Following the first Race for Water Odyssey, an expedition launched by the Foundation in 2015 to make the first global assessmentof plastic pollution in the oceans, the conclusion is clear: plastic pollution is everywhere. There is no 7th continent, no plastic island, but rather a soup of plastic waste floating in the oceanic “gyres”. Onlya tiny part of this, however, remains visible on the surface. Most of it has sunk or fragmented into infinitely small pieces. A large-scale clean-up of the oceans is therefore unrealistic. Only land-based solutions can effectively combat this scourge that we are currently faced with.
THE BEST KIND OF WASTE IS THE WASTE YOU DON'T PRODUCE.
From the deepest corners of the ocean to the most isolated islands, plastic pollution is everywhere.
How did we get to this critical point? Plastic has simply invaded our lives! Although it takes hundreds of years to degrade and is made with toxic chemicals, it was decided that thiswas the best material for designing single-use products and for guaranteeingcertain hygiene standards.
The exponential growth in global plasticproduction has not been matched with the development of a suitable infrastructure to manage the waste it generates. In addition, the majority of plastic isdifficult, if not impossible, to recycle -for economic, technical or environmental reasons. Western countries are unable to manage their own plastic waste and end up exporting a significant proportion of it to developing countries that lack adequate waste management facilities.
As a result, only 15-20% of plastic waste is currently collected for recycling.
So how do we stop this disaster?
Changing our production and consumption patterns in order to reduce plastic waste as much as possible is an absolute priority. Making plastic products easily recyclable and guaranteeing their non-toxicity is an urgent commitment that the many stakeholders in the plastic production chain must make together.
Our organisation is actively committed to raising awareness of the ways in which we can end our dependence on plastics, and why it is so important to do so.
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GIVING VALUE TO PLASTIC WASTE AS AN INCENTIVE FOR ITS COLLECTION
We are also promoting new models forplastic waste management to encourage people to collect plastic instead of throwing it away. There is an urgent need to find management solutions for this complex waste, and with recycling often impossible on a local scale, and landfill an unacceptable solution, we propose using decentralised energy recovery units to transform plastic waste into energy through a high-temperature pyrolysis process. The income generated by the sale of electricity can be used to pay street collectors, or reduce waste management costs.
This creation of value directly benefits local communities on an economic, social and environmental level. We have identified high-temperature pyrolysis as a promising technology to meet these objectives. This process can handlemost types of polymers even in a blend. With the use of certain technologies, high levels of gas or electricity can be produced from human-scale volumes of plastic waste, such as from big-city neighbourhoods or certain island populations. The poor management of plastic waste on a global scale could thereforebe improvedby creating value from plastic on a local scale, for the benefit of both people and the ocean.
At each stopover on our current expedition, we are working to develop projects – bringing together local companies, governments and NGOs – to create these local value chains for plastic waste. Our aim is to develop a few “showcase” projects in urban communities in coastal and island regions,which can then bereplicated in the coming years to accompany the necessary global transition to a more circular economy.
A SOLUTION FOR COLLECTING WASTE BESIDE THE SEA, IN RIVERS AND LAKES
Though it is unrealistic to try to clean up the oceans, it would seem wise to put in place clean-up systems around ports, rivers, lakes and near the coast. To this end, the foundation is proposing an efficient and environmentally-friendly vessel for getting rid of pollution, which will enable the amount of plastics that leak into our oceans each day to be limited.