The problem with plastics is that most of it is non-biodegradable. Unlike natural materials like wood, paper, cloth, and leather, it doesn’t break down into component molecules after a time. Some scientists say it may take 450 years -- some say never -- to break down the plastics we have in the world today.
Since plastic was invented in the late 19th century and production took off in the 1950s, 9.2 million tons of plastics have gone into production and 6.9 billion tons have become waste that grows by millions of tons every year. Between 5.3 million and 14 million tons a year are dumped mostly on coastal regions, thence into the sea. It stays there year after year, a lot of it ending in the stomachs of sea animals who then die from internal injuries.
One study has identified the Philippines as the No. 3 source of plastic wastes in the world’s oceans, next to China and Indonesia. We are among the world’s top users of such plastic products as food wrappers, bags, sachets for medicine, bottles, stirrers and straws for drinks.
In the worldwide search for solutions to the plastic problem, however, the Philippines has come up with its own contributions. A factory in Las Pinas today recycles “soft plastics” such as food wrappers into chairs which the Villar Social Institute for Poverty Alleviation is donating to public schools. Eco-bricks, building blocks made from used plastic, are now being produced by Green Antz Builders for housing. San Miguel Corporation is now building roads out of recycled plastics. If the technology proves effective and meets all safety and quality requirements, the company said it may roll it out for large infrastructure products.
Last week, researchers of the biology department of the University of the Philippines Baguio were reported to have discovered four strains of bacteria capable of biodegrading Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) which is used to produce plastic bags, bottles, and wrappers. The bacterial strains had been collected from rock crevices in the Poon Bato spring in Botolan, Zambales. The researchers called for continuing research into other polymer-degrading microorganisms.
Similar researches and studies are now being conducted in other countries on this worldwide problem of plastic wastes. The Philippines may have gained some notoriety as the No. 3 source of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans today, but it is good to know that we are making our contribution to the search for solutions -- through innovative ways to recycle plastic waste into useful articles such as chairs and road paving materials.
The research at UP Baguio may also lead to ways to make plastics biodegradable like all other materials in our world today, so it will one day it will cease be a problem and a danger especially to life in the world’s oceans.