Single use plastic : what solutions for a clean future?
Plastic mountains strew the roadsides that we take. Most of this waste is plastic bags, bottles, food packaging, polystyrene, cutlery, cups… All have had an extremely short duration of use, about 20 minutes, mainly for food to take away. They will take more than 400 years to degrade. Neither collected nor recycled, 80% of the waste will arrive in the sea…. 100 tons/second (mostly plastic).
Although Europe decreased its plastic production by 7% in 2017, world production increased by a third in just 10 years. To shift towards more sustainable food, we urgently need to question the solutions that exist to deal with this environmental disaster.
We have crossed some countries most affected by this plastic waste pollution. But it is also here that we have found wonderful initiatives to end the era of single-use plastic.
We began our investigation in Morelia, Mexico where we met Scott Munguia, the founder of Biofase, a revolutionary company, which manufactures, from avocado cores, a biodegradable plastic resin, which can be used for making straws and cutlery. This plastic only takes 240 days to degrade completely, without toxic residues for the environment.
Scott Munguia thinks that plastic is not the problem in itself; it is the raw material, the oil, used to make it that is to rethink. There are many natural polymers that could make plastic. The avocado core has the advantage, unlike corn starch commonly used for biodegradable plastics, to be a waste and not to compete with a food source. Some will rightly say that avocado cultivation is not always very sustainable (deforestation, expensive water and pesticides…). However, it is not a question of specifically cultivating avocados to make this plastic but to recycle an unused product. According to Scott, this market has enormous potential as there are still 90% of the avocado cores in Mexico, which are currently ending up in the trash.
Right now, this plastic is 20% more expensive than a conventional plastic. As a result, bioplastics now account for less than 1% of the plastics market in Mexico. Scott is hopeful that over time, the technologies to make it will be more affordable and make it more accessible.
We tried these cutlery in avocado cores. They are a pretty cream color and seem solid. It only remains to wait 240 days to see how they will evolve!
– Most plastic waste ends up in the lake because there is not always garbage collection set up by the municipalities.
– 76% of wastewater from houses, hotels and other buildings end up in the lake without prior treatment…
With the ever-increasing population and tourists coming in great numbers every year in this little corner of paradise, you can imagine the damage…
But could we not do without these disposable plastics? This is the bet made by the mayor, Mr. Mauricio Méndez, of the small town of San Pedro de la Laguna, on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. In 2016, he introduced a municipal decree banning the use of the 3 most polluting plastics in his community: straws, plastic bags and polystyrene packaging (widely used in Central America for take-out food). Here people do their shopping with baskets, wrap their tortillas in cloth towels, or meat in banana leaves.
A great battle for the Municipality, which had to convince the inhabitants of the village, going door to door, before implementing his decree. Now 2 other villages around the lake have followed the example and may be more in the future! 3 years after the decree, we still see some plastic bags in the streets but most of the residents and businesses do not use any more. We were able to verify it ourselves by asking for a plastic bag that was refused.
San Pedro has also inaugurated one of the first recycling centers around the lake. In Guatemala, very few municipalities have a sorting center. We visited that of San Pedro and we can only admire the work done.
To conclude our investigation, we visited Amigos del Lago, an association that created the RECICLA ATITLAN program, a unique recycling project in the 12 villages around the lake, led by indigenous women’s groups. These women regularly go to shops, schools and houses in their villages to collect plastic bottles, soda cans and cardboard boxes. They also do a great job of raising awareness among the population by explaining that, unlike organic waste, plastic will stay in nature without biodegrading. Once collected, the waste is resold to companies that will recycle it to other products (clothing, tarpaulins for building, construction products etc.). The recovery of plastic is not only a question of environment but becomes a real source of income for these Guatemalan women.
The association also co-organizes “cleaning walks” around the lake. On the occasion of the day of the water, March 22, marches were organized in 6 different villages. A good way to raise awareness while cleaning the lake. We attended, with Jean-Pascal, our friend from Quebec with whom we traveled by bike, to that of Santa Catarina. After a few minutes, children present on the football field next, joined us to participate in this operation. A good sign for the future!
Before leaving Guatemala, we decided to climb the Acatenango volcano in Guatemala, located right in front of Fuego, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. We feel privileged to attend such a show!
Since then, we follow the Pacific side of Central America. The stages are longer. We left the mountain for a less steep road. The counterpart is the stifling heat that does not leave us, as well as some mosquitoes very greedy … The rainy season is expected…
We are currently in Nicaragua, having crossed El Salvador in just 6 days (with an unlikely border crossing on an abandoned beach…). Tomorrow we arrive in Costa Rica, where a new shoot awaits us… but also the family of Kalima, coming to visit us!