Yesterday was a sunny day in Paris and the walk to school was brisk and warm. As we started across the park – which is the usual path to the school drop-off and a better way to start the day than trudging along the sidewalk – my son asked me :
“Papa, what happens to all that plastic that we put into the special yellow bin in the building courtyard?”
And so started a conversation about waste and how we are trying to do our bit in managing it.
Plastic is becoming a bigger and bigger problem, though I suspect the problem goes back a fair amount of time. Given that the media is reporting on it more and more, I suspect it is gaining more widespread acceptance.
For my son, I started with the sea. He loves the beach and is a real water-baby.
“You know all those bottles we sometimes find on the beach?”
Well, sea plastic is a real problem. It stems from our addiction to what is called single-use plastic.
Water bottles, shavers, pens, you name it, we use it and we throw it away. Until the advent of recycling (I’ll come back to that), most of those single use objects found their way into landfills or into the sea.
We think about 8 tons of plastic enter the ocean every year.
That is a lot of plastic.
So I walked back along the chain for my son to explain how much 8 tons is.
He likes apple juice. So I used that as an example.
One empty plastic bottle of apple juice weights about 25 grams. So let’s say 4 bottles weighs about 100 grams to be approximate.
My son was able to work this out:
How many plastic bottles in 1 kilogram, which is 1000 grams?
4 x 10 = 40 bottles. One ton represents 1000 kilograms (the metric system is so easy). So that means that one ton is the equivalent of 40 x 1000 = 40.000 bottles of apple juice.
And 8 tons is roughly 320.000 bottles of apple juice.
So every year, the equivalent of 320.000 bottles of apple juice lands up in the sea.
One study thinks by 2050 that there will be more plastic in the sea than fish.
My son didn’t like this as who would want to go snorkeling for plastic instead of fish?
So instead of having all these bottles end up Under ground or in the sea, we put them in the yellow bin and they get taken away to be smashed into little pieces and then made into new bottles so we can use them again.
“But why don’t we rather buy a bottle that we can fill up when we need it?”
Smart kid. But at his age cost and money haven’t yet figured into the equation.
To have more people able to buy apple juice as there are a lot of poor people on the planet, we had two major ways to do this:
- make the juice in a cheaper way
- make the bottle cheaper
And plastic was a great way to make the bottle cheaper. So by solving one problem, we created another one.
“But how do we make a new bottle again?”
That is called recycling and why they put those bins in our apartment courtyard.
A company comes and collects those bins and gives the paper and plastic to another company who sorts them out. Then another company comes to get the plastic and smahes them up, uses water to sort them into similar plastics (as there are different types – think your toy car and the juice bottle). Then they make these cool long boards of plastic and they sell them to another company who turns them into things : like juice bottles.
“That’s cool Dad, but what about the fish?”
Thats a more complex one. There are a lot of companies trying to tackle the problem. The Ocean cleanup link is a good example – they are trying to take the plastic off the top of the water and then give them to people to recycle.
“And we can go pick up plastic on the beach when we go on holiday.” There are even companies using that plastic to make things like Terra Cycle.
Lots of people are trying to help out and so should we.
“Yes Papa and maybe we should make apple juice like we do with oranges at home.”
“Yes, my boy, thats another good idea.”