Human beings are curious creatures. We are intrinsically inquisitive of that which is unknown about our planet and the space which it fills. The deepest ocean, the highest mountain, the universe… Mariana Trench, Mount Everest, Mars: we have managed to reach these thanks to modern technology. Sadly, all 3 have another modern innovation said to be one of man’s “greatest” achievements in common – Plastic.
In 2019, Victor Vescovo set a new record when he ventured to depths of 35,853 feet (10.93km) in the Mariana Trench. At the bottom of Challenger Deep, described by Vescovo as “a flat, beige basin covered with a thick layer of silt … chilly, and quiet.” he discovered 4 new species. Yet, another surprising sighting marred this celebratory moment. At the deepest known point in the ocean lay a plastic bag, like the kind given away at grocery stores.
8 million tons of plastic waste pours into the oceans every year, but it is unknown where this pollution ends up. Researchers from the Institute of Deep Sea Science and Engineering in Hainan found microplastics in bottom water and sediment samples they collected from 2,500m to 11,000m below sea level. By comparison, Mount Everest is 8,850m above sea level.
The highest point on Earth has also not gone unscathed. Microplastic pollution was discovered in all 11 snow and stream water samples taken at locations ranging from 5,300 metres to 8,440 metres on Mount Everest. And, just as it seems that humanity’s litter has managed to pollute just about every corner of this planet, we move to a new one!
In 2012, shortly after the Curiosity rover landed, it found a plastic shred in and amongst Martian sand and dust during a sampling assessment. Although confirmed to be a piece of the rover that possibly broke off during landing, it seems we cannot go anywhere without leaving an infamous legacy of plastic waste.
The many remarkable ways in which plastic has advanced our lives mean it is not going anywhere. But unfortunately, this means neither is its waste. Single-use plastics are virtually everywhere, and they may take up to a thousand years to break down once in the wild.
Educational efforts such as reduce, reuse, and recycle are great. However, as seen by the insurmountable amount of waste produced each year, additional innovative technologies and solutions are very much in demand.
“A large portion of plastic is produced to make single-use packaging and other short-lived consumer products. These products are quickly discarded and create significant amounts of waste. This waste should be managed appropriately and in line with circular economy principles.” says Adi Sela, Clariter’s Sustainability Manager. She goes on to explain how the clean-tech company’s cutting-edge chemical recycling technology can “upcycle” hard-to-recycle plastic waste that would ordinarily end up in landfills, or worse, the ocean and environment. “Commonly, plastic waste is recycled into plastic products which ultimately becomes waste again, and so the lifecycle continues. Clariter, however, transforms plastic waste into 3 industrial product families: oils, waxes, and solvents, which go on to make a multitude of consumer end products. It is a remarkable achievement to say that finally, we have a way to end the life of plastic.”
Now our treasured plastic does not have to pollute our oceans, mountains, and universe. Coming together to reduce, reuse, recycle, and upcycle, will ensure that all the heights and depths of Earth and the other planets we visit enjoy a future free from plastic waste.
This is an opinion article written by Clariter. We got inspired by: The Guardian, Science Alert, Time, National Geographic, Surf Rider, Plastic Pollution, and Sci-Tech Daily.