Waste plastic in nature has been a big topic of discussion lately. But is it a problem and if so, why? The answer is simple. Yes, waste plastic in nature is a problem! Mostly because of the sheer scale and ever-increasing use of plastic. Every year, 358 million tons of plastic are produced in the world. Of that, about 60 million tonnes is produced in Europe. In comparison, in 1950, about 1.5 million tonnes of plastic were produced in the world.
Half of the plastic becomes trash right away!
About half of all the plastic produced in the world becomes trash almost right away. This is mainly plastic used for packaging. A big share is plastic packaging for food and drink. This would not be a big problem if all of this plastic was recycled. But in Europe, the area in the world where recycling is probably most common, only about one third of the plastic packaging is recycled. The recycling can be in a variety of ways, but only part of the plastic collected goes back into the production cycle. A large part is burnt.
Plastic production is still growing year by year!
Even though plastic production in the world continues to increase, Europe’s share of total production has declined slightly. From 21% in 2011 to 18% in 2017. A large part, 60%, of waste plastic in Europe can be traced to food and drink packaging. Plastic pollution is a global problem because waste plastic released into nature does not respect any man-made borders.
Plastic film for hay rolls in Iceland is all recycled!
In Iceland, about 13,500 tonnes of plastic packaging are used annually (figures from 2016). Approximately 1,500 tonnes is plastic film for hay rollers, more than 10,000 tonnes are imported packaging and almost 2,000 tonnes are domestic production. According to figures from the Icelandic government, almost all plastic hey roll film from farmers is returned for recycling, but only about a quarter of the other packaging plastic. This exceptionally good return on plastic hay roll film from the Icelandic farmers is very high compared to many other European and western countries.
Plastic becomes trash an pollutes the oceans.
Unfortunately, a large part of packaging plastic, and other plastics, ends up in nature as trash. There it often breaks down into tiny micro-plastics that find their way into living organisms. Part of these plastic fabrics comes from the washing of clothes made from synthetic fabrics. Studies show that micro-plastic particles can be found in drinking water and fish. About 80% of all trash in the ocean is plastic.
Plastic can be useful but the recycling system have get better.
Plastic can be a good material for use in various durable products, but packaging plastic, beverage bottles and disposable plastic utensils cause great pollution. Sometimes it is actually necessary to use plastic for food packaging and its use can reduce the likelihood of food going bad and thus reduce food waste. All this needs to be taken into account when evaluating plastic, if it´s good or bad. Icelandic vegetable farmers have set a good example and are increasingly using herbal plastic which will decompose in nature. For the bad fossil-fuel made plastic, the recycling system needs to be improved and the goal should be that 100% of it is returned to be recycled. And then it needs to be recycled into new usable plastics – not burnt!
Does Iceland want to be a leader in environmental matters?
It is possible to reduce the bad effects of plastics on nature by increasingly using biodegradable plastics derived from plant residues and not oils. Plastic it self may not be the real problem, but rather the overuse of it where other options are available, and of course recycling should be much better than it is now. That should especially be the case in Iceland, who wants to be at the forefront regarding all environmental issues. It is up to us, as consumers, as manufacturers and voters that give power to governments. The governments who formulate policies for society through laws and regulations. It takes real political will and firm action to address the problem of plastic pollution in nature. But it can be done.