A great challenge that the earth faces currently is the crisis wrought by plastic. Presently, a humongous amount of plastic fills up our oceans every year – 12.7 million metric tonnes. The consequences are tragic, especially for marine life. These include turtles getting choked and whales getting poisoned.
As such, the primary solution is to reduce how much we use plastic. However, people are looking to technology and lateral thinking as well for solutions. Moreover, we are even searching for the answer in other living species.
Read on to know about five such surprising solutions.
Aspergillus tubingensis – this fungus is a species having dark pigments and flourishes in warm climates. In appearance, it is not anything special. However, it has an interesting property when it comes to plastic.
The major trouble with the material is its non-biodegradability. This means that it is very difficult to break it down. Hence, plastic is possibly inside us right now. Thus, agents that can help with breaking it down are very important.
In Pakistan’s Quaid-i-Azam University, a team of microbiologists has found that this mushroom can break down polyurethane, or PU. Sehroon Khan, the lead author, said that this fungus breaks the material down using certain enzymes and converts it into its food source. Thus, the fungus can potentially help degrade plastic in dumps and landfills.
Cleaning Up The Ocean
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch sits between Hawaii and California. It is the biggest build-up in oceans of plastic. The Patch is thrice as big as France. The total weight is estimated to be about 80000 metric tonnes.
Boyan Slat, 24, leads a Dutch team of engineers which is known as “System 001”. The system is for cleaning up the ocean. Boyan is an inventor himself. It is essentially a garbage collector. However, it is huge – 600m in length and it floats. Its collection skirt is 3m in depth. After a set period of time, a garbage ship will come to transport the collected waste.
The system has undergone tests and trials and is now heading towards the Patch. Slat has received both criticism and praise for the invention. However, how well it will work is a matter of patience.
PlasticRoad is another Dutch idea for a project. In Zwolle, a city in the Netherlands, a path for bicycles has been made out of reused material. Moreover, it is a unique project so far.
The method reuses plastic packaging, cups, and bottles that would have otherwise been burned or put in landfills. Presently, 70% of the road is made of reused waste. However, the plan for the future is to take it to 100%.
The company claims that its durability is more than asphalt. Furthermore, installation times are less. Moreover, it does not require as much heavy equipment either. Hence, the footprint for carbon is lesser as well.
Zwolle’s first road is 30m in length. It contains the recycled material equivalent to more than 500000 bottles and 218000 cups of plastic. A second such road is going to be made in Overijssel in November.
Seaweed As A Plastic Alternative
Designers and engineers are searching for other options that can replace plastic for foodstuff packaging. Bioplastics are one such option. It is made from biomass that is renewable such as food waste, woodchips, cassava starch, and vegetable oils and fats.
However, seaweed is the more plausible solution for Evoware, a start-up in Indonesia. The firm has made a deal with seaweed farmers in the locality. It uses the material to make wraps for burgers and sandwiches, coffee and flavoring sachets, and packaging for soap. The product is fully dissolvable in water, and can even be eaten. Thus, there is almost no waste.
There is another abstract idea that can reduce the amount of the material that ends up in the sea. It is named the Plastic Bank. It is an enterprise that will purchase such waste at a rate higher than the market. Moreover, people can trade in collected waste for other items such as money or services.
The project provides an incentive to collect waste and prevent it from entering the waterways. Moreover, it will also reduce poverty, provide an income, and clean the roads. Basically, if successful, such waste will be valuable enough not to be thrown away.
Corporate clients can then purchase the plastic at thrice the normal rate of plastic. Currently, the Philippines, Brazil, and Haiti have such a project in place. The Vatican, Panama, India, and South Africa have upcoming projects like this.
Plastic is a difficult commodity to get rid of, mostly because of how convenient it is. However, we must look to reduce and hopefully remove it in the near future. Otherwise, life will be irreversibly affected. Thus, there will definitely be more of such quirky solutions as long as the fight rages on. If not one of them, perhaps all of them together will succeed.