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The change I want to see - AWWP

Updated: May 6, 2020

A World Without Plastic.

I really had to think about what change I wanted to see in this World.

I mean, if you had a magic wand and be able, all of the sudden, to make impactful changes in your life - what would you do? I am not sure what's your answer to this - but for me, it was absolutely overwhelming. I could think at so many things and it took me ages to come out with an answer. The truth is, I had to make a list of things I absolutely didn't like in this World (and trust me it was a very long list) and I had to ask the support of many friends who started to psycho-analise me until I managed to detangle myself from a situation of uncertainty. And I realised that there was a similar patter which was linking each bullet point of that list: Nature. As you all know from my previous blogs, I live and breath for nature and there is no other source of freedom for my soul, apart being surrounded by it. So let's keep short and sweet, shall we?

AWWP - A World Without Plastic

I dig down into my research, gaining information of all sorts, and finding very interesting stakeholders. A lot has been done since 2000 but somehow we still have the issue of single plastic usage. Clearly thing are moving in the right direction, but who is making a strong impact into the World and actually accomplish something? Did we really need to wait until in 2019 for a 16 years old to make news by sailing across the Atlantic Ocean? With all due respect, but we have plenty of amazing examples of determination and performances: from Joshua Slocum who, in 1900, completed his single-handed global circumnavigation aboard the sloop Spray. Slocum was the first person to sail around the world alone. Almost a century later, on 7 February 2005, Dame Ellen MacArthur broke the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe, a feat which gained her international renown. The first issue during my research and planning was the fact that plastic pollution affects all our main three environments: air, earth and waters. And that was my first consideration. And I knew right away that I wanted to address my research into water plastic pollution.

In the ocean, plastic pollution can kill marine mammals directly through entanglement in objects such as fishing gear, but it can also kill through ingestion, by being mistaken for food. Studies have found that all kinds of species, including small zooplankton, large cetaceans, most seabirds, and all marine turtles, readily ingest plastic bits and trash items such as cigarette lighters, plastic bags, and bottle caps. Sunlight and seawater embrittle plastic, and the eventual breakdown of larger objects into “microplastics” makes plastic available to zooplankton and other small marine animals. Such small pieces of plastic, which are less than 5 mm (0.2 inch) in length, make up a sizable fraction of plastic waste in the oceans. By 2018 microplastics had been found in the organs of more than 114 aquatic species, including some species found only in the deepest ocean trenches.

“If we are doubling what we are putting into the ocean on a ten-year basis, there’s no way to keep up… It would be as if you were vacuuming your living room, and I’m standing in the doorway with a bag of dust and a fan. You can constantly keep vacuuming, but you could never catch up.”

– Chris Wilcox, ecologist at CSIRO for an interview with National Geographic.

In addition to being nonnutritive and indigestible, plastics have been shown to concentrate pollutants up to a million times their level in the surrounding seawater and then deliver them to the species that ingest them. In one study, levels of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), a lubricant and insulating material that is now widely banned, were shown to have increased significantly in the preen gland oil of streaked shearwaters (Calonectris leucomelas) after these seabirds had been fed plastic pellets culled from Tokyo Bay for only one week.

Solving the problem

Given the global scale of plastic pollution, the cost of removing plastics from the environment would be prohibitive. Most solutions to the problem of plastic pollution, therefore, focus on preventing improper disposal or even on limiting the use of certain plastic items in the first place. Fines for littering have proved difficult to enforce, but various fees or outright bans on foamed food containers and plastic shopping bags are now common, as are deposits redeemed by taking beverage bottles to recycling centres. So-called extended producer responsibility, or EPR, schemes make the manufacturers of some items responsible for creating an infrastructure to take back and recycle the products that they produce. Awareness of the serious consequences of plastic pollution is increasing, and new solutions, including the increasing use of biodegradable plastics and a “zero waste” philosophy, are being embraced by governments and the public.

Biodegradable plastics

Are plastics that can be decomposed by the action of living organisms, usually microbes, into water, carbon dioxide, and biomass. Biodegradable plastics are commonly produced with renewable raw materials, micro-organisms, petrochemicals, or combinations of all three.

While the words "bioplastic" and "biodegradable plastic" are similar, they are not synonymous. Not all bioplastics are biodegradable.

The theory behind bioplastics is simple: if we could make plastics from kinder chemicals to start with, they'd break down more quickly and easily when we got rid of them. The most familiar bioplastics are made from natural materials such as corn starch and sold under such names as EverCorn™ and NatureWorks—with a distinct emphasis on environmental credentials. Some bioplastics look virtually indistinguishable from traditional petrochemical plastics. Polylactide acid (PLA) looks and behaves like polyethylene and polypropylene and is now widely used for food containers.

According to NatureWorks, making PLA saves two thirds the energy you need to make traditional plastics. Unlike traditional plastics and biodegradable plastics, bioplastics generally do not produce a net increase in carbon dioxide gas when they break down (because the plants that were used to make them absorbed the same amount of carbon dioxide to begin with). PLA, for example, produces almost 70 percent less greenhouse gases when it degrades in landfills.

