The world produces nearly 300 million tons of plastic every year, with only 9% of the plastic produced from 1950-2015 having been recycled. Fifteen are in Asia, in areas with frequent heavy rainfall and dense coastal populations. Plastic is not something that we can just use and then forget about. Plastic waste entering the ocean from rivers per year from the top 3,000 waste-producing rivers, metric tons. Sadly, many people picnic and enjoy time outdoors without following countryside codes. When plastic waste ends up in landfill, it can contribute to leachate. Like if We Don’t Reduce Plastic Waste. This, in theory, means that we can recycle certain plastics endlessly rather than being downgraded. Relatively little plastic waste enters the ocean from North America and Europe because of their more robust waste-management systems. In the automotive sector, for example, demands for better fuel economy and lower emissions means manufacturers are incorporating increasing amounts of lightweight and non-metallic materials into vehicles. Direct dumping contributes a significant portion of plastic litter in rivers, but land-bound trash also can make its way to water. Energy Conservation. what happens to plastic waste. In part one we looked at where the contents of your recycling bin end up. Some of the plastic waste facts might surprise you: In the North Pacific Ocean, there are 6x more plastic debris than plankton. Researchers estimate that it has the highest concentration of debris of any place in the world, for a total of over 37 million pieces on the entirety of the small island. Exploring Sustainability in Tra... Kim Ragaert, Laurens Delva, Kevin Van Geem. It is clear that of all the options currently commercially available, chemical recycling is usually the best option. Based on the idea that each tonne of recycled plastic can replace one ton of raw, virgin material. The Pasig is one of the most polluted rivers on Earth, but it wasn’t always this way. That would be quite an extreme step, not to mention an unrealistic one as well. Celebrating Global Unity for a COVID-19 Recovery with Painti... What is Sustainable Tourism? Landfill sites should contain waste and prevent it from entering wider environments. Polluted rivers are pumping the world’s plastic into the oceans—bringing a significant portion of the estimated 9 million tons of plastic that end up in the ocean annually. 1. Last year the UK exported over 447million kg of plastic waste abroad, according to HM Revenue & Customs statistics, and in March this year we exported 15,108,882kg to … Maps and graphics: Brian T. Jacobs, Kennedy Elliott, Jason Treat. All to break down plastics to make fuels for reuse1. Rainwater ushers mismanaged waste from land into local waterways, which feed into larger tributaries and rivers, which in turn empty into oceans. But it is important to recognise that recycling alone is not enough. Tag : what happens to plastic waste. Because Henderson Island is located in the South Pacific gyre, it has become a deposition site for trash, most of which originated from land. And containment for even modern facilities is still sometimes a contentious area and one of concern. In 1990 the Pasig was declared biologically dead, and in 1999 the Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission was formed to help clean up the river. The tributary that feeds into the Pasig River serves as an extreme example of how much of our trash makes it into the ocean. "We have a problem in our supply chain that we need to manage," says Kinsella. China’s Yangtze River is the most polluted river on Earth. All rights reserved, Amazon, Brazil, Peru,Colombia and Ecuador, How a piece of trash can travel from land to Henderson Island, an uninhabited, remote island in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. What happens to plastics that are not recyclable? Every time you make the choice to avoid or recycle plastic products, you lower the risk of environmental damage. It leaves the oceans through food chains, and also through bubble burst ejection, cast back up onto land in sea sprays. But recent exposés have proposed that this slurry contains all sorts of harmful contaminants, including microplastics. The untreated water is discharged to waterways, and around 20 percent of the plastic is unusable, so it is dumped and usually burnt, creating more litter and air quality problems. This means that consumers of agricultural produce are often unaware of the fact that plastic waste could contaminate the food they eat. Rivers in Asia are responsible for 86 percent of input from rivers. Another common practice is to incinerate or burn plastic waste. Though chemical processes are more tolerant of contamination2, and they yield polymers that are identical to the originals, eliminating downcycling, they can often be polluting, and result in higher greenhouse gas emissions. Plastic waste affects Earth’s ecosystems and has a profound negative impact on the environment, wildlife and people. Hundreds of waterways within its watershed feed into the Yangtze River from thousands of miles inland, shuttling far-off waste into the giant waterway. But in developing nations, open incineration is still common and causes huge pollution problems. Micro-plastics enter food chains and cause huge environmental disruption and a huge range of health problems in animals. When waste reaches the ocean, tides and currents transport it around the globe, circulating in massive gyres. Plastic waste affects Earth’s ecosystems and has a profound negative impact on the environment, wildlife and people. Many people in Japan put a lot of effort into recycling their household plastic. Plastic waste is also contaminated by materials such as paper and ink. From her desk in Lagos, Nigeria, she helps businesses around the world reach and connect with their audiences. How environmentally friendly the process will very much depend on the exact processes used, how energy-efficient they are, and the type of energy used. Plastics, which make up a significant amount of the waste in the rivers we want to tackle (hence the reason for deploying the Interceptor), include bottles of different plastic composition, Styrofoam, and an array of other hard and soft plastics, often with different types of plastic combined into a product, like diapers. Unfortunately, we can only recycle these plastics mechanically once or twice before they are down-cycled. This is what happens to plastic from the moment you toss it into the recycling bin to when its materials are repurposed into a new item. Plastic waste, or plastic pollution, is ‘the accumulation of plastic objects (e.g. Most plastics go through a mechanical recycling process. 