What will the world's strictest legislation to limit plastics bring?

  • 2022-09-24

Since the 1940s, plastics have become the fourth largest type of new basic materials after steel, wood and cement due to their lightness, low cost and strong plasticity. A large amount of plastic is produced every year in the world for industry and life. This convenient disposable product is discarded in large quantities after use. The "white pollution" caused by the refractory characteristics has caused huge pressure on the ecological environment.


White pollution has also become one of the important environmental problems other than global warming caused by greenhouse gases. The most notable feature of white pollution is that it is difficult to degrade. Plastics invented 100 years ago will take at least 300 years to be degraded. When you think about it, the objects that people spend their brains creating only take a few tens of minutes at most, but they spend a lot of energy to deal with the follow-up matters. Either way, it's a bit of a loss.


The United Nations Environment Assembly has set agenda meetings for many times to discuss and formulate detailed rules to solve this white cancer that is common to the world. Recently, the fifth United Nations Environment Assembly announced the formulation of a global treaty to legislate to end plastic pollution. Heads of state, environment ministers and other representatives from 175 countries endorsed the resolution.


The development of the treatment and solution of white pollution has always been faltering and difficult. For the first time, the United Nations uses international laws to restrain, which will bring new variables and development space to the process of global plastic pollution control.


No more pure land:

Microplastics participate in the life cycle system


Our perception of white pollution is somewhat superficial. But white pollution is passing microplastics to humans bit by bit through the food chain in a way similar to heavy metal pollution. Although some plastics seem to be degraded, the degraded plastics are not completely decomposed, but become small pieces of broken particles, mixed between the soil and gravel, and after being ingested by the underlying organisms, gradually invade the organisms. in the organization.


Plastic pollution has become one of the most important environmental pollution problems worldwide. Microplastic debris is present in nearly every ecosystem, from Arctic snow, to the summit of Mount Everest, to the deepest seafloor.


In the ocean, plastic products are invading the health of marine life, and marine mammals and seabirds are threatened by plastic. We often see in the news that turtles and whales take the initiative to find humans to untie the plastic wrapped around them. A large amount of white garbage has also been found in the stomachs of some marine creatures. Sea turtles that feed on jellyfish, unable to tell the difference between the two, will swallow floating plastic bags as jellyfish; all kinds of plastic debris floating on the shoreline will be eaten by seabirds as delicious food.


Even in the most remote Antarctic, with the movement of ocean currents, it is not immune to the destruction of the environment by plastic. Research investigations show that scientists have observed floating or stranded plastic debris in Antarctica as early as the 1980s. In the past two years, mesoplastic fragments (1–10 mm) and microplastic fragments (1–1000 microns) have been found in surface water and sediments north of 60°S latitude.


In the body of the Antarctic terrestrial Collembola, scientists also found traces of polyethylene debris, which also means that the last piece of pure land on the earth is also infiltrated by plastic.


Most plastics cannot be excreted and occupy the stomach space. The harmful substances in plastics not only erode the life and health of animals, but also affect the breeding of the next generation. In the presence of microplastics, the smallest marine organisms, zooplankton, grow more slowly and reproduce less successfully: the animals have smaller eggs and are less likely to hatch, research shows.


The plastic accumulated in these organisms will be passed down the food chain layer by layer, jeopardizing the development of the entire biological system. For example, the microplastics in the bottom organism Collembola in Antarctica will most likely flow to larger animals such as penguins and seals through the food chain. Microplastics have penetrated deeply into the soil food web and become part of the soil biogeochemical cycle.


This situation also made it impossible for scientists to ignore it. They turned their attention from the marine ecosystem to the terrestrial system, and started quantitative research on microplastics, focusing on the impact of plastic pollution on the entire ecosystem.


With the deepening of white pollution, people are paying more and more attention to the harm of plastic, and the government is paying more and more attention to the disposal of plastic waste. At the legislative level, it has begun to clear all obstacles and increase punishment. Scientists put more energy into the continuous research and development of plastic degradation technology.



The strictest ban: from plastic restriction to plastic ban


According to statistics from the International Energy Agency (IEA), in the past five years, more than 60 countries have implemented bans or taxes on single-use plastics, and major economies such as the European Union, the United States and China have even begun to upgrade the "plastic restriction order" to "Plastic Ban". Behind the promulgation of the international legislative "plastic limit order" is the full alarm of plastic pollution.


UNEP released a report last year saying that between 1950 and 2017, about 9.2 billion tons of plastics were produced globally, of which the recycling rate of plastics was less than 10%, and about 7 billion tons became plastic waste. The American "Science Advances" magazine warned that in 2050, there will be more than 13 billion tons of plastic waste on the earth, and the blue planet may become a "white planet".


The white planet is not only filled with white garbage, but more importantly, white plastics are transmitted through the food chain in the biological tissues, which seriously affects the growth and reproduction of organisms. If measures are not taken immediately, the harm of plastic pollution will enter an irreversible situation. The introduction of legally binding and binding regulations to end plastic pollution has become necessary to curb the deterioration of the situation.


The adoption of the "Resolution on Ending Plastic Pollution (Draft)" at the Fifth United Nations Environment Assembly is the progress of the most important environmental multilateral agreement since the Paris Agreement, and it is also an agreement on insurance consensus for future generations. Since then, the global plastic restriction order has been legally bound, and multiple countries must face it together. In China, the white environmental protection policy is also constantly exerting force, from the plastic restriction order to the plastic ban order, and a national-local multi-level plastic ban policy system has been formed. On February 23 this year, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment once again emphasized that it will actively strengthen the control of plastic pollution. The next step will be to implement the legal requirements for plastic pollution control, and promote the "Opinions on Further Strengthening the Control of Plastic Pollution" and the "14th Five-Year Plan" for Plastic Pollution Control Action Plan" and other effective implementation, precise, scientific and legal control of plastic pollution.


