In the morning, when you turn off the alarm clock of your mobile phone, pick up the mouthwash cup to brush your teeth, pick up the comb, comb your hair, and put the food in the microwave... Your "love story" with plastic begins.
It has to be said that plastic supports human modern life. However, a century after we "love" plastic, this romance began to fade and become more and more "toxic". On land, in the sea, in living organisms... Plastic garbage seems to have no holes and no entry, which is turning the earth into a plastic garbage dump step by step.
"When archaeologists dig into the strata of our time thousands of years later, will they find that it is filled with immortal discards, such as bottle caps, wrapping paper, straws and lighters - a civilization choked by garbage?" Susan freenkel made a pessimistic prediction in her book plastic - a toxic love story.
Now, in order to prevent the prophecy from coming true, the world is standing together again. Recently, the resumed session of the fifth United Nations Environment Conference was held in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. The meeting discussed and formulated the first global agreement to deal with the plastic crisis and adopted the resolution on ending plastic pollution (Draft). The first global "plastic restriction order" is finally coming, but it is unknown whether it can prevent mankind from sliding into the abyss of "plastic planet".
A great invention
"Unless I make a mistake, this invention must be very important."
Dr. Leo Baekeland wrote in his diary on July 11, 1907. The 43 year old Belgian American chemist, who built a laboratory at his home in New York, is now immersed in chemical research. On this day, he mixed heated formaldehyde and phenol in his experiment and invented an unprecedented fully synthetic plastic material. Leo named it bakelite and later people called it general plastic.
Although this is not the first kind of plastic in the world, it opens the door to polymerization. In the following decades, a variety of plastics poured into laboratories all over the world. Polystyrene for packaging, nylon for silk stockings, polyethylene for plastic bags... The plastic family gradually grew. In the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, plastics not only represented practicality, but also the disseminator of values such as opportunity, progress, modernity and fashion. Housewives even held parties with plastic fresh-keeping containers to show their style.
Cars began to use lighter plastic parts to reduce fuel consumption; The emergence of plastic packaging not only prolongs the preservation time of food, but also reduces food waste. It has to be admitted that plastics can be called a great invention both in terms of economic value and environmental benefits.
From "lover" to "killer"
When did the "love" between humans and plastics begin to taste bad?
In 1972, scientists found up to 3500 plastic fragments / km2 in the surface water in the Western Sargasso Sea area of the North Atlantic, while the pollution level of plastic additives (ultraviolet absorbers) in Atlantic sediments showed a sharp upward trend as early as 1960. This shows that as early as 60 years ago, with the mass production of plastics in the United States, Japan and other countries and the lack of effective management of solid waste such as plastics, a large number of plastic waste entered the ocean, resulting in increasingly serious marine plastic pollution. But at that time, this did not attract the attention of governments and the public.
Until 1997, Charles Moore, an oceanographer at the algarte Center for marine research in the United States, sailed back to Los Angeles from Hawaii. He wanted to take a shortcut to pass through the windless zone of the equator. He accidentally fell into a "garbage belt" - "all I can see is plastic". The famous "Great Pacific Garbage belt" between California and Hawaii was found and called "the Eighth Continent" by media such as the guardian.
In 2018, the Netherlands ocean cleaning Foundation published its research results for more than ten years: marine plastic pollution is increasing exponentially. About 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic garbage are floating in the "Great Pacific Garbage belt", and the floating area is about three times that of France.
Over the years, the awareness of environmental protection in various countries has gradually improved. Nevertheless, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported last year that between 1950 and 2017, the world produced about 9.2 billion tons of plastic, of which the plastic recycling rate was less than 10%, and about 7 billion tons became plastic waste. The US magazine scientific progress warned that in 2050, there will be more than 13 billion tons of plastic waste on earth, and the blue planet may become a "white planet".
Plastic pollution exists not only in the Pacific Ocean, but also in almost all major oceans around the world. 60% ~ 90% of marine garbage is plastic garbage. The huge amount of plastic garbage floating on the sea is becoming a "new killer" of marine life.
The EU survey results show that about 150000 tons of plastic waste enter the sea in European waters every year, while about 8 million tons of plastic waste in global waters. These plastic wastes are often eaten by fish and large marine mammals, resulting in their death, which seriously affects the survival of marine organisms. After swallowing the plastic bag, the whale's esophagus will be blocked and can no longer eat real food, resulting in death. Seabirds often die by eating plastic garbage. Moreover, plastics enter the human food chain through fish and other animals. At the Nairobi slaughterhouse in Kenya, 20 plastic bags were removed from the stomach of a food cow.
In addition, micro plastics gather more and more in organisms and eventually enter the human body through the food chain. On April 7 this year, a research team led by the University of hull in the UK found micro plastics deep in the lungs of living people for the first time. The well-known environmental science magazine international environment also published a paper not long ago, announcing that the research team led by the Free University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands had found microplastics in the blood of human volunteers for the first time. This means that micro plastics or have spread all over various organs of the human body, there are great health risks.
