In the last few years, the European Union has focused particularly on the issue of pollution of the seas and beaches, caused mainly by the increasingly widespread use of disposable plastic. With the aim of limiting this phenomenon, in fact, the European Commission recently met in Brussels to consider new measures that include banning the ten categories of plastic products that are most commonly found in European seas and beaches. Among these products are, for example, polystyrene cutlery and plates, straws, cotton sticks for the ears and disposable glasses. At this meeting, the European Commission has also selected the new targets to be met by the 28 Member States by 2025, which include recycling of at least 55% of urban waste, a reduction in the use of landfills (up to a maximum of 10%), recycling of 65% of packaging and, finally, the separate collection of textile waste, dangerous waste and biodegradable waste.
In the last few years, the level of attention that Italy pays to sustainability issues has certainly increased and Italians are increasingly adopting measures that have a lower impact on the environment. Much remains to be done, especially with regard to the use of plastic materials in the production of packaging, but even in this context there are signs of improvement: according to the latest Corepla report, in 2017 there are about 7,000 municipalities active in the service of selecting collection of plastic packaging, which recorded a +11% in the quantities transferred to the consortium compared to 2016. 586,786 are the tons of plastic packaging that have been recycled and 324,480 those sent for energy recovery. Furthermore, according to Corepla, the national average per capita of differentiated waste collection rose from 15.8 to 17.7 kg per inhabitant per year, with Sardinia, Valle d’Aosta and Veneto leading the ranking. At the same time, there is an increase in the number of companies and industrial chains that have begun to look for alternative solutions, such as the case of Grom ice cream parlors offering compostable cups. This multi-faceted commitment could help Italy reach the 2020 target of reducing the percentage of plastic packaging going to landfill to zero.
In the last few years, the plastic pollution emergency has led scientists and researchers to find innovative and efficient solutions to increase the process of plastic waste disposal, as well as to seek new technologies to stop the expansion of the famous Plastic Island (GPGP) in the Pacific Ocean. Recently, a study conducted by an international research group – made of experts from the University of Portsmouth (UK), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (Kk) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (USA) – discovered, almost accidentally, an enzyme capable of digesting polyethylene terephthalate (PET). The discovery was made during a study to determine the structure of PETase – an enzyme capable of destroying PET- when researchers inadvertently engineered the enzyme into another better enzyme for the purpose. This could therefore be a useful tool for waste disposal and for cleaning up ocean waters. The team is now working on optimizing the structure of this enzyme and allowing it to be used on a large scale.
The results of the three-year study on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) – carried out by 16 international researchers and published by the Journal Scientific Reports – have revealed the true proportions and composition of the plastic island, which is currently floating in the oceans. As a matter of fact, the researchers have confirmed that the GPGP is composed of approximately 80 million kilograms of floating plastic debris of various size and shape, consisting mainly of Polyethylene and Polypropylene, and it covers an area 3 times the size of continental France. Experts have highlighted the urgency of finding a solution to address the situation, especially by analyzing the results regarding the concentration of microplastics in the area –1.8 trillion pieces – which is estimated to further increase by 30 times for a total of about 50 trillion particles. Lastly, researchers have emphasized the necessity to act rapidly, by implementing substantial international measures in the coming decade, with the aim of halting the increasing inflow of plastic waste into the oceans. In addition to that, they have suggested supporting removal initiatives, such as coastal and ocean cleanups, for existing plastics that accumulate in the oceans and threaten the welfare of the marine fauna.
According to a study published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in 2050 there will be more plastic than fish (by weight) in the oceans. The always-increasing phenomenon of oceanic pollution caused by plastic has started to alarm governments and environmental associations, so much so that Lisa Svensson – Coordinator of the UNEP (United Nation Environment Programme) for Marine and Coastal Ecosystems- has included this phenomenon among the “global crises”. As a matter of fact, more than 8 million tonnes of plastic are released into the sea every year, bottles, packaging and other waste. In response to this critical situation, many countries have started to develop laws to abolish the use of disposable packaging and products largely made of plastic. Among those Italy that, following the abolition of plastic bags in supermarkets, has also extended this ban to bags used in the retail sale of fruit and vegetables, replacing them by biodegradable ones.