Impact News

In an event commemorating Earth Day 2024, let us take a closer look at this year’s theme: Planet vs Plastic. Plastic pollution is everywhere in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. It has been revealed that the Earth’s soil has become a significant sink of pollutants, and terrestrial ecosystems are often contaminated with a mixture of organic and inorganic compounds, negatively impacting the health, fertility, and ability of the soil to degrade existing contaminants (Rai et al., 2023). Meanwhile, aquatic ecosystems are sometimes more affected by microplastics and nanoplastics than terrestrial ecosystems. Further findings in this article focus on marine ecosystems and emphasise the impact of plastic pollution, which hinders primary marine producers and disrupts ecosystem cycles. In addition, carbon in the form of plastic particles is indicated to have a disproportionate influence on biogeochemical cycles, a process that is very important in balancing ecosystem nutrition (Kvale K., 2022).

The presence of plastic in marine ecosystems is increasingly worrying due to its long-lasting nature and its negative impact on the sea, marine life and human health. In 2019, global plastic production increased by 370 million tons, with only 9% recycled, 12% burned, and the rest thrown into the environment or landfill (Geyer et al., 2017). The increase in plastic production and inadequate waste management has negative impacts, such as microplastics, which are estimated to result in the loss or reduction of around 1-5% of ecosystem services provided globally, namely around USD 0.5 to 2.5 trillion­ (Beaumont et al., 2019). It has been researched that the risk of consuming seafood containing microplastics can be detrimental because more than 1.4 billion people depend on seafood; this is important to highlight among public health concerns (Beaumont et al., 2o19). Research by Jambeck et al. (2015) projects a grim future for marine life, with nearly 600 species by 2050; 90% of seabirds will be threatened by plastic consumption, and around 15% of marine species will be threatened with extinction due to plastic consumption and entanglement (Jambeck et al., 2015).

South Asia and Southeast Asia are the highest contributors to plastic waste. A large amount of mismanaged plastic waste in South and Southeast Asia is said to result in plastic leaking into the sea, accounting for 86% of the plastic dumped through rivers in Asia, including in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam (Goh et al., 2023). The factors causing this are the decline in municipal solid waste (MSW), a lack of proper infrastructure and management for MSWs, as well as landfills and open dumps as common end-of-life (EOL) resorts. What makes this situation worse is the increasing export of plastic waste from developed countries to Southeast Asia in recent years. In Indonesia, authorised collected waste is disposed of in landfills, and only 1% is sent to recycling facilities (Tempat Pengolahan Sampah Reduce-Reuse-Recycle/TPS3R). This article lists Indonesia among five other countries as having the highest Global Warming Potential, Terrestrial Ecotoxicity Potential, and Particulate Matter Formation Potential per kilogram of plastic waste processing. This is due to the high level of open burning.

Further recommendations on this issue include a total ban on single-use and single-use plastics, a halt to gas, oil, and petrochemical production exploration, a zero waste policy, encouraging producer responsibility, and proper enforcement of laws (Sharma et al., 2023). In addition, it is proposed that the plastic ban be carried out in parallel with finding adequate substitutes. Plastic waste contributes to environmental degradation, affects biological ecosystems, and exacerbates climate change due to inefficient disposal methods and releasing harmful substances during combustion. Current disposal methods are inadequate. Therefore, this article suggests the effective use of microorganisms as a solution to this problem through the biodegradation process (Dey et al., 2023). This process is catalysed by using enzymes derived from microorganisms that break down the polymers in plastic. Microorganisms, hereafter referred to as biofilms, consist of microbial cells connected by proteins and polysaccharides. When combined with nucleic acids, these components form extracellular polymeric substances that damage the plastic surface.

Apart from that, collective action from policymakers is also essential. Policymakers can take several collective to achieve targets regarding greenhouse gas emission mitigation in the plastic life cycle (Agrawala et al., 2023). First, improve domestic policies to address plastic use by prioritising reducing global plastic consumption and waste. Second, support the decarbonisation of the plastic life cycle by reducing the energy intensity of production and increasing the use of secondary plastics. Third, encourage innovation in plastic production and waste management to facilitate the transition to a circular plastic economy. Fourth, strengthen the secondary plastic market through policies that increase supply and demand. Fifth, exploit plastic and climate policy synergy to maximise emissions reductions.

 

References:

Agrawala, S., Lanzi, E., & Börkey, P. (2023). Climate change and plastics pollution: Synergies between two crucial environmental challenges. Boulogne-Billancourt (FR): OECD Environment Directorate.
Beaumont, N. J., Aanesen, M., Austen, M. C., Börger, T., Clark, J. R., Cole, M., Hooper, T., Lindeque, P. K., Pascoe, C., & Wyles, K. J. (2019). Global ecological, social and economic impacts of marine plastic. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 142, 189–195.
Dey, S., Ganugula, T. V., Babu, P. S. S. A., & Manoj, A. V. P. (2023). Degradation of plastics waste and its effects on biological ecosystems: A scientific analysis and comprehensive review. Biomedical Materials & Devices, 2(1).
Geyer, R., Jambeck, J. R., & Law, K. L. (2017). Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Science Advances, 3, e1700782.
Goh, L. S., Yap, K. S., Neo, E. R. K., Koo, C. W., Madhavan, U., Suwandi, N. A., Lew, J., & Tan, D. Z. L. (2023). Life cycle assessment of plastic waste end-of-life for India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4612071
Jambeck, J. R., Geyer, R., Wilcox, C., Siegler, T. R., Perryman, M., Andrady, A., Narayan, R., & Law, K. L. (2015). Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science, 347, 768–771.
Kvale, K. (2022). Implications of plastic pollution on global marine carbon cycling and climate. Emerging Topics in Life Sciences, 6(4), 359–369.
Rai, M., Pant, G., Pant, K., Aloo, B. N., Kumar, G., Singh, H. B., & Tripathi, V. (2023). Microplastic pollution in terrestrial ecosystems and its interaction with other soil pollutants: A potential threat to soil ecosystem sustainability. Resources, 12(6), 67.
Sharma, S., Sharma, V., & Chatterjee, S. (2023). Contribution of plastic and microplastic to global climate change and their conjoining impacts on the environment – a review. Science of the Total Environment, 875(162627)

Written by: Ilham Setiawan Noer (Program Officer EAFOR), Krisan Valerie Sangari (Intern EAFOR)
Edited by: Chelsea Patricia (Academic Officer), Ghina Aria (Outreach Officer)

The post Planet vs Plastic, Combatting Plastic Pollution: Challenges, Impacts, and Solutions appeared first on Resilience Development Initiative.

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