When thinking about plastics, images of untreated waste, polluted oceans, and affected ecosystems automatically come to mind. The question is is all this an exaggeration?
Sadly the reality is worse than we think. Plastic pollution represents 85% of ocean pollution. It is estimated that by 2040, the volume of plastics that will flow into the seas will triple, reaching 50kg of plastics per meter of coastline worldwide.
The problem with plastic waste is the difficulty in degrading it. It is necessary to understand that each plastic product that we use will be present in our ecosystem for a long time. In fact, more than half of the plastics found floating in the oceans are from the 1990s or even prior to this.
It is estimated that from the beginning of the plastics era to 2015, 6.3 billion tons of plastic waste have been produced, of which 9% has been recycled, 12% incinerated and 79% has accumulated in landfills or in the environment. In this way, an unsustainable type of consumption with great problems for waste management is reflected. For example, for the plastic packaging sector, 98% of finite resources are used and only 5% of the total produced is recycled. This type of finite consumption without reuse is similar to aircraft fuel consumption.
The effects of plastic pollution increase every year, with the damage and the number of people affected becoming more and more palpable. Of these, the ones of greatest concern are the degradation of the natural ecosystem, the emission of greenhouse gases (during production and incineration) and unfortunately the harmful effects on health (micro and nano plastics).
Faced with this problem, CEDIA, as a multiple helix articulating entity, presents the following compilation of surveillance:
The current data on plastic pollution is alarming (PARKER, 2019):
- Half of the plastics in existence today have been manufactured in the last 15 years.
- Plastics production increased exponentially from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 448 million tons in 2015.
About 8 million tons of plastic escape into the ocean. Which is equivalent to 5 bags of garbage for every 30 centimeters of beach around the world.
Sea turtle trying to eat a plastic bag by mistaking it for a jellyfish (Ellenby, 2019).
What is the perspective of Ecuador?
Ecuador is no stranger to plastic pollution, its effects being even more considerable given its status as a mega diverse country. In 2019, in Ecuador, 528 thousand tons of plastic waste were generated, which is equivalent to 11% of the total solid waste in that year (López-Aguirre et al., 2020). It is estimated that around 79% of plastic waste ended up in landfills or in the environment (Ecuaterra, 2022).
The current data on the use and waste of plastic products are just as alarming in Ecuador (López-Aguirre et al., 2020):
- 500 million plastic bags are made in Ecuador each year (only half are recycled or reused)
- Only 18% of the plastic collected on Isabela Island comes from Ecuador – most of it comes from China or Peru.
- The average Ecuadorian used 253 plastic bags in 2020.
Plastic pollution in the Galapagos (Michelle, 2021).
Segmentation of technological trends
The Surveillance process carried out by CEDIA involves the generation of value products, seeking to provide concise and quick information on the environment. That is why, for the purposes of this report, the field of innovation in plastics has been segmented into three major development trends.
- Pre-consumer technologies: Bioplastics and biodegradable plastics.
- Post consumer technologies.
Pre-Consumer Technologies: Bioplastics and Biodegradable Plastics
They seek to reduce, redesign or replace the raw material with which plastic products are manufactured. The following development trends are included in this category:
- Bioplastics: Plastics of organic origin, which can be naturally biodegradable, designed to be biodegradable and non-biodegradable. Examples of these developments are: Cellulose acetate, PLA or Bio-PET.
- Biodegradable and Compostable Plastics: Plastics of non-organic origin (usually of fossil origin) designed to be naturally biodegradable or through some external process. Examples of these are the PBAT, PCL. (RameshKumar et al., 2020).
Post Consumer Technologies
They focus on identifying, evaluating, preventing and mitigating the problem of plastic pollution after the products have completed their use stage.
- Recycling: Activity that seeks to partially or totally reuse the raw material of plastic products.
- Waste management and plastic pollution: Technological developments for the collection, classification, incineration or degradation of plastic waste.
- Identification, evaluation, prevention and treatment of micro plastics: Developments that focus on identifying, evaluating, preventing and mitigating contamination by micro plastics. (Schmaltz, 2020)
Raw material compounds that combine polymeric matrices with materials of organic origin. This trend is incorporated given the high number of research and technological development in the national territory. Example: wood-plastic composite, natural fiber reinforced plastics or construction materials with plastic components.
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