and a more responsible approach to managing the lifecycle of plastics will be needed to reduce their impacts on our oceans and ecosystems,” said UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner.
 
Another study carried out by UNEP and partners in 2014 indicates that about 280 million tonnes of plastic is manufactured yearly with only a tiny percentage of it being recycled.  Some of this plastic makes its way to the ocean and causing havoc to the marine ecosystem.
 
Within the past few years, microplastics are also causing major concern due to sea life ingesting these micro-particles, which measure up to 5 mm in diameter. They are made when plastic biodegrades or when manufactured for toiletry products like in toothpaste and face washes. However due to their size, these particles are able to bypass water-screening systems in sewage treatment plants and end up in rivers and oceans.
 
Common plastics such as polyethylene, polypropylene, and polyvinyl chloride do not biodegrade in marine environments. Polymers however can biodegrade on land but take a while to break down in the ocean. Oxo-degradable plastics can take up to 5 years to fragment and can still be hazardous even after fragmentation. The new report states that it should be assumed that the microplastics would still be present in the ocean even after the fragmentation process.
 
Not only is the ingestion of plastic by marine life posing a problem, but also harmful microorganisms, pathogens and algae can hitch a free ride on the plastic and spread great distances.
 
If you, your family or friends would like to take action and discover the issue of ocean plastic firsthand, there is still 12 days left to participate in the Hong Kong Cleanup! To join simply register on the following link: www.hkcleanup.org

By: Abbe Ho
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