What is the plastics problem?

The plastics problem is that it is  over consumed and overused. [Source: Dario R u g g i e r o]  Plastic is everywhere.  It is a great substitute.  And, it is cheaply made.  But it is thrown easily in the form of litter and waste.  Similarly, it too easily goes into the waste stream. And it and pollutes both land and sea.  It does not break down easily.  So, one solution is to use less of it.  Before, plastic was a sign of progress, but not today.

We will view plastic several ways.  A warning: The kinds and extent of plastics in the sea is disputed.  And micro plastics and smaller nano plastics blow into far mountain areas.  Finally, at the end  there are five post faces with useful info.  How dire are the plastic bottle and eating plastics situations?  What is the greater problem — plastics or climate change?  You will find some of the answers there.  Lastly, there are Words. If you want the broader picture on the plastics problem, you can skip the top sections on Industrial preparation, types of plastic, and Post Face 1.

from Google

How does Industry Prep Plastics?:

Natural materials are mimicked by the made (synthetic) plastics, also called polymers. They are made by the conversion of naturals. Or made by the synthesis from primary chemicals coming from oil, natural gas, or coal.

What raw materials are used?

Plastics are organic materials that have carbon (C), hydrogen (H), nitrogen (N) chlorine (Cl) and sulfur (S).  The polymerization of the raw materials is the first step.  A monomer is the end product.
So, what Are the Types of Plastic?  — SEE POST FACE 1

What are the pluses?

Plastic surrounds us. It is not just the obvious places—like bottles and straws. It is also used to build our cars and is found in our washes and fabrics. With the invention of plastic in the early 20th C, our world relishes cheap, easy to produce pieces. Plastic has many pluses. It prevents heart attacks (stents that open up arteries are often made of plastic) It also gives water to people in need.

But it also has left a lot of trash.

Items can take days to hundreds of years to break down into very small pieces depending on the type of plastic and where it lands. They likely never biodegrade. Because of this and our great use of it, plastic trash is now found in  every ecosystem.  And throughout the ocean. And, tiny pieces of plastic are also now found in our food and drink.  So plastic is unavoidable. We can change as a society, however. For we can reduce our use of the substance (in objects used once and discarded). Also help to ensure it doesn’t disperse.


What about tap water?


In a new study by Orb Media, researchers analyzed 159 tap waters from cities in more than a dozen nations on five continents. Plastic microfibers were found in 83% of those samples. Are you shocked? This shows the complexity and scale of our plastic problems. And the dire need for stronger scientific data and analyses on the sources, paths and toxicity of these fibers.
See Wikipedia entry on Plastic_Pollution:

What are the types of Plastics pollution?

So, plastic objects pool together and adversely affect wildlife, habitat, and humans. Plastics pollutants group into micro-, me-so-, or macro debris, based on size. And these products are cheap and durable, so as a result levels of plastic production by humans are high.  But the chem structure makes them resistant to many natural processes of degradation. And as a result they are slow to degrade. And, plastics are common, and they have become a monster.

Plastic pollution can afflict land, water ways and seas. It is est that 1.1 to 8.8 million metric tons (MT) of plastic waste enters the sea from the coasts each year. Living organisms, like marine life, are harmed by mechanical effects.  Such as entanglement in plastic objects. Another problem is the ingestion of plastic waste.  Also through exposure to chemicals that interfere with their physiology. And disruption of hormones affects humans.

How much plastic?

As of 2018, about 380 million tons of plastic is produced world wide each year. From the 1950’s up to 2018, an est 6.3 billion tons of plastic was produced world wide. An est 9% of this was recycled.  Another 12% was incinerated. In the UK, more than 5 million tonnes of plastic are consumed each year. But only an est one quarter is recycled. The remainder goes to landfills. So, this large amount of  waste then enters the environment. Likewise, studies suggest that the bodies of 90% of sea birds contain plastic debris. In some areas there are efforts to reduce the extent of plastic pollution.  Mainly, this is through reducing usage and promoting recycling.

By 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the seas by weight.

