Almost 88 million tonnes of food end up as waste in the EU every year. Of the 8,300 million tons of plastic, only 9% is recycled. Find out how we can all change that in the exclusive NET ZERO special.
Sustainable development creates economic growth. Up to 90% of the investments needed to achieve the goals set by the Paris Agreement will return to us in the form of new business, growth in value and saving of existing resources. But in order to achieve them, the key role is played by the application of the latest technologies, concluded the research of the Boston Consulting Group. By joining the UN Global Compact A1 initiative, Croatia recognizes the opportunities in dealing with climate change and wants to show that companies can also be drivers of positive change. It has therefore committed itself to achieving full carbon independence by 2030. A1 Croatia as a technological leader wants to encourage green changes in Croatia and therefore declares NET ZERO ERU.
The world has so far produced 8,300 million tons of new plastic, of which as many as 6,300 million tons have already ended up as waste. As much as 79 percent of that plastic is disposed of in landfills. Only 9 percent was recycled and 12 percent burned. Disposable plastics today make up more than half of the waste in the seas around the planet and it is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in them than fish. But the biggest problem is no longer recognizable pieces of plastic on the bottom or surface, but tiny plastic particles, less than 5 millimeters, which make the Adriatic Sea one of the most polluted in Europe.
“Microplastics are ubiquitous in the environment, both in the seas and oceans and in rivers, lakes, wastewater, sediment and soil. Currently, most research is related to the presence of microplastics in the seas and oceans. Plastics and microplastics are as much as 60 to 80 percent of marine litter. in some areas up to 95 percent, ”explains Dr. Sc. Dajana Kučić Grgić, assistant professor at the Faculty of Chemical Engineering and Technology in Zagreb and a member of the scientific team that researches the impact of microplastics on environmental organisms and works on its removal from the environment.
Each of us produces more than 400 pounds of waste per year. And a significant source of microplastic pollution are products used daily for personal care. Toothpaste, shampoos and soaps contain a significant proportion of microplastics. Last year’s research showed that 1,500 tons of microplastics from personal care products end up in nature every year, through wastewater. Due to the fact that a large amount of treated and untreated wastewater is discharged globally, and only 60% of municipal wastewater is treated, a large amount of microplastics enters the environment during the discharge of municipal wastewater.
According to research from the DeFishGear project, the Adriatic Sea is, according to the amount and presence of plastic waste, the most polluted in Europe, after the northeastern part of the Mediterranean and Celtic Seas. Previous tests have shown that high concentrations of microplastics are present in the northern part of the Adriatic Sea, with an average value of 406,000 particles per square kilometer.
“Studies have shown that 160 marine and 39 freshwater organisms can ingest microplastics into the digestive system, after which the particles reach other tissues and organs. Over time, microplastics release various additives that are added to pure plastic materials to modify properties during processing and improve properties of finished plastic products, such as phthalates, formaldehyde and bisphenol A, which have been shown to have a detrimental effect on human health, as well as various harmful substances such as pesticides, pharmaceuticals and heavy metals, which are found in both water and soil effect, and ultimately harmful substances can be desorbed in the body and have reproductively toxic, carcinogenic and mutagenic effects. Microplastics pose a danger to the entire ecosystem, “warns doc. dr. sc. Kucic Grgic.
Plankton will eat a particle of microplastic, a smaller fish will eat plankton, a larger one will eat a smaller one and then end up on the plate of a person who is extremely happy because he thinks he is eating healthy. Research has already shown how microplastics have reached the human digestive system. A recent study, published in January this year, revealed the discovery of microplastic particles even in a woman’s reproductive system. Particles the size of 5 to 10 micrometers were located in the placenta of the uterus, where they could potentially harm the development of the embryo.
In addition to microplastics, an additional challenge is nanoplastics, which apply to particles smaller than 1 micrometer. “It is often difficult to figure out whether only microplastics are present in a sample of water, soil and sediment, or nanoplastics make up one part. However, we can say with certainty that microplastics will surely turn into nanoplastics if we do not take care of it in the meantime,” explains doc. dr. sc. Kučić Grgić adds that the main challenge when it comes to nanoplastics is precisely its more toxic effect on organisms compared to microplastics.
Her team’s latest research has focused on determining the ecotoxicity of different types of microplastics on bacteria, yeasts, freshwater algae and zebrafish. The first results of the four-year project, which began at the end of 2019, have already been sent to internationally recognized journals and presented at national and international congresses.
“We found that the higher the particle size and the higher the concentration of microplastics, the higher the toxicity. In addition, high concentrations of algae have a shading effect, which means lower permeability to sunlight. Therefore, impaired permeability of algae cannot perform normally. photosynthesis, as a result of which water is depleted of oxygen, and the quality of the environment is endangered “, points out doc. dr. sc. Kučić Grgić also notes that they have already started the second phase of the research.
In this phase of research, their goal is to accelerate the biodegradation of microplastics by biostimulation and bioaugmentation of indigenous microorganisms into an aqueous medium.
