Scientists have called for better plastics designs so as to encourage recycling and prevent wasteful single-use containers finding their way into our oceans, where they break up into small pieces and are swallowed by marine animals.
This could be as effective as a ban on microbeads, proposed by green campaigners as a way of dealing with the rising levels of microplastic waste – tiny pieces of near-indestructible plastic materials – that are harming marine life.
Richard Thompson, professor of marine biology at Plymouth University, told an experts’ briefing in London that better design was a key element in combating the rapidly growing problem: “The irony is that if most of these materials were better designed, they could be better recycled, and we could capture them. That would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We need to change the way we do this.”
As an example, he pointed to plastic bottles – clear bottles have a recycling value five times higher than those that have been dyed, as the pigment is hard to remove. But the pigments serve no useful purpose other than perceived aesthetics. “They are there because of marketing.”
Thompson added: “You can’t ban microplastics [because they are made up of many different sources of plastics, which are broken down in oceans]. You can ban microbeads, but this should not be seen as the end of action [to tackle the problem].”
Microbeads, which are used in cosmetics and hygiene products such as toothpaste, have been found to affect the growth of fish larvae and persist in the guts of creatures, from mussels to fish, that swallow them.
Source: The Guardian UK