There’s a perfect solution out there for plastics

Beyond the Curb


Published:

Edible six-pack rings are made from the wheat and barley by-product of the beer-making process.

Viera Voice photo

Unfortunately, most of the plastic produced in the world ends up in landfills or in the environment.

In an article entitled “A Whopping 91% of Plastic Isn't Recycled,” National Geographic shares the results of a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances, the first global analysis of all plastics ever made — and their fate.

“Of the 8.3 billion metric tons that has been produced,” the article explains, “6.3 billion metric tons has become plastic waste. Of that, only 9 percent has been recycled. The vast majority — 79 percent — is accumulating in landfills or sloughing off in the natural environment as litter. Meaning: at some point, much of it ends up in the oceans, the final sink.”

This is a problem not only because of the high volume being produced, but also because plastic production is increasing as “we make more, year after year.”

Plastic manufacturing “has doubled roughly every 15 years; [it] has outpaced nearly every other man-made material” and, as Roland Geyer’s study has found, “half of all plastic manufactured becomes trash in less than a year.” To top it off, a 2015 research led by Jeanna Jambeck revealed that an estimated 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the ocean every year.

Because of this dangerous trend and its threatening outcome, some businesses are looking for innovative ways to help curb the plastic problem.

VolkerWessels, a company in the Netherlands whose part of the business is road construction, launched the PlasticRoad project in 2015 to build road structures using 100 percent recycled material in “a lightweight design, a fraction of the construction time, virtually maintenance free, and three times the expected lifespan.” PlasticRoad consists of plastic that has been salvaged from oceans and incineration plants, assembled in a Lego-like structure and can be recycled again when roads are repaired.

In the United Kingdom, MacRebur is also focusing on a solution for road construction using discarded plastic. They “use a special formula to clean it off, create pellets using it, and then use those pellets to add to a mixture of rocks and bitumen to make longer-lasting roads.”

In the U.S., a pin concept developed by Dr. Sahadat Hossain, an associate professor of civil engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington, “turns plastic's non-decomposition from an environmental headache to an engineering solution.” The pins, made from recycled plastic — about 500 soda bottles each, are drilled into the road to reinforce its structure and make road repairing in Texas much more manageable and cost effective.

Even though these sound like good fixes for the plastic problem we have at hand, we still do not know the implications of having plastic in the structure that rainwater will seep through to replenish our water supplies. It could be the case of creating a more serious problem that would need to be addressed soon after adopting those alternatives.

Regardless, it is important to focus on reducing the generation of plastic waste and that is exactly what a partnership between Saltwater Brewery, a Delray Beach Florida microbrewery, and New York City-based ad agency We Believers has done.

The two companies developed edible six-pack rings made from the wheat and barley by-product of the beer-making process.

The rings are biodegradable and edible. If they end up in the oceans, they would not hurt marine life like their plastic counterpart does.

“Wheat and barley aren't the diet staples of marine life, [but] they are safe for animals to eat,” confirms Jennifer Brandon, a graduate student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, who wrote her Ph.D. thesis on marine debris.

This type of solution has many positive effects and is the kind we should be looking for. It reduces the need for plastic, eliminates generated waste and protects marine life. All that without affecting the convenience the original product introduced. That’s what we call the perfect solution. 

Email Marcia Booth at Marcia@RecycleBrevard.org.