Plastic remains as one of the biggest hurdles in the path of circular economy in Europe

As European economies have flourished and developed along the last 50 years, the use of plastic has intensified enormously. According to recent estimations, plastic production has become 50 times bigger in this time period, and it is supposed to stay on growing.

While this can make sense to a certain extent since population and consumption has also increased during this period, what remains unbearable is how little is being done to switch to a more circular approach: nowadays, only 7% of the plastic produced is recycled. Furthermore, Europe is exporting part of that recycled plastic to countries like China, because the inner demand is not high enough.

Although the image of used bottles and bags can be the more visual representation of plastic waste, truth is technology has taken this problem to a whole new level. Specifically, the existence of microplastics (tiny pieces of plastic materials of less than 5mms) makes it so that a lot of the plastic we throw away is undetectable also for us: from hygiene products to clothes, many of the products we use on daily basis include almost undetectable traces of plastic, making it really hard for the average user to know the damage he is causing by using those products.

According to studies, the highest damage by plastic waste is done in the oceans. All those microplastics slowly tear apart and go down the sink to end in the waters of all around the world. For instance, rain takes microparticles of the car tires away, which finish in the sea. We have another example in the washing machines: recent evaluation suggests that around 10% of the microplastic present in the oceans comes from its use.

And why is this so important? Well, for a start, it is much easier to tackle the problem while the waste is still on land. Even when the plastic particles are already into the sewer system, it is possible to apply different filters to capture it. In this sense, the company SUEZ has developed new technology to filtrate the microplastics that pass through different plants for water treatment.

Nonetheless, the full circle of the circular economy does not close just with the increasing capability of collection. As Jean-Marc Boursier, one of Suez’s senior executives affirms, “it does not make much sense to ask people to increase their efforts on separating their waste to facilitate the recycling process when, for instance, most of the plastic collected in Europe ends up in China because the internal demand is not high enough”. “It’s a matter of political will” he adds.

European Commission is trying to take some steps in this direction. Recently, a proposal was raised to change the relation with plastic, materialized on the goal of recycling at least 90% of disposable bottles by 2025. While on paper it may seem ambitious enough, reality keeps on pushing us to make bigger efforts: it has been forecasted that by 2025 the oceans will bear a plastic waste/fish ratio will be 1:3. The time to raise awareness is falling behind, and now is the time to take actions.

Closing the Loop – The new circle starts now!

The Council of the European Union has just presented its draft conclusions to take the circular economy plan a step further.

In the report it stresses the need for more funding in research and innovation that “are essential for developing necessary sustainable and resource efficient industrial, economic and societal processes to stimulate the transition to the circular economy”.

Closing the Loop is an ambitious European plan, that we desperately need to put into action. Founded by the European Structural & Investment Funds (ESIF), with €5.5 billion for waste management and more €650 million from Horizon 2020 (the EU funding programme for research and innovation) and investments in the circular economy at national level, it aims at “extracting the maximum value and use from all raw materials, products and waste, fostering energy savings and reducing Green House Gas emissions.”

What circular economy is? Briefly, is an industrial economy that by intention does not produce “waste”, or better re-use them!  This is open contrast with the traditional model of our economy of “Take, Make, Dispose”, that currently produces just in the OECD countries 572 million tonnes of solid waste per year, for an average of 2.2 kg of waste per capita per day!

This vicious circle must be stopped and here is that the Circular Economy comes! The key elements of the plan can be listed as follow:

  • A common EU target for recycling 65% of municipal waste by 2030;
  • A common EU target for recycling 75% of packaging waste by 2030;
  • A binding landfill target to reduce landfill to maximum of 10% of municipal waste by 2030;
  • A ban on landfilling of separately collected waste;
  • Promotion of economic instruments to discourage landfilling ;
  • Simplified and improved definitions and harmonised calculation methods for recycling rates throughout the EU;
  • Concrete measures to promote re-use and stimulate industrial symbiosis – turning one industry’s by-product into another industry’s raw material;
  • Economic incentives for producers to put
  • greener products on the market and support recovery and recycling schemes (eg for packaging, batteries, electric and electronic equipments, vehicles).

The Circular economy offers an opportunity to reinvent our economy, making it more sustainable and competitive. This will bring benefits for European businesses, industries, and citizens. Moreover, it will make Europe’s economy cleaner and more competitive! The by-products will not be considered as an useless part of our production system but as a resource! For some of us, especially the ederly this may not sound new! We must admit that our grandparents used to fix “things” more and unfortunately this behavior has been lost somewhere through the last decades! We have been so much involved in the consumptive circle to the point that is easier and cheaper to replace a “damaged” object with a new one.

