What is wrong with plastic, anyway?
Plastic has a number of advantages, not least because it is a light weight material thus reducing energy consumption by transport. Lego bricks is a good example of plastic not liberating harmful chemicals, yet being used by generations in line. The “Margrethe bowl” can be used for many years and then used again. The problem is that we mainly use plastic fror one use purposes. Today bottles, lids, tooth picks and many other items are made of plastic ending up in the marine environment, where it constitutes a serious environmental problem. In places, where we have no control with the use of plastic it should be replaced by sustainable alternatives. Otherwise there must be a producer responsibility, meaning that plastics should be used in closed loops, so that all of it is recycled. This can be supported by deposit systems, charges, taxes and leasing policies.
How does plastic end up in the sea –isn´t it incinerated?
Plastic waste has many fates. Most of it ends up in open deposits, is thrown away or is incinerated. Every year 8 million tons of plastics end up in the oceans, according to UN. In highly industrialized counties using high temperature incineration the harmful waste products from the incineration proces can be prevented, but in many countries plastics are burned at too low temperatures developing harmful dioxines and furanes. Those are substances harmful to nature and human health and difficultly degradable. This means that they end up in the food chains being detectable in breast milk and umbilical cord blood.
When plastic is deposited in waste dump yards or just littered it will be spread by wind. Many birds living on the dump yards eat the plastic and spread it even more endagering the birds themselves by the plastic accumulated in their stomachs.
Why don't plastics just degrade?
The excellent properties of plastics making it mouldable into solid shapes begin with the substance of polymere. Oil can be converted into plastic polymeres, these substances are added a number of compounds such as softening phthalates and sun filters. The polymere is extremely durable. It degrades very differently from one material to another. The plastic types have in common, that sunlight and physical impact breaks down the plastic into micro plastic. We know only very little of how this micro plastic is degraded in the seas and how much is ending up in the food chains. That's why we should act according to caution - not leaving a single piece of plastic in the sea.
Is it true that fleece and polyesther release micro plastic?
Much indicates that our use and washing of textiles, such as fleece containing plastics, is one of the main sources of micro plastic in the environment. One wash can release up to 20 million synthetic plastic fibres. Plastic Change is working to raise means for investigating the extent of this problem.
See project Ocean Clean Wash.
In 2014 Plastic Change succeeded in having 2 million DKR of the Danish national budget earmarked for the period 2015-16. The means are used for looking into the sources of micro plastic in the environment and the fate of micro plastic in water treatment plants.
Plastic Change has been granted by the Velux & Villum funds enabling us to measure how much plastic from clothes washing that ends up in the water treatment plants and if it terminates in the outflow and thereby in the sea. We also have means to test if a special membrane will be able to hold back this plastic. Read more about Plasticfree Sea.
Do you want a world without plastics?
Plastic Change wants a world in ecological balance with a sustainable comsumption of plastics. Plastics define our culture but should not define our fate. The use and handling of plastics today is out of control and this must be changed so that smart design, circular economy and cradle-to-cradle thinking is predominant.
Plastic consumption must be in closed circles, meaning that it does not end up in nature and reuse and recycling must be maximized.
Isn't plastics in the oceans a minor problem compared to climate change?
Plastic Change recognize the seriousness of climate change. The problem of plastics has been overshadowed by climate change, but it deserves much attention, too. If we do not manage to change the trend there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050. Like climate change plastic in the environment calls for solutions. We consume 5 % of the world´s oil for producing plastic. By recycling plastic in stead of single use of it we can solve several problems with one effort. We lock the plastic inside a circular economy and simultaneously reduce the climate changes if the energy used in the recirculation proces is also sustainable.
What is the impact of plastic on animals?
Many animals eat plastic because they take it for food and some die from it. This goes for land animals like goats and camels, birds and marine animals like turtles and fish.The sea turtle is an example of an already endangered species, that is able to mistake a plastic bag for a jellyfish, which it normally eats. Marine birds are severely struck and certain species all contain plastic in their stomachs. Microplastic end up in fish and in plankton and thus has entered the food chain.
Isn´t it strictly hypothetic that plastic ends up on our dinner tables?
A number of proves are made, showing that plastic is absorbable by marine organisms. We live on organisms from this environment. It is a fact, that plastic is already present in food such as shellfish, fish and honey. The interesting question is to which extent it takes place and which effects it may have, if the plastic contains problematic chemicals or works as a vehicle for difficultly degradable substances sticking to plastic in the marine environment. We must find answers to these theories and several research projects initiated by Plastic Change on e. g. RUC (Roskilde University Center) and Aarhus University will get us closer to these answers. The project is briefly described here Plasticfree Sea.
Is plastic a problem in Denmark?
Almost no roadside or beach in Denmark is without plastic litter. Plastic finds it´s way to the sea and likewise in Denmark. In fact, we do not have an idea of the extent of plastic pollution in Denmark.
How much is released from personal care products with microplastic like toothpaaste and scrubs? How many nylonfibres are released when washing our clothes? Are the water treatment plants able to hold back this plastic and will it end up in waste water sludge finally spread over fields? How much plastic is there in the marine environment, in sediments and in animals feeding on animals such as bivalves and lug worms?
