Nowadays when you go to the supermarket, you will find many products with plastic packaging. Shower gel, shampoo, lotion - without plastic packaging almost unimaginable! And even other articles are increasingly wrapped with this practical fabric. Meanwhile there are already small sweets packed individually. Even fruit and vegetables are more and more often wrapped in protective packaging. And who doesn't know the already pre-cut fruit salads, salad-to-go, even mushrooms are already crushed in a plastic bowl wrapped with plastic foil.
Has it always been like this? Has there always been so much packed plastic?
No. In fact, plastic production increases by an average of 8.4% per year. For example, 1 million tons of plastic were produced worldwide in 1950. Even in 1970 it was "only" 50 million tons. In 2003 it was 200 million tons and in 2016 380 million tons of plastic were produced. This shows an almost exponential growth.
Since 1950 about 8.3 bio tons of plastic have been produced. This amounts to:
If you added up all the plastic produced since 1950, you would arrive at a proud sum of 8.3 bio. tons. That would correspond to about 52,000,000 Cologne Cathedrals. However, it is also worrying that production does not seem to come to an end and that exponential growth is still to be expected.
That means.. there is no way out?
But one way to overcome the problem of plastic waste is to recycle it. In addition to the usual recycling, there are also more unusual approaches worldwide. In Nigeria, for example, you can now buy houses made of PET bottles. This has the advantage that the bottles no longer land in nature or are burned, but are used to build cheap houses. In Nigeria there is an acute housing shortage and many cannot afford expensive houses. A further advantage is that these "plastic" houses are also extremely stable and can even withstand earthquakes, fire and projectiles. To build such a house, the bottles are filled with sand, screwed together, lined up next to each other and connected to a wall with clay and cement. The sand acts like a natural insulation, so that a constant temperature of 18 degrees prevails in the interiors.
Of course, we believe that it is better not to produce so much rubbish in the first place. However, as waste pollution is already so advanced, we welcome any idea to use the existing waste sensibly and especially if it can help people in need.
Kristof Balke (Hauptautor), Stefanie Schwarz, Jan Patzer