Plastic is a substance the earth cannot digest. Or, at least, takes a long time to do so. Worldwide reliance on disposable plastic packaging is overwhelming our planet. Studies calculate that, by 2050, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by weight. This week we talked with Vito A. Buonsante, Plastics Program Manager for Environment Defence, to better understand how this material became one of the biggest problems regarding global pollution and climate change.
Milénio Stadium: Pollution is a big issue, in general, but plastic pollution is one of the most concerning. Why is this material so problematic?
Vito Buonsante: Plastics do not biodegrade and they are likely to persist forever in the environment (or at least for hundreds of hears). A lot of plastics end up in the oceans and in waterways.
MS: What is the scenario we see in Canada, in terms of plastic pollution?
VB: It is estimated that about 10,000 tonnes of plastics end up in the great lakes every year and 8 million tonnes in the waters worldwide. Also, Canadians are among the biggest users of plastics in the world (per capita) and the top waste generators in the world. Moreover only 9% of that plastics get recycled, most of which ends up in the environment or in landfills.
MS: Do you see any actions being taken, globally and in Canada, in order to reduce plastic pollution?
VB: There are some initial actions, in the EU several bans are coming into force. Canada has announced that it will take measures similar to the EU, but so far little has been done, mainly at municipal level (Montreal, Vancouver).
MS: People are always being asked to reduce the use of plastic. What about the industries? Are there any laws regulating the materials that industries can use in their products, packaging, etc?
VB: Our Plastics Declaration (environmentaldefence.ca/plasticsdeclaration) details 18 priority measures to combat plastic pollution. One measure alone will not solve the problem and we will need a combination of bans, producers’ responsibility and reduction of plastic generation and use.
MS: Why is plastic preferred for the manufacturing of so many products?
VB: It is light, cheap, durable and can be made in any shape. That makes it a great material, but it is overused for single use products.
MS: Do you think people need better alternatives to choose from, as consumers?
VB: I think we should be given more options to reuse products and products should be manufactured to be more durable. We live in a throwaway society and that’s a source of lots of plastic pollution
MS: What can be the consequences, if we don’t stop plastic pollution?
VB: Some studies estimate that there will be more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050 if we don’t stop plastic pollution. Also plastics are made of fossil fuels and they contribute to more climate change.