WHAT’S GOING ON WITH PLASTIC?

IT’S IN OUR NAME — SO WE THOUGHT WE BETTER TALK ABOUT IT. PLASTIC THAT IS…

Mikhail Nilov Pexels

Why Plastic Free_By Design? There’s a whole other blog post in that question, you can look out for that later. But we’re all about design, technology and data — and through it, minimizing plastic. While there’s a bit of a debate going on about whether we can or should stop using plastic entirely, we all now know plastic pollution is damaging the oceans and breaking down into microplastics that hurt animal and human health.

So what’s the alternative? There are some really cool developments going on around plastic recycling and loads of thought-provoking alternatives to plastic popping up around the world. Want to know more? Read on, friend…

  1. Plastic Recycling

Scientists have developed a mutant enzyme that actually eats plastic for breakfast (and lunch, and dinner). First discovered in Japan in 2016, the enzyme came from bacteria that naturally evolved to eat plastic. It was further engineered by scientists, who in 2018 found a mutant version that worked 20% faster. A £1m testing centre is being built and it is hoped that it will enable full recycling of plastic bottles within a year or two (COVID probably slowed that down, like it did everything else).

2. Plastic Clean-up

If you haven’t heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (where HAVE you been?), it’s a huge area of ocean between California and Hawaii where rubbish, mainly plastic, collects due to ocean currents. It covers an estimated area of 1.6 million square km, three times the size of France, and it contains an estimated 80,000 tonnes of plastic, equivalent to 500 Jumbo Jets. It’s so damn big, how can it ever be cleaned up, I hear you thinking?

Well, the Ocean Cleanup really got onto it with technology (another of our favourite topics here at PF_BD) and have developed systems they claim will be able to remove 90% of ocean plastic by 2040.

How does it work? It’s basically a massive floating net that funnels the plastic so it can be scooped up and taken out of the ocean by ships. Cool huh? Oh yes, and now they’re making sunglasses out of the plastic they’ve scooped out. Just don’t drop them back into the sea, OK?

3. Plastic Packaging

There are some cool alternatives to plastic packaging being developed, which is great because plastic packaging accounts for almost 70% of plastic waste. I’m pretty obsessed with mushrooms, so my personal favorite is this mushroom-root packaging. It’s 100% home-compostable and grows in 7 days. Just another example of the humble yet mighty mushroom offering huge potential.

If you’ve ever been grossed out by those photos of turtles tangled up in six-pack rings, you’ll love these edible six-pack rings from a Florida brewery. Made from barley and wheat leftovers from brewing, they actually feed animals instead of killing them. And they’re also compostable and biodegradable, in case you don’t have a pet turtle, seagull or goat at home.

And last but not least…imagine the scene. You’ve bought chips after a night out and you have to tear open all those stupid little packages of ketchup. You get ketchup all over your fingers, and probably also your clothes. Have you ever even thought about whether those annoying little packets can be recycled? Well, they can’t (and they might be about to get banned anyway). Except these ones can! Notpla make edible, biodegradable packaging from seaweed that can replace plastic bottles, sachets and takeaway boxes. So if your chips don’t soak up the booze, you can also eat the ketchup sachet, and even the takeaway box…

4. Plastic fashion

Fashion is not exactly known for its green credentials, we know. But Parley Ocean Plastic has created new materials, made from plastic collected from the oceans, that are now being used by sports and fashion brands like Adidas. Nike, we’re watching you…*

*Retraction. Actually Nike are pretty decent on their eco creds too. Their Flyknit uppers each contain 6–7 recycled bottles, and Nike Air soles are at least 50% recycled manufacturing waste.

5. Plastic buildings

As an architect I just had to squeeze this one in. Zero-carbon houses made with empty plastic bottles are helping address the housing crisis in Nigeria as well as reducing plastic waste. A two-bedroom house requires 14,000 bottles to complete and Nigeria throws away three million bottles every day, so there’s more than enough material going spare.

There you go. Just a few of our current favorite solutions to plastic waste. Yes, plastic is a big, big problem, but there’s hope, we hope.

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Oz

Oz Nwachukwu is a British Architect living in London and the founder of plasticfreebydesign.com. Feel free to get in contact for a chat @ hello@plasticfreebydesign.com.

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Oz Nwachukwu

Oz Nwachukwu

British Architect with a deep focus on sustainability, systems, data, design and emerging technology. I also dabble in spirituality and the esoteric.