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The rise of the plastic era was seen only a few decades ago. As a matter of fact, all plastics that has ever existed was made only within the past 13 years as revealed by a recent study! Along with climate change, plastic pollution is one the most severe problems facing our oceans today. The only difference is that the plastic problem is much more visible than climate change since the plastic garbage tends to pop up on our beaches, in the stomaches of wales and even on our seafood platters.
The problem has not gone unnoticed by political actors. Several countries have already placed bans on plastic bags, cutlery and other plastic items. However, there is one specific actor which should also rapidly be coming up with a new, environmentally friendly strategy and that is the manufacturer of drinking bottles.
Bottles and other plastic garbage on the island of Raya Yai, Thailand 2016.
The soft drink industry is responsible for selling over a million plastic bottles every minute. And they have no intention what so ever of reducing the use of these bottles, instead, a big increase is expected. Polyethylene terephthalate, commonly abbreviated PET, the material of drinking bottles, was one of the most common materials of microplastics found on the Thai beaches in our study last winter. Greenpeace has recently put pressure on the giant Coca Cola to step up to this problem and we should all do the same.
So what would the solution be? Although a funny idea, it is utopistic to think that the edible water bubbles would replace PET as a material and up to date, there is no durable, biodegradable material to replace liquid containers with. Should we then go back in time and use glass, made out of sand again? Unfortunately, also glass bottles end up in the oceans. European countries have solved the problem with highly effective recycling, and this is probably where the money should be targeted.
In Southeast Asia where a large portion of the plastic pollution comes from, it is not economically beneficial to recycle plastics. I suggest that the large soft drink sellers like Coca Cola started campaigning for plastic recycling worldwide and maybe even established plastic bottle recycling plants in poor economy countries. Now THAT would be stepping up.
Should the companies be responsible for getting their junk out of the waters?
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The contributors to this blog are the marine biologists Maria Koivisto (left) and Anu Riihimäki (right).