Hello fellow environmentalist,
Last year, a study commissioned by OceansAsia determined that more than 1.5 million face masks entered the world's oceans in 2020 — a single but substantial prong of the total mass of plastic waste generated by the global campaign to stop COVID-19.
In all, the study determined that more than 25,000 tons of single-use plastic waste was generated by the suddenly omnipresent COVID response market.
The point of origin for most of this predominantly plastic refuse is hospitals, which defer to single-use products almost exclusively.
Of that waste, about one-third is expected to wind up in the ocean and, ultimately, on the seabed, where it will gradually disincorporate and enter the food chain.
Now, believe me, I know the last thing you want to hear about right now is yet another problem caused by the COVID-19 crisis.
As if supply chain interruptions and stimulus-fueled inflation weren't enough, we now have an ecological crisis on our hands thanks to the 21st century's first true pandemic.
This ecological crisis, however, underscores a much bigger problem: our unshakable addiction to single-use plastic products.
Plastic: The Heroin of Modern Commerce
That 25,000-ton figure may sound dramatic to you, but it's still just a drop in the bucket compared with the estimated grand total of plastic we discard on an annual basis: 300 million tons.
And about 60% of it goes either into landfills or into the ocean — humanity's two preferred method of sweeping a problem under the rug on a planetary scale.
Less than 10% of that 300 million tons is recycled, and of that which is recycled, about 90% winds up either in the ground or in the water in its next usage cycle.
And that's only part of the story.
Plastic doesn't just consume energy and produce toxic byproducts at every stage of production. It's also highly taxing on another finite resource: oil.
As it stands, about 10% of our oil supply is consumed by the plastics industry, with that figure rising every year.
Put all the facts and figures together, and you quickly come to one conclusion: Our dependence on plastic is not sustainable.
The only possible answer, short of changing the way we live to no longer rely on single-use products, is to come up with a plastic alternative that neither pollutes during production nor is taxing on the environment to recycle.
Such an alternative will need to be able to sit on a shelf and remain airtight for years if need be, and at the same time decompose rapidly and completely, without any energy invested, in a natural setting.
It sounds like a wonder product, but it's no longer the stuff of fantasy.
Right now, a small Canadian materials technology company is entering the market with a truly compostable plastic alternative.
Its pilot product: a Keurig-compatible single-use coffee pod.
We'll have to wait and see how this progresses.
Ronnie Tutt MLGM /GREENPALS COOPERATIVE