Will the world drown in plastic?

Will the world drown in plastic?

After reading Plastic Free by Rebecca Prince-Ruiz & Joanna Atherfold Finn I was torn between turning into an anti-plastic evangelist and giving up in hopeless despair. “It’s only one plastic straw, said 8 billion people.”

Since then, I’ve done my best with small changes to ease my conscience and most times been delighted by the alternative natural products (note to the sceptical, coconut coir scourers are non-scratch AND outlast plastic at least ten to one… I even converted my dubious partner).

But there’s no doubt that we require more than even millions of smart consumer choices to prevent plastic toxifying the planet to the point of extinction of many species (maybe even our own???)

One heartening example of progress in the battle against plastic is using a catalyst to melt down polyethylene, an extremely common type of plastic used in everything from food packaging to construction.

A team of researchers from the University of California Santa Barbara have reported their success in using a simple chemical decomposition process that breaks down the polyethylene into long-chain alkylbenzenes. This is a much higher value end product than most current recycling that basically takes plastic and chops it up for use in recycled items that have a less stringent engineering requirement, whereas detergent manufacturers use a vast quantity of alkylbenzenes.

Plus, two independent research teams have developed enzymes that eat PET (polyethylene terephthalate), which is used to create things like billions of single use plastic bottles and home construction materials. Rather than taking hundreds of years to degrade; the enzyme breaks down PET in a matter of days creating the possibility of effective recycling and reuse.

The latest solution, by the way, users a super cool gadget called a Diamond Light Source which emits x-rays 10 BILLION times brighter than the sun to fuse two enzymes into a super PET chomper.

So, while this research hasn’t zinged my creative spark, it has given me hope for a less polluted planet and so I thought it was worth sharing.

It also reminded me of a song we learned in primary school that shows accurate future predictions are found in the strangest of places. And that my memory is elastic (or plastic) to remember the words of a silly song from decades ago, but struggle to locate where I put my phone ten minutes ago.

Singing is not one of my talents (I recommend you wear ear plugs if traveling in a car with me and the stereo is playing a tune I love). I can’t describe the melody except to say it was sung in a slow whining, sing-song style lilt.

“In the nursery girls and boys

Play all day with plastic toys

No more nappies for mummy to wash

Plastic panties, slosh, slosh, slosh

And sadly prophetic for those of us who love the smell of new-mown grass…..

Daddy breaks the peace of Sunday morn

Vacuuming his plastic lawn”

I promise if anyone can tell me the source, I will attribute the song correctly!!!

If you’re not convinced that plastic is such a problem; Plastic Free is recommended reading for inspiration, insight, and understanding. It’s also fascinating if you have you ever wondered how a simple idea by one person turns into a global initiative impacting millions. Or how the cesspool of social media can be a positive agent for change.