Plastic Waste

Plastic Waste

Author: Nina von Euen

Introduction

Have you ever thought about the influence of globalisation on the disposal of plastic waste?
Have you give consideration to the pollution of the immediate environment of human being?
In fact, objects of everyday use contain synthetic material for instance clothes, toys, domestic
appliances and more or less everything you get in contact with, even if you do not see it. Globalisation contributes to the increase of pollution by plastic waste. Most of the people think
that with the separation of waste they act environmentally friendly, but this is actually the
beginning of the real environmental damage. Could you imagine that even if you are on
vacation you get in contact with plastic waste? A research proves that 1/3 of the purported
sand on British beaches are nano particles of plastic.[1]

Definition of plastic

Plastic (organic polymer) is a solid material, which is often produced out of crude oil. 4
percent of the crude oil is used for the production of plastic.[2] The beginning of the mass
production of plastic commenced in the 1950`s (Barnes, D. K. et al., 2009).[3] Colloquially it is
called plastic[4], because it is malleable when temperature is applied to the material. As it also
is durable, it is often used in households. Products made of crude oil can be found almost
everywhere and in various forms, like floor covering (PVC = Polyvinylchloride) or in the
production of textiles.[5] “Their chemically engineered durability and slow rate of
biodegeneration allows these polymers to withstand the environments for years to decades or
longer (Law, K.L. et al., 2010).”[6] And here the problem begins.

Environment

In the following I will deal with the environmental pollution through plastic waste.
Environmental pollution is caused through unconscious behavior, like buying a T-shirt or the
toys you buy for a child. For instance a T-shirt you buy can contain unhealthy nano
particles of plastic when produced of synthetic fiber, which dissolve in water and get through
sewage works to the river and into the ocean.[7] The micro plastic moves unhindered through
all oceans, where marine organisms ingest the plastic as food. Lots of fish, seabirds and turtles
either are suffocated by nano particles of plastic or die with a full stomach, because plastic
particles cannot be digested and fill it up.[8] The situation of oceans is critical. Thus oceans
have become the waste disposal of civilization and globalisation, so life has become almost
impossible there. Meanwhile it has reached the size of Central Europe[9] and 6 times more
plastic is swimming in the Pacific Ocean, as animal plankton.[10] However, the pollution is not
bad for every marine organism. For the pond skater[11] (Halobates Sericeus) the plastic waste
offers firm subsoil where they can lay their eggs which some species of fish and birds
feed on.[12]


While we pollute the ocean we do not consider the consequences for our health. Most of
the people do not know that the plastic waste we produce and throw away (consciously or
unconsciously) sooner or later will come back to us. The fish we eat, which is caught from the
ocean, contains nano particles of plastic in its tissue. The bigger the fish, the more plastic the
tissue contains. Moreover the higher the position in the food chain, the more poisonous
substances can be absorbed by the animals.[13]


Plastic cannot completely dissolve, it can only decompose in its components, because it is
non-biodegradable.[14] That is why plastic is so dangerous for our environment. Plastic waste is
spread all over the world. The beach of Big Island (Hawaii) meanwhile is called Junk Beach,
because thousands of tons of plastic are washed up to the beach from the American and
Canadian coast (mostly about 4.500 kilometers over the ocean).
The plastic waste endangers the ecological and environmental balance, because it is a perfect
means of transportation for living organisms and plants. It carries the marine organisms to
regions where they do not belong and exterminate the indigenous marine organisms from
which the people in the region often live.[15]

Reprocessing Plastic

60 million tons of plastic are produced in Europe per year - about ¼ of the production of the
whole world in 2011. Someday all this plastic will turn into waste and the question is how to
recycle this environmental harmful waste. However, there is a significant difference between
the process of recycling and reprocessing. It is important to contemplate this fact when one
tries to explain the reprocessing of plastic, because in fact plastic cannot be recycled. The
increasing shortage of oil, necessary for the production of polyester, implies that there must be some
opportunities to reprocess the polyester.

Over the years some methods of reprocessing developed, for example a process in which textiles are produced from old PET bottles. Our old PET bottles from Germany are bought by Chinese dealers who transport them to China
where they get reprocessed. The PET bottles first are processed to ‘plastic flakes’. This
process happens in Germany, before it gets transported to China. Then they get crushed and
melted, to then draw them into threads.

Old PET bottles are transported all over the world
in form of these ‘plastic flakes’. After this reprocessing the finished product is exported
Europe where it gets sold. Then the PET bottles get recycled to new bottles,
flowerpots or foam.[16] In this case globalisation supports a smooth course of new plastic
material. One can say, considering the reprocessing of plastic the globalisation has an efficient
and important impact. In 2006 14,68 million tons were exported from Germany to China.

Problems of reprocessed plastic by means of PET bottles

The manufacturing of new textiles out of PET bottles is an advanced beginning to save
oil, but it does not support the prevention of the environmental pollution. This
reprocessing is harmful for the environment, because the T-shirt contains nano particles,
which are not only injurious to health, but also pollute oceans. The particles dissolve in
water, and get through sewage-works to the rivers and into the ocean.