Plastic Change´s research division in Denmark is going to find answers to this. It is also knowledge Denmark needs, among other things in order to live up to EU standards in the Marine Strategy Directive, where microplastic is pointed out as an indicator on the quality of the environmental status in our waters.
Is plastic also harmful when it ends up on the ocean floor?
80 % of the plastic released to the water environment ends on the bottom of the oceans, where it potentially constitutes a threat similar to that in the water surface. Over time the plastic degrades into microplastic.
Researchers do not know enough about if the degraded plastic rises to the water surface or stays on the bottom. The organisms on the bottom live on and by the plastic on the bottom, where the degraded plastic is filtered and in this way finds its way into the foodchain. Still this is a poorly investigated field waiting for further research. Out of sight isn´t out of mind.
Why sail out documenting something others have already done?
Plastic pollution has it´s pioneers, but pioneer work is not enough to create an estimate of the consequences of plastic pollution needed to make the world leaders take the problem seriously and put an end to the release of plastics to the environment.
There is a large number of uninvestigated ocean areas and with the expedition to Hawaii and Midway Plastic Change will collect a large amount of data in these particular areas, supplied by data from the “Nordkaperen” en route along the European west coast and the western Mediterranian.
About Plastic Change
Why a Danish environmental organization working only with plastics?
We believe that focusing on this single huge environmental problem we will have bigger impact on politicians and business. Plastic Change is a Danish based organization with a global perspective. We can only solve the problem with plastic in the natural environment by international collaboration. This problem is so acute and huge, that it takes focused action and international cooperation for achieving a paradigm shift.
Who is behind the organization?
The founder of Plastic Change is environmental biologist Henrik Beha Pedersen. In cooperation with a large number of voluntary forces the establishment of an independent, educating society with a vision and a mission has been successful. Behind the organization are as well a number of profiles, who are part of our Advisory Network, including former manager at Novozymes Steen Riisgaard and EU parliamentarian (MEP) Margrete Auken.
What is the most important purpose of the organization?
The most important purpose is to turn around the present development, where annually 10 million tons of plastic waste end up in the environment. Our aim is that we shall not see the doubling of plastic expected to be released to the sea over the next ten years.
It is our intention to turn this trend and bend the curve. We cannot in decency leave a planet full of plastic to coming generations, and that is why Plastic Change will initiate research, information, education and campaign activity in order to change this trend. We will increasingly highlight on solutions and mobilizing the voters, making politicians understand that conservation of a clean natural environment is a public demand.
How is the work funded?
Plastic Change applies for means by Danish and foreign funds. Additionally we seek partnerships and means within industries and apply for means from the national budget.
Simultaneously the organization calls on private individuals for support by donations and by subscribing memberships and obtaining sponsorships with companies. This contributes to giving the organization a solid foothold and backing.
Does Plastic Change consist of the usual environmental fiery souls?
Plastic Change looks for partnerships broadly and we believe, that we have common values concerning a clean nature. A community of values motivating to co-operate across traditional borders such as between environmental organizations and business. A good example is our partnership 'Plasticfree Sea' in which the trade union of plastic producers in company with Plastic Change and the Ecological Council applies for economic support to focus on preventing plastics ending up in the seas.
Which are the collaboration partners?
Plastic Change collaborates with several players on different projects. That is why Plastic Change has many both national and international partnerships.
Collaboration concerning research projects:
- KIMO – Kommunernes Internationale Maritime Organisation (Municipalities´ I. M. O.)
- Aarhus University, DCE – National Center of Environment and Energy
- Roskilde University
- DTU, Danish Polymere Center, Institute of Chemical Technology
- Trade Union of Danish Plastic Industry
- Enterprises like Grundfos, Alfa Laval and EnviDan
Co-operation on the Plastic Change Expedition:
- Nordkaperen (sail ship)
- 5 Gyres, Marine Research Institute, Los Angeles, USA
- Ifremer, French maritime institute for monitoring marine environment and coastal areas
- Chris Jordan, documentary photographer.
How does Plastic Change work?
Research, education, teaching and political activity nationally, in EU and globally is the way ahead. It is necessary to develop the international research substantially. At the same time information can contribute to preventing plastic in ending up in nature and press politicians into taking action on plastic pollution.
With the planned educational project in Denmark and EU we educate ambassadors among the youth of the EU. By seeking direct influence on EU´s future strategy on plastic waste we can achieve a quantum leap, but it takes a broad and focused action in all fields to get there.
What is going on right now on the plastic front?
The EU is beginning to take the plastic problem seriously. The EU Commission has just finished its work on the Greenbook for a European strategy concerning plastic waste (the forerunner of an actual European regulation with the contributions of all partners). The release of plastics to the marine environment has a central position in this strategy. Plastic Change aims at influence on the coming political work for creating a real regulation in the EU.
Recently Denmark has composed its Marine Strategy from which it is clear, that we are far behind on knowledge in the field. Plastic Change can supervise the Danish authorities, so that this environmental field is no longer neglected.
What does Plastic Change do to get in touch with politicians?
Plastic Change has plans to mobilize the voters, ordinary people worldwide. We can make a significant difference only by showing that there is a general public feeling behind the demand to end the plastic pollution of the seas. It is a huge challenge. We believe that the voters can move the politicians. It must be a public matter to take care that plastic does not end up in our natural environment.