Importance of Natural Resources

The war on plastic – The threat to our ecosystem


People have been using plastic for about 50
years due to its convenient features. It’s light, durable and cheap. But plastic does not decompose for a long time and can cause environmental contamination. It takes about
50 years for styrofoam to decompose, about 400 years for vinyl bags, and more than 600 years for thick plastic. So far we have produced a total of 8.3 billion tons of plastic. And 79% of that, a whopping 6.3 billion tons was wasted. After being thrown into the sea, those plastic products have been discovered in the stomachs of ocean creatures. Why are ocean creatures consuming the plastic? According to a study from, phytoplankton multiply by adhering to pieces of plastic or the surfaces of vinyl bags. Then, the sea creatures mistake the plastic products as edible, due to the smell from the phytoplankton. A growing concern has been the crisis of microplastics,
which are tiny pieces of plastic called Nurdle which have a diameter between 1micrometer
and 5㎜. The micro beads in cosmetics and toothpaste, and tiny broken plastic pieces, are creating the micro plastic. Nurdle sinks to the bottom of the water and
is consumed by ocean creatures with their food. Nurdle threatens marine algae, coral
reefs, and oysters, as well as other ocean creatures. According to an experiment by the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea – IFREMER -, oysters which inhabit
water with polystyrene particles, have 35% fewer ova than normal, and spermatozoa movement has slowed down by 23%. The threat to ocean creature and human is not fully known, as research on the nurdle crisis continues. WWF commissioned a study on plastics that was carried out by the University of Newcastle, Australia. Prepared by Dalberg, the analysis was titled. No Plastic in Nature: Assessing Plastic Ingestion from Nature to People. It suggests that “People are consuming about 2000 tiny pieces of plastic every week,” adding up to an estimated 5 grams. Which means we have been consuming
the equivalent of a credit card every single week. This microplastic is often ingested
through drinking water. Microplastic is detected in 81% of the tap water in the world. It has also been discovered that shellfish, beer, and salt retain a high degree of micro plastic. Due to these serious problems, bills restraining microplastics have been passed globally. In the US, the ‘Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015’ prohibited the addition of plastic microbeads in the manufacturing of certain personal care products washed with water. The EU approved the replacement of disposable plastic products with renewable eco-friendly material by 2021, and that 90% of plastic bottles should be recycled by 2025. Scientists have started applying Synthetic Biology to find ways to resolve the problem of long-lasting decomposition of plastic garbage. They look for microorganisms and enzymes in nature that decompose plastic and analyze how they do it. Research on microorganisms PE, most commonly used in daily life, was started in 2010. In 2017, researchers in the U.K. and Spain found out that Wax Worms can process polyethylene at 1400 times the speed of natural decomposition. In 2016, Japanese researchers discovered bacteria that can decompose PET. Also, research on the intestinal microorganisms of Mealworms, eating PS is currently ongoing. Once this research enables us to create artificial microorganisms to decompose diverse types of plastics, it will be easier to dispose of plastic garbage. On another front, Bio-Degradable Plastic is
an exciting option as an alternative to current plastics. When buried, bio-degradable plastic
is decomposed 100% naturally. Bio-degradable plastics can be made from ‘naturally
occurring polymers, chemically occurring polymers and microbiologically occurring polymers. For example, one bio-degradable plastic is PLA, which is a synthetic polymer made from corn. Its price and features are similar to existing plastic, so it is the material most commonly used commercially. Scientists of ETH Zurich and EAWAG studied how microorganisms
decompose PBAT plastic. They found that the PBAT was bio-degraded by soil microbes and disappeared harmlessly after decomposition. Due to these research results, bio-degradable plastics are excluded from certain regulations, and demand for them is growing more than 20% each year. The more the research on plastic substitutes and plastic decomposition continues, the safer the earth will be.


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