And, more on Plastic Pollution in the Plastics Problem

[see Wikipedia reference above on Plastic pollution]

In 2012, it was est that there was approx 165 million tons of plastic pollution in the world’s seas.  As a result, there is concern with nu-r-d-l-es.  Nu-r-d-l-es are  plastic pellets (a type of micro plastic) used in the creation of plastic products. They are often shipped via cargo ship. Many billions of nu-r-d-l-es spill into oceans each year.  It has been est that globally, they count as around 10% of beach litter.

Plastics in seas typically degrade within a year, but not fully. In the process, toxic chemicals such as bi-s-p-h-en-o-l A and polystyrene leach into waters. Polystyrene pieces and n-u-r-d-l-es are the most common types of plastic in seas. So, combined with plastic bags and containers they make up most of sea debris.

There are four classes of small and large micro plastics, m-e-so- and macro plastics.

And, more on Litter

Ocean litter is toxic to marine life and humans.  There are several toxins from plastic.  These are  d-i-e-t-h-y-l-hex-y-l p-h-t-ha-late, a carcinogen, as well as lead, cadmium, and mercury.

Plankton, fish, and also humans, ingest these highly toxic carcinogens and chemicals. So when you eat the fish that have these toxins it can cause an increase in cancer, immune disorders, and birth defects.

Most of the litter near and in the ocean is made up of plastics and is a ever pervasive source of sea pollution.  Dr. Marcus E r i k sen of The 5 G y res Institute says there are 5.25 trillion particles of plastic pollution that weigh as much as 270,000 t (2016). The current take this plastic forms in large swirls known as ocean g-y-res.  Most of the g-y-res are plastic junk dumps.

This section’s factual accuracy is disputed. (January 2018) [Wikipedia]

So, what about plastics and the environment?

But experts [ E r i c k sen and Carpenter] say the problem is not solved by product redesigns and infrastructure. “Ocean plastics are a symptom of poor upstream waste management [and] product design, as well as litter behavior,” E r i k sen says. “It’s a perpetuation of old [stories], where pollution is caused by consumers. Regulation of products and packaging must be fought for intensively.”

So, the quick solution:  Use less plastic.

As Carpenter pointed out nearly five decades ago, the more plastic we make and use, the more will end up in the environment. As he wrote in 1972: “Increasing production of plastics, combined with present waste disposal practices, will undoubtedly lead to increases in the [amount] of these particles.”

The message we should have listened to

And that’s a message we should have listened to decades ago, which still needs to be heard today.

“The public did not get adequate info, or the right info, early enough to act,” says E r i k sen. “Industry has been very effective at controlling the public narrative. But today they cannot control things the way they did in the past. Social media and mass comm allow people to organize.” This is making a difference. [Creative Commons: Erica C i r i no is a freelance science writer and artist in Copenhagen]


from Google:

What type of plastic is in the sea?

High Density Polyethylene (H.D.P.E.), a versatile polymer, is the most widely recycled plastic. This product is commonly used for grocery and garbage bags. And shampoo bottles, and some bottles and caps. [2018]

What is ocean based plastic pollution?

Almost 20% of plastic debris that pollutes ocean water, which translates to 5.6 million tons, comes from ocean based sources. M.A.R.P.O.L., an international treaty, “imposes a complete ban on the at sea disposal of plastics”. Because, merchant ships expel cargo, sewage, used med equipment, and other types of waste that contain plastic enter the ocean.

In the U.S., the Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act of 1987 prohibits discharge of plastics in the sea, including from naval vessels. These, and research vessels eject waste and military equipment deemed unnecessary.  And, pleasure crafts release fishing gear and other types of waste.  This is either accidentally or through poor handling. The largest ocean based source of plastic pollution is discarded fishing traps and nets. This is estimated to be up to 90% of plastic junk in some areas.

Plastic in the Seas and Oceans

Continental plastic litter enters the ocean largely through storm water. It flows into watercourses or is discharged into coastal waters. Plastic in the sea follows ocean currents.  These eventually form into what are known as Great Garbage Patches.

Do plastics harm marine life?