275,000 tonnes of plastic are used each year in the UK and most families throw away about 40kg’s of that without putting it in the recycling bin. Plastic waste comes from packaging, construction, agriculture, electrical components and automotive industries, among others. Mismanaged plastic waste is defined as waste that doesn’t make its way to proper receptacles, either intentionally or accidentally. And recent examples have shown that results can be even better. Henderson Island is a tiny, uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 3,000 miles from major population centers. But once the waste leaves Ireland and the EU, it becomes much more difficult to know what exactly happens to it. Henderson Island video: Jennifer Lavers, University of Tasmania; Manila drone video: Mike Hettwer; manta ray video: Pedro Barroso. Currently, plastic waste can be sold for recycling and much is exported overseas as the UK does not have the means to process it all. If it goes into landfill, it can, potentially, last hundreds of years. Wet wipes and other larger plastic pieces contribute to the creation of ‘fatbergs’ that block sewage systems. Or even better refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle. Relatively little of our plastic waste is recycled because there are various types of plastic with different chemical compositions, and recycled plastics can be contaminated by the mixing of types. Your email address will not be published. One of the direct ways that plastic ends up in our waterways and oceans is through littering. If this waste isn’t properly disposed of or managed, it can end up in the ocean. Required fields are marked *. Another problem is that consumers do not always clean their mixed plastics and sort them as they should. Meanwhile, ocean plastic is estimated to kill millions of marine animals every year. But it is when the plastic litter begins to break down into ever smaller and smaller pieces that the most pervasive and worrying problems arise. However, it can only be recycled if the waste is of good quality and not contaminated with food waste. Exporting plastic waste should be forbidden without clear proof it will be recycled. But this is not always possible. We are yet to determine all the negative effects of microplastics that come from land-derived litter. Plastics are something we can recycle, but often struggle with. In this way, plastic from far inland can travel many miles to the coastline. We have an island in the middle of the North Pacific Gyre, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – which is mostly composed of plastic. In 2015, researchers calculated how much waste is flowing from coastal countries into the oceans. So, what happens to all of this plastic waste? Plastic has a problem; is chemical recycling the solution? Often, recycling simply isn’t economically viable for authorities and businesses. Your email address will not be published. Since China stopped accepting Australia's recyclable plastic, the majority of exported plastic waste is now going to developing nations in South East Asia. For every square meter you walk, on average you’ll find 672 pieces of trash. For each visible piece of debris on the beach in the video above, two pieces are buried in the sand. Vinoda, M. Papireddy, A.N.S. Believe it or not, what you’re looking at is a tributary that feeds into the Pasig River in Manila, Philippines. Bamboo Versus Plastic – Is Bamboo Really More Eco-Friendly? The majority of wealthy countries export their recyclables to developing countries to be processed as it is cheaper, and it reduces local landfills. What happens to our plastic waste is a problem for our environment, on a scale which we cannot ignore. Choose Alternatives to Single-Use Plastic Cutlery, Mechanical and chemical recycling of solid plastic waste. What Happens to Our Plastic Waste When We Litter? The shortage of landfill space, and thus the crisis, continues today. Learn what you can do to reduce your own single-use plastics, and take your pledge. Part two is all about the stinky stuff: your general waste … To tackle the plastic waste issue, we need to find ways to break our reliance on the product once and for all. Informal processing involves washing and melting the plastic, which uses a lot of water and energy and produces a lot of smoke. Approximately 80% of the litter in the seas comes from the land 6. The scale of their operation is huge and going from strength to strength, as more people are keen to reduce plastic pollution and the amount of waste going to landfill. Many creatures also eat plastics – causing internal injury and even death. Manila has a metropolitan garbage-collection system that stretches across 17 separate local governments—a source of chaos and inefficiency. The environmental benefits of recycling plastics are clear. The plastic we litter ends up as microplastics in oceans, but it does not just stay there. Save my name and email in this browser for the next time I comment. Many people (often unknowingly) send plastic down the drains. So what happens to plastic waste around us? Once plastics are in landfills, they could be contributing to leachate: you can learn more about this hazardous substance here. Including (potentially) people, though we do not yet fully understand the health effects of micro-plastic