All to break down plastics to make fuels for reuse1. Landfill sites should contain waste and prevent it from entering wider environments. This is what happens to plastic from the moment you toss it into the recycling bin to when its materials are repurposed into a new item. Plastic pollution has a big impact on the environment, but plastic waste isn’t unavoidable. Researchers estimate that it has the highest concentration of debris of any place in the world, for a total of over 37 million pieces on the entirety of the small island. Researchers have also made many assumptions. This often means that recycling does not prevent plastic waste from ending up in landfill or being incinerated – it only delays it. Mismanaged municipal plastic waste polygons and river plastic output points: Laurent Lebreton, The Ocean Cleanup. Since China stopped accepting Australia's recyclable plastic, the majority of exported plastic waste is now going to developing nations in South East Asia. In the UK, we use an estimated five million tonnes of plastic a year. Because Henderson Island is located in the South Pacific gyre, it has become a deposition site for trash, most of which originated from land. : plastic bottles and much more) in the Earth’s environment that adversely affects wildlife, wildlife habitat, and humans.’ It also refers to the significant amount of plastic that isn’t recycled and ends up in landfill or, in the developing world, thrown into unregulated dump sites. Plastic waste as a fuel - CO2-neutral or not? Tag : what happens to plastic waste. Meanwhile, ocean plastic is estimated to kill millions of marine animals every year. This produces CO2 and other greenhouse gases that contribute to our climate emergency. The problem with plastic is that it does not compose. It is a vital process for the circular economy. A high proportion of general waste globally ends up in a landfill. Of course, where people take plastic waste abroad, there will be carbon costs and pollutants associated with transportation to contend with. From her desk in Lagos, Nigeria, she helps businesses around the world reach and connect with their audiences. Even where incineration does lead to a net reduction in CO2 emissions, it is far from an ideal solution. First, learn about landfills, and what role plastic plays in the waste stream. Let’s start with how discarded plastic is handled on land. Direct dumping contributes a significant portion of plastic litter in rivers, but land-bound trash also can make its way to water. Every time you make the choice to avoid or recycle plastic products, you lower the risk of environmental damage. Unfortunately, poor management (especially in developing nations where much waste from the developed world ends up) means that plastic waste often blows away. Approximately 80% of the litter in the seas comes from the land 6. And often regulation in this area leaves a lot to be desired. The problem is that there is usually little transparency when it comes to waste management. Those things are then themselves often not recyclable at the end of their useful lives. What happens to our plastic waste is a problem for our environment, on a scale which we cannot ignore. Environment. Sometimes, the slurry from sewage treatment plants is used as a fertilizer on farm fields. The Two Sides of Plastic. People try their best to recycle plastic, however, the lack of understandings pushes us … Mismanaged plastic waste is defined as waste that doesn’t make its way to proper receptacles, either intentionally or accidentally. For example, recycled PET plastic production reduces emissions compared to virgin production by 32%. The world produces nearly 300 million tons of plastic every year, with only 9% of the plastic produced from 1950-2015 having been recycled. Where the energy mix contains a high proportion of fossil fuel sources, burning plastic for energy can reduce emissions. How environmentally friendly the process will very much depend on the exact processes used, how energy-efficient they are, and the type of energy used. Luana Steffen May 15, 2020 November 9, 2020. by Luana Steffen May 15, 2020 November 9, 2020. Chemical recycling involves breaking plastic polymers down into their crude components. But in many countries — most across Europe for example — where incineration efficiency is low and the energy mix is lower-carbon, this does result in higher greenhouse gas emissions overall3. Most plastics go through a mechanical recycling process. However, it can only be recycled if the waste is of good quality and not contaminated with food waste. Text editor: Laura Parker. This is because incineration of plastic waste worsens air pollution, and can release a range of harmful particulates into the air4. When you recycle plastic, both the environment and the economy will benefit. Two Major Environmental Benefits of Plastic Recycling. This story is part of Planet or Plastic?—our multiyear effort to raise awareness about the global plastic waste crisis. Estimated mid-range plastic waste entering the ocean from rivers per year, metric tons. It can be difficult to determine exactly where the household waste you generate ends up. They leave lots of plastic bottles, bags and containers behind when they go back home. We can now find it in every single ecosystem on Earth, from the Arctic to the Antarctic and even in the human body. We believe that plastic products are convenient and cheap which leads to high demands for plastic products while the waste management procedures are not effective and there are not enough factories and suitable methods to process, likewise, without a market demand, those recyclables are almost useless. It is clear that of all the options currently commercially available, chemical recycling is usually the best option. These are used and discarded quickly. Based on the idea that each tonne of recycled plastic can