Plastic pollution is a major threat to aquatic life. Through bio-concentration, humans who dine on aquatic life are also at risk. To curb this menace, many are suggesting that biodegradable plastic may be the silver bullet that will help us solve the plastic pollution problem.

UN top environmental scientist, Jacqueline McGlade, think otherwise. In a report published in 2016, the scientists mentioned that a wide variety of plastics are highly durable which can easily lead to a buildup of microplastics (plastics with a diameter smaller than 5mm) and plastic debris that can drift with the help of the ocean current from the Arctic to the Antarctic.

According to the European Parliament, promoting biodegradable plastics is merely a diversion from the real solution to the menace. McGlade mentioned that plastics have been detected in remote places like the Chagos Island which means that no one is safe – no matter how remote your location may be.

Speaking to the Guardian, McGlade mentioned that the intention of promoting greener plastics which can be broken down in the environment was a good intention but wrong.  She mentioned that most of the biodegradable-labeled plastics will need UV or a temperature of at least 50oC to break down. The problem with most of them is that they are not buoyant and tend to sink when they get into the ocean. This means that they will not get the conditions required for them to degrade.

plastic wastes
Promoting biodegradable plastics is merely a diversion from the real solution to the menace.

The Worrisome Growth In Plastic Production

Not withstanding the growing concerns on plastic pollution especially in the sea, high demand for products like plastic water bottles and plastic bags continue to push up its production. According to UN statistics, in 2014 alone, over 300m tones of plastic were produced.

The UN reports that if the demand and production trend continues, by 2050 the production should rise to 2,000m tonnes. There are no statistics to determine the quantity of plastic that reaches the ocean but clearly, plastic liter and debris is now ubiquitous. The spread of everything plastic, from large debris to microplastic has economic, social, and ecological implications.

European Union Action On Plastic Pollution

The European Parliament stand on plastic pollution is simple; the idea of biodegradable plastic is not an excuse to intensify the production and consumption of single-use plastics. In January 2018, the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy was launched with the goal of cutting down plastic pollution.

The negative impact of pollution is not only felt on health but also on energy. This is not the first time that the European Union will be taking steps to curb environmental pollution in all its ramifications. Recently the bloc dragged six of its member to court for failing to comply with the pollution limits.

  • A ban on the use of microplastics in detergents, personal care products, and cosmetics by 2020,
  • A total ban of oxo-degradable plastics by 2020,
  • Reduction of the harmful chemical content of plastics to ensure recycled plastics are free of harmful chemicals, and
  • Prevention of plastic waste and promoting reuse and recycle.

Interestingly, the European Commission has already begun the implementation of some of its resolution to curb plastic pollution.

Any Sign Of A Real Solution?

In an attempt to tackle the problem of plastic pollution, researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the University of Portsmouth teamed up and serendipitously created an enzyme that could reduce conventional plastics to its principle components. This discovery could prove to be the solution that has eluded mankind for so long and a huge relief to marine life that is currently besieged by tonnes of plastic waste. Plastic pollution in the ocean has been reported in the early 1970s but widely ignored.

According to the UN, the best solution to ocean plastic pollution is better waste gathering and recycling, especially in developing nations. However, biodegradable plastics are not easy to recycle because of some of their additives.

In a speech, McGlade mentioned that when additives are used to make plastics biodegradable, the additives become the enemy of the environment when they are no longer useful and become waste. The first step towards a lasting solution to plastic pollution is enlightening consumers to rethink plastic use.