We all know that plastic hangs around a looonnnngggg time, hundreds of years in fact. Nowhere is the evidence of this more visible than in the oceans and along beaches around the world where currents wash up huge piles of plastic waste.
There are major worries that when the sun and wave action starts to smash up the plastic bottles, bags and even toys that are finding their way into the oceans that these smaller bits are making their way into our food supply.
There is evidence to support this. Fish, mussels and birds have all been found to have small pieces of plastic in their stomachs and the chemicals within the plastics are getting absorbed into their bloodstream.
What effect these microscopic pieces of plastic and the chemicals leaching from them has on human health is unknown.
In the first comprehensive risk assessment of its kind, scientists calculate that more than 99% of the microplastics pass through the human body – but the rest are taken up by body tissues. (source)
The fact is that most of the plastics that have ever been created are still there…somewhere. They may be smashed to smithereens and exist as microscopic particles but they nevertheless still exist.
So what’s the answer?
Industry isn’t going to roll over and stop using producing plastic, and if we are honest with ourselves it’s convenient. Wipe clean tour that has no paint to flake off. Un-smashable shampoo bottles, garden furniture – the uses for plastics are huge and varied.
The answer is that we need to find a way to re-use the plastic that no longer suits it’s original purpose. In small ways this is happening now. recycling is big business and reduces plastic waste but it’s nowhere near enough.
Then you have individuals like Boyan Slat:
19-year-old Boyan Slat has unveiled plans to create an Ocean Cleanup Array that could remove 7,250,000 tons of plastic waste from the world’s oceans. The device consists of an anchored network of floating booms and processing platforms that could be dispatched to garbage patches around the world. Instead of moving through the ocean, the array would span the radius of a garbage patch, acting as a giant funnel. The angle of the booms would force plastic in the direction of the platforms, where it would be separated from plankton, filtered and stored for recycling.
Sounds great – but expensive. We need simple solutions.
Is it possible for already existing recycling companies to either solo or in collaboration with other companies to turn the recycles waste into what would essentially be plastic logs? Housing, of which there is a chronic shortage in many parts of the world would be a great way to use plastic waste. Massive slums such as Kibera and Mathare on the outskirts of Nairobi, where a family home is often little more than a lean-to could really do with some housing solutions.
A step to far expecting industry to care? Most likely. So how about homes built from the raw materials?
You can even get fancy if you want!
The totally brilliant site criticalcactus.com actually takes you through the process of making a hose out of plastic bottles, it really is amazing.
Driving through Kenya leaves me in no doubt that there would indeed be enough bottles to build houses…possibly a small towns worth of houses.
We have no choice but to solve the plastic problem and if it can be done in a way that provides housing all the better. Restoring the oceans is paramount for our health and for the ecosystems that so many millions of people rely on as their only or main source of protein. We cannot continue to affect the food chain if we as a species wish to survive.