Plastic

Plastic is a mixture of a polymer, often obtained by the transformation of petroleum or natural gas, and various additive substances. It is an inexpensive material which has the advantage of being easy to shape, lightweight, airtight, insulating, elastic and extremely resistant.

After it has been used, plastic is difficult to recycle [5] . Only 20% of the plastic we throw away is reused or incinerated to produce energy. The rest is assigned to landfills or ends up in the environment. To limit our production of non-recyclable plastic waste, it is therefore crucial to reduce consumption!

Overview on recycling

Recycling consists of using used material to manufacture a new product. Some materials such as glass or aluminium maintain their properties in the process and can therefore be recycled infinitely. However, plastic contains products that are difficult to separate and loses its quality. It is therefore harder to recycle. Its recycling capacity depends on the type of plastic considered and varies depending on the region and recovery facilities available.

5 main categories of recyclable plastics exist, listed below according to how easy they are to recycle [3] :

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) e.g. bottles containing water and non-alcoholic drinks, textile fibres etc.
High density polyethylene (HDPE) e.g. milk, fruit juice and detergent bottles, garden furniture etc.
Low density polyethylene (LDPE) e.g. freezer bags, dustbin bags, plastic wrap etc.
Polypropylene (PP) e.g. microwave dishes, crisp bags, ice-cream tubs etc.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) e.g. credit card, pipes, synthetic leather etc.
Polystyrene (PS) e.g. plastic cutlery and glasses, yoghurt pots, CD or DVD boxes etc.
Other types of plastic e.g. nylon, baby bottles, CDs, car components etc.

How to tell if a product is recyclable ?

To know into which bin you should throw a product, you need to:

  • 1

    look at the logos on the packaging to determine whether the product is recyclable,

  • 2

    know, depending on your region,
    the types of plastic that are accepted in the yellow container nearest to you (you can consult your town council’s website for example).

Recycling logos :

Trinam Triman : this logo indicates that the product can be recycled. It’s your move to make sure it enters the recycling loop (specific dustbin, rubbish dump, supermarket collection point, etc.).
Möbius Mobius loop : this logo indicates that the product can technically be recycled if your region has the necessary facilities. Consult your town council’s website.

Watch out :

Point Vert The green dot : Cthis logo means that the company that manufactures the product pays a fee to help the State manage recovery and recycling operations in France. It does not guarantee in any way that the product can be recycled.
Autres logos These logos identify the type of plastic. The numbers (from 1 to 7) correspond to the seven abbreviations. They do not indicate whether the product can be recycled.
  • PET : Polyethylene terephthalate
  • HDPE : High density polyethylene
  • PVC : Polyvinyl chloride
  • LDPE : Low-density polyethylene
  • PP : Polypropylene;
  • PS : Polystyrene; other plastics

Plastic pollution

OIn addition to the problem posed by plastic production in that it contributes to the depletion of a finite resource and global warming, it is estimated that more than one item of plastic waste in three ends its life in the environment [2] . In total, over 8 million tonnes a year is dumped into the ocean [2] , i.e. the equivalent of a dustcart full of plastic every minute.

Once in the ocean, the plastic and toxins it contains are a danger for the marine flora and fauna which are at risk of injury upon contact, suffocation or intoxication by ingesting it. At the same time, under the influence of UV rays and the waves, the plastic breaks up into microparticles that can be ingested by marine animals affecting their immune system and their fertility. Once they have entered the food chain, the toxins contained in the plastic accumulates and even affects top-level predators, including humans.

8 à 10 millions de tonnes déversés dans l’Océan chaque année 8 to 10 millions tonnes of plastic waste dumped into the ocean every year [1].
60% des déchets trouvés en mer sont des emballages plastiques. 60% of the waste found in the sea is plastic packaging [2].
Une bouteille plastique met entre 100 et 1000 ans pour disparaitre de notre environnement. A plastic bottle takes between 100 et 1000 years to disappear from our environment [3].
Sans réduction du taux de pollution, il y aura plus de déchets plastiques (en masse) que de poissons dans l’Océan d’ici 2050. If the pollution levels are not reduced, there will be more plastic waste (by mass) than fish in the ocean by 2050 [2].
Plus d’1 million d’oiseaux et de 100 000 mammifères marins sont tués chaque année par le plastique. Over 1 million birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed every year by plastic [3].

