A blog set out to explore, archive & relate plastic pollution happening world-wide, while learning about on-going efforts and solutions to help break free of our addiction to single-use plastics & sharing this awareness with a community of clean water lovers everywhere!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Plastic Perils

Published August 19, 2012 in the Borneo Post by Mary Margaret

STREAMS of plastic bottles, plastic bags, Styrofoam packaging and pails were swept past by the out-flowing current along with coconuts, palm fronds and other naturally decomposing debris. The debris might be caught in nets before being swept out to sea, or entangled in roots, or dropped along the beach, or end up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
FOR RECYCLING: Used plastic containers wait to be recycled.

Charles Moore found the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Gyre about 10 years ago. Since then it is estimated to have increased by 24,000 tonnes of plastic rubbish per year – larger than the American state of Texas. The rubbish is blown in off land, swept down rivers or tossed over board from ocean-going vessels.

Wildlife deaths are well documented. Turtles consume plastic bags, as they resemble jellyfish when floating in the ocean. Seabirds, including albatrosses, prey on plastic decimating the population in the northwest Hawaiian Islands – a marine sanctuary. Huge chunks of plastic are left among the decaying carcasses.

Plastic has changed marine ecosystems. A recent article in a British newspaper described how the marine insect Halobates sericeus, a species of water skater, is now using the floating plastic debris to lay their eggs on. Before the change in environmental conditions, these insects laid their eggs on shells and feathers, for example, and were generally found close to shore.

What have we done to reduce the risk of plastic? In Kuching some shops do not provide free plastic bags on Saturdays. Miri has taken the leap to ban plastic bags and if you need one you must buy it. Toronto, Canada and Los Angeles, USA have banned plastic bags, a step also taken by some institutions.

Saying no to plastic and bringing along your reusable shopping bags is well on the way to becoming the norm. The plastic bags that we might still receive tend to feel floury, and these are naturally biodegradable as one of the ingredients in this type of plastic is starch. And this type of plastic is produced in Kuching.

Floating plastic is trapped (netted) from the section of the Sarawak River that runs through Kuching and in Kota Kinabalu, helping to reduce the accumulation of plastic rubbish in our oceans.

Plastic was experimented with in the mid-1800s but really came into its own in the 20th century. This man-made material is made up of long repeating links of carbon, along with, generally, oxygen, sulphur or nitrogen. It is a miracle material that takes multiple shapes and lasts forever. Its strength is its weakness.

It is also a very variable type of material that can be classified by its chemical composition. Some of the common names are acrylics (acrylic paint), polyester (material for clothes) silicones, polyurethanes and halogenated plastics. Plastics can be classed by if they undergo a chemical change when heated.

Thermoplastics do undergo a chemical change when heated and so can re-moulded when recycled. However, the chemical compositions of thermosetting polymers change when heated.

The first step to reduce the amount of plastic pollution is to reduce its use. We have taken that step by saying no to plastic bags and using of reusable containers. What else can we do? All plastics can be recycled, even through it is not easy because of the variety and in complex items such as hand phones there may be many types.

Despite this, much ends up in landfill sites covered from ultraviolet light, staying and remaining intact. Plastics are sometimes incinerated for disposal. However, this leads to the release of dioxins into the air.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch sits accumulating plastic in the Northern Pacific Gyre, but how can it be cleaned up? In 2009, a group of scientists and waste managers went to see and develop techniques. The large pieces, for example toys, could be easily collected in nets or collecting containers, but the smaller pieces posed greater difficulty as collection could also harm marine life.

The next question was what to do with the tonnes of rubbish. Disposing of it in a landfill site moves the problem but one suggestion is to use pyrolysis; this involves heating the waste to 288 degrees Celsius in a vacuum to turn the waste into fuel – an expensive option.

Plastic, the miracle material of the 20th century has led to plastic perils, but it is a material we have come to depend on.

We use plastic almost everywhere – our homes, offices and workplaces, modes of transportation – tables, chairs, dishes, computers, hand phones, car bumpers, hiking equipment … I don’t suppose many days go by when we do not use plastic, but this miraculous man-made material causes so many problems.

1 comment:

  1. “The pollution generated from plastic bags is growing at an alarming rate and education and recycling programs have only gone so far.

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