Another good thing about bioplastics is that they're generally compostable: they decay into natural materials that blend harmlessly with soil. Some bioplastics can break down in a matter of weeks. The cornstarch molecules they contain slowly absorb water and swell up, causing them to break apart into small fragments that bacteria can digest more readily. Unfortunately, not all bioplastics compost easily or completely and some leave toxic residues or plastic fragments behind. Some will break down only at high temperatures in industrial-scale, municipal composters or digesters, or in biologically active landfills (also called bioreactor landfills), not on ordinary home compost heaps or in conventional landfills. There are various eco-labeling standards around the world that spell out the difference between home and industrial composting and the amount of time in which a plastic must degrade in order to qualify.

But here are some of the drawbacks:

  • When some biodegradable plastics decompose in landfills, they produce methane gas. This is a very powerful greenhouse gas that adds to the problem of global warming.

  • Biodegradable plastics and bioplastics don't always readily decompose. Some need exposure to UV (ultraviolet) light or relatively high temperatures and, in some conditions, can still take many years to break down. Even then, they may leave behind micro-fragments or toxic residues.

  • Bioplastics are made from plants such as corn and maize, so land that could be used to grow food for the world is being used to "grow plastic" instead. By 2014, almost a quarter of US grain production was expected to have been turned over to biofuels and bioplastics production; taking more agricultural land out of production could cause a significant rise in food prices that would hit poorest people hardest.

  • Growing crops to make bioplastics comes with the usual environmental impacts of intensive agriculture, including greenhouse emissions from the petroleum needed to fuel farm machinery, and water pollution caused by runoff from land where fertilizers are used in industrial quantities. In some cases, these indirect impacts from "growing" bioplastics are greater than if we simply made plastics from petroleum in the first place.

  • Some bioplastics, such as PLA, are made from genetically modified corn. Some environmentalists consider GM (genetically modified) crops to be inherently harmful to the environment, though others disagree.

  • Bioplastics and biodegradable plastics cannot be easily recycled. To most people, PLA looks very similar to PET (polyethylene terephthalate) but, if the two are mixed up in a recycling bin, the whole collection becomes impossible to recycle. There are fears that increasing use of PLA may undermine existing efforts to recycle plastics.

  • Many people think terms like "bioplastic," "biodegradable," and "compostable" mean exactly the same thing. But there's a huge difference between a "biodegradable" plastic (one that might take decades or centuries to break down) and a truly "compostable" material (something that turns almost entirely into benign waste after a matter of months in a composter), while "bioplastic," can also mean different things. Confusing jargon hampers public understanding, which makes it harder for consumers to grasp the issues and make positive choices when they shop.

How to cut down on plastics and going 'low/zero waste'.

Why is life never simple? If you're keen on helping the planet, complications like this sound completely exasperating. But don't let that put you off. As many environmental campaigners point out, there are some very simple solutions to the plastics problem that everyone can bear in mind to make a real difference. Instead of simply sending your plastics waste for recycling, remember the saying "Reduce, repair, reuse, recycle". Recycling, though valuable, is only slightly better than throwing something away: you still have to use energy and water to recycle things and you probably create toxic waste products as well. It's far better to reduce our need for plastics in the first place than to have to dispose of them afterwards.

I transitioned myself from a very high plastic- consumer based lifestyle, onto a mostly plastic-free user. It wasn't easy and it took me a couple of years to full.

The WHAT, WHY, HOW, IF - formula

Here a video that will mark the 'What' of The Change That I Want to See.

The 'Why' of The Change That I Want to See speaks for itself. I care about my planet, I care about Mother Nature, and all her habitants. I care for the species and the next generations to come, and I care to make an impact.

The 'How' of The Change That I Want to See is still a working in progress. And is this is where I am currently at. I divided the 'How' into 3 main phases of action plan: Phase 1 - saw me researching anything I could about this matter and create - and still populating, few check-lists of contacts. I specifically created one for the Marine Environmental Organisations, one to incorporate Artists and Activists who showed interested in this specific matter and a third one, dedicated to any contacts that inspired me, that I randomly bumped into it during my research and that could be potentially useful to my Change. This will allow me to keep my eyes (as well as my imagination) open. Phase 2 will see me trying to build connections across those names and be able to build my plan for Phase 3.

Phase 3 will depend on Phase 2. I had several ideas in mind but I want to keep an open mind and really see what Phase 2 will lead this path of Change.

The 'What if' of The Change That I Want to See is the more 'high level' of them all, but I wrote down both the Pros and the Cons. Is like when you are lost in the forest and all of the sudden, you bump into a diversion: the path splits into two and you are forced to choose. Which one will you choose? Here is my point. If I go left and I reach a dead end - the world still (hopefully) ok, the planet will still spinning around its axe for a duration of 24 hrs and I will be simply another drop in the ocean. If I will end up right, I might be able to reach more people, actively contributing in plastic reduction, setting up a new Artistic stream which can influence the generations to come, by marking our lives, in unprecedented moments of history that we are all, currently living.

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