Plastic pollution : the shock

The sun was high in the sky, warming the ocean, colored in different types of blue and green. We were about 40 nautical miles from the coast of Belize, a small state in the Caribbean.

Turtles, manatees, fishes were eating and swimming around us.

But my heart was broken.

Thousands of plastic litters were floatting at the surface of the ocean. Bottles of water were slowly sinking and the wind dispersed biscuits packages.

We cannot let our home be trashed by our own recklessness. We cannot let the fish that feeds us eat plastic particles. We cannot destroy the ocean that catches most of our CO2 and allows us to live on Earth.

We need to stand up for a better future.

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Changing the African mindset about waste

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I have been living in Africa for a month now and I contacted a local NGO called Organisation des Jeunes pour la Salubrité Publique (OJSP) that fights for salubrity in Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast.

We are thinking of running a communication campaign with the first goal of growing the supporter base and to make people more aware of the cleaning days that OJSP is organising.

To do so, we took example on an association named SeaLegacy. They recently ran a ‘telethon’ on Instagram and facebook in order to have more followers and to tackle a critical suite of projects next year.

The new followers are then invited to support the project by making a donation for example.

With OJSP, we will do this and then ask for donations to : 1) help with the cleaning (rakes, gloves, plastic bags…) and 2) pay for the construction of the toilets for a primary school.

 

 

We then will develop communication plans to get relays in the different areas of Abidjan. We based this strategy on ‘The New Citizenship Project’. Indeed, one difficult aspect of the work of OJSP is to encourage a shift away from the discourse of consumerism to citizenship. In Ivory Coast (and in most countries of the world…), everyone throws its waste on the streets and believe it is the government’s duty to remove them. People clean in their houses but not in the streets. This is the reason why we have to change their mindsets and to make them act as citizens.

To do so, we used Chris Rose’s segmentation according human motivations described in its 2011 book: What Makes People Tick.

He used a ‘Values Modes’ system, developed by a company called Cultural Dynamics Strategy and Marketing, to divide public audiences according to their motivations and deeply held beliefs.

The system reveals ‘three hidden worlds’. Roughly around one third of the population are ‘Settlers’ who are drawn to seek out safety, security, identity and belonging. Another third is categorised as ‘Prospectors’ because they yearn for success, the esteem of others, and self-esteem. The remaining third, known as Pioneers, are driven by the search for new ideas, ‘the quest for connections waiting to be made, and living a life based on ethics.

So, we will base our communication strategy around that to get people to clean their own city. We will target mothers by saying that waste helps the spread of diseases and that their kids are more likely to get sick. We will target chiefs of areas, by telling them that having a clean area will certainly make them more respected by their population. And finally, to the others, we will just say what we truly believe: we need a clean environment!

I’d be happy to get new ideas on how to make people become OJSP’s relays in their areas to help spread the word!

 

Plastic(s)

I gradually understand how complex the plastic industry is.

Indeed, in an interview I had with a representative from the plastic indutry, she underlined that the term ‘plastic’ encompasses very different realities. Thus, a plastic package is very different from a plastic used in the automotive or building sectors. It is impossible to have a global vision of this sector without separating the different sectors.

On the picture below, you can see the main types of plastics. Bear in mind that they can also be mixed with other materials or among themselves, what makes recycling even more difficult if not impossible.

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It is also important to differentiate the post-production waste (before the sale of the product) from the post-consumer waste (after their use). Furthermore, the term ‘recycling’ can include various stages of the end of life of a product : the collection of end-of-life objects and packaging, their sorting, massification and transformation into new materials.

Nevertheless, despite the potential attractiveness of circular economy, I learned that only 46% of French plastic manufacturing companies have ever used recycled plastic (Chauvot, 2016). The three reasons for this are : the difficulty of knowing where to source plastic waste and knowing its technical characteristics ; the lack of information on regulations and the fact that 28% don’t believe that the use of recycled materials will help them gain market share (Chauvot, 2016).

But then I discoved that, compared to other waste such as glass or metals, the plastic industry faces many challenges in terms of recycling. First, while virgin plastic has an official price, the price of recycled plastic is not made public. Only a few companies know how much recycled plastic is worth, on a daily basis.

Furthermore, a company which would like to incorporate recycled plastic rather than using virgin plastic would need to invest in different production processes. These would be worth it only if the price of recycled plastic is slow.

