Written by Corinne Newman

In the last blog, we talked about how plastics play a role in contributing to the three biggest issues standing in the way of global sustainability. To continue that discussion in this blog, we’re going to be learning about different solutions proposed and enacted that help stop the damage that plastics are causing in these areas. 

The most obvious solution is unfortunately not as simple as it might seem. Reducing plastic usage and manufacturing will help greatly. But actually slowing down plastic production is near impossible without a collective effort between consumers, citizens, and their government. The creation and advancements of bioplastics might help bridge this gap between consumer demand and environmental consciousness. Bioplastics are plastics created from biological materials, mostly plants, instead of petroleum like traditional plastics (read here for more in-depth information about bioplastics specifically). The thought is that the carbon released by these bioplastics will lessen the carbon footprint of traditional plastics due to the carbon coming from plants releasing the carbon they had helped convert into oxygen in their lifetime. Though, not completely thought out, and not without drawbacks, this proposed idea is still in development.

Global sustainability might sound like an impossible goal. But there are already many projects in all kinds of stages of development working towards that goal! Interceptor Solutions is one such in development to help reduce the pollution aspect of the sustainability issue and is currently being tested by The Ocean Cleanup Project. The idea is to stop plastic pollution from entering the ocean in the first place at the source. Rivers that lead into the ocean carry with them massive amounts of plastics, but by using different kinds of interceptors they propose being able to catch the plastics and fish them out of the river water in order to dispose of them in an appropriate fashion. There are several different designs that they have, like the Interceptor barrier. As described by the Ocean Clean Up Project “The Interceptor Barrier is a solution that consists of a standalone floating barrier anchored in a U-shape around the mouth of a small river. This intercepts the trash and buffers it until it is removed from the water.” 

More experimental solutions also exist. A common one is finding a way to “eat away at” plastics. To be able to break them down faster so they aren’t existing as pollution hazards. One such experiment is a “Plastic eating enzyme”. It is a bacteria that is able to break down Polyethylene terephthalate, the most common kind of plastic, and convert the carbon from the plastic into its own food source. Groundbreaking and exciting, but not yet ready to be used on a large-scale level. The process is slow, and not perfect. An international group of scientists are currently working diligently on this enzyme! 

This is just a sparse collection of real, in-development solutions to the plastics issues that we discuss here. I feel it is important to keep these and the many others I didn’t touch on in mind as we learn more about the plastic issues. It’s important not to become defeatist and cynical on this issue. There is still time for change. There are still people working towards that change. And there are so many ways to help support their causes and goals.  

Photo by OCG Saving The Ocean on Unsplash

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