A recent analysis on plastic use is confirming the peril descending on the world’s oceans as well as entire ecosystems.
According to a report published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, by the year 2050, there will be more plastic in the oceans than there are fish. Right now, one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into the ocean every minute.
“If no action is taken, this is expected to increase to two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050.
In a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish (by weight).”
Perhaps the worst phrase ever coined was, “the solution to pollution is dilution.” It is no less true of toxic chemicals than it is of plastic waste. The oceans can no longer be viewed as a limitless dumping ground.
Plastic production increased twenty-fold over the last 50 years and is expected to quadruple by 2050. Currently, plastic production uses 5% of the world’s oil production, and will increase to 20% within 35 years.
As humans continue to create more than 100 million metric tons of polyethylene a year, scientists and environmentalists alike are scrambling to find a way to reverse the detrimental environmental effects of plastic waste.
Scientists from the US and China appear to have found the best way to do that, describing how they carried out “efficient and selective degradation of polyethylenes into liquid fuels” in a recent study published in the Science Advances journal.
Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry and the University of California joined their efforts to find a more efficient means to regenerate plastic and they have been successful.
The current means for converting plastic into fuel uses ultraviolet radiation which, according to the researchers, suffers from “low energy efficiency and lack of product control.”
According to the study, researchers developed a far more efficient process known as cross alkane metathesis (CAM). This process is “Highly efficient” in breaking down the plastic, according to researchers, and requires no pretreatment.
According to the study,
with excess, inexpensive light alkanes (such as petroleum ether) as the reagents, various types of PEs, including HDPE, LDPE, and LLDPE with an MW of up to millions, can be completely degraded to low-MW oils and waxes within 1 day at 175°C.
Instead of throwing the plastic into the oceans or into holes in the ground, it can now be used as gas for your vehicle.
After multiple cycles of CAM with light alkanes, PE will be eventually converted to short hydrocarbons suitable for transportation oils.
Converting plastics back to hydrocarbons to be used as fuel is most assuredly a step in the right direction and should be employed in a large scale setting as soon as possible. However, a more permanent solution lies in the cessation of plastic creation altogether.
Fortunately, as Clarie Bernish previously reported, an alternative to petroleum-based plastic already exists in the dynamically versatile hemp plant.
“Industrial hemp is grown in abundance in many parts of the world and produces the strongest natural fiber known to man. Hemp as a raw material is one of the most useful plants on our planet with thousands of applications including a viable plastic material,” one of many sources touting the benefits of hemp plastic explains.
“Hemp plastic is a bioplastic made using industrial hemp. There are many different types of hemp plastic; from standard plastics reinforced with hemp fibers, to a 100% hemp plastic made entirely from the hemp plant. Hemp plastic is recyclable and can be manufactured to be 100% biodegradable.”
Plastic manufactured with hemp could drastically curtail the destruction of our oceans and the impact wrought by the manufacture and careless disposal of petroleum-based plastics over prior decades.
Hemp plastic could replace its toxic predecessor in every application imaginable — from phone chargers, lamps, and electrical sockets, to industrial construction components, railways, and toys. In 2014, LEGO executives even announced a plan to abandon toxic petroleum plastics in favor of an as-yet undetermined sustainable resin by 2030 — which sparked conjecture hemp plastic LEGO bricks could be on the horizon.
But before a major push for such sweeping changes to an ubiquitous industry, people must be made aware of the extent of the problem — and that the solution isn’t merely wishful thinking.
With multiple solutions emerging from the market, the race is now on for humanity to find homeostasis with life on earth. The two methods above are a perfect way to start.