When I presented the idea of creating a marketplace for companies to directly sell and buy plastic waste, she replied that B2B marketplaces don’t work yet because there are no buyers of waste. Indeed, the buyers want a regular supply and of regular quality, but a marketplace is a spot market for occasional waste. In addition, separating different types of waste is expensive.

I then thought of using complexity theory. It shows that if you increase the amount of purposeful interaction between actors and verify the state of their knowledge, self-organising patterns will arise.(Couzin, Krause, Franks, & Levin, 2005) explained the dynamics of collectives. By showing that, in animal societies in which individuals have a strong tendency to imitate others, a very small number of few strongly motivated individuals can organize large groups to follow their lead by a transitive process of imitation. This is why we need to engage charismatic and/or powerful indivual managers of some companies to drastically reduce their plastic consumption and/or production, so that others follow!

 

 

 

 

To recycle or not to recycle?

hamlets-soliloquyCan you imagine ? : 99% of resources collected from nature will become waste within 42 days. That’s very quick!

We seem to believe that recycling is a way to help protect the environment. It may be true but we should not forget that recycling also has an impact. Indeed, the regeneration process uses a lot of energy and hazardous by-products.

Furthermore, contrary to glass or metals, plastics can mainly be recycled only once. We will always end up with trash which cannot be valorised. This is also a reason why plastic recycling is not as developped as paper, glass or metal recycling. Indeed,  only 7% of all plastics generated is currently recycled compared to 62% of paper, 25% of glass and 35% of metals.

More than 30% of the plastic waste that we are sorting will be refused by the recycling plant, because there are not recyclable or too dirty.

This plastic along other waste -after being transported to the recycling plant, which pollutes- will probably be incinerated. This process consumes a lot of energy and rejects a lot of carbon dioxyde.

If it’s not incinerated, it will end up on a landfill. All the waste gathered there produce methane,  a greenhouse gas which is 21% more polluting than carbon dioxyde.

Unfortunately, some of the waste on the landfill will fly away and end up in the ocean, where they will be eaten by fishes, which will themselves end up on our plates and then in our bodies!

By recycling, we are not aiming at a zero carbon economy but we are (slowly) transiting to a lower carbon economy.

Recycling should therefore really come at the end of a process. We should first aim to refuse (plastic bags, plastic straws etc), reduce and reuse.

Furthermore, large resources should be applied for research into technologies that help us achieve zero carbon emissions. For example, scientists from Britain’s University of Portsmouth and the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have recently (and accidentally ) developed a plastic-eating enzyme, Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6, wich is able to “eat” polyethylene terephthalate, PET, which constitutes most plastic bottles.

Professor John McGeehan, director of the Institute of Biological and Biomedical Sciences in the School of Biological Sciences at Portsmouth, declared: “the scientific community who ultimately created these ‘wonder-materials’ must now use all the technology at their disposal to develop real solutions.”

In Paris, a start-up called Edeni, organises ‘bootcamps’ to teach people how to drastically reduce their waste.

We also need governments to adopt strict policies regarding manufacturing of products which are recyclable and need less packaging.

A common action -from scientists, policy-makers, companies and the general public- is needed to attain the goal of a lower carbon economy.

“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” Helen Keller

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Me and you and you and me : together to fight plastic pollution !

Jean-Marc Boursier, Group Senior Executive Vice President in charge of Recycling & Recovery Europe at Suez declared that Europe produces 50 million tonnes of plastic waste each year. Less than one third is recycled and 93% of new plastic is made from virgin materials.

According to Greenpeace, only 9% of the plastic produced since the 1950’s has been recycled, which means that the majority of plastic waste has simply been dumped in landfills.

The problem is that even in landfills, the wind carries it onto rivers and oceans.

Indeed, every year, major rivers around the world are estimated to bring1.15-2.41 million tons of plastic into the ocean.

The need to manage our waste is therefore a major challenge, as the European Commission (EC) underlined in its work programme 2018-2020.

Furtheremore, on January 2018, the EC adopted its European strategy for plastics. As part of this strategy, the European Union is committed to making recycling profitable for businesses. Therefore, new rules need to be developed to increase the demand for recycled plastic. The French government has also set the goal of recycling 100% plastics by 2025.