Only a fraction of plastic ocean pollution is visible. So, most of it consists of tiny degraded particles. They swirl in vast g-y-res spread across 16 million square km of ocean surface.  This is the size of the U.S. and Australia combined. Plastic particles in oceans harm sea life in two ways.  First, they are lodged in the digestive systems of animals.  This leads to impairment or death. Second, fish, turtles, seabirds, sea lions, and whales die a grisly death eating or entangled in plastic.

A recent study found that a quarter of fish at markets in Calif. and Indonesia contain plastic in their guts.  This is mostly in the form of plastic microfibers.  Plastic particles can absorb toxins already in the water. And then spread them through the food web, possibly to humans.  90 % of the items found by the Ocean Conservancy’s yearly coastal cleanup are some form of packaging or fast food supplies.


from Google:

Does plastic ever go away? in the Plastics Problem

Plastics and Styrofoam comprise 90% of all sea debris. To repeat, single use food and beverage packs are one of the most common items found in sea and coastal surveys.

That means plastic can stick around indefinitely, ruining marine ecosystems. Some plastics float once they enter the sea, though not all. As the plastic is tossed, much of it breaks into tiny pieces. Trash Travels estimates it takes 20 years to decompose plastic bags.  Also plastic bottles up to 450 years, and fishing line, 600 years. But in fact, no one really knows how long plastics will stay in the sea. With exposure to UV rays and the ocean, plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller fragments.

Plastics degrade into small pieces until you can’t see them anymore. But, do plastics fully go away?  Most commonly used plastics do not turn to minerals in the ocean.  They break into smaller pieces.

Must we rethink our econ?

Plastics are basic to our everyday life. Yet they are one of the most wasteful examples of our current linear, “take make dispose” econ.  There are 8 million tons of plastic entering the sea each year. We urgently need to rethink the way we make, use, and reuse plastics. So, catalyzing change through collaboration in this global material flow will create a more effective plastics system. And it will also demo the potential for a wider shift from a linear to a circular econ.  Here plastics never become waste.

What is the New Plastics Econ?

[Courtesy of Dario R u g g i e r o]

At the heart of the New Plastics Econ is a vision of a circular econ for plastic.  There it never becomes waste. There are six key points to the vision:

1. First, we must eliminate problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging.  This is through redesign, innovation, and new delivery models.  This  is a priority.
2. Second, we must apply reuse models where relevant. The need for single use packaging is reduced.
3. Next, all plastic packaging is 100% reusable, recyclable, or com-p-o-stable.
4. All plastic packaging is reused, recycled, or composted in practice.
5. The use of plastic is fully decoupled from the consumption of scarce resources.
6. Finally, all plastic packaging is hazard free.   And the health, safety, and rights of all people involved are respected.

Why is this vision necessary?

The problem with plastic starts long before it reaches our waters and beaches. And so must the solutions. Through the Global Commitment, businesses and governments commit to change how we produce, use, and reuse plastic. They will work to eliminate the plastic items we don’t need. Also innovate so all plastic we do need is designed to be safely reused, recycled, or composted. And to keep everything used in the economy and out of the environment by circulating everything used.

What is a circular econ?

We must look beyond the current “take make waste” ex-tract-i-v-e industrial model.  A circular econ redefines growth, and focuses on positive society wide pluses. It means gradually decoupling econ activity from the use of scant wealth. And designing waste out of the system. Based on a shift to renewable energy sources, the circular model builds econ, natural, and social capital. It is based on 3 principles:

1.First, design out waste and pollution
2.Second, keep products and materials in use
3.Lastly, regenerate naturals

What is Industrial Eco?

“Industrial ecology is the study of material and energy flows through industrial systems”. It focuses on links within the ‘industrial ecosystem’. So this approach creates closed loop processes in which waste serves as an input. Thus it eliminates the notion of an undesirable by product. So Industrial ecology adopts a systemic point of view.  And it designs production processes in accordance with local ecological constraints. And looking at their global impact from the outset. Then attempting to shape them. So they perform as close to living systems as possible.

This scheme is sometimes referred to as the ‘science of sustainability’. Given its’ interdisciplinary nature its’ principles can also be applied in the services sector. It has an emphasis on natural capital restoration. But industrial ecology also focuses on social well being.