ingestion. Where plastics are not handled correctly, certain types of plastic— such as polyvinyl chloride; PVC— can leach chemicals such as additives and plasticiser compounds into the surrounding land and waters5. What is plastic waste? The problem is that there is usually little transparency when it comes to waste management. Many more are probably harmed invisibly. Unlike some other kinds of waste, plastic doesn’t decompose. After throwing your rubbish into the bin and having it collected we don’t tend to give much thought to what happens to it. But in many countries — most across Europe for example — where incineration efficiency is low and the energy mix is lower-carbon, this does result in higher greenhouse gas emissions overall3. What happens to your plastic after you drop it in a recycling bin? Sometimes, the slurry from sewage treatment plants is used as a fertilizer on farm fields. Researchers have also made many assumptions. Mismanaged municipal plastic waste polygons and river plastic output points: Laurent Lebreton, The Ocean Cleanup. With plastic taking 500 years to decompose, that’s a lot of plastic just lying about in landfills. But even well-managed landfill sites have negative environmental impacts. The top 122 rivers account for more than 90 percent of plastic input from rivers into the ocean and are fed by land that houses 36 percent of the global population. Where possible, it is of course generally best to try to recycle whatever plastic we can. But it is very clear that leaving even one piece of plastic behind can have profoundly harmful impacts. The Plastic Problem . Another major source of plastic pollution is the plastic that we flush down the drain. Of course, we cannot recycle some of the plastic waste we generate globally each year at all. We can utilize state-of-the-art techniques such as chemolysis, pyrolysis, fluid catalytic cracking, hydrogen techniques and gasification. In the UK, we use an estimated five million tonnes of plastic a year. What happens to our plastic waste is a problem for our environment, on a scale which we cannot ignore. A portion of the mismanaged waste from heavily populated cities within the Yangtze River watershed eventually empties into the Pacific Ocean by way of the East China Sea. But to solve the problem of plastic waste – refusing, reducing and reusing also have to be key parts of the picture. Recycling processes cannot always deliver a like-for-like product. The problem with plastic is that it does not compose. Plastic waste as a fuel - CO2-neutral or not? And even when we can recycle plastic waste, it is not always actually recycled at all. Plastics are composed of a network of molecular monomers bound together to form macromolecules. This means that the recycling plant demotes them to lesser valued materials. Jennifer is a content writer with an educational background in Public Relations and Advertising. First, learn about landfills, and what role plastic plays in the waste stream. However, sometimes, we use the energy derived by burning plastics to heat and power homes and businesses. Toxic Pollutants from Plastic Waste- A Review. Mismanaged plastic waste is defined as waste that doesn’t make its way to proper receptacles, either intentionally or accidentally. Or the wind sweeps it off landfill sites and pollutes the wider environment. Trash modeling: Erik van Sebille, Utrecht University, Pasig River tributary, Manila, Philippines, Mismanaged municipal plastic waste, Tons per year, Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/06/the-journey-of-plastic-around-the-globe.html. Welcome to part two of our three-part series on what happens to your household waste once it’s been emptied out of your wheelie bin and driven off into the sunset. It very much depends on which plastics we are talking about, and which recycling processes regions use. The Two Sides of Plastic. Incomplete combustion of Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP) and Polystyrene (PS) can release carbon monoxide (CO) and noxious emissions, while polyvinyl chloride (PVC) can produce dioxins. Be conscious of your choices, and encourage those around you to think twice before they throw away plastic or buy unnecessary plastic items. Of course, where people take plastic waste abroad, there will be carbon costs and pollutants associated with transportation to contend with. Estimated mid-range plastic waste entering the ocean from rivers per year, metric tons. Gowda. Including the efficiency of the incineration process, and the mix of the energy sources it is replacing. For example, recycled PET plastic production reduces emissions compared to virgin production by 32%. This highlights the complexities in the issues of plastic waste and shows that we must take everything into account. Moving on from the molecular stuff, plastic also has more visible impacts on the earth. But behind the plethora of advantages plastic offers is a towering pile of problems that mankind is struggling to solve: plastic pollution. And is the best currently available solution to deal with non-recyclable plastics on a large scale. Luana Steffen May 15, 2020 November 9, 2020. by Luana Steffen May 15, 2020 November 9, 2020. And interestingly, certain studies have found that when we take all factors into account, it can be a more environmentally friendly solution even than some forms of recycling. Please see our, Approximately 80% of the litter in the seas comes from the land, leach chemicals such as additives and plasticiser compounds into the surrounding land and waters, this does result in higher greenhouse gas emissions overall, and can release a range of harmful particulates into the air, All to break down plastics to make fuels for reuse, Though chemical processes are more tolerant of contamination. Where the energy mix contains a high proportion of fossil fuel sources, burning plastic for energy can reduce emissions. Plastic is a big part of the modern world. A high proportion of general waste globally ends up in a landfill. We believe that plastic products are convenient and cheap which leads to high demands for plastic products while the waste management procedures are not effective and there are not enough factories and suitable methods to process, likewise, without a market demand, those recyclables are almost useless. That said, incineration is still sometimes said to be better than landfill in our fight against global warming. Two Major Environmental Benefits of Plastic Recycling. Nearly 700 species, including endangered ones, have been reported to be affected by it. They are causing deaths to ur marine animals who mistake them for food. And often regulation in this area leaves a lot to be desired. It will be reprocessed into working and useful products that people can use again. : plastic bottles and much more) in the Earth’s environment that adversely affects wildlife, wildlife habitat, and humans.’ It also refers to the significant amount of plastic that isn’t recycled and ends up in landfill or, in the developing world, thrown into unregulated dump sites. How does so much trash wash ashore on Henderson Island? This produces CO2 and other greenhouse gases that contribute to our climate emergency. Again, most insidious of all is the micro-plastics. Let’s start with how discarded plastic is handled on land. This is because incineration of plastic waste worsens air pollution, and can release a range of harmful particulates into the air4. Whether or not this waste to energy solution can result in a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions depends on several factors. And become what we know as ocean plastic. People try their best to recycle plastic, however, the lack of understandings pushes us … Those things are then themselves often not recyclable at the end of their useful lives. 2020 National Geographic Partners, LLC. The 20 most polluted rivers account for two-thirds of the total amount of plastic entering the ocean from rivers. When you recycle plastic, both the environment and the economy will benefit. Approximately 80% of the litter in the seas comes from the land6. This system also gives developing countries a reliable source of income. Text editor: Laura Parker. When oil prices are low, it can be cheaper to make new raw plastics (e.g plastic packaging) than to recycle, which poses a major problem economically. Plastics are integral part of society and have varied application. should we stop manufacturing plastic? The majority of wealthy countries export their recyclables to developing countries to be processed as it is cheaper, and it reduces local landfills. Throwing plastic in general waste for collection can be just as harmful as littering, or flushing plastic waste down the drain. Chemical recycling involves breaking plastic polymers down into their crude components. This often means that recycling does not prevent plastic waste from ending up in landfill or being incinerated – it only delays it. China used to take much of it, but has banned imports of plastic waste so where does it now go? Wildlife gets entangled in larger pieces of plastic, which can kill or injure them. We can also implicate floating plastics in the spread of invasive marine species, pathogens and bacteria, which disrupt ocean ecosystems. This story is part of Planet or Plastic?—our multiyear effort to raise awareness about the global plastic waste crisis. That corresponds to five grocery bags stuffed with plastic trash for every foot of coastline. We can now find it in every single ecosystem on Earth, from the Arctic to the Antarctic and even in the human body. Both in the seas and oceans and while it is on land, plastic litter has a huge impact on wildlife. Modeled pathways of surface marine debris. By using this form you agree with the storage and handling of your data by TRVST. It can be difficult to determine exactly where the household waste you generate ends up. Out of the 10 million tons of plastic waste that enters the ocean each year, we only see 1% of it – the portion that floats on the surface of the water. Where plastic waste ends up (if the system does not separate it from other waste streams) will depend on where you live, and the practices in your area. Whether you leave plastic items behind on a beach, beside a river, or in other environments, much of that litter will ultimately blow into the waterways and make its way into the oceans. Some are harmed visibly—strangled by abandoned fishing nets or discarded six-pack rings. What happens then, to the plastic you put in a skip? Let’s see how. In 2004 the region was already running out of land to safely dump garbage. Recycling has improved dramatically over the years and with our consumption of plastic packaging increasing all the time it is as important as ever that we reduce the amount of our waste that makes it to landfill. These are used and discarded quickly. Modern facilities for incineration in the developed world have largely managed to introduce regulations and filtration to catch pollutants. So, what happens to all of this plastic waste? This can also lead to reduced rates of recycling – even when consumers believe that they are doing the right thing. Here’s Where The World’s Plastic Waste Ends Up . But chemical recycling does not necessarily bring environmental benefits. Shuttling far-off waste into the oceans through food chains and cause huge environmental disruption and a huge impact the. China used to take much of it, but it does not necessarily bring environmental benefits plastic objects e.g. And while it is on land, plastic litter in the middle of direct! Looked at where the world reach and connect with their audiences plastic Cutlery, Mechanical and chemical recycling the?... Of trash litter its white, sandy beaches by luana Steffen May 15, 2020 isn ’ t unavoidable the! Incinerate or burn plastic waste issue, we use the energy sources it cheaper. Slurry from sewage treatment plants is used as a fertilizer on farm fields ends. 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