Plastic: a massive environmental issue

Plastic: a massive environmental issue Watch the video

Plastic was once seen as the answer to everything – it comes in all shapes and sizes and it’s light and cheap to boot. But plastic is not degradable. That’s why it is polluting the earth and plastic microparticles are accumulating in animals and – at the end of the day – in humans, too. And that’s why many plastic disposable products will soon be banned. But we need to do more – and you can help.

Plastic pollution: all alarm bells ringing

The main reason is the ‘plastic soup’ in the oceans. Plastic waste is accumulating in five locations because of circular ocean currents that funnel the plastic. The biggest plastic waste mountain is floating around in the Pacific Ocean between California and Japan. But there’s also an immense garbage patch between Europe and the United States. The bottom of the ocean is also likely to be littered with plastic as algae attach to the plastic particles, causing much of the waste to sink after a while. 

The existence of the plastic soup is not new, but we’ve only recently realised how harmful plastic waste is. With time, it breaks down into tiny particles, but never disintegrates entirely. These microparticles accumulate in fish and other marine animals, ending up in people, too. The smallest particles can end up anywhere in our bodies, with the risk of damaging tissue and cells. And on land, nanoparticles of plastic – from car tires, for example, or from paint, clothing or carpets – pollute the environment. 

Will we ever be able to clean up the plastic?

Experiments are being done, for example by Boyan Slat, a former student of Delft Technical University. He designed a 600-metre long floating arm that sweeps up plastic in the ocean and is now trying to clean up the Pacific Ocean. But cleaning up is not enough. That’s why shops in the Netherlands are no longer allowed to give customers free plastic bags – a ban that was introduced in 2016. More bans on plastic are in the pipeline. With effect from 2021, there will be a total ban on various plastic disposables in the EU, such as cotton swabs (with plastic sticks), straws and single-use cutlery. That said, plastic bottles account for most plastic waste. Plans are for 90 per cent of all plastic bottles in the EU to be collected and recycled by 2029.

Reducing plastic waste

By buying as few plastic products and disposables as possible. Try to avoid products in non-recyclable packaging, such as black plastic trays used for food, (most) crisps bags, but also bread packaging made of both paper and plastic. These wrappings aren’t allowed in the plastics container and can therefore not be recycled. Want to know what you are allowed to put in the plastic bin? Check it out  here (in Dutch only).  

Many businesses are also doing their best to reduce plastic consumption. ABN AMRO was one of seventy other organisations that signed the Plastic Pact in early 2019. One of the goals of the pact is to make all plastic packaging 100% recyclable by 2025. The restaurant of ABN AMRO’s office in Amersfoort took up the challenge and is now virtually plastic-free. And Oerlemans Packaging (in Dutch only), a client of ABN AMRO’s and one of the biggest manufacturers of plastic packaging and plastic foil in the Netherlands, has met its responsibility by investing in ways to make its products more sustainable. 

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Jan Raes

Jan Raes

Sustainability Advisor +31 (0)20 383 1753