Explain what a report found on packaging:

The 2017 report finds:

1. First, without basic redesign and innovation, 30% of plastic packaging is not reused or recycled

2. Second, for 20% of plastic packaging, reuse provides an attractive opportunity

3. Lastly, Recycling is attractive for the remaining 50% of plastic packaging.

See Ellen MacArthur foundation.org article on new-plastics-economy.

Does plastic bio degrade? in the Plastics Problem

Depending on the type of plastic and where it lands, items can take days to 100’s of years to break down into very small pieces. These likely never biodegrade. Because of this and our intensive use of it, plastic trash is now found in essentially every ecosystem. Tiny pieces of plastic are also now found in the food we eat and what we drink. There are ways we can change as a society. We can reduce our use of the substance (particularly in discarded objects). And help to ensure it doesn’t end up where it shouldn’t.

Plastic waste can break down due to the photo-d-e-grad-a-t-i-v-e effect.  This is where UV light from the sun provides the energy for oxygen atoms to meld into the polymer of the plastic, and from wind and waves. The plastic then becomes brittle. It breaks into smaller pieces. This process takes some time. But it can take even longer on the sea floor because of the lack of sunlight and oxygen, and cooler temps. When the plastic fragments over time, micro plastics result and they make up as much as 85 % of plastic pollution found on shore lines.

What is micro plastic?

Further, some micro plastics in the ocean are from microfibers. When we wash clothes in a  machine, small fibers come off of the fabric. And while some are captured by the water treatment systems, some also wind up being released in freshwater and the ocean. One fleece jacket  can make up to 2 g. of microfibers, or the equivalent of 100,000 fibers, in one wash alone. Clothes made with polyester, nylon, spandex and acrylic release these fibers.

About micro beads

Another source of micro plastic in the ocean is micro beads. These tiny plastic beads (often polyethylene) are added to many personal care products, such as cleansers and toothpaste. The beads act as an ex-fol-i-ant in these products. When people wash off products with micro beads, however, they go down the drain Some later reach our waterways and the ocean, similar to microfibers.

According to the Environmental Audit Committee of the House of Commons in Britain, a single shower can send 100,000 particles of plastic to the ocean. Micro plastics are also found in products that don’t get washed off, such as nail polish glitter.

[Hyphens are added to some words for ease of reading]

[See link near top of the article on marine plastics]


(courtesy of an anonymous author on plastics)

What is a plastics strategy? for The Plastics Problem

Plastic is an important and everywhere material in our econ and daily lives. It has multiple functions that help tackle a number of the challenges facing our society. Light and innovative materials in cars or planes save fuel and cut CO 2 emissions. High performance insulation materials help us save on energy bills. In packaging, plastics help ensure food safety and reduce food waste. Medical innovation is enabled by bio compatible plastics.  These can save human lives.

However, too often the way plastics are currently produced, used and discarded fails to capture the econ benefits of a more ‘circular’ approach and harms the environment. There is an urgent need to tackle the problems over the production, use and consumption of plastics. The million tons of plastic litter that end up in the oceans every year are one of the most visible and alarming signs of these problems.  So it is causing growing public concern.

What innovation and shared vision is needed?

Rethinking and improving the functioning of such a complex value chain requires efforts and greater coop by all its key players.  These include plastics producers to re-c-y-c-l-e-rs, retailers and consumers. It also calls for innovation and a shared vision to drive investment in the right direction. The plastics industry is very important to Europe.  Increasing its’ sustainability can bring new opportunities for innovation, competitiveness and job creation. This is in line with the objectives pursued by the renewed EU Industrial Policy Strategy.

In December 2015, the Commission adopted an EU Action Plan for a circular econ. There, it identified plastics as a key priority and committed itself to ‘[s-t-r-at-e-g-i-z-e and address] the challenges posed by plastics throughout the value chain.’  [Thus,] ‘taking into account their entire life cycle’. In 2017, the Commission confirmed it would focus on plastics production and use.  And work towards the goal of ensuring that all plastic packaging is recyclable by 2030.

