Today I want to talk about plastic. Since David Attenborough narrated the pioneering Blue Planet series, plastics have been a hot topic globally. Places from the High Arctic to remote Pacific Islands have been inundated with plastic washing in from other areas. Microplastics are becoming so entrenched in the food chain that they are now passing from fish back to humans. Often this problem is created far away from those worst affected, and island communities bear the brunt.
But what about solutions? While island communities are vulnerable to the impacts they are also pioneering changes and campaigns to de-plasticize their economies. From Aruba to Orkney, islands are banning single-use plastics before they can even be imported. In Guernsey, households are being penalized for producing too much waste with a new “pay-as-you-throw” scheme. In The Philippines, a grassroots campaign is working with local communities with the goal of a “zero waste” society.
But that does not stop the plastic washing up on the beaches. In the Isle of Man, 13% of the island’s population have now signed up to become “Beach Buddies“, wardens that are trained and committed to fighting plastic. Meanwhile, The Ocean Cleanup, a scheme to gather ocean plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been troubled with technical setbacks – but represents a big opportunity.
Waste disposal can often be too expensive for small islands that lack the economies of scale to recycle locally. A project in Tasmania has incorporated plastics that would otherwise go to landfill to be used in road construction. Another company, The Plastic Mining Cooperation has is turning the idea of plastic waste on its head for island communities. Despite all the problems caused by plastic, could it become a resource and an opportunity?