Emission of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) from use of plastic laundry and dish pods

In this study, scientists US nationwide emissions of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) resulting from domestic use of laundry and dish detergent pods, corroborated by a nationwide, online consumer survey and a literature review of its fate within conventional wastewater treatment plants. They found that PVA pods do not “dissolve” as advertised. Instead, more than 75% of PVA plastic from the pods ultimately reaches the environment to cause pollution, threatening human and ecosystem health.

Scientists attempted to compost conventional single-use, petrochemical-based plastic tea bags and “bioplastic” (made of PLA, plant starch, or a mixture of those things) tea bags in real-environmental soil conditions for one year. They found that many of the “bioplastic” tea bags—even those marketed as “biodegradable”—did not break down in soil, nor did the petrochemical-based plastic teabags. Tea bags made with plastic and many “bioplastics” create microplastic particles that pollute the Earth and our bodies. The study, while it does not evaluate chemical risks, highlights the need to further study the hazards of plastic and “bioplastic” exposure and pollution in addition to showing how single-use plastic and “bioplastic” teabags are not biodegradable and create hazardous waste.

In this TED Talk, research scientist, activist, author and community organizer, Wallace J Nichols, explains one of four challenges presented to the world at the TEDx Great Pacific Garbage patch event. The challenge to Plastic Product Manufacturers includes: “We challenge you to accept a voluntary cap on non-biodegradable product, and to begin investing resources into developing a new generation plastic product — plant-based, non-toxic in any stage of its existence, biodegradable. We challenge you to own the responsibility of your product till the very end. The packaging you choose to for your products is your responsibility, not the buyer’s. We challenge you to rethink design of products — to reduce both carbon footprint and plastic footprint of your goods shipped around the world.”

Plastic waste is everywhere. It has been found floating on the sea surface, washing up on the world’s most remote coastlines, melting out of Arctic sea ice and sitting at the deepest point of the ocean floor nearly 7 miles beneath the surface.

Check out this Plastics FAQ Fact Sheet for answers to questions about plastic and its history, production, use, impacts, and alternatives!

Read the new report on Packaging Plastics in the Circular Economy by the European Academies Science Advisory Council.

The current dominantly linear system leads to extensive leakage into the environment by plastics that persist for hundreds or thousands of years. Reforming this brings us into several scientific domains. These include the technical questions of how to recycle different waste streams, behavioral and psychological aspects of the role of consumers, assessing the effectiveness and cost–benefit balance of different regulatory strategies, objectively evaluating the environmental benefits of alternatives to fossil fuel feedstock, how to achieve biodegradability, as well as current and future environmental impacts in terrestrial, freshwater and marine environments.

The plastics crisis continues to grow, with increasing amounts of plastic waste entering our oceans and limited capacity to keep pace managing it. To stop this flow of plastic pollution, we must reduce the amount of plastic produced at the source. Companies must reduce the amount of single-use plastic they put on the market and offer consumers plastic-free choices. Instead, they have offered inadequate solutions that give them cover to say they are helping. These will ultimately fail at protecting our oceans.

The Inadequate Solutions Fact Sheet explains the shortcomings of solutions such as recycling, the waste trade, incineration, and bioplastics, and concludes that these solutions will not be enough to curb the plastic pollution crisis if companies do not work to reduce their production of plastic.