Researchers are on the hunt to find a more environmentally friendly alternative to conventional plastic – USAPosted on August 16, 2015 by DrRossH in BioPlastics, Plastic Waste News
“We’ve seen this huge increase in production in plastic that results in an increase in the waste stream as well,” says Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineering faculty member at the University of Georgia. “Unlike material that biodegrades, plastic has all of these issues. It easily travels into waterways, it physically fragments into smaller pieces which are extremely hard or impossible to collect, and [it tends to] absorb chemical contaminants that are already in the environment.”
Some 5.3 million to 14 million tons of plastic, or up to 4 percent of the roughly 330 million tons of plastic produced each year, entered the ocean as trash in 2010. The figure is expected to increase 10-fold in the next decade as more plastic is produced and subsequently evades waste management and recycling efforts, according to a study Jambeck and colleagues published earlier this year in the journal Science.
What effect all this plastic has on living things, including humans, remains unclear. A number of recent studies show that chemicals in small bits of plastic, and even the plastic bits themselves, can accumulate in birds, fish and other marine life. Laboratory testing has shown the chemicals that comprise them can cause adverse health effects, including liver damage and endocrine disruption through altered gene expression. Whether similar effects occur outside the laboratory or whether they extend up the food chain to people who eat marine organisms remains unknown, yet both seem entirely plausible.
And that’s not all. Plastics are notorious in the greenhouse gas department as well. Roughly 8 percent of the petroleum used worldwide each year goes to make plastic directly or to power the plastic manufacturing processes, according to a recent report by the Worldwatch Institute.