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The seventh continent of plastic

What are the future paths for the future for the seventh plastic continent?

Could we consider less plastic packaging from the food and cosmetic industries? One can especially imagine increasing the research of new polymers. The coming years should encourage the use for packaging of biodegradable polymers, often of natural origin such as starch, cellulose, polylactic acid.

What future for the seventh plastic continent? Sometimes sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, what a shame!

Biodegradable plastic

Biopolymers, chemically transformed, are frequently used to preserve specific properties useful for our human society. Unfortunately, they are only degradable in industrial composting units.

For the sea, there remains the hope of designing original materials, degrading quickly, without consequences for the environment, while retaining their properties of use.

The next Nobel Prize might be won by the scientist who will create a new form of plastic degradable in seawater. This is the key to solving the issue of waste at sea.

Each year a huge quantity of plastic materials ends up as wastage spoiling our the natural environment, including and most worryingly in our waterways and seas.

Just solving this crisis of our environment with effective junk removal solutions is not going to be sufficient and the issue must be tackled at the source. Let’s either reduce the quantity of plastics sent to the garbage bins, or make such products biodegradable at a much faster speed.

One possible approach for solving this environmental catastrophe in the making could be to use biodegradable harmless plastic items, which will take the place of the current petroleum derivative products uses in the manufacturing industry.

It is also possible to consider bacteria that would attack plastic materials, such as those which are capable of degrading up to road bitumen.

An original study on the degradation of three classes of plastics most found at sea, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP), is in progress at the microbial oceanography laboratory of Banyuls-sur-Mer (PlasticMicro project) (oceanological observatory of Banyuls-sur-Mer and PlasticMicro).

Note that a Tara mission, “Tara Mediterranean”, was launched in 2014, with a scientific component on “plastic pollution” coordinated by the Oceanography laboratory of Villefranche-sur-Mer (CNRS / UPMC) (quantification and qualification of waste, a study of organic pollutants). A 1-meter wide manta net placed 20 cm above and below the water surface will collect the plastic behind Tara over 15-minute sessions.

Preserving oceans from marine litter

The problem of marine litter is very complex, and everyone has a role to play. Scientists are helping to improve knowledge and identify possible solutions. The commitment of the policies is necessary to more quickly reach the objectives in the management of plastic waste (collection, sorting, and treatment).

A citizen attitude of “good practices” by all the industrialists concerned (producers and users of plastic materials) and their general participation in collective prevention actions should allow a significant reduction in damage.

However, neglect remains the worst of evils. Education and public awareness are, therefore, essential to preserve our environment, especially our oceans.