Every year 9 million tonnes of plastic are dumped into the worlds oceans, killing wildlife, causing havoc in delicate ecosystems and introducing toxic chemicals into the food chain.
Everybody knows it’s time to act and while the problem seems such a mammoth one, there are glimmers of hope amongst a sea of floating plastics.
While the banning of single use plastics, packaging return systems and innovative recycling schemes all undoubtedly play their part, the only thing likely to make a real seismic dent in the issue is the replacement of plastic on a grand scale with a less ecologically damaging alternative.
There’s a reason plastics are used so extensively- they’re relatively cheap to manufacture and their properties lend themselves extremely well to a huge number of uses. However, what if there was a bio-degradable version which didn’t rely on pulling more fossil fuels from the earth and was just as versatile? Enter Jeff and Dane Anderson, a set of bodysurfing twins from California, who think they might have found just the answer to this age old quandary. A few years ago the pair started a company called Full Cycle Bioplastics which creates bio-degradable plastics out of organic waste.
The process begins by breaking organic waste down into feedstock, which is then fed to a naturally occurring bacteria that consumes the waste and transforms it into a chemical called polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). The company then dries out and processes the PHA, turning it into a resin which can be used as a totally bio-degradable plastic substitute.
Dane Anderson said the goal is for all the bioplastic products to be returned after use to be broken down and remade, however he added that if they ever do accidentally end up in the ocean they actually act as fish food with have no toxic effects.
While manufacturing the product is still more costly than producing plastic, the Anderson’s process is cheaper than some of its competitors, as it does not require genetically modified bacteria, or any land to grow the feedstock. The company has received wide-spread praise for the initiative, picking up a string of prizes and awards last year, including the Grand Prize at the Sustainable Entrepreneurship Awards.
While their method obviously doesn’t tackle the issue of existing plastics in the ocean, there are numerous other exiting initiatives and organisations (like this) currently working to take that on.
The only way the world is going to solve the problem of plastic pollution is through mass participation across all levels; from individuals participating in local grass roots schemes like the 2 minute beach clean, through small business and packaging reduction initiatives, all the way up to multi-national cooperations deciding to replace plastics with more ecological alternatives.
Cover photo: Marine debris litters a beach on Laysan Island in the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, where it washed ashore. (Susan White/USFWS)