Refuse, garbage, basura – call it what you will – the world is sinking under its own waste and rubbish is a serious conversation.
Belinda Beckett lifts the lid on a global problem and some not-so-trashy solutions.
A 10-metre plastic whale made waves along the banks of the River Thames this summer. The monster mascot of Sky TV’s Ocean Rescue Campaign was built from 250 kilos of single use plastic – the same amount that pollutes our oceans every second.
Its design recalls the starving and exhausted whale that washed up in a Norwegian fjord this January with 30 plastic bags in its stomach… a macabre message from the deep that the world’s oceans are in trouble.
“There is a real problem when one year you can take your fish home in a plastic bag, and the next year you take that plastic bag home in your fish” quipped Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries at the time. But it’s no joking matter. By 2050 the ocean will contain more plastic, by weight, than fish.
Plastic has only been around since the invention of Bakelite, 100 years ago, but it makes up 53 per cent of our domestic rubbish today.
One million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute, while the average daily city trash bag in OECD countries weighs in at 2.2 kilos.
And, as the world hurtles towards an urban future, the amount of waste in its many other forms – medical, chemical, human – is growing faster than we build new cities.
Landfill creates beautiful landscapes and methane for renewable energy, incineration can power cities and reduces a large problem to a smaller one, but both have their downsides. The Environmental 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – have become the new global mantra as the world searches for a way out of a mess of its own making.
Scientists have found an organic alternative to microbeads – the tiny plastic spheres that go into body scrubs and toothpastes but take hundreds of years to biodegrade.
Too small to be removed by sewage filtration systems, 100,000 microbeads are washed down the sink with a single application of some products, ending up in the sea and the food chain.
Britain will become the fifth country to ban them at the end of this year, after Holland, Canada, America and Ireland…
Words Belinda Beckett