“We isolated and identified microorganisms from three environmental media that we knew contained microplastics: Kupa river sediment, activated sludge from Vrgorac municipal water treatment plant and compost obtained by composting activated sludge and biowaste in our Institute. Each experiment lasts at least 45 days , which is the period within which we are sure that biodegradation occurs. The question that remains is how we can further accelerate these processes, for example by a combination of physico-chemical processes, which is the goal of the third phase of research, “explains doc. dr. sc. Kučić Grgić, whose team at the Department of Industrial Ecology is working on the project in parallel with two other teams at the Faculty. More than 20 scientists from Croatia, Austria and the Czech Republic are participating in the project. Their aim is to develop analytical methods for monitoring microplastics, to determine its ecotoxicity and to examine environmentally friendly processes by which it can be removed from the environment.
Recycling and reducing plastic waste is a priority in the EU: by 2025, members must halve the use of plastic cutlery and plastic beverage cups and collect 90 percent of plastic drinking bottles separately. In Croatia, a deposit system of a return fee of HRK 0.50 has been operating for more than 12 years. Analyzes have shown that such a system gives the best results with a high collection rate, but also quality raw materials that can be further used in production. One of the best examples is Zlarin, which is being transformed into the first Croatian island without disposable plastic. The initiative, launched by Ana Robb, Natasa Kandijas and Ivana Kordic, was supported by the local community.
The World Economic Forum estimates that the circular economy represents a business potential of $ 4.5 trillion, but only 9 percent of the global economy is circular. Smart use of resources and business models that do not depend on the extraction of natural capital represent a large untapped area for new growth models. New business models like renting products instead of buying, hence the sharing economy, have already experienced great success.
“For a complete packaging waste management system, it is necessary to encourage innovation and the use of new technologies that facilitate the recycling and recovery of plastics and create value from it after the initial use,” says doc. dr. sc. Kucic Grgic.
A discarded plastic bottle in nature is a record holder with more than 400 years needed to decompose. The can will decompose within 200 years, and the metal can or glass made of styrofoam in 50 years. It takes up to five years to decompose a cigarette filter in nature, cardboard decomposes in two months, and tissue paper in up to a month. That is why more and more fans of the Zero Waste movement, whose principles are:
1. refuse to buy products with unnecessary or non-recyclable packaging
2. Reduce / reduce the purchase of everything you don’t really need
3. reuse / reuse anything that can be repaired, repurposed or can be used by someone after us
4. rot / compost all biological waste that can serve as fertilizer
5. Recycle what is left after fulfilling the first four principles.
The world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative
1. Lush, a leader in sustainable packaging according to the 2020 Sustainability Awards
A brand that has built its global story from the beginning on the values of sustainable and environmentally conscious business. The business principles that Lush is guided by are the fight against animal testing, ethical buying, 100% vegetarian products, handmade products and the sale of packaged products only if otherwise not feasible. To encourage its customers and create a recycling habit, Lush encourages customers with gift products to return used packaging, increasing the share of recycled packaging by 17% annually.
Key goals: 100% recycled paper, 100% reusable and biodegradable packaging, constant packaging innovation.
2. IBM, one of the most ethical companies according to the Ethisphere Institute
For two years in a row, the Ethisphere Institute has named IBM one of the most ethical companies in the world. During 2019, IBM implemented 1,660 energy projects in more than 200 locations around the world to achieve annual savings of 136,000 megawatts. In the same year, the company participated in the launch of the Climate Leadership Council with the mission of realizing the carbon tax as the most politically and economically effective solution in the fight against climate change.
Key goals: reduction of CO₂ emissions by 40% by 2025, 55% of energy from renewable sources by 2025.
3. A1 Croatia, member of the UN Global Compact initiative
At the end of last year, the leading technology leader and provider of the best mobile network in Croatia signed the UN Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative, which includes more than 12,000 companies from more than 160 countries around the world.
Key goals: full carbon neutrality by 2030, development of smart solutions to achieve a green economy, digitization and education of children and parents on Internet security.
In accordance with the European Green Plan, A1 Croatia invests in environmentally friendly technologies and encourages innovation. This year, the company is also switching to green energy with the goal of reducing its carbon footprint to complete neutrality in 2023. Among its users, A1 Croatia promotes the circular economy and encourages them to reduce their impact on the environment, enabling them to responsibly dispose of their old mobile devices in any of its branches. He has established cooperation with companies that take over such waste and recycle it. This way, users can be sure that the phone, which has been in their drawer for years and they did not know what to take care of with it, will also help to preserve the environment. Exactly in 2021, A1 Croatia plans to dedicate even more to raising awareness on this topic.
The sponsored contribution was made in accordance with the highest professional standards in the production of Native Ad Studio Hanza Media and A1 Croatia, in cooperation with the agency for premium content and technology 01 Content & Technology – C3 Croatia.
Sources: National Geographic, How People Make Only a Jar of Trash a Year, 2018; WEF Intelligence, 2020; Sun et al, Incidence of microplastics in personal care products: An appreciable part of plastic pollution, 2020; WEF, The world’s economy is only 9% circular. We must be bolder about saving resources, 2019; Kraak et al., Plastics, the environment and human health: current consensus and future trends , 2012; Geyer et al., Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made, 2017; Bule et al., Mikroplastika u morskom okolišu Jadrana, 2020; Ragusa et al., Plasticenta: First evidence of microplastics in human placenta, 2021