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How can we beat plastic pollution?

Environmental sustainability has always been a core part of Fujitsu’s business. With the many environmental challenges facing our societies today, we believe that technology has a vital role to play in delivering a prosperous, sustainable future.

You can read more about Fujitsu’s commitment to this in our Climate and Energy Vision.

On World Environment Day 2018, we are recognizing the progress achieved – but also reflecting on the hard work that lies ahead to meet our environmental goals. An important element of this is to reduce the negative impact of plastics on the environment.

Tracking how much plastic we really use

The theme of the World Environment Day this year is to #BeatPlasticPollution.With this in mind, I wanted to find out how much plastic one person actually generates, and discover the environmental consequences from producing, using and disposing of plastics.

So I took the challenge and collected all plastics I used during one week.

On Sunday evening I had half a waste bag, or 106 grams, of plastic waste on my table. The amount of plastics was a little more than I had expected, but I was especially surprised about how easily plastics sneaked into my life.

We have no disposable plastic cups in the office. I normally don’t buy bottled water and at the grocery I (almost) always use reusable bags. So how did I end up with all this plastics? Read the extracts from my plastic diary below:

Monday

So far so good. Got through the day with just one plastics wrapping. Had lunch in the canteen, so I can’t be sure how much plastic waste I contributed to.

Tuesday

Had the pleasure to participate in a sustainability seminar in the morning, and was glad to notice that no plasticware were used, nor paperware for that matter. Got a free smoothie sample at the station on my way home, and realized only ten seconds later that it had a plastic cap! First unnoticed plastics purchase.

Wednesday

In the grocery. I had noodles, rapeseed oil and ham on my shopping list – and they all came in plastic wrappings. To be honest, I came to think of alternatives only afterwards. I probably could have found ham with paper wrapping at the meat counter. The oil and the noodles are a bit trickier. Only olive oil and some special oils seem to come in glass bottles, but not the rapeseed oil I usually use. And why do the kids’ favorite noodles have double plastic wrapping?

Thursday

Plastic food wrappings are piling on my table. Plastics from single-packed frozen tuna, a plastic potato bag, even a plastic bag for carrots from the hamburger restaurant in the evening. I thought I was smart to leave the straw but did not think of the carrot bag before I it was on my tray. Again plastic comes to me unnoticed.

Friday

Another seminar day, this time a sustainability seminar at a university. Tableware was from renewable materials, like cellulose and lime composite. Wow! Glasses made from glass, great!

Saturday

A day in the woods with scouts. I did not need to buy anything myself, but the vegetables we used for cooking came in plastic bags. In the grocery on the way home: kitchen paper, cheese, candy… all wrapped in plastic. Luckily milk comes in cartons here!

Sunday

Managed to get through the day without any plastics.

Surprisingly, my plastic diary almost turned out as a food diary. Almost all of my plastic waste was food wrappings: fruit and vegetable bags and boxes, meat and fish wrappings, plastic caps, candy and snack wrappings and a straw. Just the band aid plastic stood out from the crowd.

Most of the time no alternatives to buy things in plastic wrapping were available, but even when there were, I did not come to think of them.

So my conclusions of the week are: plastics use is mainly connected to food; plastics enter my life by routine; and even when alternatives are there they go unnoticed.

How harmful are plastics for the environment?

Plastics produces negative environmental impacts throughout the life-cycle of the product, but they can be minimized by recycling efficiently.

Oil is the raw material of new plastics. The production consumes energy that can come from sustainable or non-sustainable sources. The production process also generates side-products that must be managed properly. To avoid the production of new plastics, we should recycle the plastics we use.

Plastics can contain additional substances that improve their usability but can be harmful if they end up in nature. The impacts of micro plastics are still mainly unknown. According to WWF, the main sources of micro plastics are clothes and car wheels, but luckily in Finland up to 95 – 97 % of the micro plastics from clothing can be removed at the water management plant so it is safe to keep using your old fleece jacket.

After use, the best option would be to recycle the plastics and avoid the need to use virgin materials in plastics production. In Finland, at least in theory, plastic recycling is available for all households. Plastic packages of companies are recycled under the packaging waste cooperative Rinki, but the plastic waste that we generate in offices goes currently to combustion. Combustion generates emissions, but is a better alternative than landfill. In combustion, plastics are burned in around 1.000 Celsius to carbon and hydrogen, and will not turn into micro plastics.

What happened to my plastics after the week?

Luckily I live in an area where plastic recycling is arranged, so my plastic waste went to the plastic container and are sent for recycling.

Recycled plastics are used for all kinds of purposes, and my potato bag will maybe turn into a recycled shopping bag that I can buy the next time I forget to take a reusable bag with me to the store. At the moment, recycled plastics does however not meet the hygiene requirements of becoming new food wrappings. Advanced technology is being developed, and hopefully in a few years our plastics can be chemically recycled.

Is using plastics always bad?

In household use, plastics increase the hygiene and help conserving food. On average, only 5 % of the carbon footprint of food comes from packaging. Another 5 % comes from transportation, and 90 % from the production of food.

Throwing away one ham slice is worse for the environment than the plastic package around the ham. It is the unnecessary, excessive use of plastic wrappings that is harmful: as food wrappings are made from new plastics, this multiplies the need for new plastics production. If your food is packed in more than one plastic wrapping, consider buying another product.

Using recycled plastics on the other hand supports circular economy. Most plastic items can be produced from recycled plastic, so look for the options.

Steps to reduce environmental harm from plastics

If you want to make an impact and beat plastic pollution, the first step is to avoid purchasing new plastics.

Change to bags and items made from renewable sources: paper, cardboard, wood etc. If you absolutely need an item that is made of plastic, choose one that was made from recycled plastic, or at least one you can use several times.

Recycle your plastic waste: the best option is to bring it to a recycling container and give it a new life. The second best option is to ensure your plastic waste is combusted and not sent to landfill.

Never throw your plastic waste directly to nature – it is harmful for both life on land and below water.

Why not try a plastic free day? Bring your own reusable fruit bags to the shop, use your own water bottle in the office, and refuse plastic spoons and straws.

We’re celebrating the World Environmental Day on June 5th and hope as many as possible join the movement! Share your action by tagging #BeatPlasticPollution

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