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Persistent Plastic Pollution

In 1947, Thor Heyerdahl encountered floating plastic and oil pollution in the middle of the ocean in the course of his Kon-Tiki Expedition. By 2015, the World Economic Forum estimated there are over 150 million tonnes (150,000,000,000,000 grams - yes, literally trillions) already in the ocean. By all accounts, the amount of plastic being injected into the environment each year is increasing exponentially. The impacts on marine life and the (sea)food we eat are well documented.

If you are looking for a solid background on the generic issue, start with the Center for International and Environment Law (CIEL) Reports. For example, they report over 99% of plastic is made from fossil fuels. They cite the 2016 World Economic Forum report "Rethinking the Future of Plastics" statement: "the consumption of oil by the entire plastics sector will account for 20% of the total consumption by 2050."

While we have not yet quantified the impacts of this plastic pollution on human health, we do know that plastic waste leaches out toxins and carcinogens, so it simply is not possible that the plastics we ingest in the water we drink, the food we eat and the air we breathe are not having negative effects on our health. We have seen the evidence of how waste plastics in water harms, and even kills fish and seabirds.

It's past time for us to solve the problem, and the solutions need to be more than greenwashing, empty promises to do better and 'band-aids'.

There are reasons we have not collectively developed effective solutions to persistent plastic pollution.

  • plastic is a cheap, easy solution to many design issues
  • plastic is actually amazing stuff; strong, durable, light, doesn't corrode, non-magnetic ... (which is also why it doesn't biodegrade in the environment 3-minute YouTube video)
  • as consumers, we place a very high value on convenience and low initial cost, and a very low value on the long-term impacts of our actions on our health and the environment
  • industry has lobbied hard to prevent regulatory measures to reduce plastic pollution
  • industry has sponsored effective disinformation campaigns about the impacts of plastic pollution
  • 'solutions' have been fragmented and dismissed as too small to be effective or too expensive to be implemented or as having environmental disadvantages of their own or be inconvenient for consumers, and
  • plastic pollution really isn't a single problem, just as there is not a single kind of plastic
  • Let's spend a few minutes enumerating the problems, then addressing the quasi-solutions to date, and finally setting out a more comprehensive approach to reducing the impacts of both existing and future contributions to planetary persistent plastic pollution.

    Spoiler Alert! There could be a positive and happy ending.

    The Persistent Plastic Problems

    The Putative Solutions to Persistent Plastic Pollution

    Things That Don't Work

    Things That Do Work

    The RESTCo Vision of Resolving Persistent Plastic Pollution

    Types of Plastic
    The Science of Plastic Pollution
    Media Items on Plastic Pollution
    Some Interesting Approaches
    Things That Don't Work
    Things That Do Work
    De-plasticizing the Ocean (2017 RESTCo 3-pager)
    RESTCo Plastic Pollution Solution
    Capturing Micro- and Nano-plastics from the Waste Stream
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