How plastic pollution is choking the planet, and what’s being done about it – National |

Because the world buckles below the load of billions of tonnes of plastic air pollution, some unlikely options are rising — and within the type of mushrooms, lentils and wheat.

These are a few of the pure substances whose byproducts can be used to chemically engineer polymer, the constructing block of plastic.

Clearly, options are wanted.

The world is drowning in plastic, with 400 million tonnes — equal to the load of three,400 CN Towers — produced yearly.

And recycling, as essential as that’s, is barely maintaining.

In Canada, simply 9 per cent of plastic waste ever will get recycled, according to Atmosphere and Local weather Change Canada. The overwhelming majority of plastic — round 86 per cent — leads to the landfill.

However fungi?

They’re plentiful and straightforward to reap, and it seems their root networks, referred to as mycelium, will be reworked into every part from packaging to fake leather-based — even coffins.



Final 12 months, designer Stella McCartney introduced a brand new product line that includes non-animal, non-plastic merchandise made with mycelium. Manufacturers like Adidas and Hermes are leaping on board as effectively.


Manufacturing and sale of such high-end objects remains to be in its infancy.

However that’s not stopping labs in Israel, Indonesia, Italy and america, amongst others, from sprouting up.

And it’s not simply ‘shrooms.

Governments all over the world, together with in Canada, are getting in on the motion.

In January, Ottawa announced it was offering $600,000 in funding to a lab at McGill College that’s growing a sort of fabric known as “aquaplastic” constructed from biologically engineered microorganisms.

Provincial governments are taking the plunge, too.

Plastic is often made by chemically engineering compounds present in petrochemicals. It’s low-cost, versatile, sturdy, and lightweight, and it revolutionized the world of producing as soon as it began turning into mass produced in the course of the twentieth century.

However it seems there are many options to the world’s plastic downside that come from solely biodegradable compounds present in nature. It’s only a query of tapping into them.

Taking the ‘pulse’ of the planet 

On the Prairies, in a chemistry lab on the College of Saskatchewan, researcher Bishnu Acharya has discovered a lifeline for the planet … in lentils.

His group is engaged on an alternate utilizing the leftover starch and protein from these pulses, that are plentiful within the province. They’re additionally creating polymers and pure fillers, the constructing blocks of plastic, utilizing the leftover waste of agricultural merchandise similar to wheat and flax straw.

“There might be some alternative for this bio-based materials to exchange single-use plastics,” says Acharya, who’s below no illusions that bioplastics will exchange all plastic, which is present in just about each product created for the patron market immediately.

Single-use plastics are available many kinds, and are made with various kinds of resins. They’re used as soon as, after which discarded.

UN Atmosphere

The problem, he says, is versatility: bioplastics can’t be moulded in all of the totally different ways in which typical plastic can. So, Acharya says, “we have now to compromise someplace.”

It means, at the very least for now, bioplastics are primarily being developed for very particular purposes, like medical units, or single-use plastics, which the Liberal authorities has vowed to ban as early as the top of this 12 months.

Learn extra:

Liberals release long-awaited regulations to ban single-use plastics, but there’s a loophole

Bioplastics, together with these constructed from mycelium, at the moment account for lower than one per cent of the world’s complete plastic manufacturing.

However, says Acharya, momentum “is slowly constructing” for a shift to cleaner options.


For many years, recycling has been touted as an answer to the world’s dependancy to plastic. It’s essential, however specialists say, decreasing and reusing is much more essential.

A advertising and marketing marketing campaign from the Seventies to encourage recycling.

U.S. Library of Congress

The recognition of recycling has even led to an idea known as “wishcycling.” That’s when somebody tosses one thing into the blue bin within the hopes that it may be recycled, regardless that it could’t.

The United Nations Atmosphere Programme estimates that solely 10 per cent of the 400 million tonnes of plastic is produced every year all over the world.

“We actually reside within the age of plastic,” says Juan José Alava, who runs the Ocean Air pollution Analysis Unit on the College of British Columbia. “This can be a plastic planet … and proof of the human footprint that we have now inflicted on our planet.”

Consultants concur that recycling, whereas broadly perceived as the answer to the world’s plastic air pollution downside, has its limitations and falls far in need of a cure-all.

Most moldable that’s put within the blue bin doesn’t find yourself getting recycled, and in lots of nations all over the world, recycling applications are very weak or non-existent.

For plastic recycling to work, there must be a enterprise case for it, and Bud Fraser, a sustainability skilled at UBC, says there typically simply isn’t one.

“The enterprise case is difficult in lots of instances,” he says. For instance, if the worth of oil is low, it may be cheaper for a producer to supply new plastic, versus utilizing recycled plastic pellets, which will be costlier.

Re-thinking recycling

There’s a big range of merchandise in Canada that may’t be recycled — or that aren’t as a result of it’s cheaper simply to trash them.

In some cities, even plastic objects marked “biodegradable” or “compostable” can’t be recycled and will as a substitute be put within the rubbish bin.

Complicated guidelines simply exacerbate the issue, says Karen Storry, a senior engineer and recycling skilled at Metro Vancouver, a bunch of native municipalities that manages the area’s companies.

Storry says she’s been advocating with the federal authorities, which is answerable for labelling legal guidelines, to provide you with a transparent customary for what’s and isn’t recyclable nationwide.

“[Ottawa] really want[s] to have a look at eliminating the confusion by ensuring that solely issues that really are accepted at many of the recycling services in Canada are labelled that means,” she stated.

To unravel the issue of what can and might’t be recycled, the Metropolis of Toronto has developed a web-based Waste Wizard to assist residents kind out reality from fiction.

Regardless of these efforts, even these within the recycling business concur that the world isn’t going to do away with plastic any time quickly.

“The fact is that plastic is in every single place proper now,” says David Lefebvre, a spokesperson with British Columbia’s recycling company, Recycle BC.

As a substitute of making an attempt to remove all plastic, which is unrealistic, Lefebvre says “the actual query is: are we utilizing the fitting plastics? Are firms ensuring that they’re decreasing the quantity of plastic that they use as a lot as doable?”

To that impact, sustainability skilled Bud Fraser says what would make an enormous distinction is placing extra of the onus onto firms who generate plastic within the first place, as a substitute of simply on customers and cities who’ve to scrub it up after the very fact.

The recycling system is ready up in such a means that producers put out a product — say, a standup plastic pouch for holding rice — after which it’s as much as the cities and recycling businesses to determine the right way to recycle it.

This technique, Fraser says, must be flipped.

“In my thoughts, most of the producers … have not likely taken the method of claiming, ‘Nicely, let’s be certain that this product is recyclable earlier than we put it onto the market.’ It’s extra the opposite means round: put the product in the marketplace after which everybody has to scramble to strive to determine the right way to recycle it.”

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