Under the guidance of the regulations and policies of the plastic restriction order, the plastic ban order has entered the implementation stage. "Large households" using plastics such as supermarkets and takeaways all over the country have begun to introduce plastic reduction measures and transitional measures.


The most obvious feeling is that the use of non-degradable disposable plastic straws was completely banned in the catering industry last year, and many people felt that they could not drink milk tea happily. In the field of takeaway meals, merchants choose to reduce the amount of packaging, and have also launched the option of "no tableware". Takeaway suppliers have set up an environmental protection zone, removed ordinary plastic packaging bags and straws, and introduced a variety of environmentally friendly packaging. Expand the supply of environmentally friendly packaging products.


In general, there are two main solutions to the pollution control of white plastics. One is to start from the source and develop degradable materials that can replace plastics; the other is to adopt various degradation technologies for the already available plastics, so that dust returns to dust, soil returns to earth, and then returns to nature after degradation. . Under the most stringent plastic restriction order, the technologies behind these two ideas: degradable technology and the substitution of synthetic bio-based materials, etc., will rise and explode and go to the open.


At present, mature alternative materials are made of renewable resources such as wheat straw, corn stalk, and straw as raw materials. The degradable materials produced replace disposable plastic products and film packaging products, and are widely used in bio-based energy, materials, medicine and other industries. with the scene.


The closest thing to life is the replacement of some daily necessities. Many disposable products we use in hotels, such as toothbrushes, combs, etc., milk tea straws and takeaway packaging are mostly degradable products made of straw-like raw materials. In agriculture, degradable plastics are also used in film products. However, due to cost reasons, the relative price of biodegradable plastic products is about twice that of traditional plastic products, which limits its large-scale application.


The degradable plastic replacement industry is in the early stage of industrial development as a whole, and the global degradable plastic market is dominated by starch-based, PLA, and PBAT materials. According to Zhiyan Consulting data, the total global degradable plastic production capacity in 2019 is about 1.077 million tons, of which starch-based plastics production capacity is 449,400 tons, accounting for 38.4% of the global degradable plastic production capacity, PLA and PBAT account for 25.0% and 24.1% respectively. %, ranking second and third. The three together account for nearly 90%, and are currently the mainstream degradable plastic products.


These three materials are used in different fields because of their respective properties. As PLA and PBAT technologies gradually mature and costs continue to decline, the main growth of degradable plastics in the future will focus on PLA and PBAT. Starch-based materials will become fillers for plastics such as PLA and PBAT, which will reduce costs.


At present, the large-scale degradable plastic products on the market have been modified or compounded, among which PBAT is mainly used in combination with PLA. For example, the degradable plastic bags used in large-scale supermarkets are the composite materials of PLA and PBAT. These technologies are constantly integrating and developing with the east wind of policy.


Of course, under the plastic restriction order, in addition to traditional degradable plastics, new materials will also grow. In the apparel industry, the use of new technology and new materials has become a new fashion. From plant-based materials such as marine microorganisms, mushroom mycelium, and fruit peels, to textile fabrics made from recycled materials such as plastic bottles and fishing nets, they have begun to be used in the production of clothing accessories.


More and more plants are becoming our clothing accessories. Some sports brand clothing began to use dandelion as a new source of rubber. Cole Haan, an American sneaker brand, has launched the Generation Zerøgrand II sustainable sneaker, which has a sole made of dandelion rubber. In addition to the soles, the uppers, laces and insoles are also processed and processed from recycled plastic bottles.


With the continuous exploration of plant-based materials, we will see more and more plastic products in daily life being replaced by degradable materials in the future. This new green consumption method will also become a trend, a new selling point for enterprises and the basis for consumers to pay. Sustainable fashion goes hand in hand with ideas, fully demonstrating the fashion of the new generation.


Under the plastic restriction order, the market demand continues to increase, and the popularity of plastic substitutes has exploded. According to the data of Tianyancha, there are tens of thousands of related enterprises whose business scope covers degradable and biodegradable. Among them, nearly 2,300 biodegradable-related companies will be added in 2020, a year-on-year increase of 38%.



The rise of synthetic bio-based materials has made production materials more abundant and environmentally friendly. It is of great significance both in terms of business and green development. Under the guidance of strong policies, the cost is a temporary limit, but in the long run, with the expansion of demand and large-scale production, the disadvantage of cost will be reversed and will not restrict its development.


However, the recycling and reuse of plastics will be limited by cutting-edge technologies. Although many scientists are trying to make breakthroughs in the new technology of degrading plastics, there is no industrialized development yet. In the recycling and reuse of plastic products, more investment is needed to positively stimulate the output of scientific research and the development of supporting industrialization.


At the intersection of environmental protection and technological development, we will find ourselves at a turning point in history. Many basic scientific researches have been accelerated under the AI technology. Global warming, white pollution, and biological virus invasion under the influence of greenhouse gases have become various uncontrollable factors, affecting our production and life.


Under the consensus of sustainable green development, the community with a shared future for mankind is once again connected. Although human beings will always stand against each other for various reasons, in the face of survival and continuation, we will all choose the most sensible path. Whether it is white pollution or the greenhouse effect, sustainable determination and supporting consensus such as the ban on plastics and carbon neutrality will lead mankind to a wider world and a broader future.

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