What is the ‘plastics of the future’?

The EU leads the transition to the plastics of the future. This strategy lays the foundations to a new plastics econ.  Here  the design and production of plastics and plastic products fully respect reuse, repair and recycling needs. And, there is more development and promotion of sustainable materials. This will deliver greater added value and prosperity in Europe and boost innovation. It will curb plastic pollution and its’ adverse impact on our lives and the environment. By pursuing these aims, the strategy will also help reach the priority set by this Commission for an Energy Union.  This will result in a modern, low carbon, resource and energy efficient econ and will make a tangible contribution to reaching the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (S.D.G.s) and the Paris Agreement.

The strategy presents key commitments for action at EU level. Yet the private sector, together with national and regional authorities, cities and citizens, will also need to mobilize. Similarly, international effort will be needed to drive change outside Europe’s borders.

What are the key challenges of plastics today?:

Over the past 50 years, the role and importance of plastics in our econ has consistently grown. Global production of plastics has increased twenty fold since the 1960’s, reaching 322 million tons in 2015. It is expected to double again over the next 20 years.

In the EU, the plastics sector employs 1.5 million people and generated a turnover of EUR 340 billion in 2015. Although plastics production in the EU stabilized in recent years, the EU’s share of the global market is falling as production grows in other parts of the world.

Reuse and Recycling:

In the EU, the potential for recycling plastic waste remains largely unexploited. Reuse and recycling of end of life plastics remains very low, in comparison with other materials such as paper, glass or metals.

Around 25.8 million tons of plastic waste are generated in Europe every year. Less than 30% of such waste is collected for recycling. Of this amount, a significant share treats the waste in third countries, where different standards apply.

At the same time, land filling and incineration rates of plastic waste remain high – 31 % and 39 %, respectively. And while landfill has decreased over the past decade, incineration has grown. According to estimates, 95 % of the value of plastic packaging material, i.e. between EUR 70 and 105 billion annually, is lost to the econ after a very short first use cycle.

What is the demand in Europe?

Recycled plastics today accounts for only around 6 % of the demand in Europe. In recent years, the EU plastic recycling sector suffers from low commodity prices and doubts about market outlets. Investments in new plastic recycling capacity are deterred by the sector’s prospects of low profit.
It was estimated that production and the incineration of plastic waste give rise globally to approximately 400 million tons of CO 2 a year.

Using more recycled plastics can reduce dependence on the extraction of fossil fuels for plastics production. It also curbs CO 2 emissions. According to estimates, the potential annual energy savings achievable from recycling all global plastic waste is equivalent to 3.5 bbl of oil per year.
Source: Plastics Europe (2016)

What is the environmental impact?

Alt types of feed stock (e.g. bio based plastics or plastics produced from CO 2 or methane), offer the same uses of traditional plastics. They also have potentially lower environmental impacts.  These are in development. But at the moment they represent a very small share of
the market. Upping alts that are more sustainable can also help decrease our dependency on fossil fuels.

Very large quantities of plastic waste leak from both land and sea, and generate great damage. Globally, 5 to 13 million tons of plastics — 1.5 to 4 % of global plastics production — end up in the seas every year. It is estimated that plastic accounts for over 80 % of marine litter. Plastic debris is then transported by  currents, sometimes over great length. U.N.E.P. estimates that damage to the marine is at least $ 8 billion per year globally.

Where is global marine litter?

In the EU, 150 000 to 500 000 tons of plastic waste enter the seas every year. This is a small proportion of global marine litter. Yet, plastic waste from European sources ends up in particularly vulnerable marine areas. For example, the Mediterranean Sea and parts of the Arctic. Recent studies show plastics collect in the Mediterranean at a density like the highest concentration in the seas.

Plastic pollution also affects the European Exclusive Econ Zone. And, in the outer regions of the seas and oceans.

What volume of trash is in the sea?

500,000 tons of plastic in the oceans = 66,000 rubbish trucks

The case is worsened each year by the increasing amount of plastic waste generated. There is growing use of ‘single use’ plastics.  This is packaging or other  products that are thrown away after one brief use, and are rarely recycled.  These include bags, and throwaway ware.  So plastic is used widely due to its’ lightness, low cost, and practical features.

