Take care of the plastic waste

Talk: Plastics in the oceans – there are solutions
Speaker: Thomas Hjertberg, professor in polymer technology, scientific advisor, Borealis AB
Site: Smögen Seaside Resort

At first, it is hard to believe what the presenter, Thomas Hjertberg states – that there are solutions.

He shows pictures from beaches and riverbanks covered by deep layers of trash, to large part plastics. He demonstrates how the currents in the big oceans bring together the trash to enormous islands of plastic items.

And the place where we are is no exception. On the contrary. The view from the lecture room at Smögens Seaside Resort shows a razor sharp horizontal line dividing heaven and sea. It is a sunny and clear day at an inviting blue sea. But below the surface there are strong western currents, and it is a fact that this very coast is one of the most vulnerable in Europe. You can ask the breach cleaners collecting tons of trash, mainly plastics, every year.

Equal amounts of plastics and fish
And Thomas Hjertberg can also put numbers on it. The main part of the trash in the oceans is coming from land, more particularly 80 percent. What is thrown away carelessly is brought along with the water streams, towards the rivers, onto the beaches and out. The remaining part is coming from ships and fishing vessels, and plastics accounts for 60 percent.

Thomas Hjertberg says, “If we are continuing as we do today the amounts of plastics in the oceans will be the same as that of fish year 2050”.

Five countries in Asia contributes with more than half of the problem, firstly due to the lack of properly functioning waste treatment.

For that reason, he tells, Borealis is now investing in a pilot project in Indonesia. In a fishermen village with 120 000 residents on the Java island a waste system shall be introduced in order to avoid uncontrolled spreading of the waste. In addition an industry based on recycling of the plastic waste will be started. The intention is to distribute the experiences to more cities in Indonesia and the whole of South East Asia. The waste will then never reach the oceans but will instead become a valuable resource.

Clean up in front of your own door
That is not enough. The polymer industry must also clean their own backyards – in the factories, at the transport and in the production itself. To a much higher degree than today, the industry must produce new plastic products of recycled material, and in the long run it will improve if the quality is increased. Higher quality leads to more qualified products that can be recycled more easily ….. circular economy.

He says,” it’s about time for politicians and authorities not only to listen to what researchers are saying, but to take this even further – to stop taking chances”.

“None of us can for certain be sure of what is going on under the surface, but we better be careful. The ocean, you see, is reflecting our welfare”.