by Tia

The Earth is literally drowning in a sea of plastic!

Over two-thirds of our planet is covered by water, providing critical oxygen, food and water to all its inhabitants. Yet between 75 – 199 million tons of plastic are estimated to end up in our water supply, threatening not only marine life and climate stability, but our very own survival.

Oceans produce more than 50% of our oxygen supply and absorb approximately 50% of carbon dioxide emissions – fifty times faster than the same area of tropical rainforests[1]. They are also the main source of fish, feeding over two billion people, and around 200 million people depend on fishing for their livelihoods.   

It’s time to turn the tide on plastic pollution before our Blue Planet chokes on the ever-increasing mountain of plastic waste clogging our rivers, seas and oceans.

The Sordid Facts are Clear

The volume of plastic waste generated in the last decade exceeds the previous forty years by fourfold, totalling around 400 million tons per annum.  Around one million plastic bottles are purchased every minute and five trillion plastic bags are used every year with plastic production projected to reach 1,100 million tons by 2050. Currently, 98% of single-use plastics are produced from “virgin stock” fossil fuels, exacerbating greenhouse gas emissions from their production, use and disposal. Forecasts indicate plastic will be responsible for 19% of the world’s carbon budget by 2040. Of the seven billion tons of plastic waste generated so far, less than 10% is currently recycled with around 36% used for packaging and 85% of single-use plastics ending up in landfills or oceans.

The very properties that make plastic useful – its durability and resistance to degradation – are the same ones that make them harmful. Plastics break down into undetectable microplastics that can be ingested or inhaled, and accumulate in organs such as your lungs, liver, spleen and kidneys. These smaller fragments are often mistaken as food by fish or marine animals and are increasingly being found in human bodies.

The Plastic Continent

Studies revealed that one thousand rivers worldwide account for nearly 80% of riverine plastic emissions to oceans, dumping between 0.8 – 2.7 million tons of mostly single-use plastics into the marine environment. The Mississippi river drains 40% of water from the United States into the Gulf of Mexico, dumping discarded cigarette butts, plastic wrappers, bottles and caps, packets, straws and stirrers into the Pacific Ocean. This detritus accumulates into the largest of five ‘Trash Islands’ or garbage patches called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch [2].

Located halfway between California and Hawaii, and twice the size of Texas, or three times the size of France, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is estimated to contain 100 000 metric tons of plastic accumulated in a vortex of converging currents. Resembling more of a garbage “soup” than a dense mass that you could stand on. These hotspots range from hundreds of kilograms per square kilometre to less dense collections of around ten kilograms per square kilometre. The wider the dispersion, the harder to clean. These ever-moving zones of concentrated plastic trash break down into smaller pieces, making them increasingly difficult to collect or detect.

Cleaning Up our Act

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals No. 14 “Life Below Water” identifies the urgency to “Conserve and Sustainably use Oceans, Seas and Marine resources for Sustainable Development”. Amongst other concerns including over-fishing, acidification and rising water temperatures, the plastic problem is high on the agenda. Worryingly though, statistics from the recent UNSDGs 2023 report shows limited progress in this regard, measuring 17 million metric tons of plastic in 2021[3]. This figure is expected to double or triple by 2040 unless drastic changes are made to clean up our act.

So, what more can be done?

Several international initiatives including the Ocean Clean-Up attempt to capture this trash through a U-shaped barrier net where plastic flows into a large catchment zone, creating an artificial coastline.

Citizen science through co-ordinated beach clean-ups, education programmes and good corporate citizenship can still turn the tide on plastic pollution.

Turning Trash to Treasure

The need to use recycled plastic as the “seventh resource” is evident. Many companies are starting to incorporate this unappreciated material as a valuable input in their production processes.

Eva-Last is a global composite building materials manufacturer using recycled plastic and renewable raw materials such as fast-growing bamboo in their range of composite decking, cladding, railing and architectural beams.

By refusing to use scarce natural resources such as precious timber – a traditional building material – and opting to ‘consume’ recycled and renewable inputs in the development of more sustainable products, Eva-Last actively reduces waste while protecting and beautifying both natural and built environments.

Their annual production of long-lasting composite building materials prevents the equivalent of 800 million two litre plastic bottles from entering landfills and oceans every year. Over 31 043 tons of plastic waste have been recycled into a useful raw material for production of market-leading composites, while more than 2 358 rainforest trees have been saved by producing these sustainable, eco-friendly alternatives.

Eva-Last continuously use renewable and recycled raw materials to produce their product offerings, and constantly investigate progressive methodologies to reduce their carbon footprint.

Over 44 000 KWh of clean solar energy drives their energy-intensive extrusion facility, saving over 2 000 tons of CO2 emissions daily, while their zero-waste policy sees them reusing all reject or leftover materials as regrind back into the production process, and innovative distribution models to further reduce their environmental impact.

Eva-Last’s durable and long-lasting products are backed by superior warranties meaning less replacement and consequently, less manufacturing and less subsequent carbon emissions.

Let’s work together to clean-up our act, helping turn the tide on plastic pollution by simply choosing more sustainable alternatives, like Eva-Last.

[1] https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/5-facts-that-prove-our-oceans-are-worth-saving/

[2] https://theoceancleanup.com/great-pacific-garbage-patch/

[3] https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2023/Goal-14/

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