Do We Need More Plastic? (Part-1)
By Ayesha Umar.
Am I plastic? I am eating, drinking, wearing, and sleeping plastic. The Salmon in my freezer has it. My car, my water filter, my electronics, drainage pipes and my facewash all have plastic in it. In fact, with my fish and chips I have been ingesting about 2,000 plastic particles a month.
Since, its introduction in 1950s, human beings have created 6.3 trillion kilograms of plastic waste-much of it has been created after 2002. “A 2019 study in Water Research found microplastic contamination as high as 24 parts per liter in landfill runoff, offering “preliminary evidence…that landfill isn’t the final sink of plastics,” the researchers wrote, “but a potential source of microplastics.”
Are we the main culprits? Well, no. It is our addiction to the fossil fuels that is causing all the havoc.
Why fossil fuels?
“Plastics are just a way of making things out of fossil fuels,” says Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network. Crude oil gets refined into different petrochemicals. These petrochemicals get further refined into alkanes-olefins-polymers and plastic resins. Refining crude oil into useful petrochemicals is both energy and carbon intensive.
Carbon Profile of the Plastic Pollution
Plastic refining is among the most greenhouse- gas-intensive industries in the manufacturing sector. From the refining of crude oil into various petrochemicals to the manufacturing of various products such as plastic bags, coffee lids. The process is simply dirty.
Moreover, not all plastic products make it to the recycling facilities. Most of it gets incinerated. The extreme temperature of the burner, 2,000 degrees-turning plastic to its origins as a fossil fuel, adds into carbon pollution. Only in 2019, the production and incineration of plastic has added more than 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere — equal to the emissions from 189 five-hundred-megawatt coal power plants
How we got here?
In New York, John Wesley Hyatt won $10,000 by developing an alternative to ivory changing our consumption habits forever. That alternative later has been industrialized by Leo Baekeland, a Belgian immigrant. Leo further developed it by making it heat resistant and electricity insulated. Thus, with the passage of time-technological developments-addition of nylon and increased use in the military equipment-Plastic finally found its way into everyone’s household.
Instead of stop manufacturing the plastic products, the big corporations have been pouring money into greenwashing techniques-making pollution out of sight-putting responsibility on the consumers and introducing more products in plastic packaging.
One such example of corporate greenwashing is non-profit organization called Keep America Beautiful. KAB works with the industry to keep the plastic pollution out of sight. KAB’s board of directors include executives from Keurig, Dr. Pepper, Mars Wrigley, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé Waters, Dow, Philip Morris, and the American Chemistry Council.
Is there an end to our addiction?
According to IEA’s, the demand for petrochemicals will soon be overtaking that for transport by 2050. It also has highlighted that with the introduction of ban on single-use plastic in places like Europe and Japan and introduction of price on the plastic bags, the big corporations from Americas to Saudia Arabia are pouring their money in petrochemicals. BP another respected sources has projected that plastics will represent 95 percent of the net growth in demand for oil.
Our home …. Canada?
Canada produces 3.3 million tonnes of plastic waste every year. Last year, the amount of plastic waste entered in the Lake Ontario can easily fill 28 Olympic-sized swimming pools.[iii] Ironically, Canada also exports its plastic waste to other countries like Vietnam and China. Thus, Canadians are not only polluting their own oceans and waterways but also contributing in the increase of the global plastic pollution.
Economic Study of the Canadian Plastic Industry, Market and Waste/ Scenario based on a multi-stakeholder push to boost recycling, and investment in green technology. Output recycling rate after taking into account process losses.
What to do?
Urgent and ambitious action is necessary to bend the curve towards more sustainable, low-carbon society. For this, governments and other stakeholders including businesses and their investors like different banks should come together. They should upgrade their policies according to the Paris Agreement while putting an end to investing in the industries which are involved both directly and indirectly in fossil fuels extraction.
Then, the awareness regarding climate change and various practices promoting climate mitigation and adaptation should be introduced at different levels of government and society. Moreover, businesses and academia both should be incentivized to invest in research and development of alternatives to plastic and other petrochemicals.
Another, best practice should be businesses disclosing their activities including direct and indirect involvement in fossil fuels industry. In addition to this, all these activities should be monitored and evaluated by an independent body of experts who can further guide all the publics involved in this vicious circle.
Hopefully, with everyone coming together, we can have a plastic free healthy life.
[i] Feltman, R. (2015 15, September). More than half of the sea turtles have eaten plastic, a new study claims. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2015/09/15/more-than-half-the-worlds-sea-turtles-have-eaten-plastic-new-study-claims/?utm_term=.e3df1473fef1
[ii] Leblanc, R. (2018 20, February). How Long Does It Take Garbage To Decompose? Retrieved from https://www.thebalance.com/how-long-does-it-take-garbage-to-decompose-2878033
[iii] Hoffman, M.J. and E. Hittinger. (2017). Inventory and transport of plastic debris in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Marine Pollution Bulletin 115(1–2):273–281. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezpxy.fanshawec.ca/science/article/pii/S0025326X1630981X