Conclusion

In my opinion the plastic industry has become very powerful. It uses the consumers as guinea
pigs[17] , by selling us products, which are poisonous for people and the environment. A lot of
products which contain plastic, are produced in developing countries in which the production
with poisonous plastics is still allowed. Globalisation is the main reason for such an immense
pollution of the world. Globalisation has made it possible that all the produced plastic blazes a trail
all over the world, consequently everyone uses it. I would claim globalisation made plastic
famous. Everyone knows plastic, but only a few people really know what effect plastic has on
the human body and its tissue and how many products contain plastic. Plastic contains
chemicals and although these do not kill us, they harm the quality of our life.[18] We get a lot of illnesses
from plastic, for example: diabetes, asthma, allergies or cancer. Furthermore plastic can cause
infertility or lowers the production of sperm and ova.[19] By now plastic is contained in our
blood. From 40 opening night visitors of the movie “Plastic Planet” blood samples were taken
and in this traces of plastic were found.[20] In my opinion we should save our descendants and
try to find methods to stop the spreading of the plastic waste and develop harmless products
for the human health. Furthermore, we have to extinct plastic, so that our nature and
environment is not polluted anymore. Some organizations have found alternatives to reuse the
plastic, for example used PET bottles. In Nigeria an organization called “Dare” supports a
project in which houses are built out of old PET bottles. “This initiative is an attempt to reuse
the old PET bottles expedient”[21].Another alternative could be a form of bio plastic which is
made out of sugar cane garbage and is used for packaging in the food industry.[22]


I think that we can avoid of using plastic in everything we have. Humans have to learn that plastic is harmful for their
health and that it endangers us and our future life. We cannot reverse the pollution of oceans
and nature, but we can stop the development of a world full of plastic. We should not stop the
globalisation, but plastic should not be a part of it anymore. In my opinion every country
should be responsible for the reprocessing of their own plastic. With such an attitude it would not be
possible to transport plastic wasteall over the world from country to country, which
would prevent the environmental pollution. In my point of view globalisation itself is nothing
harmful for humanity, however in case of plastic it is the most damaging for our earth.


[1] Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung; Freitag, 8.Februar 2013; Nr. 33

[2] „Plastic Planet“, 2009; Germany/Austria, Werner Boote; http://www.zdf.de/ZDFmediathek/beitrag/video/1488412/Plastic+Planet#/beitrag/video/1488412/Plastic-Planet

[3] Barnes, D. K. A.; Galgani, F.; Thomson, R.C. & Barlaz, M. ,(2009) Accumulation and fragmentation of plastic debris in global environments. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Biological Science; 364:  1985-1998

[4] The word „Plastik“ comes from the Greek and means „geformte Kunst“

[5] http://www.sign-lang.uni-hamburg.de/hlex/konzepte/l4/l475.htm Jan 30th, 2013

[6] Law, K.L.; Morét-Ferguson, S.; Maximenko, N.A.; Proskurowski, G.; Peacock, E.E.; Hafner, J. & Reddy, C.M., (2010). Plastic Accumulation in the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre. Science; 329, 1185-1188.

[7] http://www.greenpeace-magazin.de/magazin/archiv/2-12/news-plastikmuell-schmutzige-waesche/ Dec 22nd, 2012

[8] oekom Verlag (2012) – Rohstoffquelle Abfall- Wie aus Müll Produkte von morgen werden, p. 33/34 – „Meereslebewesen verhungern mit vollem Bauch“ Autor: Heike Holdinghause

[9] Spiegel Online, http://www.spiegel.de/kultur/gesellschaft/endstation-meer-das-plastikmuellprojekt-ausstellung-in-hamburg-a-873623.html Dec 20th, 2012

[10] Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung; Freitag, 8.Februar 2013; Nr. 33

[11] Wasserläufer

[12] http://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/natur/insekten-brueten-auf-plastik-im-pazifik-a-832238.html Dec 20th, 2012

[13]Report on arte “Plastik: Der Fluch der Meere“ Jan 10th, 2013

[14] Biologisch nicht abbaubar

[15] Report on arte “Plastik: Der Fluch der Meere“ Jan 10th, 2013

[16] http://www.tagesspiegel.de/wissen/recycling-jacken-aus-plastik-flaschen/999982.html Dec 22nd, 2012

[17] Versuchskaninchen

[18] „Plastic Planet“, 2009; Germany/Austria, Werner Boote; http://www.zdf.de/ZDFmediathek/beitrag/video/1488412/Plastic+Planet#/beitrag/video/1488412/Plastic-Planet Feb 3rd, 2013

[19] „Plastic Planet“, 2009; Germany/Austria, Werner Boote; http://www.zdf.de/ZDFmediathek/beitrag/video/1488412/Plastic+Planet#/beitrag/video/1488412/Plastic-Planet Feb 3rd, 2013

[20] „Plastic Planet“, 2009; Germany/Austria, Werner Boote; http://www.zdf.de/ZDFmediathek/beitrag/video/1488412/Plastic+Planet#/beitrag/video/1488412/Plastic-Planet Feb 3rd, 2013

[21] http://www.taz.de/!100524/ Feb 2nd, 2013

[22] „Plastic Planet“, 2009; Germany/Austria, Werner Boote; http://www.zdf.de/ZDFmediathek/beitrag/video/1488412/Plastic+Planet#/beitrag/video/1488412/Plastic-Planet