Plastic has changed the face of the world for better and worse and is an indispensable product. And s such has become the dummy that rose against its maker and is threatening to strangle it.
No matter which coast we travel to in Europe, Asia, America or even the poles, plastic waste is floating everywhere on the water or lying on the beach, evidence of the excessive consumption that characterizes our lives as well as low awareness of its results.
How does plastic reach the sea? We leave it on the beach, on river banks or in city streets – beverage bottles, plastic bags and disposable utensils. These come with wind and waves to sea, and turn into one of the harshest enemies of marine environment.
What is Plastic
Plastic is a complex polymer produced mainly from oil. It was introduced into our lives only a few decades ago, nevertheless it is everywhere: in industry, at homes, in packaging, in paint, adhesives, toys, electronics, clothes, artificial joints and more. What made plastic so popular is its ease of production, low price, durability and versatility.
Plastic originates in natural material, but finished products are made of materials that do not exist in nature, and therefore, for the moment, there are no creatures capable of decomposing it efficiently. According to experts' estimates, a PET (polyethylene terephthELAte) bottle made of polyethylene will last for 700-500 years. A hard plastic box will decompose after 1,000 years and an innocent plastic bag left on the beach will decompose after 200-300 years. All we can do is assume that the archaeologists of 3016 will find the box we left on the beach in the summer of 2016.
Every year, the world produces trillions of plastic products, weighing billions of tons, half of which cannot be recycled. These find their way to garbage dumps, open spaces and the sea. It is estimated that there are already more than a trillion particles of plastic waste in the oceans and thus far it is agreed upon with researchers that plastic waste is one of the most serious ecological problems. Plastic harms millions of animals every year. Studies suggest that by 2025 the oceans will contain more plastic particles than living organisms.
In recent years it has been discovered that plastic waste accumulates in giant floating islands (5 gyres) containing plastic parts in various stages of decomposition, with concentrations of bacteria, algae and protozoa (parasite). The largest garbage dump island is in the Pacific Ocean, and it has been dubbed "Plastisphere". The researchers, Tracy Mintzer and Eric Zetler of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, which expose this phenomenon, examined the biological membrane that encapsulates a piece of plastic about five millimeters long and found more than 1,000 different species, some of which had never lived in the open ocean. The researchers surmise that some of the bacteria cling on to the plastic pieces as they pass through the digestive tract of fish or other marine animals. Not only that but plastic waste contains dangerous substances such as DDT, which are considered carcinogenic to both animals and man.
These dangerous substances are consumed by marine life, climb up the food chain and reach our plates.
As for now research has not yet been conducted as to the plastic infected consumption of marine life but researchers are express serious concern of the consequences.
Plastic floating at sea is responsible for another worrying phenomenon, the immigration of invading species.
Small marine creatures float through the oceans by clinging on to the small plastic pieces until they settle down in another place and inhabit it. With the absence of natural enemies the invading species take over the new environment and harm local inhabitants.
According to a UN report the economic damage caused by plastic waste is an estimated $ 75 billion a year alongside severe damage to coral reefs, death of sea turtle & mammals and severe damage to the biological diversity. Damages caused to the fishing, tourism, shipping and other sectors has been estimated at about $ 13 billion a year. The Economic Association of Asian Countries has estimated that plastic waste causes its member states $ 1.2 billion in damage each year, where the major damage caused by a decline in tourism as a result of coastal pollution.
Coastal pollution requires local authorities to invest huge sums in cleaning and enforcement. In the west coast of the United Stated cleaning of beaches reach up to $ 500 million a year, a sum that can be invested in other important goals such as education, housing and welfare. Our local authorities also invest a lot of money in cleaning beaches each year. In the absence of substantial assistance from the state, it is considered too few of actions and as such not efficient enough.
Professor Richard Thompson of the Plymouth University, England, was the first to discover in 2004 that plastic thrown into the sea is not degradable as many hoped, but undergoes a process of extinction which eventually turns it into micro plastic with grain diameter between several microns to few millimeters.
In 2009, researchers from the Auckland University, Australia, determined that these "innocent" particles floating at sea, penetrate the bodies of creatures, climb up the food chain, causing extensive damage to life and marine flora and reach our table with the fish we eat. It is estimated that the Pacific island of plastics contains billions of micro-plastics particles per square kilometer. A study of large lakes in the north of the United States has revealed large amounts of plastic particles that damage the water and the living creatures with in them, among them the oysters that are very fond of the region's inhabitants.
Another major source of micro plastics is household products, headed by cosmetics products – shower gel, peeling products and toothpastes to which plastic particles (microbeads) are inserted with the aim of increasing their efficiency. (Toothpaste contains between 5,000 and 95,000 plastic particles. Plastic particles volume in shower gel equals the volume of the other ingredients). These particles are so small they do not stop in any filter on the way, and they reach municipal sewage, groundwater, rivers and sea, causing damage. In 2015 Following public pressure, US President Barack Obama signed a law banning the sale of micro-plastics products less than five millimeters in diameter, which will come into effect July 2017. Even before the law was passed, cosmetic companies announced that they found natural alternatives to plastic pellets – Nutshells, fruit seeds and more.
