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LATEST ARTICLE Overcoming sustainability challenges: practical solutions for your business Read Article

Tackling plastic
pollution for a
cleaner planet

The environment is a precious resource, and we have the power to protect it. While plastic pollution is a challenge that we face globally, we can take positive steps to make a difference. 


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The rising tide of plastic pollution

Plastic pollution is a pressing issue that affects the environment on a global scale. The excessive use of plastics has led to an increase in plastic waste that is not only harmful to wildlife and marine ecosystems, but also poses significant threats to human health. Therefore, it is crucial to address plastic pollution before it worsens.

tackling plastic pollution_hawksbill turtle_visual 1Hawksbill Turtle. Maldives Indian Ocean coral reef.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), plastic has become ubiquitous in our lives, but it hasn't always been this way. In the mid-20th century, plastic production was relatively low, and so was plastic waste. However, from the 1970s to the 1990s, plastic waste generation increased dramatically, reflecting a surge in production. And in the early 2000s, plastic waste generation skyrocketed, surpassing the previous 40 years’ production combined. 

These trends are concerning and highlight the urgent need for sustainable solutions to manage our plastic waste. By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. The scale of the problem is immense, and the damage it can cause is catastrophic. Therefore, it is imperative that everyone takes responsibility and action to tackle plastic pollution.

In this discussion, we will explore the causes and effects of plastic pollution, as well as the solutions that can be implemented to mitigate this issue. We will also discuss government and corporate actions on plastic pollution and provide tips on how individuals can contribute to reducing plastic waste. 

Read more: The ultimate guide to plastic credits 

Plastic pollution is a complex problem that requires collective efforts to tackle. We can create a cleaner and healthier planet for ourselves and future generations by implementing solutions to reduce plastic pollution.

tackling plastic pollution_ (3)Activist collecting plastic bottles on the beach.

Causes of plastic pollution

Plastic pollution is a growing worldwide environmental concern. The widespread use and improper disposal of plastic products are the primary causes of plastic pollution. UNEP estimates about 400 million tonnes of plastic waste are produced every year. Over the past few decades, plastic production has surged, and it's growing faster than any other material. Primary plastic production will reach 1,100 million tonnes by 2050. Here are some of the main causes of plastic pollution:

Single-use plastics

Single-use plastics are products that are designed to be used only once and then discarded. Examples of single-use plastics include plastic bags, straws, water bottles, and food packaging. These products are cheap, convenient, and widely used, but they create significant plastic waste. According to a report by the United Nations, more than 8 million tonnes of plastic waste end up in the oceans each year, and single-use plastics account for a significant portion of this waste. 

Single-use plastic products, meant to be thrown away after a single use, have become increasingly popular and concerning. Packaging, including single-use plastic for food and drink containers, represents 36% of plastic use. Unfortunately, approximately 85% of this ends up in landfills or as unregulated waste. To compound the problem, almost all single-use plastic is made from fossil fuels.

Read more: Eco-friendly alternatives to single-use plastics

Improper waste disposal

Improper plastic waste disposal is another major cause of plastic pollution. Plastic products take hundreds of years to decompose, and when they are improperly disposed of, they can end up in the ocean or landfills, harming wildlife and the environment. In many countries, waste management systems are inadequate, leading to plastic waste being dumped in rivers and oceans or burned, releasing toxic chemicals into the air.

Microplastics in the ocean

Microplastics are tiny plastic particles less than 5 mm in size that are often invisible to the naked eye. They are created when larger plastic products break down or when microbeads are used in personal care products. Microplastics are found in oceans and waterways worldwide and are ingested by marine animals, leading to health problems and even death. 

According to research published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, people in the United Kingdom consume an estimated 39,000 to 52,000 microplastic particles every year from seafood, water, sugars, salts, and alcohol alone. Worldwide, people ingest microplastics through various means, including consuming them while eating seafood, inhaling them from the air, or consuming food that has been in contact with plastic packaging. It is challenging to eliminate microplastic consumption, but modifying certain habits, such as opting for tap water instead of bottled water, can aid in reducing the amount of microplastics ingested annually.

