Brunch

‘By 2045, the ocean will have more plastic than fish’

  • In conversation with senior Prof. Ajith De Alwis 

The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS), together with Nations Trust Bank, will be hosting a webinar that will delve into the use of single-use plastic and its effects on our planet. The discussion will feature University of Moratuwa Department of Chemical and Process Engineering Head and Engineering Research Unit Director senior Prof. Ajith De Alwis. He is a well-recognised environmental expert and has contributed to a number of locally as well as foreign-funded environmental engineering projects. 

In conversation with Brunch, Prof. De Alwis explained that during this webinar, he will be highlighting the global situation on plastic waste management and the importance of the intelligent use of plastic. During our conversation, he also emphasised the issues created by micro and nano plastics, health and environmental risks due to the excessive use of plastics, the importance of minimising the generation of plastic waste, and the promotion of plastic waste recycling. 

“The development of human society through the evolution of different kinds of material shows that today we are in the plastic age,” commented Prof. De Alwis, adding that plastic is indeed a useful resource and we tend to polarise ourselves, also stressing that while plastic is bad, in reality, the problem lies in the way we use the material. 

“We have evolved this useful material into a category of materials which we use only one time and dispose of it. Unfortunately, plastic is a material that, unless disposed of properly, can persist up to 500 years in the environment,” he said, explaining that if you use and dispose of plastic after one use, then it becomes a huge environmental issue. 

In very startling news, Prof. De Alwis informed us that by the year 2045, the ocean will have more plastic than fish. “This is not an emotional assessment, but rather a calculated one. We have taken into account the number of fish reproducing and cross-checked with the amount of plastic being dumped into our oceans and come up with this concerning observation.” 

Around 80% of marine pollution comes from land-based activities. Waste runs or is dumped into drains and rivers and hence the seas. Oil, fertilisers, sewage, plastics, and toxic chemicals are all part of the mix. While all of the pollutants are having severe negative impacts, perhaps the most visible – and hence one that will drive the biggest change in the next decade – is plastic. 

Around 275 million tonnes of plastic waste is generated each year around the world; between 4.8 million and 12.7 million tonnes are either washed or dumped deliberately into the sea. He emphasised that plastic is an incredibly useful material. However, we are at fault for abusing the material and we have created products that we are pushing as single-use, which needs to be stopped. “We don’t even have proper mechanisms for recycling in Sri Lanka, so the only solution is to stop using these items.” 

Prof. De Alwis highlighted that we do have a problem: Plastic pollution is an issue that is growing at an alarming pace, and the problem has only worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to the necessary increase of single-use plastics for personal protective equipment (PPE) like face masks and shields, some governments and businesses have delayed or scrapped plastic bags and packaging bans. 

When asked for suggestions as to how we, as citizens of the planet, can collectively reduce the plastic waste that goes into the ocean, Prof. De Alwis replied noting that it is time we ban single-use plastics and come up with an alternative solution. “We have gotten so used to single-use plastics that we tend to ask for them. We need to use other resources that are reusable and that will degrade more efficiently, thus reducing the effect on the planet.” 

He also commented that before procuring an item, we need to look at the long-term damage this item is going to cause – that is the only way we can preserve our precious planet.

Over 90% of plastics are not recycled. Recycling alone is simply never going to solve this problem. The scale of the problem corporations have created must be met with a fundamental shift in how they bring products to people. It is up to all of us to demand better and take a stand against using plastic rashly. 

 

Link for registration: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfvMCtFO_oukz5g6hikMFoldDjA5fcbHaE2E7LbvhkcjeBAgQ/viewform