By Tanika Godbole
Southeast Asia is one of the biggest sources of plastic waste from land to the ocean, and Thailand is among the top five contributors. In January, Thailand placed a ban on single-use plastic, and was looking to reduce its plastic waste by 30% this year.
Food Delivery<p>One of the biggest contributors to the plastic problem is food delivery. As people have been housebound, their tendency to order food delivery has risen, resulting in increased usage of plastic containers and wrapping material.</p><p>Grab, a Singaporean food delivery app, saw a surge of 400% in orders. Other such apps like Line Man and Foodpanda Thailand, too, have seen a rise of 300% and 50% in their orders, respectively.</p><p>Waste from a single delivery could contain several plastic items such as containers, seasoning packets, beverage holders, chopsticks, spoons, forks and so on.</p><p>"Plastic containers for food are often contaminated, the waste separation and collection are not systematic, and there is no regulation on waste separation and enforcement," said Wijarn Simachaya, President of TEI.</p>
Waste Management<p>While countries across North America, Europe and Japan also contribute high levels of plastic waste, they have relatively efficient waste management systems in place.</p><p>The Thai government had released a "Plastic Waste Management Road Map," to phase out the use of plastic by 2030. One of the initiatives of this plan was the single-use plastic ban that has been enforced since January.</p><p>According to data released by the Department of Environment and Quality Promotion, an average person in Thailand uses about 8 plastic bags per day, which adds up to 200 billion per year.</p>
Widespread<p>Some say the pandemic has merely brought to the surface an already existing problem for the country. Experts believe that greater awareness and lifestyle changes among the masses could help address this issue.</p><p>The effects of plastic waste are long term. The pollution affects the oceans, aquatic life and also humans.</p><p>"Plastic pollution may also be contaminating the air that we breathe every day. Plastics do not biodegrade, therefore once they are introduced into an animal's system, they will stay there for a long time. Therefore, consuming these plastics leads to malnutrition, digestive blockage and slow poisoning effects due to plastic's heightened toxicity," Simachaya told DW.</p><p>While the pandemic may have been a setback to Thailand's struggle to eliminate plastic waste, Simachaya believes a change in awareness and habits will lead to a gradual decrease in plastic waste.</p><p>Thailand is slowly starting to ease lockdown rules. While it is too premature to say whether the plastic waste levels are expected to go down, some delivery outlets have started offering bio-degradable containers and cutlery. Some online shopping companies are also giving the option of receiving packages without the use of plastic.</p>
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By Jeannette Cwienk
When it comes to recycling and recyclability, very little, it seems is straightforward — even something as seemingly simple as orange juice can present a conundrum. In Germany, many smaller shops sell drinks in cartons or plastic bottles, both of which will end up in the yellow recycling bin. But how do their recycling credentials stack up?
More and More Multilayer Packaging<p>How easy is it to recognize multilayer packaging? With drink cartons, it's usually obvious that they're made from a combination of different materials, but with other products, such as candy wrappers, it's a different story.</p><p>Such packaging can be made from a complex mix of up to 10 different films of plastic, which as Joachim Christiani, managing director of German recycling institute cyclos-HTP, explains, is <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/germany-produces-record-amount-of-packaging-waste/a-51293541" target="_blank">invisible to consumers</a>.</p><p>"In recent years there's been a trend toward so-called multilayer packaging, which is extremely light and thin. It saves material as well as CO2 emissions during transport, but can't be recycled," Christiani says.</p><p>Because it is not possible to melt the different plastics together, or — at least for now — to separate the individual films from one another at recycling plants.</p>
Lack of Recycled Plastic<p>A 2017 cyclos-HTP study into the recyclability of conventional packaging waste concluded that a third of it was not recyclable, and only 40% of the remaining two-thirds was made into plastic recyclate. The rest was used as fuel <em>—</em> in other words it was incinerated.</p><p>"There was no economic or political pressure to recycle more than this amount," Christiani says. "The prescribed recycling quotas were met, and there were not nearly enough recycling plants."</p>
Room for Greenwashing<p>According to a 2018 survey by Germany's vzbv consumer protection association, most consumers would like to see more plastic recycling, especially when it comes to packaging.</p><p>Although some products come in packaging that is advertised as being "made from recycled material," Elke Salzmann, a resource protection officer with vzbv, says that can be misleading.</p><p>"It says nothing about how much recycled material the packaging actually contains," according to Salzmann. "And it also doesn't mean that the recycled plastic comes from collected plastic waste. It could just as well come from plastic leftovers created during the production of primary plastic."</p><p>The term "ocean plastic," which some textile and shoe manufacturers use to advertise the recycled plastic in their product lines, can also be misleading, Salzmann says.</p><p><span></span>"Plastic waste from the ocean is in much too bad a state to be recycled. Instead, they use plastic waste from beaches or riverbanks."</p>
Laws Against Plastic<p>Images of garbage choking our waters and <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/eurythenes-plasticus-a-deep-sea-crustacean-full-of-plastic/a-52663559" target="_blank">killing marine wildlife</a> have played a key role in giving plastic a negative reputation among the public, and politicians have started to act.</p><p>Many countries worldwide have introduced bans on single-use items, and in Germany, a 2019 packaging law stipulates a plastics recycling quota of 90% from 2022, up from 36%. That said, the quota only refers to how much material has to be fed into the recycling system, not how much ultimately needs to be recycled.</p>