Plastic production and consumption

The production and consumption of plastic products are also significant causes of plastic pollution. Plastic is produced from petroleum, a non-renewable resource, and the production process is energy-intensive, leading to carbon emissions contributing to rising greenhouse gases. 

tackling plastic pollution_ (2)
Engineer and recycling waste. 

Furthermore, the demand for plastic products is increasing worldwide, with the plastic packaging industry alone projected to grow by more than 3% annually. To reduce plastic pollution, it is essential to address these causes and implement solutions to reduce plastic use, improve waste management, and promote sustainability.

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Effects of plastic pollution

Plastic pollution has severe consequences on the environment, marine life, human health, and the economy. Here are some of the effects of plastic pollution:

Plastic pollution is one of the biggest threats to marine life. Large plastic debris such as fishing nets, plastic bags, and six-pack rings can entangle marine animals like sea turtles, dolphins, whales, and birds, leading to injuries, suffocation, and death. Moreover, marine creatures can mistake small plastic particles for food, leading to blockages in their digestive systems, malnutrition, and death. A recent study found that over 90% of seabirds have ingested plastic, which is expected to rise to 99% by 2050 if no action is taken.

tackling plastic pollution_ (1)
Scuba diver cleaning plastic from the tropical coral reef.

Plastic pollution poses several health risks to humans, including cancer, reproductive problems, and developmental delays. When plastic is exposed to heat, light, or acidic conditions, it can leach harmful chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, and styrene. These chemicals can accumulate in the food chain, leading to long-term health effects.

Economic costs

Plastic pollution imposes a significant economic burden on societies. According to a 2016 report by the World Economic Forum, the cost of plastic pollution to the global economy could reach $13 trillion by 2050. This includes the cost of cleaning up plastic waste, lost tourism revenue, and damage to fisheries and marine ecosystems.

Effects on the environment

Plastic pollution has far-reaching effects on the environment, including soil and water pollution, rising emissions, and loss of biodiversity. Plastic takes hundreds of years to degrade and can contaminate soil and water sources, leading to toxic waste accumulation. Plastic waste and production also release greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide, contributing to changing environmental conditions. Finally, plastic pollution can alter ecosystems by disrupting the balance of nutrients and food sources.

Solutions to plastic pollution

Plastic pollution is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach. To effectively address the problem, solutions must be implemented at every stage of the plastic life cycle—from production to disposal. Here are some solutions that can help reduce plastic pollution:

Reduce single-use plastics

Single-use plastics, such as straws, cutlery, and packaging, are some of the most common and unnecessary sources of plastic pollution. Businesses and individuals can reduce their use of single-use plastics by opting for reusable alternatives, such as bamboo or metal straws, reusable containers, and cloth bags. Many businesses are also starting to offer incentives for customers who bring their own reusable bags or containers.

Improve waste management

Proper waste management is essential to reducing plastic pollution. Governments and businesses can invest in better waste management infrastructure, such as recycling facilities and composting programmes. It's also important to educate individuals about proper waste disposal, such as separating recyclable materials from non-recyclable ones.

Read more: 5 Sustainable business practices to achieve net zero

Promote recycling

Recycling is a crucial part of the solution to plastic pollution. Governments and businesses can promote recycling by making it easier for individuals to recycle. For instance, they can provide more recycling bins in public spaces and implement curbside recycling programmes. It's also important to invest in low-energy technologies that can effectively recycle plastic waste.

Alternative materials

There are many alternative materials that can be used instead of plastic. For example, businesses can opt for paper packaging or use biodegradable materials that break down more easily in the environment. Alternative materials must, however, be thoroughly evaluated to ensure that they are truly environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Clean-up efforts

Clean-up efforts are vital for removing plastic waste that has already entered the environment. Many organisations and individuals are taking part in beach clean-ups and other initiatives to remove plastic waste from oceans and other natural areas. While clean-up efforts are necessary, they cannot be the sole solution to plastic pollution.

tackling plastic pollution_ (7)
Recycled product.

