According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US produces around 32 million tons of plastic waste, of which a small percentage (around 9 percent) is recycled. Most of this plastic waste ends up in landfills and, worse still, ends up in local waterways and the oceans. Is anything being done to replace plastics with less damaging products?
There is an estimated 270 000 tons of plastic floating in the ocean, which has a devastating impact on marine ecosystems. Marine species are threatened through entanglement, ingestion and damage to the ecosystem. Plastic washes up on the beaches and is littered in waterways. Researchers believe that plastic plays a role in rising rates of species extinction, in fact, according to them, approximately 52 percent of the world’s wildlife has disappeared in the past 40 years. People are aware of this, but the dumping of plastic into the world’s oceans continues. It is estimated that one trillion single-use plastic bags are used annually world-wide. One million bags are being used every minute, many of which are only used for a few minutes before being dumped, and each of which takes decades to degrade.
Fortunately, progress is being made in developing biodegradable products that are less damaging to the oceans and environment in general According to the LA Times “Saltwater Brewery, along with New York City-based ad agency We Believers, developed edible six-pack rings made of the wheat and barley remnants left over from making beer.” These edible six-pack rings, while not the natural food of marine species, at least will not damage them if eaten, and there is no risk of getting entangled in them, as many creatures do at the moment with plastic six-pack rings.
Hemp plastic is another natural product that is not only 100% biodegradable, meaning it does not contribute to permanent pollution, but these plastics are said to be 2.5 times stronger than standard plastics. Hemp plastic bags and bottles are already being manufactured, and hemp plastics are being used in the automotive, packaging and building industries.
In the US, hemp is still illegal and the US is one of the few industrialized nations that does not allow the cultivation of hemp. However, in January 2015, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act was introduced in the House and Senate. If passed, all current restrictions on the cultivation of industrial hemp will be removed, along with its classification as a Schedule 1 controlled substance.
Hopefully, the day will come when natural, biodegradable products are the norm for human use. In the mean time all of us can help by replacing all disposables with resusables and by supporting the companies who are trying to develop biodegradable products.