Despite the paucity of research and the paucity of data, researchers still define the Mediterranean as "Plastic battered”, as about 10 percent of the world's coastal population lives along its shores, its shipping lanes are overloaded and its water flow streams that have dense populations, those are considered Ideal conditions for catastrophic emergence. According to preliminary estimates, already today the Mediterranean Sea contains about 10 percent of the total amount of plastic waste that travels throughout the seas, tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of items per kilometer.
The situation in Israel is no different. An three year examination conducted in eight different sections of the coast, by the Haifa University in cooperation with the Ministry of Environmental Protection, from Betzet in the north to Zikim in the south, shows that 92 percent of the waste on beaches and sea is plastic (58 percent worldwide). The sorting of waste revealed that it contained a large quantity of food packages, disposable utensils (32 percent) and garbage bags
?What does "zalul" do
Changing laws of disposable plastic
Herzliya city without plastic
Extend the law of bags
Deposit law on large bottles as well
?What can we do more
Although it seems that plastic polluting the beaches and rivers is a kind of fate that comes along with progress, it turns out that it is not too late to take responsibility. Global experience shows that if governments, authorities and the public believe that a subject is important enough, they will act to realize it. If we all believe that leaving waste on the beaches endangers our health and the health of the marine environment, it is likely that the phenomenon will be reduced, as was the case with picking wildflowers and cleaning streets with dog feces. For this to happen, the government, the authorities and the public must do their part. The government must enact laws and enforce them, such as: encouraging the reduction of the use of disposable plastic, prohibiting the manufacture and import of non-biodegradable disposable utensils, marking plastic products during their degradation and more. Local authorities must enact bylaws, impose fines on waste disposal agents and clean the beaches thoroughly and at a much higher frequency. The public has to act logically – reduce the use of plastic, use multi-usage tools, say "no" to bags and drinking straws, recycle, and especially not to through waste into rivers and on the beach.
Summary of a visit to London by an Israeli delegation, led by the Zalul Organization, on the subject of reducing the use of disposable plastics
Participating in a delegation to London, which was led and initiated by the Zalul Organization in cooperation with and sponsored by the British Embassy in Israel, were representatives from the Ministry of Environmental Protection, local government, industrialists, plastic manufacturers, startups that are developing plastic alternatives, and representatives from environmental groups. The purpose of the trip was to bridge the tremendous gaps in information that exist between Israel and Great Britain, which is considered to be a world leader on the subject, and to generate cross-sector partnerships in Israel between the different stakeholders engaged in this sphere.
During the visit the delegation met with government representatives from the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Agriculture and Rural Development, with the Ministry of the Economy and the Israel Innovation Authority, with leaders from the Association for Bio-degradable Tableware and with a leading expert on sustainability in sports, all of which enriched and enlightened us on teaching the public about different behavior, without preaching about changing behaviors. The delegation visited a supermarket where the use of plastic is negligible, and which is working on becoming completely plastic-free. It was amazing to see how every possible item was sold there while admirably safeguarding the environment – from vegetables and fruit to water sold in cans instead of bottles, to deodorants and laundry detergent in cardboard boxes. In addition, the delegation learned about a major campaign being conducted in England against soft drinks companies, demanding that they reduce the use of plastic bottles and calling on the public to change their habits, and more.
The main conclusion of the delegation’s participants is that plastic recycling is far from being a solution. There were even those who say that it is a kind of fraud, because it involves transporting single-use plastic waste to other countries (in our case, to Turkey that allows treatment in a way that causes tremendous pollution and would never receive environmental approval in Israel), which ultimately comes back to us, and thus causes air and water pollution from the ships sailing back and forth. Products that are made from recycled plastic are used, for the most part, only once or twice more. These products actually end up as another type of product, of lesser quality. This means that our waste travels around the world while causing a great deal of unnecessary pollution, primarily to make people feel good by letting them think they are dealing with their plastic waste, when in reality this is not the case. Nevertheless, it is still important to recycle plastic! First of all, in order to remove it from the primary waste cycle because our landfill sites are full. Furthermore, it is possible to use them to make benches, chairs and other products. And most of all, by collecting and separating plastic waste we are illustrating to those in charge of the environmental sphere that there is a large sector of the public for whom this is an important issue and who expect the authorities to handle everything differently.
The second conclusion drawn by the delegation is that even in when it comes to biodegradables, there are no good solutions. The alternatives presently available to disposable plastics are made from organic materials – cellulose, sugar cane, potatoes, corn, food waste and other materials and more. But – and this is a big but – they cannot be thrown into the garbage together with plastics; they need to be composted.
Most of the biodegradable products are used to cover and preserve food, and often they get soiled from the food and people don’t bother to clean them. What we learned is that the best thing to do is actually to recycle our organic waste, that is, our food waste. And this can be recycled together with the alternative tableware that is made from plant-based materials.
Israel lags way behind, and currently there is a national program to reduce the use of disposable plastics and packaging. We hope the goals that are set will be high so as to line up with what is happening in the rest of the world. There is no doubt that this is an ambitious goal and a huge challenge for Israel, but for this there is a very active civil society that takes this subject seriously. And we will help them.
We are very grateful to the British Embassy in Israel for enabling us to learn about this subject firsthand, and to continue leading the revolution to reduce the use of single-use plastic in Israel.