By Andreas Ruthe
TCM Asia Co., Ltd.
Plastic Planet is a frightening documentation, shoving the impact of plastic to the human civilization. Werner Boote presents an up-close and personal view of the controversial and fascinating material that has found its way into every facet of our daily lives: plastic. He takes us on a journey around the globe, following plastic through its 60 years of "glorious triumph" and showing us what an unexpected impact plastic has on our world.
If you have seen this movie your brain will put the pieces of the puzzle together and you might think twice when standing in front of the supermarket cooling shelf, grabbing a water bottle made from PET and maybe you will think twice and say no. I saw many times in the Phuket Gazette pictures with death turtles, dolphins, whales other marine life. I recognize often the published “clean the beach' pictures and thinking some time we should do this with our staff as well. But I feel a bit helpless when walking at Kamala beach after heavy weather and realizing the huge amount of debris spilled ashore.
Starting from the point when I researched about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and realizing that we totally missed the point when collecting debris from the beach. We should leave it there and label it clearly visible for all people coming to the beach. Because if we clean it up people will never realize how deep the rabbit hole goes. The threat and impacts of marine debris have long been ignored. Perhaps it is the perceived vastness of ocean and lack of visibility of marine debris to most people that has allowed society to dismiss the problem as a serious threat.
However, recent research demonstrates that quantities and impacts of marine debris are significant and increasing. The Algalita Marine Research Foundation's investigation of plastic in the North Pacific Central Gyre of the Pacific Ocean showed that the mass of plastic pieces was six times greater than zoo plankton floating on the water's surface. This study is one of many that demonstrate that our oceans have become the virtual garbage can for the developed and developing world.
Most of the marine debris in the world is comprised of plastic materials. The average proportion varies between 60 to 80% of total marine debris. In many regions, plastic materials constitute as much as 90 to 95% of the total amount of marine debris. Nearly 80% of marine debris comes from land-based sources. Most of the land-based debris is conveyed to oceans via urban runoff through storm drains. The first time the existence of the Garbage Patch was predicted 1988 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration if USA. Charles Moore documented in 1997 about an enormous stretch of floating debris while passing the area after a sailing race. He organized a marine exploration team and returned to the hot spot in 2008 finding out that proximately 100 million tons of plastic waste circulating on an area of the size of continental Europe or Texas.
The latest UNEP study says, that we find today 18.000 piece of plastic on each square kilometer of general sea water but at the garbage patch the number is measured to over 1 million and rising. Where do we go from now? The main sources of plastic and other types of anthropogenic (human-made) debris in urban runoff include: litter (mostly bags, packaging and single-use disposable products), industrial discharges, garbage transportation, landfills, construction debris, and debris from commercial establishments and public venues.
Plastic does not biodegrade; no microbe has yet evolved that can feed on it. But it does photo degrade. Prolonged exposure to sunlight causes polymer chains to break down into smaller and smaller pieces, a process accelerated by physical friction, such as being blown across a beach or rolled by waves. This accounts for most of the flecks and fragments in the enormous plastic soup at the becalmed heart of the Pacific, but scientists found a fantastic profusion of uniformly shaped pellets about 2mm across. These pellets will be eaten on mistake from sea animals, and are already part of our circle of food.
So, how much poison should we eat or drink today? We are talking about DDT, PCB, but mostly about highly carcinogen and toxic Mono, Di or Trimeren and Bisphenol A which are side products when plastic change chemical structure in the aging process. Every human already has plastic in the blood stream. Studies show that chemicals get released from plastic and will migrate into the human body and are hormonally active. This will cause multiple health problems starting from allergies, fatigue, cancer, heart disease and at the end sterility which has been shown in animals already.
'A lot of scientists think we're basically doomed, but what are you going to do?' he asks. 'Enjoy your beer, enjoy your family, and make the most of it while it lasts? I think there's a real big movement for that at the moment and part of me understands that. But there's a bigger part of myself that says we've got to find a solution, collectively. We spent $265 billion preparing for the Y2K bug and we didn't even know if it was going to happen or not. We know for an absolute fact that if we continue on our current rate of consumption, we're going to run out of resources. But the annual budget for the United National Environmental Program last year was $190 million. And the budget for the latest James Bond movie was $205 million.
Many developed countries already banned plastic bags or you have to pay for and laws are settled to recycle plastic. As education is one key to avoid problems I believe we need to start in the schools. If people know more about dioxin they might stop burning plastic as they still do. But the other side of responsibility is industry and the government. Industry will not tell us about the side effects of all this plastic wrap,foil, containers and bottles they produce; while the government needs to tighten belts in intelligent recycling.
Everybody knows that the poor collect every plastic bottle we put in the trash, but I am wondering what happens with this high quality food grade PET? As it is quite common that high grade plastic can be melted again and be used to produce other lower grade plastic products, I am wondering why
George Roberts, a chemical engineer at North Carolina State University and his team developed a way to break down bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate — or PET and nobody seems to use the technology.
Right now, this type of plastic is non-biodegradable and costs too much to recycle back into food-grade bottles. If we complete that loop, then you don't have to make new bottles.
So why don't governments follow this way of recycling or is it industry that doesn't try to? While technology has been invented already in 2007, more details can be found at http://www.dpoly.com
So, we all need to do something. Avoid supermarket plastic bags, don't burn plastic, think twice when you buy the next toy for your child and just remind yourself to view the up coming movie “Plastic Planet”, as part of the educational process. .