Focus on the Mediterranean Sea

Due to its semi-enclosed geographical nature, the intensity of maritime transport and fishing, as well as industrial and tourist activities, the Mediterranean Sea is particularly sensitive to plastic pollution. It is estimated that it contains between 5 and 10% of the global plastic mass [4] and that without management measures, the amount of plastic that will be dumped there between 2010 and 2025 will increase by a factor of 2.17 [1].

However, the heterogeneity of demographic, economic and geopolitical situations of the countries in the Mediterranean region makes it difficult to implement a management plan at Mediterranean scale.

Entre 1 et 10 millions de particules de plastique au kilomètre carré. Between 1 and 10 millions plastic particles per square kilometre [4].
Between 5 and 10% of the global plastic mass [4].
The most polluted sea in the world [8].
In 2018, the European Parliament approved the European Strategy for Plastics which provides that all plastic packaging will be recyclable by 2030.

Solutions

In view of the scale of the problem, urgent action is needed to reduce the dissemination of plastic in the natural environment. To meet this goal, the keywords are Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Alert.

Reduce our production and consumption of plastic, by using alternative materials. Reuse products and ban single-use plastics to avoid plastic becoming waste. Recycle more and better to reduce the use of raw materials and manage the toxic additives contained in plastic more effectively. Alert to the dangers of plastic for our environment and motivate change.

8 ways to take the first step towards change

I will use a reusable
bag

Always carry a reusable bag in order to avoid taking a single-use bag. Don’t forget to use it for your fruit and vegetables: weigh your produce and pop it into the same bag !

I won’t buy any more plastic bottles

Invest in a reusable water bottle. More and more towns and public places are equipped with water fountains.

I will say no
to straws

Straws are a scourge for the environment, remember to say no! If you really can’t do without, reusable straws exist !

I will remember to take my reusable cutlery

Are you keen on takeaway meals? Remember to slip a fork and a knife into your bag. That way you can say no to disposable cutlery !

I will ban plastic microbeads from my cosmetic products

PChoose products that do not contain microbeads made of polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) which pollute our water network.

I will reduce my plastic waste

Opt for bulk produce or with less packaging and no plastic: glass and metal recycle better. Don’t forget that when you do your shopping !

JI will separate
my waste better

Find out about recyclable waste in your community, look at the logos on the packaging and make a compost heap; you’ll be able to grow lovely vegetables in your garden !

I’ll spread the word !

There is no doubt – word of mouth is the best way of spreading good practice. Don’t hesitate to share your ideas to help our planet.

References

  1. Jambeck JR, Geyer R, Wilcox C, Siegler TR, Perryman M, Andrady A, et al. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science (80- ). American Association for the Advancement of Science; 2015;347: 768–771.
  2. Ellen Mac Artur Foundation. The new plastics economy -rethink the future of plastics. 2016.
  3. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Marine Debris Program. Available: https://marinedebris.noaa.gov/
  4. Van Sebille E, Wilcox C, Lebreton L, Maximenko N, Hardesty BD, Van Franeker JA, et al. A global inventory of small floating plastic debris. Environ Res Lett. IOP Publishing; 2015;10: 124006.
  5. Laura Parker. Planet or Plastic. Natl Geogr Mag. 2018; 40–91.
  6. Biron M. Thermoplastics and thermoplastic composites: technical information for plastics users. Elsevier; 2007.
  7. Honkonen T, Khan SA. Chemicals and Waste Governance Beyond 2020: Exploring Pathways for a Coherent Global Regime. Nordic Council of Ministers; 2016.
  8. Cózar A, Sanz-Martín M, Martí E, González-Gordillo JI, Ubeda B, Gálvez JÁ, et al. Plastic accumulation in the Mediterranean Sea. PLoS One. Public Library of Science; 2015;10: e0121762.
  9. Foundation SE. Still finding excuses? Time for Europe to act against plastic bag pollution [Internet]. 2018. Available: https://www.surfrider.eu/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/still_finding_excuses_web.pdf