22 April is Earth Day. For 2018, the Earth Day theme is ”End Plastic Pollution”. Anna Kokareva, from EKOenergy, reflects about how this theme is in several ways linked to EKOenergy’s daily work.
Plastic and its many applications have completely transformed the way we live. We are surrounded by plastic in our everyday life: at the supermarket, when travelling, visiting festivals and spending time with friends in cafes. But how did it all begin?
Polymers or plastics have been used by human beings for much longer than generally considered. For example, naturally derived rubber was used by people in South America back in the 15th century. The first chemically produced plastics came into use in 1907, when Bakelite was invented by Leo Baekeland. The unique durability and flexibility of the material opened up a window of opportunity for manufacturers across various domains.
The key ingredient in plastic production is crude oil. Giants of the fossil fuel industry are not only extracting resources for energy use, but also for plastic production. It is claimed that the major chemical and petroleum companies were aware of the plastic problem since 1970s (1). Therefore, the shift to clean energy is also a step towards eliminating plastic pollution.
Research shows that 95% of the economic value of plastic packaging is lost after a single-use. More than that, even when recycled, plastic packaging leads to the creation of materials with a lower value (downcycle) which can not be further recycled. The best estimates suggest that our oceans currently contain 150 million tonnes of plastic. By 2025, there will be 1 tonne of plastic for every 3 tonnes of fish. (2)
Marine species suffer the most from plastic pollution. Within weeks of reaching the sea, micro-particles of plastic are colonised by algae. Fish confuse these particles for food and eat them, and, plastic swallowed by sea turtles can destruct their digestive systems and lead to prompt death.
Ocean pollution is a global problem – it does not affect just one area. When picturing plastic patches on the ocean surface, we often link them to the Pacific. However, these patches are present all over the globe, including in the Sargasso Sea of the North Atlantic. The Sargasso Sea is the spawning area for the European eel, which grow in the freshwater rivers in Europe but make a long journey to the North Atlantic to breed. That is why these species need free-flowing rivers and clean oceans to reproduce.
EKOenergy supports free-flowing rivers for fish migration, oceans free from plastic and a world free of fossil fuels. Earth Day follows a few days after World Fish Migration Day, which should make us think about the interconnection of elements that are necessary for sustaining a healthy environment.
Let’s unite our efforts and work as if every day is Earth Day.
Written by Anna Kokareva
Posted on 22 April 2018
(1) Fueling plastics. Center for International Environmental Law.
(2) The new plastic economy. Rethinking the future of plastics. Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2016.