As this spiral is not sustainable and also pointless, it must be stopped now! Circular economy is up today the best alternative!

Someone it may argue that in this way we are going back, but in my opinion we are moving forward instead! We have today more abilities and an higher technological level than before to build long-lasting products and to create a virtuos loop in which materials flows again and again, re-borning each time to a new life.

The Circular economy plan just started and we shall keep an eye open and see how the european situation will evolve! One thing is sure, we are ready to take this step and the benefits will not be late to be seen!

Plastic bag’s usage has been reduced but still a long way to go!

Over the few months I have been stressing a lot in my posts regarding the use of plastic bag in our daily life. Why I say ‘the use of daily life’?

Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide.
That’s over one million plastic bags used per minute.

Recently, England started charging their customers in Supermarket for the use of plastic bag. It was long over due. Denmark was the first country in 1993 to pass the law to charge customers for the plastic bag in supermarket. Even Finland tops the list for less plastic bag usage.

Ireland ans Scotland started charging long way back too and succeeded in reducing the usage by significant number.
I remember when I was in school in India, there was once a strong campaign against the use of plastic. If any student did a bad thing, he was punished to clean the sport ground by taking out the plastic bags. The ground was really dirty and mostly I and my friends had to do it sometimes. We liked it. It was better than attending Maths class.
(btw only guys cleaned it, girls were saint at that time – pun intended).

Now, living in Italy, where they charge 15 cents for the plastic bag, I take my own bag for last 10 months for shopping. I carry my laptop bag everywhere. You never know when you need to shop. I look like a nerd. Even people tell me that I am always with that bag but I sleep well knowing that I am using less plastic than I was using before.

There is a post where it says that by 2050 99% of seabirds will have plastic in their body system.

When Ireland started charging over the use of plastic bag, there was 90% reduction in the usage. So did Australia and it worked wonders for them. I wonder why India and China lack behind.

You know in India they put hot tea in the plastic bag to drink later on in office or back home? really unhealthy but good memories. I see loads of people carrying plastic bag in supermarket only to put it in their cars truck. Why can’t they use a trolley till their car parking to put the stuff inside? or keep a strong bag in the car for shopping in the future.

I am optimistic but with my own limitations but what a beautiful world will be without the plastic in the ocean.

Are we eating Plastic for dinner?

Yesterday when I wrote about the dutch entrepreneur Boyan Slat’s Ocean Cleanup Project, I also mentioned that around 8 Million tons of plastic is dumped into Ocean every year. I just couldn’t take this out of mind. 8 Million tons every year. Every year. That is just too much to handle. BY 2025 it will be 155 million tons. I said to myself we will be eating plastic too through the food and upon further research, it wasn’t difficult to find.

This video ‘Are you eating plastic for dinner?’ talks about how we are eating toxic through the fish. I really feel so bad about marine life. Even though the video’s duration is around 4 min, it still manages to leave a strong impression on me regarding how can we make a difference. How can we reduce it? I am still figuring this out.

The new study also identifies the major sources of plastic debris and names the top 20 countries generating the greatest amount of ocean-bound trash. China is first. The United States is 20th. The rest of the list includes 11 other Asian countries, Turkey, five African countries, and Brazil.

I am amazed that India is not on the top list. The sea in the west coast and also on eat coast is so bad. The beach at Rimini looks like a Greek beach if I compare it to Indian beaches.

Even though the United States has a highly developed garbage collection system, it nevertheless made the top 20 for two reasons: It has a large, dense coastal population and, as a wealthy nation, is a large consumer of products.

team combined population and economic data from 192 coastal countries bordering the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans in addition to the Black and Mediterranean Seas. They found that these countries created 275 million tons of garbage annually, of which 4.8 to 12.7 million tons of plastic flowed into the oceans. That’s only 2 to 5 percent of the total waste created in those countries.

The use of plastics for consumer products has become increasingly dominant, and production has steadily increased since the material was first put into wide use a half century ago. In 2012, for example, 288 million tons of plastic were manufactured globally.

Ocean plastic has turned up literally everywhere. It has been found in the deep sea and buried in Arctic ice. It has been ingested with dire consequences by some 700 species of marine wildlife.

You can read more about it here.