replace one ton of raw, virgin material. But recent exposés have proposed that this slurry contains all sorts of harmful contaminants, including microplastics. It very much depends on which plastics we are talking about, and which recycling processes regions use. What happens to our plastic waste is a problem for our environment, on a scale which we cannot ignore. But it is important to recognise that recycling alone is not enough. It’s used everywhere: construction, manufacturing, shopping, health care, food preparation, among others. Last year the UK exported over 447million kg of plastic waste abroad, according to HM Revenue & Customs statistics, and in March this year we exported 15,108,882kg to … And become what we know as ocean plastic. Jennifer is a content writer with an educational background in Public Relations and Advertising. Mismanaged waste tends to be higher in developing countries lacking municipal waste-collection systems that deliver garbage to recycling centers and/or landfills. Including (potentially) people, though we do not yet fully understand the health effects of micro-plastic ingestion. We have an island in the middle of the North Pacific Gyre, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – which is mostly composed of plastic. That would be quite an extreme step, not to mention an unrealistic one as well. China’s Yangtze River is the most polluted river on Earth. © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society, © 2015- One of the direct ways that plastic ends up in our waterways and oceans is through littering. Here’s Where The World’s Plastic Waste Ends Up . But to solve the problem of plastic waste – refusing, reducing and reusing also have to be key parts of the picture. Required fields are marked *. Rainwater ushers mismanaged waste from land into local waterways, which feed into larger tributaries and rivers, which in turn empty into oceans. This means that the recycling plant demotes them to lesser valued materials. We are yet to determine all the negative effects of microplastics that come from land-derived litter. Both in the seas and oceans and while it is on land, plastic litter has a huge impact on wildlife. But chemical recycling does not necessarily bring environmental benefits. 2020 National Geographic Partners, LLC. Throwing plastic in general waste for collection can be just as harmful as littering, or flushing plastic waste down the drain. Home / Inspiration / What Happens to Our Plastic Waste? But behind the plethora of advantages plastic offers is a towering pile of problems that mankind is struggling to solve: plastic pollution. Currently, plastic waste can be sold for recycling and much is exported overseas as the UK does not have the means to process it all. What is plastic waste? So, what happens to all of this plastic waste? Another major source of plastic pollution is the plastic that we flush down the drain. Out of the 10 million tons of plastic waste that enters the ocean each year, we only see 1% of it – the portion that floats on the surface of the water. It flows through downtown Manila, capital of the Philippines, and empties into the once pristine Manila Bay. Nearly half of this is packaging. Hundreds of waterways within its watershed feed into the Yangtze River from thousands of miles inland, shuttling far-off waste into the giant waterway. Roughly two-thirds of plastic waste in the UK is sent overseas to be recycled - in part, to reduce costs. How does so much trash wash ashore on Henderson Island? Wildlife gets entangled in larger pieces of plastic, which can kill or injure them. But this is not always possible. 1. China used to take much of it, but has banned imports of plastic waste so where does it now go? The Pasig is one of the most polluted rivers on Earth, but it wasn’t always this way. It prolongs the life of plastic to serve an extended and broader purpose. Plastic waste, or plastic pollution, is ‘the accumulation of plastic objects (e.g. After throwing your rubbish into the bin and having it collected we don’t tend to give much thought to what happens to it. Though it is half the size of Manhattan, more than 19 tons of trash litter its white, sandy beaches. Recycling processes cannot always deliver a like-for-like product. Where plastic waste ends up (if the system does not separate it from other waste streams) will depend on where you live, and the practices in your area. If it goes into landfill, it can, potentially, last hundreds of years. "We have a problem in our supply chain that we need to manage," says Kinsella. Manila has a metropolitan garbage-collection system that stretches across 17 separate local governments—a source of chaos and inefficiency. The environmental benefits of recycling plastics are clear. Gowda. When oil prices are low, it can be cheaper to make new raw plastics (e.g plastic packaging) than to recycle, which poses a major problem economically. The landfill may be in your own country, or for some developed countries, abroad. Plastics are composed of a network of molecular monomers bound together to form macromolecules. But the issue is not always as clear-cut as some people believe. If this waste isn’t properly disposed of or managed, it can end up in the ocean. We can also implicate floating plastics in the spread of invasive marine species, pathogens and bacteria, which disrupt ocean ecosystems. That said, incineration is still sometimes said to be better than landfill in our fight against global warming. Micro-plastics enter food chains and cause huge environmental disruption and a huge range of health problems in animals. Some waste gets caught up in the gyres, spinning and cycling in large swaths of the ocean. Believe it or not, what you’re looking at is a tributary that feeds into the Pasig River in Manila, Philippines. A portion of the mismanaged waste from heavily populated cities within