Until the 1960’s, companies were focused on maximizing profit, regardless of the excessive exploitation of raw materials. Today, however, companies operate in a much more complex environment and have to obey to environmental regulations. They are also increasingly aware of the opportunities offered by the circular economy and they have opened up to the potential revenues it offers.

However, despite the fact that plastic waste is a commodity which is traded on the global market, for the moment, recycling in France is currently limited and inefficient. Indeed, a recent study by the French Agency for Energy Development and Management showed that, in France, the amount of plastic waste far exceeds the total of plastics recycled annually.

Despite the potential attractiveness of circular economy, only 46% of French plastic manufacturing companies have ever used recycled plastic.

The three reasons for this are : the difficulty of knowing where to source plastic waste and knowing its technical characteristics ; the lack of information on regulations and the fact that 28% don’t believe that the use of recycled materials will help them gain market share.

The ultimate goal is intersectoral collaboration. It’s about helping companies identify opportunities to minimize waste and create efficiencies. The objective would clearly be to implement a true, local, circular economy.

But what could we all do, on a daily basis to help tackling the problem of plastic waste ?

We all have seen disturbing pictures of floating garbages in the ocean or beaches covered with plastic waste.

Our future depends on what we do now to address this very real and visible threat.

So, here is what you can do on a daily basis to help me protect the ocean from being filled with plastic.

  • When you go shopping, you could bring a reusable bag to avoid single-use plastic bags.
  • Having an aluminium water bottle in your bag is a good idea, since most restaurants will agree to refill it for free !
  • When in a café, please refuse plastic straws. They are used a few seconds, they are mostly useless and you can be sure they will end up in the ocean, in the nose of a turtle or in the belly of a seabird, killing them slowly…. ☹
  • You could have your own cup that you could bring to work or to cafés. Indeed, even paper cups are often lined with plastic.
  • Having a fork, knife and spoon in your bag or in your car to avoid using disposable ones is also a good idea.
  • Washing your clothes with a lower heat helps reduce the release of microfibers.
  • Unfortunately, make up products with microbeads are made of plastic which will end up in the water. Also, do you really want to put plastic on your skin ? A better solution is to use coffee or sugar with oil to scrub your skin. It’s very efficient and cheaper !
  • Glitter is plastic. It’s toxic for you and it pollutes.
  • Unlike plastic packaging, glass containers can be recycled indefinately, so if you can, you could choose products in glass containers over similar products in plastic packages. Also, even better is to bring your reusable containers and buy from bulk bins. You could also bring your reusable container when buying pastry in a French boulangerie.
  • Another waste which is very often found on beaches is disposable lighters. Why not invest in a fancy refillable one instead ?
  • The same is true with disposable razers. A fancy metallic one is much nicer (and does the job better) than a disposable plastic one. Also you’re saving money !
  • Another waste which is everywhere in the ocean is plastic toothbrush. You can buy bamboo toothbrushes instead.
  • If you’re throwing a party, real cups are way classier than disposable plastic ones.
  • One of the best way for your health and for the environment is to wash your body is to buy real Marseille soap. One of the best brand that ships everywhere is Marius Fabre.
  • Same goes with washing your clothes. Simple ‘chips’ of Marseille soap are very efficient, you won’t get allergies and they don’t pollute the environment. They are especially good if you have kids.
  • On the website of your town, you will find out if you are correctly sorting your waste.
  • Finally, please communicate what you do so that other people can change their habits and protect this beautiful environment that is our home ! There are many ways to do so : simply discussing with your friends and neighbours, writing to companies and to shops to request that they downsize their packaging etc…

Here is a good picture showing how you can help reduce plastic pollution. Unfortunately, I don’t know who created this image, but if you know please tell me so that I can add their name!

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My husband and I are expecting our first child and we truly hope he/she (surprise !) will have the pleasure to swim in a clean ocean, to see turtles and dolphins, as we did.

Every little act counts ! We can do it all together ! Thank you very much for your well-needed support ! 😊

 

A tale of seahorses

Photograph: Justin Hofman

“It’s a photo that I wish didn’t exist but now that it does I want everyone to see it,”wrote Mr Hofman on his instagram account. “What started as an opportunity to photograph a cute little sea horse turned into one of frustration and sadness as the incoming tide brought with it countless pieces of trash and sewage. This photo serves as an allegory for the current and future state of our oceans.”

Tiny animals suffer from marine pollution. But we can act!

