The world is addicted to plastic and the statistics are staggering. It is estimated that there are currently 6.3 billion tonnes of waste plastic in the natural environment and in landfill, with this number set to increase to 12 billion by 2050. A million plastic bottles are purchased every minute, adding up to over half a trillion every year. And a great deal of the plastic waste our society generates daily is single-use, with an estimated 50% of all plastic generated being used once and thrown away. We are all familiar with the images of the resultant pollution – dead and dying seabirds, entangled turtles, huge islands of floating rubbish – and they offer us evidence of environmental degradation at its most visceral. However, there is an associated environmental issue, nearly invisible to the naked eye: microplastics. Some of its effects we know about, some we are just beginning to discover, and others will probably become clear over the coming decades…
Plastics do not biodegrade, but instead photodegrade into smaller and smaller particles.The scale of this issue is staggering. Data collected by scientists across the globe suggests a minimum of 5.25 trillion plastic particles in the oceans, the vast majority measuring less than 5mm, with the highest number ever recorded in a single area recently discovered in the UK, in rivers around Manchester. The team also found that when they revisited the site following winter flooding in 2015/16, approximately 43 billion microplastic particles had been washed into the sea.
These particles then enter the food chain at all levels, from larger pieces consumed by marine mammals to the minuscule fragments in phytoplankton, which are then passed up the food chain. Astonishingly, evidence now shows that microplastics are present in 83% of tap water sampled around the globe, in over a third of fish caught in UK waters, in 100% of shellfish tested from those sold in UK supermarkets, and in honey and beer, to name but a few examples.
There is no question that we are ingesting and inhaling these particles – what remains to be seen is the effects they are having on our bodies. Microplastics contain and absorb toxic chemicals, and studies in wild animals suggest these are released into the body after consumption. The smallest particles, those the width of a human hair and smaller, may be passing through the membranes of our guts and our lungs and into our bloodstreams. Moreover, scientific study is rendered extremely difficult as there is no control population – in other words, there is no group of people on earth that has not been exposed to microplastics.
Given that the advent of the mass production of plastics wasn’t until the 1950s, we will only begin to see the long-term effects of microplastics on the human body in generations alive today, and we may well be on the brink of a public health crisis. We believe it is now critical that we come together with a global consensus and embrace alternative waste management technologies, in order to begin to stem the flow of plastics and other harmful waste into the environment.
We at Amio Wealth specialise in funding green projects throughout the UK, and are funding a company through a bond issuance who are building a portfolio of waste-to-energy sites across the UK. Sites that can take household waste, including non-recyclable plastics and process that waste into sustainable fuels.
To find out more, enquire using the form below.