Can we curb plastic waste and littering?

We must tackle growing plastic waste generation and its leakage. We need to achieve a truly circular life cycle for plastics. Today, littering and leakage of plastic waste causes harm and econ damage to tourism, fisheries and shipping. It also affects human health through the food chain.

Large quantities of plastic waste stem from growing use of plastics for a wide range of brief applications.  Single use plastics items are a major source of plastic leakage. This is because they can be difficult to recycle, and are used away from home and littered. And they are most commonly found on beaches.  So they claim an est 50% of marine litter.
Source: Joint Research Center, European Commission (2017)

So what is the problem with Single Use?

Increasing on the go consumption of food and drink is fueling the growth of ‘single use plastics’. And the problem grows. Where waste management is low, even collected plastic waste can scatter. Plastics used in agriculture (like plastic mulching films or greenhouses) are recycled, reducing leakages. To achieve this, Extended Producer Responsibilities are used in several countries.

Marine litter from sea based sources is also great. Fishing gear abandoned at sea has particularly harmful impacts.

What incentive is there to generate less waste or litter?

Curbing plastic waste and pollution is complex.  It has a diffuse nature. And it links with social trends and  behavior.  But, consumers and producers have no clear incentive to switch to solutions that have less waste or litter.

The EU has already taken steps by setting requirements for Member States to adopt measures to cut the consumption of plastic bags. And to monitor and reduce marine litter. There is deployment of EU funding to understand and stem the rise of marine litter.  This supports global, national and regional action. EU rules supporting higher recycling rates and better waste collection systems are also needed in helping to prevent leakage. There is a upcoming legislative proposal for a revision of the Drinking Water Directive. So the Commission will promote access to tap water for EU citizens. And bottled water will need less packaging.

What is the unnecessary generation of plastic waste?

The unnecessary generation of plastic waste will develop from added measures at EU and national levels. This is especially waste from single use items or over packaging. They will encourage the reuse of packaging. Analytical work has already started to determine the scope of a legislative initiative on single use plastics.  The approach for light weight plastic bags use this. And to examine evidence from soft sci. Further, the Commission will explore the feasibility of introducing fiscal measures. Finally, the Commission will also look into the issue of over packaging.

What about schemes and awareness?

Extended Producer Responsibilities at national level can also help finance action curbing plastic litter. Targeted depositing can help reduce littering and boost recycling. And these have already helped several countries reach high collection rates for containers.

Public authorities make awareness campaigns, measures to prevent littering and projects to clean up beaches.  These receive support from EU funds, for instance through the European Solidarity Corps. Soon there will be even more opportunities for young people across the EU to engage and support these goals.

And what about marine litter?

To reduce discharges of waste by ships, the Commission is presenting a legislative proposal on port facilities. This presents measures to ensure that waste generated on ships or gathered at sea is delivered on land.  Further, it needs adequate management. Likewise, the Commission will also develop targeted measures for reducing the loss of fishing gear at sea. And, to examine possible options that include deposit schemes. Also, looking at Extended Producers Responsibilities and recycling targets.

So, the commission will continue its work to improve savvy and measurement of marine litter.  To sum up, this is an essential but often neglected way.  It will  support effective prevention and recovery measures.

What is the key action for plastic litter in the seas?

Besides these key measures, EU funds support action to retrieve some of the junk floating in the seas and innovative techs for retrieval.  Finally, International action remains key. To clarify, there is insufficient waste management infrastructure in developing countries and new economies.

Explain ‘Biodegradable’ and ‘Compost-able’?

So, we must establish a clear regulatory framework for plastics with biodegradable properties.
We need a response to the high level of plastic leakage into our environment and its’ harmful effects. Solutions are sought to design biodegradable and compost-able plastics. Targeted applications using compost-able plastic bags to collect organic waste have shown results.

