Plastics are forever

plastics waste washed up on beach

Plastics are everywhere around us – in our homes, our vehicles, our computers, as packaging – replacing more traditional materials such as wood, metal, glass, leather, paper and rubber because they are lighter, stronger, more durable and corrosion resistant, and often cheaper.

But that durability means that most plastics do not biodegrade, so almost all the plastic ever produced is still here somewhere on the planet in one form or another, and will remain here for centuries to come, possibly thousands of years – nobody knows for certain yet.

According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation plastics production has increased twenty-fold since 1964, reaching 311 million tonnes in 2014, and is predicted to triple to 1124 million tonnes by 2050.

The report says that every year at least 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the ocean – equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute. If no action is taken, this is expected to increase to the equivalent of two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050.

It’s estimated that there are already over 150 million tonnes of plastic waste in the oceans. This waste doesn’t decompose, so the total amount cumulates over time. In a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish by 2025, with more plastic than fish in the ocean by weight by 2050.

A report by Eunomia says that over 80% of this comes from land-based sources, mainly litter. The remainder is released at sea, mostly from fishing activities. 94% eventually sinks to the ocean floor. Some forms massive islands of waste such as ‘the Great Pacific Garbage Patch’. The plastic can float around for decades before breaking down into smaller particles and becoming absorbed into the food chain or sinking and becoming part of the ocean floor sediment. Most ends up on beaches.

Quite rightly, much attention has been focused on the dangers of plastic litter to seabirds, whales, dolphins, turtles, seals and other marine life. It’s thought to cause the deaths of over a million seabirds and more than 100,000 marine mammals each year, but researchers are now warning that the risk of hidden contamination could be even more serious.

Unlike biological materials, plastic doesn’t decompose. Instead, it photodegrades when exposed to sunlight, fragmenting into smaller and smaller pieces without chemically breaking down. But, no matter how small they become, these plastic bits never become digestible by any living creature.  In addition they contain additives such as pigments and plasticizers, known to be endocrine disruptors, plus toxic metals such as cadmium and lead. Research by the University of Plymouth has shown that the particles also attract toxic chemicals from the surrounding seawater and concentrate them on the surface of the plastic, acting as ‘magnets’ for poisons in the oceans.

These small poisonous particles, found throughout the oceans and mixed with the sand on beaches, are now threatening the entire food chain. The toxins they contain are known to be a threat to human health. In the water the particles are mixed in with and resemble the plankton, and are being eaten by filter feeders, which are then consumed by large creatures. The process of bio-accumulation has the potential to further increase the concentrations of toxins as they pass along the food chain and into our human diets.

More information:

waste plastics cover beach

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Food waste digesters

A food waste digester will dispose of all biodegradable kitchen waste, cooked or uncooked, such as meat, fish, bones, bread, dairy products, vegetable peelings and fruit.

There are two main types of digestor, the Green Cone and the Green Johanna. They are installed in the garden and look very similar to normal compost bins. Both use natural processes to break the food down without producing methane.

Green Cone

This small food waste digester needs to be partially buried in the ground in a sunny, well drained part of the garden.

green cone food waste digesterThe unit uses solar heat to raise the temperature of the waste in the underground digestion chamber. The surrounding soil insulates the chamber. Food waste is broken down into water and carbon dioxide and a little organic residue. Accelerator powder can be added if needed to speed up the process.

You can put about three-quarters to one kilogram of any cooked or uncooked food waste into the Green Cone each day, which is the average amount produced by a family of four. It’s not intended to be used for garden waste.

The Green Cone works all year round. As it produces very little waste residue it should only need to be emptied once a year at most, usually longer.

Available to buy on Amazon Marketplace from greatgreensystems

Green Johanna

This is a more expensive option, but in my view it’s the best of all. It’s a very simple, easy to use compost bin which will dispose of all food waste and garden waste too.turning2green - green johanna hot composter It will recycle the kitchen waste produced by a household of up to five people together with the compostable waste from an average garden.

The unit must be installed in a shady part of the garden and is designed to be filled with two parts food waste mixed with one third garden waste. If you don’t have much garden waste, other carbon rich material such as leaves, sawdust, cardboard or straw can be used.

Waste is broken down by micro-organisms in a hot composting method which produces good rich compost. To maintain food waste recycling all year round a thermal jacket is needed when average temperatures drop below 5°C. No accelerator powder or chemicals are added.

There are two doors at the base to easily remove the finished compost which, depending on the time of year and temperature, will be ready after about four to six months.

The Green Johanna is available to buy from Great Green Systems 

Another system is now available from Hotbin. This is a highly insulated 200 litre capacity bin  designed to operate at between 40 to 60 degrees C. It’s more complicated to use, but the makers claim it will compost kitchen and garden waste 32 times faster than a traditional cold bin, producing finished compost in 90 days or mulching compost in 30 days. Available on Amazon, or more details from Hotbin.


Note: Larger scale food waste composters are available for schools, restaurants and commercial food waste – see Ridan Composters

Before the Flood

“Before the Flood, presented by National Geographic, features Leonardo DiCaprio on a journey as a United Nations Messenger of Peace, traveling to five continents and the Arctic to witness climate change first hand. He goes on expeditions with scientists uncovering the reality of climate change and meets with political leaders fighting against inaction.

He also discovers a calculated disinformation campaign orchestrated by powerful special interests working to confuse the public about the urgency of the growing climate crisis. With unprecedented access to thought leaders around the world, DiCaprio searches for hope in a rising tide of catastrophic news.”

For more information visit the official website

Buy the full movie Before the Flood

Hieronymus Bosch painting The Garden of Earthly Delights

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch