Toward trash-free future Chapter 3: Putting an end to rubbish – 3 paths we can take.

©Daria Shevtsova

Here are three  paths we can take towards achieving a long-term reduction of waste production world-wide.

Path No. 1: Research
“Plastic-hungry enzymes are on the march!”, ”Delectable PET!”. Japanese researchers made the headlines in 2016 when they announced that they had discovered a bacterium which lived on PET. Scientists named it Ideonella sakaiensis after the port of Sakai where they first discovered the bacterium amongst the waste at a recycling plant. Could these microscopically small bacteria solve our enormous waste problem?

So far the microorganisms are just too slow for the task. At a temperature of 30C, they need about 6 weeks to eat their way through a strip of PET, the thickness of adhesive tape.

But it is not only in Japan that scientists and companies are looking for ways towards a trash-free future. There are both pragmatic approaches and apparently crazy ideas. Sometimes, a bit of both. Some want to make plastics more environment-friendly, others want to make plastic waste a secondary raw material. The American start-up ByFusion has developed a machine which fuses plastic waste into building blocks without the need for glue or adhesives. These blocks can be used in the construction industry.

Path No. 2: Creativity
Younger city dwellers in particular are adhering to the Zero-Waste-Movement and trying to live without packaging. But stores which offer their goods unwrapped are still rare. It is also doubtful whether the idea is really viable on a large scale. Who leaves for work in the morning laden with food containers and jars because he/she needs to go shopping in the evening?

Path No. 3: Joint effort
There is no way round the problem. We all need to change our habits. We cannot afford to wait until all these new ideas are employed all over the world. That would take too long.
What can we do as individuals to attack the waste problem?

According to the German Environmental Organization, only reusable systems or packaging are really environment-friendly.

But it is also important to make the right decision when it comes to choosing convenience products. Many people already reject plastic carrier bags in supermarkets and choose biodegradable versions of disposable cups.

But what is so special about the “ecological alternatives”? Is a paper bag always really better than a plastic one?

The plastic crisis is everyone’s responsibility: manufacturers, politicians and consumers all have a role to play. There is no silver bullet for a sustainable future. But there are, at least, three paths we can follow.

They will be long, difficult and certainly rocky but they are the only ones which lead us in the right direction.