However, most plastics labelled as biodegradable generally degrade under some conditions.  These are not easy to find in the natural environment. And they can still cause harm to ecosystems. Bio degradation in the marine is  likewise challenging. In addition, plastics that are labelled ‘compost-able’ are often not suitable for home composting. If compost-able and conventional plastics join in the recycling, the mix quality is affected.

So how do plastics end up in the Sea?

Many people were horrified to discover that tiny pieces of plastic (micro beads) are added to personal care and cosmetic products.  These are washed directly down the drain. So, from scrubs to gels to toothpaste. Because, many of these micro beads cannot filter out. And, these plastic pieces remain that may end up in the ocean.

The public is outraged at this micro beads pollution. So, this has led to governments across the world banning products from containing micro beads. These include the UK, US and Canada.

But plastic in cotton buds, wipes or products that are flushed, and even plastic fibers in clothing still pose a risk for plastic entering the sea.

Further, once plastic is in our seas, it flows on currents all across the world. So even barren islands in the Pacific and the Arctic are dumping grounds. [See Post face 3 for the plight of Henderson Is.]

But can we close the loop on plastics?

So, that’s why we have to tackle the problem at source. Corporations need to sell less single use plastics. And to cut down on the plastic that is thrown in the first place. Also we need governments to boost waste management systems.  And also boost the reuse of plastic through initiatives that up resource efficiency.  And likewise boost a circular econ. Finally, we need to close the loop on plastic. We must ensure it stops escaping and flowing into the seas. Marine life cannot stomach any more plastic.

[This blog post was originally published by Greenpeace UK.]

See Greenpeace.org new-Zealand story on how-does-plastic-end-up-in-the-ocean
How much plastic is produced?

The world produces 260 million tons of plastic the world yearly, and about 10 % ends up in the Ocean.  This is according to a Greenpeace report (Plastic Debris in the World’s Oceans, 2006). 


What percent of plastics is recycled?

Of the 8.3 billion metric tons produced, 6.3 billion metric tons is plastic waste. Of that, only 9 % is recycled.  And the vast majority—79 %—is filling landfills. And it is sloughing off  as litter.  To sum up, a whopping 91% of plastic isn’t recycled.

See news at National Geographic.com titled plastic-produced-recycling-waste-ocean-trash – d e

What are nano plastics and where do they go?

[Courtesy of Dr. G e e t ha P l a c k a l]

A recent report shows that winds carries micro plastics and even smaller nano plastics.  And they end up in remote areas such as tall mountains.


Finally, a recent paper on plastic debris, micro and nano plastics:

“The presence and effects of plastic debris is investigated [more]. [Most] studies focuses on micro plastics (M P s).  But [a] few reports suggest that plastic fragments in the <100 n m size range, referred to as nano plastics (N P s), may also be formed in aquatic[s]. And they further [proceed] to humans. This paper provides a review on routes of human exposure and potential effects of M P s and N P s to human health.”

“M P s/N P s could potentially induce physical damages through particles itself. [Also by] biological stress through M P s/N P s alone or leaching of additives (inorganic and organic). Future research should evaluate tr-o-p-h-i-c transfer of M P s/N P s. [And] their associated chemicals through the marine food web.” [Revel, M e s s i k a & c h â tel, A m e lie & M o u n e y r ac, Catherine. (2018). Micro(nano)plastics: A threat to human health?. Current Opinion in Environmental Science & Health. 1. 17-23. 10.1016/j  .c o e sh.2017.10.003.]



POSTFACES for the Plastics Problem

POST FACE 1: TYPES OF PLASTIC in The Plastics Problem


Take a walk through your house or office. You are sure to stumble across a variety of plastic products like water bottles and pens. You see, no material is more commonly used in our everyday lives! “Plastic” is the easy way to classify everything. But there are 7 types:

• 1) First, Poly-e-t-y-l-e-n-e Te-r-e-p-h-t-h-a-late (PETE or PET)
• 2) Second, High Density Poly-e-t-y-l-e-n-e (H.D.P.E.)
• 3) Third, Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
• 4) Next, Low Density Poly-e-t-y-l-e-n-e (L.D.P.E.)
• 5) Next, Polypropylene (PP)
• 6) Next, Polystyrene or Styrofoam (PS)
• 7) Finally, misc. Plastics (nylon, sty-re-n-e, and fiberglass, etc.)

