From plas­tic to sea­weed: hav­ing na­ture as an in­dus­trial part­ner

The EU Strat­egy for Plas­tics in a Cir­cu­lar Econ­omy was adopted in Jan­uary. The strat­egy ad­dresses the chal­lenges posed by the use of plas­tics through­out their life cy­cle: that is, from the ini­tial stages of pro­duc­tion un­til the end of their use­ful life.

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - NEWS -

This strat­egy lays the foun­da­tions for a new plas­tics econ­omy, where the de­sign and pro­duc­tion of plas­tics and plas­tic prod­ucts fully re­spect re­use, re­pair and re­cy­cling needs, re­sult­ing in more sus­tain­able ma­te­ri­als be­ing de­vel­oped and pro­moted. One of the prob­lem ar­eas is that of sin­gle use plas­tics, that is plas­tic prod­ucts which are thrown away af­ter be­ing used just once, in­creas­ing the amount of the waste gen­er­ated and go­ing to land­fill ex­po­nen­tially. In those coun­tries which ap­pre­ci­ate the value of re­search, ef­forts are un­der way to en­cour­age the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of al­ter­na­tive sus­tain­able ma­te­ri­als. In this re­spect, be­ing sus­tain­able sig­ni­fies not only re­duc­ing the waste pro­duced and thrown away but also en­sur­ing that the waste gen­er­ated by the al­ter­na­tives iden­ti­fied is min­imised and pos­si­bly elim­i­nated. Wish­ful think­ing? One such al­ter­na­tive ma­te­rial be­ing cur­rently re­searched is sea­weed. A start-up com­pany based in Lon­don is pi­o­neer­ing the use of nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als ex­tracted from plants and sea­weed, thereby aim­ing at cre­at­ing pack­ag­ing with a very low en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact. The use of sea­weed as a raw ma­te­rial could pos­si­bly cre­ate waste-free al­ter­na­tives to plas­tic bot­tles, cups, plates, knives, forks … Bio-based news quotes the re­searcher thus: “You use a cof­fee cup for half an hour max­i­mum and then it’s go­ing to be in the en­vi­ron­ment for prob­a­bly 700 years. That’s a big mis­match in terms of use and shelf life.” The cof­fee cups we use are lined with oil-based waxes in or­der to pre­vent liq­uids from seep­ing out. This cre­ates dif­fi­cul­ties when the cups are thrown away as they take a long time to de­com­pose. Us­ing a sea­weed-based ex­tract cre­ates a sus­tain­able al­ter­na­tive as it can de­com­pose in about four to six weeks: com­pare this to 700 years! More­over, sea­weed is cheap and easy to har­vest. It is also eas­ily avail­able along and not far from our coast­line. In ad­di­tion, it is one of the fastest grow­ing or­gan­isms on earth. Some types of sea­weed can grow fifty cen­time­tres per day! What are we wait­ing for? Some ap­par­ently are not aware that we have an abun­dance of sea­weed in Mal­tese waters! Is it not about time that we have a sus­tain­able in­dus­trial pol­icy? That is, an in­dus­trial pol­icy which en­cour­ages the en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly pro­duc­tion of goods. Our in­dus­trial pol­icy should work in tan­dem and be syn­chro­nised with a sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment strat­egy seek­ing to cre­ate wealth hand in hand with the pro­tec­tion of na­ture. This ar­ti­cle fo­cuses on one tiny ex­am­ple which, if prop­erly dealt with, could have con­sid­er­able im­pacts. I list a ba­sic three: a sus­tain­able use of our nat­u­ral re­sources; ad­dress­ing plas­tic waste in par­tic­u­lar sin­gle use plas­tic; lay­ing the foun­da­tion for a sus­tain­able in­dus­trial pol­icy. Un­for­tu­nately, the pol­i­tics of sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment is be­ing ig­nored. Cabi­net Min­is­ters do not have an idea of the dor­mant po­ten­tial of na­ture. Is it not about time that our eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity works in tan­dem with na­ture in­stead of against it? What is the use of hav­ing in­ter­minable speeches on the cir­cu­lar econ­omy, the blue econ­omy and sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment if we can­not trans­late words into ac­tion? Na­ture is our in­dus­trial part­ner that is kept wait­ing at the doors of op­por­tu­nity.

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