News events ranging from Thames crabs stuffed with plastic trash to microplastic pellets that “replace salt” for our table, and promoted by some non-governmental organizations and government organizations, plastic pollution has become a global threat. Several laws and regulations have been introduced successively to restrict and regulate the use of plastic products. Some brands and businesses have successively introduced alternatives such as “biodegradable plastic packaging” and “sustainable paper packaging”. It is true that plastic pollution is indeed the most important problem facing environmental protection in the world, but can these efforts really solve the plastic pollution crisis?
Three misunderstandings of plastic pollution solutions:
1. Paper products instead of plastic: more environmentally friendly? Forests don’t think so
Replacing plastic packaging with paper products will result in a large number of forests being deforested, followed by huge carbon dioxide emissions from the paper industry. It seems simple and easy to replace disposable plastic packaging with disposable paper products. However, if we still rely on disposable packaging, the large-scale replacement of plastic with paper will lead to the disaster of large-scale deforestation in the global forest.
In addition, the replacement of plastic products by paper products sounds very good, but the reality is very important. Plastic products are incomparable to paper products in terms of performance, production and mass production. Some international chain restaurant brands have caused endless consumption complaints caused by replacing plastic straws with paper straws.
2. Bioplastics: can it really be “digested” easily by nature?
The new bioplastic products are placed in the soil for 6 months, placed in the soil for 12 months, placed in the soil for 24 months, and placed in the sea water for 24 months. The state of the bioplastic products shows that bioplastics cannot be used in the natural environment. degradation.
In 2017, the 400-day test conducted by the University of Myroit in Germany showed that various biodegradable plastics were degradable in industrial composting and placed in seawater and fresh water. In the end, the PLA had only about 0.5% mass loss.
Another trend is to turn to “bioplastics” (referring to bio-based materials, or biodegradable or compostable plastics, and can even include bio-based and petrochemical-based plastics as mixed raw materials).
Most of the various “biodegradable” plastic bags launched on the market can actually achieve the degradation process within 6 months only under the conditions of industrialized composting. What are the composting conditions for industrialization? The temperature is usually 50-60 degrees Celsius, which is generally not reached by soil. In addition, a certain humidity, a certain flora, and a certain amount of oxygen consumption are required to reach the conditions of industrialized composting. These conditions are not achievable in any natural environment. In the absence of supporting recycling systems and composting facilities, if these compostable plastics enter the environment, the environmental hazards caused by traditional disposable plastics are not much different.
3. Recyclable plastic: it can be recycled, but it may not be recycled
Even if a lot of plastic packaging has a recycling mark, it does not mean that it will actually be recycled. Since the beginning of plastic production in the 1950s, more than 90% of the 7.8 billion tons of plastic produced worldwide have not been recycled. The global plastic recycling system is not perfect and cannot keep up with the large amount of plastic waste generated on this planet every day.
In addition, the “recycling” of most plastics should actually be called “degraded recycling”. Take plastic bottles (polyethylene terephthalate) as an example. These old containers are not made into new containers, but are reprocessed. It becomes a product of worse quality, lower value, and cannot be recycled again.
In short, reducing plastic at the source and creating a new wave of reusable plastics is the last word to solve plastic pollution. Therefore, a report by the United Nations Environment Program also came to the following conclusions about the problems of degradable plastics:
Biodegradable plastics on land under special conditions (industrial composting) degrade very slowly in the ocean, and large areas of use also cause out-of-control garbage problems.
Biodegradable plastics will not play a significant role in reducing marine garbage pollution.
The public’s misunderstanding of degradability will be more likely to induce littering behavior.
The promotion of plastic degradability may be influenced by commercial interests.