Nearly half of the plastic waste generated in Europe ends up in landfills, but plastic pollution is not just concentrated in landfills, but extends to rivers, seas and oceans. These wastes arrive through spills from ships, urban drains or the wind. It is estimated that about 10 million tonnes of rubbish, with 80% plastics, end up in the seas and oceans every year; this makes the bodies of water the main plastic landfill on the planet. A special case is the one known as “Garbage Island", an extension with 1,400,000 square kilometers formed by suspended plastic. And the worst thing is not only that, a discarded plastic can last hundreds of years until it decomposes.

The main plastic wastes found are: bags, balloons, buoys, ropes, bottles, threads, fishing nets, waste from cruise ships and oil rigs, and container losses. The plastic nets lost by fishing boats become entangled in a multitude of marine species causing wounds, restricting their movement and preventing them from feeding or breathing. The small pieces of plastic found in the oceans are ingested by marine animals, causing hunger and death to those. Having a full stomach and not emptying it, causes that the animal cannot eat again. Chemical additives contained in plastics contaminate water and, if ingested, the animal. These can become endocrine disruptors, carcinogens or cause allergic reactions, entering the food chain. According to the NGO Plastic Pollution Coalition, plastic waste kills more than one million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals.

Despite all the pessimism that can be deduced from the above, there is no lack of arguments to keep us optimistic, for example, the circular economy is postulated as the great bet of future for the European Union. The idea is to design products so that the process of manufacturing, use and disposal of these products is optimized so that the waste produced at all these stages can be reused, as well as the product itself. In this way, for example, overmanufacturing of products is avoided, since the one that has been damaged is repaired more easily, or unserviceable parts are used in this one for other products.

We also find applications currently developed, such as “System 001” a 600-meter-long barrier that will collect tons of plastic accumulated in the oceans, starting with the “Garbage Island”. The System 001 will keep as much rubbish as possible in a single point so that every few months a boat will pick it up. It will then be taken to the mainland to recycle as much as possible. This solution is far from definitive, but it is a big step. Other options include: banning plastic bags, restricting disposable cutlery, or providing emerging countries with funds to deal with this problem, as they are an important part of those involved. What is clear is that without a change of mentality these efforts will be in vain.

AUTORES: Álvaro Moroño, Cristina López y Cayetana Holguin.

Colegio Zola (Las Rozas - Madrid)