An article in the November 12 edition of Scientific American states that to get the microplastics problem under control, new practices and new chemistries are needed. The world has to take three primary steps, those who study the issue say.
In the short term society needs to significantly curtail unnecessary single-use plastic items such as water bottles, plastic shopping bags, straws and utensils.
OneLess is a good example of an initiative that aims to rid London of single-use plastic water bottles by creating a refill culture. Part of their solution has been to sign up businesses that allow consumers to refill their bottles, as peoples’ discomfort with asking stores or restaurants for a free refill was a potential barrier.
In the medium term governments need to strengthen rubbish collection and recycling systems to prevent waste from leaking into the environment between rubbish bin and the landfill, and to improve recycling rates.
In Europe only 30 percent of plastic is recycled, whereas in the U.S. it is a measly 9 percent. “Our waste management systems are good, our use of them is pretty lousy,” Koldewey of the Zoological Society of London says.
In the long run scientists need to devise ways to break plastic down into its most basic units, which can be rebuilt into new plastics or other materials.
We need more thought at the design stage says Richard Thompson, a marine biologist at the University of Plymouth. As an example of a potential remedy he cites Japan, where all polyethylene terephthalate (PET), used in plastic bottles, is transparent. Clear PET is much easier to recycle than when colouring is added in.
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