In England, in 1957, the River Thames was declared biologically dead because the pollution levels were very high. The amount of oxygen in the water fell so low that no life could survive.

Today, in 2017, 125 species of fish swim beneath its surface while more than 400 species of invertebrates, as well as seals, dolphins and even otters.

The transformation has even won the International Theiss River Prize, a £220,000 award.

“Improving the water quality is only half of the battle though,” explains Antonia Scarr, a senior marine advisor with the Environment Agency. “We have had to create the habitats to allow the plants, fish and wildlife to move into.”

But little by little, the work pays off! A few days ago, marine biologists from international conservation charity ZSL reported evidence of seahorses living in the Thames. Sixth individual animal have been spotted in the past two months alone, compared with previous averages of just one or two annual sightings, underlining the importance of the Thames and its estuary as a haven for wildlife.   

 

At the end of the month, I will attend the Sustainable Ocean Summit in Halifax,  a conference to mobilise a new discussion on how capital and the private sector can drive scalable, sustainable investment in the ocean. The future is still bright!

 

Yummi!

Photo: Mandy Barker “Soup

Robot submersibles have discovered plastic bags near the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean, where no explorer will ever plant a flag.

Plastic is in the ocean. Everywhere. Fishes, birds, mammals eat it.

Until recently, we assumed that most sea creatures ate plastic by accident. A turtle would mistake a plastic bag for a jellyfish for example.

However, Austin Allen, a  marine science doctoral student at the University of Duke, and Daniel Rittschof, a marine ecologist, demonstrated in a recent study published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin , that coral eat plastic…. because it’s tasty!

 

In 2016, Matthew Savoca, a postdoctoral researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, also reported that seabirds were attracted to smelly, bacteria-covered plastic, and that anchovy fish swarm around the odor of fouled plastic.

Savoca declared : “If in fact there are phagostimulants in clean plastic, let’s find out what those are and remove them.”

Another good reason to rethink the design of packaging!

 

Plastic addiction

Currently, Europe produces 50 million tonnes of plastic waste every year. Less than one third are sorted or recycled and 93% of new plastic is made from virgin materials.

Europe’s excessive use of plastics in packaging and low recycling rates are due to a poor regulatory framework. Indeed, according to  European Commission senior vice-president Frans Timmermans : “The technological challenge is not a problem, and it’s not even a financial problem… it’s a problem of governance.”

It is important to make recycling economically attractive. We need to better design packaging, which, for the moment, are made of combinations of materials that make recycling difficult.

Another difficulty is the fact that plastic production is linked to the price of oil. Falling oil prices have decreased the price of virgin plastic, while the price of recycled plastic is fixed.

Today, we need to decouple resource, or in other words increase resource productivity. This means reducing the rate of use of primary resources per unit of economic activity. We should dematerialize production by using less material, energy, water and land for the same economic output. We therefore need to become more efficient in the use of resources.

Decoupling therefore seeks to respond to the sustainability challenge of intergenerational equity by reducing the rate of physical resource depletion, while
simultaneously helping to reduce costs by raising resource productivity.

Furthemore, we shall implement a real circular economy rather than a linear one.

There is a way out of our plastic addiction! It starts by regulating our plastic production and present alternatives that make recycling economically attractive. The European Commission is working on a plastics strategy, aiming to Europe’s overall plastics consumption by 20%.

That’s a good starting point, but it is not enough!

In august 2017, the Government of Costa Rica decided to ban all single-use plastics by 2021. This includes straws, bottles, cutlery, cups and bags. The government is offering incentives to businesses and is investing in research into alternatives to single-use plastics in order to achieve its goal.

India, which is responsible for 60% of the plastic that is dumped in the world’s oceans every year, has recently introduced a ban on disposable plastic in Delhi. It is now no longer permitted to use plastic bags, chai cups and cutlery.

A 2016 report by the World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur Foundation, called The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics, gives us three ways out of our plastic addiction:

1. Improve the way we design, recycle and re-use plastics. About 30% of the plastic we create is destined for landfill/the ocean. Improving packaging at the design stage would make recycling easier. It would also make it more profitable than sending plastic waste to landfill.

2. For at least 20% of plastic waste, create reusable packaging.

3. For the remaining 50% of plastic, make recycling economically attractive.

Creativity and innovation are good ways to escape the plastic tragedy. Let us use our brains!