The plastics problem - are there any solutions?

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Sunnuntai 10.6.2018 klo 11.59 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The news about plastic pollution has more or less completely dwelled on the problem, and not much on solutions apart from one: banning the use of plastics. And, unfortunately, most of the news has reached North Americans and Europeans. I say that this is unfortunate, since even if the plastics in North America and Europe were recycled 100 %, this would have hardly any effect on the total amount of plastic waste entering the oceans. There are ten rivers in the world, which deliver most waste to the oceans: three in China, one in Philippines, one in Indonesia, two in Indian subcontinent, one in Brazil and two in Nigeria. Out of the 40 most plastic-polluting rivers 27 are in Asia,  8 in Latin America, 4 in Africa and 1 in Europe (Rhine).

Thus, the most urgent problem is to get waste treatment in the most polluting areas to function. A solution for this would be, if money could be made out of it. A possible way of doing this would be portable systems, Trashpressos (as named by the inventor, Arthur Huang), which press plastic waste to strong tiles, which could then be used in, for example, building houses. In this way, what is now thrown away would markedly reduce the costs of building material - which would be highly beneficial for developing nations.

A way to decrease plastic pollution everywhere is to use materials other than plastics whenever possible and convenient, diminish unnecessary wrappings (nowadays it is possible that, e.g. candies are in plastic bag, and thereafter individually wrapped in plastic) and stop using single-use plastic materials (instead of plastic single-use knives and forks one could have them made of wood as earlier; plastic cups could easily be replaced by paper cups or glasses) - the European Union ban on single-use plastics will certainly drive production and use also elsewhere.

With regards to microplastics, which is a problem also in Europe, the ways of diminishing plastic waste will help in part. However, much of the microplastics is released in washing clothes. In Europe and North America this waste comes into wastewater treatment plants. If the final effluent were filtered through a tight-mesh filter, all of the microplastic waste would be retained. Since the effluent goes through a narrow pipe in any case, this would not even cause a big expense. Such a simple solution would decrease the problem of microplastics release from clothwashing. Another problem is cigarrette buts, which people throw on the ground all the time. Instead, people should put them in waste boxes. This is already now possible, so it is only a matter of educating people. The only source of microplastics that I have not been able to think a reasonable way of getting rid of is the tyre dust. Presently, much of the tyre material is plastics, and is released in the environment. Such dust cannot easily be collected.

However, most of the plastics problem could easily be handled without needing to stop the use of plastic materials in appliances, where they are needed or much better than alternative materials. 

Avainsanat: plastic pollution, waste treatment, garbage gyre

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