In 2016 alone, the world generated more than 240 million tons of plastic waste. This massive number adds up quickly. Today we have over 6.3 million metric tons of plastic waste in our waters, forests and every other place imaginable. Of that, only nine percent has been recycled.
But enough with the statistics, the problem is clear: plastic waste is everywhere and we have to find a solution to it.
Let’s just quickly explain how the plastic waste endangers our lives and the lives of all living things around us.
Plastic is a durable and easy to produce material used for all things from packaging to clothing. Its durability and how cheap it’s become to produce makes it the go-to choice for all big companies and manufacturers, but also its durability makes it so hard to recycle and get rid of. As a result, a lot of it ends up or gets thrown out in the wild where it could take up to 450 years to decompose.
Plastic waste is a big problem for the natural habitats of all animals. Many wild animals, especially fish, can think of plastic as food and try to eat it. Currently, 100 000 marine animals die every year from all sorts of plastic waste. But plastic is dangerous for us too. Decomposing plastic waste turns into smaller plastic debris and so-called “microplastic”. These microplastics are so small and can be eaten or even inhaled by humans and animals, causing all sorts of allergic reactions and cell death.
This problem is only scratching the surface of all the harm plastic is causing to our planet. That is why we need to find solutions to replace our plastic use with eco-friendly alternatives.
A possible solution is the use of plants, such as specific kinds of mushrooms and their roots, called mycelium, to create a replacement for plastic.
One very common use for plastic is for styrofoam. A company called “Ecovative Design LLC” found a way of using the roots of mushrooms for the creation of a similar product to replace plastic in the packaging industry and more. To grow the so-called “MycoComposite” panels, “Mycelium binds together (aspen) wood shavings in a large container. Through a process called cytokinesis” the fungi divide into complex webs that fill out all available space with tightly woven fibers. In the end, you get a styrofoam-like product made 100% of wood waste and mycelium. The product is easily compostable and can be used for eco-friendly packaging, construction materials and architectural elements.
As mentioned in the beginning, plastic is used in a lot of clothing materials. One example would be the so-called “synthetic leather” or “faux leather”. The synthetic leather segment accounts for more than 55% of the global revenue in its industry. This material is used mostly because of its cheaper price and the fact that it’s easy to manufacture. But the downsides are the same as for all other plastic products. An alternative is using the same technology used for „MycoComposite“ to create leather-like material to replace the faux leather products sold all over the globe.
As we can see, alternatives to plastics are here, we just need to help further develop their research, so we can replace other plastic products in our day-to-day lives with the eco-friendly alternatives. But let’s also not forget that our own behavior matters as well. By being sustainable ourselves, we can help reduce our own plastic use. We, as individuals, can help clean forests, beaches and oceans of all plastic waste and help further solve the problem.
Viktor Mitrev, 11a