The ecological danger brought by human use of plastics is spreading to the whole earth, even the far south pole and North Pole. A study published in the journal progress of Science in August 2019 reported that "plastic snow is falling in the Arctic". This report quickly attracted great attention: the Arctic, once as clean as heaven and almost one of the most primitive environments on earth, has also fallen into plastic pollution. According to the report, scientists found a large number of plastic particles in snow samples collected in Svalbard, Norway, which are plastic materials less than 5mm. "There's a lot more plastic than we can see. In the rain, in the snow. Now plastic is part of the environment," said Gregory Weiser, lead researcher from the U.S. Geological Survey
Global plastic restrictions can not escape the tragedy of the Commons?
Plastic pollution has sounded the alarm, and countries have invested in this "white war".
According to the statistics of the International Energy Agency (IEA), in the past five years, more than 60 countries have imposed bans or taxes on disposable plastic products, and major economies such as China, the United States and the European Union have even begun to upgrade the "plastic restriction order" to "plastic prohibition order".
The United Nations Environment assembly has set up meetings for many times to discuss and formulate rules to solve the global common problem of "white cancer". The adoption of the resolution on ending plastic pollution (Draft) at the resumed session of the fifth United Nations Environment Conference is the most important progress made in environmental multilateral agreements since the signing of the Paris Agreement. It is also an agreement on the insurance consensus of future generations, and the global "plastic restriction order" has been legally bound since then.
Liu Jianguo, a professor at the school of environment of Tsinghua University, believes that the resolution reflects three consensuses: first, establish an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee and put it into work this year; Second, focus on the whole life cycle management of plastics, not just end-of-life management, which means taking into account the reuse and recycling of plastic products in the design stage, and put forward diversified solutions to plastic pollution; Third, strengthen international cooperation and promote exchanges and cooperation in technology upgrading, capacity-building and science and technology.
However, Cui ye, a lecturer at the school of international affairs and public management of Ocean University of China, believes that plastic pollution is a typical "tragedy of the commons". Although many countries have made positive statements and positions on this before, behind these statements, their real governance wishes need to be further investigated. Especially when there is a conflict between international public welfare and national private interests, their willingness to participate in the global treatment of marine plastic waste will be rapidly weakened. This can be seen from the refusal of the United States and Japan to sign the marine plastic charter with other members of the group of seven.
In addition, the differences in governance capacity and willingness of different countries make it difficult for all countries to promote plastic waste governance simultaneously and synchronously. The imbalance between governance demand and governance resources increases this difficulty.
For example, scientific research shows that the pollution of plastic waste in Southeast Asia is very serious, and a considerable part of these plastic waste comes from the dumping of passing ships and the transboundary movement of developed countries to coastal countries in the sea area. This requires coastal countries and developed countries outside the region to jointly shoulder the responsibility of governance and mobilize all kinds of resources to concentrate in this region, so as to solve the main contradiction in the problem of marine plastic waste.
However, Cui Ye pointed out that due to the political nature of global ocean governance, what should be expected has not been translated into practical measures: on the one hand, most of the coastal areas of the sea area are developing countries, the available capital, equipment, technology, human and other resources are very limited, and the coordination between economic development and environmental protection is very difficult, making it difficult for them to fully invest in the treatment of marine plastic waste; On the other hand, the United States, Europe and other maritime powers with richer governance resources are far away from this sea area, and for their own interests, they pay more attention to the governance of their own or regional sea areas, and fail to provide substantive assistance to these countries with weak governance resources.
Commitment of large manufacturers of plastic waste
Can humans solve the problems they make?
The answer given by Peter Drucker, a famous management scholar, in his book turning social problems into business opportunities: the new meaning of corporate social responsibility is to turn social problems and social needs into profitable business opportunities. This is perhaps the most optimistic estimate for mankind to solve the plastic crisis.
In fact, world-renowned international enterprises are indeed aware of their social responsibilities and stand on the front line of plastic restriction and prohibition. For example, in the summer of 2018, Starbucks announced that all its stores around the world would phase out disposable plastic straws by 2020; Unilever promises to reduce the use of plastic packaging by more than 100000 tons by 2025 and accelerate the use of recycled plastics; In 2021, Coca Cola announced the launch of a bottle made of 100% plant-based plastic
Even so, these enterprises still occupy the top few of the major manufacturers of plastic waste. According to the latest report released by the environmental protection organization "get rid of plastics", the top ten companies with plastic pollution in 2021 are Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola, Unilever, Nestle, P & G, Yizi international, Philip Morris International, Danone, Mars and Colgate Palmolive.
There are still many propositions for these enterprises in the future, but they must become future leaders leading to plastic free and climate security, because they have the ability, means and resources to turn this vision into reality.