An ocean full of plastic and no fish

This is the future, we do not curb our insatiable love for plastic, warns a campaigner

Dubai: The tiny plastic straw in your drink will outlive you, your children’s children, and many generations combined. Worse, its particles can also turn up undigested in the fish your children’s children will eat not many years from now.

Plastic is made to last “forever”. Yet many of it has been designed to be single use only, feeding this throw-away culture we have and unnecessarily eating up a huge chunk of our landfills.

Over the past 50 years, global plastics production has increased almost 2,000 times from 15 million tonnes in 1964 to 311 million tonnes in 2014. This is expected to double again over the next two decades, according to a report by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation released in December 2017.

The same report said some 26 per cent of the total volume of plastics used are packaging. But not all of it gets collected for recycling — only 14 per cent.

The rest lie not rotting in landfills while eight million tonnes of leak into the ocean – equivalent to a garbage truck full of trash being dumped into the ocean every minute.

And if the world doesn’t act now, in 30 years, the oceans will have more plastics than fish by weight.

The worst part is, these plastics are ingested by marine animals and they make a comeback in many forms — through the fish we eat, the water system, rain and many more.

“It’s in our food chain and this, I think, is the biggest alarm bell that we need to all become more conscious of. It’s not anymore about being an environmentalist. It’s not about an activist,” Tatiana Antonelli Abella, founder and managing director of social enterprise Goumbook, told Gulf News.

“It’s just being responsible for the future generations and also for the ones who are living right now,” she added.

As far as straws are concerned, some 500 million straws are used every day in the US and are rarely recycled. The numbers are not available in the UAE.

“The simple thing is to just refuse straws. When you go have a drink somewhere, you can easily ask them not to give you a straw because no adult really needs a straw to drink,” Abella said.

The other single-use plastics are cutlery, food packaging, toiletries, even the cotton buds. But the most common on-the-go plastic in the UAE are the plastic water bottles, roughly 450 of which are used by each resident per year.

Abella admitted she, too, was a plastic bottle water user in the past. She would use up 20 bottles of water per week and would have to drive all the way to Dubai Municipality to get those bottles recycled. This inspired her to launch the Drop It campaign to make residents and companies aware of the effects of consuming bottled water not only to one’s health but also to the environment.

“Years ago, people in the UAE thought the water from the tap was not good. I think the problem was born there. What is the alternative? Bottled water,” Abella said.

But the water Dubai Electricity and Water Authority supplies is safe to drink. If ever there is a problem, it could be in the pipes or tanks in the building where the water is stored.

Abella said this can be solved by just having their tap water tested in a lab and the appropriate filter installed so residents can start drinking filtered water straight from the tap.

“That’s what we do at home. I’ve done it now for the past 10 years and I’m ok. My babies are ok and that’s the water I have been giving them since they were born to mix their formula,” Abella said.

Also, ditching bottled water saves money.

“If tap water costs 0.02 fils for 1 litre, why do I pay for a 1-litre bottled water for least minimum Dh2? What am I paying for? I’m paying for the plastics, for the logistics, for the branding, not for the water. It’s up to 1,000 times over the price. It’s ridiculous.”

Refusing plastic bottled water and straws is just the first step. It can eventually become a lifestyle when residents get used to refusing single-use plastic, she said.

“Every little thing that you’re gonna try to go in that direction will help. All the companies that have switched with us don’t go back. It’s (dropping single-use plastic) completely doable.”

In numbers

We produce 60,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide to produce bottled water annually in the UAE.

80% of water bottles are not recycled.

1,000 years: Time it takes for plastic water bottles to degrade.

800 million: Units of vottled water that the UAE consumes every year.

Over 150 million tonnes: Amount of plastic in the ocean today.

95% of plastic packaging material value, equivalent to $80–$120 billion annually, is lost to the economy once single-use plastic is disposed

Globally, close to half of PET is not collected for recycling, and only 7% is recycled bottle-to-bottle.

Source: Drop It campaign by Goumbook; The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics and Catalysing Action by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation

Goumbook members’ success

1,220 employees from member-companies have become plastic-free

Accumulated savings:

327,431 units of 500ml-bottles

8,354 units of 5-gallon bottles

44.63 tonnes of CO2 emissions


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