[Hyphens are added to some names for reading ease.  No naming convention is followed.]


POST FACE #3  Does plastic move?

View a video of the plight of Henderson Is.:

(National Geographic Magazine/2018/06/”the-journey-of-plastic-around-the-globe“)

POST FACE #4  FACTS SHEET for The Plastics Problem

There is an excellent fact sheet of 10 Facts about Plastics in the Ocean.


[The Fact sheet is copyright by Earth Day Network, 2019, Washington D.C.]


POST FACE #5  So here is more about Plastic Bottles


And some information about how much plastic you are eating each week:


and an article about why the plastic problem is a “convenient truth” masking other bigger problems:


and, finally,  a recent article on organizing a conference without plastic:


[Copyright 2010-2019 The Conversation US, Inc.]


POST FACE #5 – Anonymous readers’ reaction to above article

The issue on plastic is very complex.  It has became such an integral part of our life that it is difficult to wean our consumption.  So, its’ success has turned it into a MONSTER.

Reducing usage, making them biodegradable, recycling etc – all only delay the inevitable. Reducing usage will continue to add to the plastic waste albeit slower. Making them biodegradable only breakdowns the polymers into monomers. And, the threat of nano particles on health has became a growing concern. They are so small that they are capable of entering our body, nervous system, etc.  Like grapheme, they can pose serious health issue in the longer term.

The solution is really to find a substitute… or refrain from using plastic and turning back to natural products wherever possible. You may wish to concentrate on this direction in your future posts.

I didn’t add my comment as I prefer not to leave such a big foot print.

Oops. I better explain where I am coming from. Decomposed plastics are safe as long as they are contained and do not pollute the environment. The danger is heightened when they leach and are carried into the food chain.


WORDS for the Plastic Problem 

abandoned fishing gear options (3) – responsibility and deposit schemes, recycling targets

circular econ – consumption is decoupled from scant resources

end result (3) – recycling and land filling and incineration

food web – one larger species eating a smaller one, and so on.

garbage patch – discarded stuff in a g-y-re

g-y-re –  ocean vortex

Industrial ecology  – study of the material and energy flowing through the industrial system

key challenges (5) – global plastic production and market, employment in the sector, reuse and recycling of end of life plastics

key players (4) – producers, re-c-y-c-l-e-rs, retailers, consumers

location of g-y-res (5) –  Atlantic, Pacific, Indian oceans, edges of Mediterranean and Caribbean seas.

main problems with plastic (2) – over consumed, overused

micro plastics (3) – microfibers and micro beads, in clarification it also includes n-u-r-d-l-es

monomer – product of polymerization, a basic unit

More Words

nano plastics – so, smallest plastics

n-u-r-d-l-es – manufactured plastic pellets

organic materials – industry preps starting with the addition of elements to a benzene ring

particles – large and small debris, pellets, m-e-so-, macro-, and micro plastics (beads and fibers), nano plastics

polymer – repeated addition of monomers; sub word for plastic

plastic strategy – rethinking a complex value chain

plastics of the future – strategy of the New Plastics econ

problems (4) – entanglement, ingestion, exposure, disruption

single use plastic –  plastic ware used once and thrown

simple solution -so use less

solutions (3) – Specifically, reuse, biodegradable and com-p-o-s-table plastics

symptoms of ocean plastics (3) – poor upstream waste management and product design, litter behavior

synthetics – organics that mimic the properties of naturals

thinking approaches (4) – systems and/or systemic thinking, urgency, initiatives

toxins – chem poisons

t r op h i c  level – position in a food chain

type, extent (2) of marine plastic – in dispute

value chain – econ chain using “value added” concepts

waste management systems (3) – initiatives that reuse plastics, have resource efficiency, or that use a circular econ

[Some words have hyphens added for reading ease]



Stephen Saunders

Executive Director, Long Term Economy | Member, LTE International Board | Internal Auditor

Stephen Saunders has 25 posts and counting. See all posts by Stephen Saunders

Stephen Saunders

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