Plastic Waste Project Raises Questions on Recyclable Materials

A recent report on the closure of “Renew Oceans,” a programme thought to be funded by some of the world’s largest companies, has raised the question of the sustainability and recyclable nature of materials.

With studies suggesting 8 million metric tonnes of plastic entering the world’s oceans every year, on top of the estimated 150 million metric tonnes that already reside in our marine environments, the need for action on plastic finding its way into oceans is clear.

This was the context upon which Renew Oceans, a non-profit organisation working in partnership with The Alliance to End Plastic Waste, was established.

It was claimed that the programme could solve a runaway ocean plastic waste crisis, with a target to collect 45 tonnes of plastic waste from the Ganges, around which the programme was focused on, in 2019 and a further 450 tonnes in 2020.

Missing collection targets

A Reuters report on the programme claims that in reality Renew Oceans collected less than one tonne of waste before in closed in March 2020 after less than six months in operation.

Reuters now believe that the programme has been brought to an abrupt end, with the Coronavirus pandemic blamed for the closure.

A source close to the programme is quoted as saying that – on top of challenges posed by the pandemic – “the organization has come to the conclusion that it simply does not have the capacity to work at the scale this problem deserves.”

The Alliance to End Plastic Waste, a non-profit organisation established by a group of oil and chemical companies, claimed on its website that Renew Oceans planned to expand to some of the world’s most-polluted rivers; with the ultimate goal of the programme stopping the flow of plastic into the planet’s ocean.

The Alliance itself set a five-year goal to “divert millions of tonnes of plastic waste in more than 100 at-risk cities across the globe.” It is believed that the group has announced over a dozen initiatives to achieve this goal, however in the last two years Reuters claims only three small-scale projects – including Renew Oceans – have collected any waste.

Using information published by the Alliance the Reuters report claims that it appears that a clean-up programme in Ghana collected 300 tonnes of plastic, while a project in the Philippines had recycled just 21 tonnes of plastic.

Challenges faced by non-profits

While any initiative to clean the world’s waterways is commendable, the challenged faced by non-profit organisations to remove the amount of plastic from the world’s oceans underlines the need for consideration of the lifecycle of materials we use.

With an estimated 360 million tonnes of plastic produced each year, with 50% of this thought to be single use, more has to be done to combat the use of this short-lived product that is often difficult to reuse or recycle.

The National Geographic claimed in 2018 that 91% of plastic isn’t recycled, while some estimates believe that 90% of all seabirds have pieces of plastic in their stomachs.

Plastics in the construction sector

While many are becoming more conscious of the materials used and members of the pubic doing their best to reuse or recycle plastic packaging where possible one sector that is increasingly turning to cheaper plastic products is construction.

It is thought that the construction industry is second only to retail for plastic consumption in the UK and it is second again, this time to the packaging industry, in terms of producing plastic waste.

From plastic wrappings of building component to the materials used in construction, plastic usage is high in the industry, often without consideration of the lifecycle of these materials.

Sustainable alternatives are available within the construction industry, materials such as copper, which is infinitely recyclable, and has a shelf life that far exceeds plastic.

Unlike plastic, which is still largely single use, it is estimated that 65% of all copper produced since 1900 is still in use today.

With the continued plastic crisis facing the environment, as evidenced by non-profit organisations struggling to keep up with plastic waste, it’s time for industries to reconsider the materials that are being used and for an emphasis to be placed on the use of sustainable products, such as copper.

Learn more about the benefits of picking copper over plastic below.

Copper vs plastic pipes

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