ground- water, geo- statistics, environmental- engineering, earth- science

Plastic Planet

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I watched the documentary Plastic Planet last night. Despite its similar title compared with this blog, water occurs a few times in this documentary. In fact, it is shown in this documentary, how by-products of plastic are measured in human blood and linked to infertility.

The two most pressing problems with plastic are:

  • The amount of garbage it turns into. 2 examples:

    1. the ratio of plankton to plastic in the oceans is as high as 1:60. This is very much related to the plastic in Albatrosses I have blogged previously about. The movie talks about a trip with the sailboat Algalita from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. You can check out one of their presentations here.
    2. annual clean-up weekend on a japanese island (a fairly small island, the kind where you can walk around in a day) results in 120 truck loads of plastic. That’s one small island only!
  • The health problems it causes. None of the “direct problems” are deadly immediately. There is one interview however in the movie with a scientist who says something along the lines:

    “When you drive to your chemotherapy session to treat the cancer you got because of continuous low-level exposure to plastic, you will ask yourself if all the plastic you ever used has been helping you”.

Both problems are intertwined: a PVC diaper continues to degrade and release substances for 200 years.

Alternative Text

Plastic Planet movie poster

Here are some more pieces of information from the movie:

  • the production of the actual plastic is secret. Here is an illustrative example: A company that manufactures water bottles usually doesn’t “create” the plastic they use but they buy it from a third party. Hence, the company that builds water bottles doesn’t know what substances are contained in the “raw plastic” (the pellets) they use. Finally, the company that fills water into water bottles is yet another company.

  • 60 million tons of plastics are produced in Europe per year

  • big business: sales: 800 billion Euros per year

  • common misconception: plastics are inert. Not true! it degrades and bound molecules get free

    • ubiquitous (present everywhere) — clenup on island: in 2d 120 truck loads
    • persistent (chemical compounds that don’t change with changing environmental influence)
  • the first plastic was created just after 1900: Bakelite

  • Two of the most critical compounds of plastic are Phtalate and Bisphenol A. There is also Vinyl chloride, which is needed in the production process of the pellets. Exemplarily a chemical process factory of a company called Montedison near Venice, Italy is shown in the movie, where a worker with state attorney Felice Casson has linked the use of Vinyl chloride with health problems.

  • A key concept related to health effects originating from plastics is “endocrine disruptor

Like the movie, I want to close with a positive outlook: There are attempts to create products with similar properties like plastic, but from regenerative sources. Such products are called “Bioplastic”. A company that produces Bioplastic is called Novamont based in Italy.

Written by Claus

March 8th, 2010 at 8:22 am

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