Pollution of our seas and oceans has become an international environmental problem of colossal proportions. An estimated 142 million tonnes of plastic waste and decomposed plastic can be found in our oceans and this figure is increasing every single day. The waste that can actually be seen primarily consists of packaging that has been carelessly thrown away – such as plastic bottles, plastic bags, disposable razors and old fishing nets – and this tends to group together, in particular where the currents meet. There is no one single way to prevent further pollution of our seas. REMONDIS, therefore, is tackling this problem from three angles.
One of these gigantic “floating soups” of plastic waste can be found around the Pacific island of Midway. Commonly referred to as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, this mass of waste covers an area the size of Western Europe and is the result of decades of plastic waste being disposed of incorrectly. The problem always begins onshore in the heart of the countries no matter where in the world you are. Those people who carelessly throw away their plastic bags and plastic waste into the countryside instead of putting them in the correct bin should realise that, sooner or later, their waste is going to travel down the streams, canals and rivers and eventually end up in the sea. Whilst this material is gradually eroded into tiny pieces, so-called microplastic, it never actually disappears.
The first step to protecting our seas is to collect and recycle plastics on shore.
Marine creatures mistake it for food and, if they don’t actually die as a result of eating it, it ends up moving down the food chain and onto the plates of humans who caused the pollution in the first place. Nowadays, everyone has traces of plastic in their blood. Water samples from the North Pacific have revealed that there is now 46 times more plastic floating in the upper levels of the sea than plankton and plastic granules make up around ten percent of the sand on some beaches. There are, however, ways to try and tackle this problem. A look at Germany and the activities carried out by REMONDIS shows how this can be done.
REMONDIS realised back in the 70s that it was important not to simply throw plastic away but to collect and sort it and then process it into base material for new products. REMONDIS Plano, a company based in Lünen, has made it its business to systematically recycle plastics and has invested large sums in recycling processes and product development over the last few decades. To begin with, the old plastic is roughly cut up.
It then undergoes seven different processing stages before ending up as a ready-to-use plastic granulate which can be used by industrial businesses helping to reduce the consumption of crude oil. Practically all types of waste plastic can be recycled. Each year, thanks to its recycling activities, around 160,000 tonnes of high quality plastics are produced and marketed by the company – and plastic that is recycled cannot end up in our seas and oceans. REMONDIS’ land-based plastics recycling, therefore, contributes greatly towards conserving our planet’s natural resources, preventing climate change and keeping our oceans clean.
It has been estimated that there are around 16 billion disposable drinks bottles and cans on the market in Germany on which a deposit has been charged. Each can, plastic bottle and glass bottle is worth 25 cents when it is returned – money that is reimbursed to the consumers by the shops which, in turn, are paid the difference by the drinks companies. For this to work, there must be a system in place that registers when and where a disposable drinks bottle is returned.
One of the pioneering firms leading the way here with its deposit clearing system is RHENUS Recycling, one of REMONDIS’ associated companies, which offers a full service package covering the handling of the packaging as well as full data management. The disposable bottles and cans are collected in special machines at the POS or at the company’s own counting centres. Moreover, mobile collection machines can be set up wherever they are needed. All of the data is entered into the clearing process and calculated precisely. The bottles and cans are then made void immediately and sent for recycling. Thanks to this system, plastic waste is given a monetary value – money which makes consumers can get back if they return the product. It makes people think twice, therefore, about simply throwing away their cans and bottles as they would lose out financially. Plastic bottles are by far the biggest problem when it comes to sea pollution. Were this system to be implemented worldwide, it could prevent a huge amount of plastic waste from ending up in our oceans.
One of the most important ways of tackling plastic waste in our oceans is to make young people more aware of the need to collect, sort and recycle waste correctly. At the beginning of the year, REMONDIS launched its new educational project, the “RECYCLING PROFESSIONALS” which aims to awaken the interest of young children and teenagers in this subject. Being an integral concept involving multimedia educational theatre performances and accompanying teaching material, this project provides a host of different ways to teach children aged between 5 and 15 about the environment. Its overall aim is to teach them – in a fun way – how to handle waste responsibly.
No schooling – no environmental awareness. No environmental awareness – no recycling.
At the same time, REMONDIS has created the RECYCLING PROFESSIONALS board game which teaches children how to sort waste correctly through play. The most important facts about waste segregation are taught in an entertaining and interesting way and brought up again and again during the game. The winner is the person who remembers these facts the fastest. As a result, the children learn about the different recyclables and which bins they should use. The message is clear: only waste that has been sorted correctly can protect our environment and be turned into new products – so that our seas and oceans remain clean in the future.