the Yangtze River watershed eventually empties into the Pacific Ocean by way of the East China Sea. The scale of their operation is huge and going from strength to strength, as more people are keen to reduce plastic pollution and the amount of waste going to landfill. And even when we can recycle plastic waste, it is not always actually recycled at all. Plastics are integral part of society and have varied application. Plastic waste is also contaminated by materials such as paper and ink. What happens then, to the plastic you put in a skip? In part one we looked at where the contents of your recycling bin end up. The top 122 rivers account for more than 90 percent of plastic input from rivers into the ocean and are fed by land that houses 36 percent of the global population. should we stop manufacturing plastic? Learn what you can do to reduce your own single-use plastics, and take your pledge. Plastic has a problem; is chemical recycling the solution? Henderson Island is a tiny, uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 3,000 miles from major population centers. Including the efficiency of the incineration process, and the mix of the energy sources it is replacing. Celebrating Global Unity for a COVID-19 Recovery with Painti... What is Sustainable Tourism? This means that consumers of agricultural produce are often unaware of the fact that plastic waste could contaminate the food they eat. Some are harmed visibly—strangled by abandoned fishing nets or discarded six-pack rings. Plastic recycling is the process of recovering scrap plastic or waste. Toxic Pollutants from Plastic Waste- A Review. The Plastic Problem . Approximately 80% of the litter in the seas comes from the land6. Rinku Verma, K.S. Many people in Japan put a lot of effort into recycling their household plastic. We can utilize state-of-the-art techniques such as chemolysis, pyrolysis, fluid catalytic cracking, hydrogen techniques and gasification. Where plastics are not handled correctly, certain types of plastic— such as polyvinyl chloride; PVC— can leach chemicals such as additives and plasticiser compounds into the surrounding land and waters5. Another problem is that consumers do not always clean their mixed plastics and sort them as they should. Plastics are something we can recycle, but often struggle with. Some of the plastic waste facts might surprise you: In the North Pacific Ocean, there are 6x more plastic debris than plankton. When plastic waste ends up in landfill, it can contribute to leachate. Mismanaged plastic waste is defined as waste that doesn’t make its way to proper receptacles, either intentionally or accidentally. Incomplete combustion of Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP) and Polystyrene (PS) can release carbon monoxide (CO) and noxious emissions, while polyvinyl chloride (PVC) can produce dioxins. Unfortunately, we can only recycle these plastics mechanically once or twice before they are down-cycled. When waste reaches the ocean, tides and currents transport it around the globe, circulating in massive gyres. Unlike some other kinds of waste, plastic doesn’t decompose. The majority of wealthy countries export their recyclables to developing countries to be processed as it is cheaper, and it reduces local landfills. Trash modeling: Erik van Sebille, Utrecht University, Pasig River tributary, Manila, Philippines, Mismanaged municipal plastic waste, Tons per year, Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/06/the-journey-of-plastic-around-the-globe.html. Vinoda, M. Papireddy, A.N.S. That corresponds to five grocery bags stuffed with plastic trash for every foot of coastline. 275,000 tonnes of plastic are used each year in the UK and most families throw away about 40kg’s of that without putting it in the recycling bin. Or even better refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle. This, in theory, means that we can recycle certain plastics endlessly rather than being downgraded. Plastics, which make up a significant amount of the waste in the rivers we want to tackle (hence the reason for deploying the Interceptor), include bottles of different plastic composition, Styrofoam, and an array of other hard and soft plastics, often with different types of plastic combined into a product, like diapers. The majority of wealthy countries export their recyclables to developing countries to be processed as it is cheaper, and it reduces local landfills. Relatively little plastic waste enters the ocean from North America and Europe because of their more robust waste-management systems. The untreated water is discharged to waterways, and around 20 percent of the plastic is unusable, so it is dumped and usually burnt, creating more litter and air quality problems. What happens to plastics that are not recyclable? Wet wipes and other larger plastic pieces contribute to the creation of ‘fatbergs’ that block sewage systems. Modern facilities for incineration in the developed world have largely managed to introduce regulations and filtration to catch pollutants. Choose Alternatives to Single-Use Plastic Cutlery, Mechanical and chemical recycling of solid plastic waste. Relatively little of our plastic waste is recycled because there are various types of plastic with different chemical compositions, and recycled plastics can be contaminated by the mixing of types. In this way, plastic from far inland can travel many miles to the coastline. Again, most insidious of all is the micro-plastics. By using this form you agree with the storage and handling of your data by TRVST. Once at sea, sunlight, wind, and wave action break down plastic waste into small particles, often less than one-fifth of an inch across. It prolongs the life of plastic what happens to plastic waste lying about in landfills, and which recycling processes regions use also! 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