Government and corporate actions on plastic pollution

Governments and businesses have a significant role to play in reducing plastic pollution. Here are some examples of actions they can take to combat plastic pollution:

National and international policies and regulations

Many governments around the world have implemented policies and regulations to reduce plastic pollution. For example, some countries have banned single-use plastics or implemented taxes on plastic bags. International agreements, such as the United Nations' Global Goals for Sustainable Development, also include targets for reducing plastic pollution.

tackling plastic pollution_ (6)
Paper food bags being used to package items.

Corporate social responsibility and sustainability efforts

Many businesses are recognising the importance of sustainability and are taking action to reduce their environmental impact. For example, some companies are eliminating single-use plastics from their operations, while others are investing in sustainable packaging materials or implementing recycling programmes.

Reduce your plastic use

Innovative technologies and solutions

There are many innovative technologies and solutions that can help reduce plastic pollution. For example, some companies are using biodegradable plastics, while others are developing new ways to recycle plastic waste. Governments and businesses can support the development and implementation of these technologies by investing in research and development.

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Individual actions to reduce plastic pollution

It's easy to feel helpless when it comes to addressing plastic pollution, but every individual can make a difference by taking small but impactful steps. 

Tips for reducing plastic use

  • Always bring a reusable bag with you when you go shopping. They are more environmentally friendly than plastic bags.
  • Carry a refillable water bottle with you for water and other drinks. It is more environmentally friendly than using single-use plastic bottles.
  • Say no to single-use plastics, including straws, utensils, and food containers.
  • Opt for plastic-free alternatives like glass, metal, or bamboo products.
  • Buy in bulk whenever possible to reduce packaging waste and save money in the long term.

tackling plastic pollution_ (5)
Reusable water bottle being used in an office space.

How to properly dispose of plastics

Properly disposing of plastics is an essential step towards reducing plastic pollution. There are various ways to dispose of plastics, and following the proper guidelines is crucial. Recycling is effective, and it is essential to check with your local recycling programme what types of plastics they accept and to follow their guidelines. 

Additionally, hazardous waste, including batteries, electronics, and certain plastics, requires special disposal methods. You can contact your local waste management facility for guidance. Some types of plastics, such as bioplastics, can also be composted. Therefore, it is essential to check the packaging for composting instructions. 

Lastly, avoid littering. Properly disposing of plastic waste can prevent it from ending up in the environment. By following plastic disposal guidelines, everyone can contribute to reducing plastic pollution and creating a cleaner environment.

Supporting environmentally friendly businesses

Consumers have the power to support businesses that prioritise the environment and reduce plastic pollution. By choosing to support eco-friendly brands, consumers can make a significant impact on reducing the amount of plastic waste that ends up in oceans and landfills. Consumers can look for brands using sustainable materials and packaging, such as biodegradable or reusable options. 

In addition, choosing to buy from local businesses can reduce the carbon footprint of transportation and support the local economy. A consumer can do research on a company's sustainability efforts before making a purchase. Many companies are making strides to reduce their plastic use and have information on their website about their efforts. Supporting environmentally friendly businesses not only helps the planet, but also sends a message that consumers value sustainability and want to see more eco-friendly options in the market.

Read more: Net zero and a circular economy: Top 3 opportunities and challenges

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How DGB Group reduces plastic

DGB Group is committed to restoring nature and the environment. This is why DGB offers a unique solution to help you reduce your environmental impact and plastic use and contribute to nature: plastic credits. Our plastic credit programme allows you to reduce the impact of plastic on nature and biodiversity. Each plastic credit purchased from our programme represents 1,000 kg of plastic cleaned up and recycled. Talk to us to find out how you can reduce your plastic footprint and become nature positive. 

Offset your plastic footprint

Tackling plastic for a cleaner future

Plastic pollution is a serious environmental issue that requires immediate action from individuals, businesses, and governments. The effects of plastic pollution are far-reaching and have negative impacts on the environment, human health, and the economy. However, there are solutions to reduce plastic pollution! It includes reducing single-use plastics, improving waste management, promoting recycling, using alternative materials, and clean-up efforts.

Individual actions, like reducing plastic use and properly disposing of plastics, can also make a significant impact. Supporting environmentally friendly businesses can also contribute to reducing plastic pollution. It's important for individuals, businesses, and governments to work together to take steps towards reducing plastic pollution for a cleaner, healthier planet. Let's take action today and make a positive impact for future generations.

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