Rethinking the Whole System<p>Although plastic is a very useful material, at the end of its life it causes many problems, EASAC environmental program director Michael Norton tells DW, adding that we have to rethink the whole system and completely change the way we use plastic.</p><p>Joachim Christiani says the packaging industry is starting to catch on. Around 70% of recycled mass can currently be generated from packaging, but that figure is expected to rise in the future.</p><p>"95% is quite feasible," says the engineer, adding that sorting facilities are currently undergoing improvements, while packaging design is also changing.</p>
Clear Plastics Are Easiest to Recycle<p>As things stand, PET bottles are easiest to recycle because they're not mixed with other materials. New bottles can therefore easily be made from the old ones and the recycling rate is high. But the color of the bottle can pose a problem.</p><p>Because plastic is sorted by type rather than color, if different colors of plastic are mixed, the resulting recyclate cannot be used for light-colored packaging, which many manufacturers want. The upshot is the introduction of new plastic instead.</p><p>Consumer and environmental associations have long called for recyclability, greater sorting purity and better sorting facilities, but their most important demand remains waste avoidance through reusable systems.</p><p>"Why melt down disposable bottles to make new disposable bottles when you can refill them up to 20 times?" Buschmann asks.</p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The gruesome images of whales and deer dying after mistaking plastic for food has helped put into perspective just how severe the plastic waste crisis is. Now, a new study finds that it is not just land and sea animals eating our plastic trash. It turns out that birds are eating hundreds of bits of plastic every day through the food they eat.
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Tierra del Fuego is at the southernmost tip of South America and is sometimes known as the "end of the world." This windswept part of Argentina is home to seven penguin colonies which breed, nest and feed in the area.
A film by Aitor Saez<iframe scrolling="no" width="640" height="477" frameborder="0" align="middle" name="Penguin colonies suffer from plastic trash | DW.COM" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" src="https://www.dw.com/embed/640/av-53424380"></iframe>
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While some are trying to clean up the plastic pollution in the oceans, and others are removing it from beaches, one company is looking to end the need for plastic bottles that last hundreds of years and are rarely recycled. A Dutch company is looking to fight the plastic crisis with a plant-based alternative that degrades in one year, as The Guardian reported.
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By Brigitte Osterath
Yogurt pots, shampoo bottles, coffee-to-go lids, bubble wrap — plastic products are all composed of the same building blocks: long carbon chains.
Heating them to high temperatures makes the carbon chains crack into a mixture of shorter molecules, ultimately converting them back into crude oil, the resource from which the majority of plastic products were originally made.
Big Business<p>Several companies have made significant investments in chemical recycling, building facilities to test various ways of making what is allegedly more environmentally friendly oil. So far, it's still in the development and test stage.</p><p>In 2018, multinational chemistry giant BASF launched ChemCycling — a project that aims to generate a so-called pyrolysis oil from plastic waste. The company claims it can be used in the production of new polymers, which it says will save fossil fuel resources.</p><p>Austrian oil and gas company OMV has built a pilot plant which it says can process all common packaging material such as polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene.</p><p>The plastics are chopped down, mixed with a high-boiling solvent and heated in a furnace at over 300 degrees Celcius (572 degrees Fahrenheit). Once the product has been distilled and the solvent filtered off, the company is left with synthetic crude oil, which it claims is "free of sulfur, lighter than fossil crude oil and with a higher hydrogen content — therefore of higher quality."</p><p>The product can be refined to make fuels such as gasoline, kerosene and diesel or petrochemical products.</p><p>The plant has the capacity to convert 100 kilos of waste each hour, OMV told DW. But a planned successor facility would be able to process 2,000 kilos hourly.</p><p>Similar pilot plants are being constructed in other countries across Europe.</p>
Behind the Hype<p>So, can chemical recycling solve our waste problem through the creation of fuels?</p><p>Roman Maletz, a researcher at the Institute of Waste Management and Circular Economy at the Technical University in Dresden, is not convinced.</p><p>The idea of recycling plastic trash by cracking it, he says, is neither new nor revolutionary. It has just never worked before.</p><p>"In the past, such plants always ran into problems when in continuous operation," Maletz said. "I don't see how these issues could suddenly be resolved."</p><p>Problems arise when the trash contains too many different materials or when it is too dirty.</p><p>"In that case, the quality of the product is lowered, and the whole process becomes economically unviable."</p>
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By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
In 2018, Lauren Biermann was scouring a satellite image of the ocean off the coast of the Isle of May, Scotland, searching for signs of floating seaweed for a project at her university. Her eyes were drawn to lines of white dots gently curving along an ocean front.
Scientists have discovered the highest concentration of microplastics ever recorded on the seafloor—1.9 million pieces in one square meter (approximately 11 square feet) of the Mediterranean.
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By Daiane Scaraboto, Alison M Joubert and Claudia Gonzalez-Arcos
In eight years, US environmentalist and social media star Lauren Singer had never sent an item of rubbish to landfill. But last month, in an impassioned post to her 383,000 Instagram followers, she admitted the reality of COVID-19 has changed that.
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