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51 Seiten, Note: 1,3
List of Figure
List of Abbreviations
1 Plastics Society - Introduction
1.1 Research Identification
1.2 Definition of Sustainability
2 Plastics Development
2.1 Plastic Facts
2.2 Plastic Industry
2.2.1 Packaging Industry
2.2.2 Plastic Bags
2.3 Waste Hierarchy
2.4 Plastic Waste Markets
2.4.1 Plastic Waste Management in Germany
2.5 Marine Litter and Human Health Risks
2.6 Problem Definition and Market Failures
3 Solutions for a Sustainable Development
3.1 Viewpoints - Plastic Industry and European Union
3.2 Classical Theory - Market Instruments
3.3 Environmental Theory
3.3.1 Life Cycle Assessment
3.3.5 Practial Examples
4 Conclusion and Outlook
This paper deals with the omnipresence of plastics as well as its popularity due to its diverse and advantageous properties, while it focuses especially on resulting environmental as well as human health consequences. Therefore, the material plastic and its key features are introduced initially, with a special reference to plastic carrier bags that offer consumers primarily convenience. In addition, a general overview of the prospering plastic industry is given. The paper aims to answer the question of whether the development of plastics can be described as sustainable at present - or whether it is supposed to become sustainable in the near future. Hence, the European waste hierarchy will be examined precisely, which reveals current processing of plastic waste. Afterwards, ecological and social externalities, as well as related market failures are outlined. While opting for solutions, variations of market instruments are applied to plastic carrier bags that serve as a potent example. In contrast to the classical theory that targets on the reduction of plastic waste itself, the Cradle-to-Cradle model takes a different approach. It promotes to rethink the design of plastic products in order to keep them in a continuous life cycle instead of focusing exclusively on the reduction of post-consumer plastic waste.
Keywords: Plastic Waste - Externalities - Sustainable Development - Market Instruments - Cradle to Cradle
Figure 1: European Plastics Demand by Segments
Figure 2: European Waste Hierarchy
Figure 3: Timeline of Issus related to Plastic in the Marine Environment
Figure 4: Plastic Production - Future Scenarios
Figure 5: Market Instruments
Figure 6: European Plastic Demand by Resin Type
Figure 7: Plastic Types and Examples
Figure 8: Bioplastic: Market Development
Figure 9: Bioplastic: Market
Figure 10: Bioplastic: Europe and Beyond
Figure 11: World Plastic Production Growth
Figure 12: World Plastic Material Production
Figure 13: Plastic Lifecycle and Resulting Marine Debris
Figure 14: Gyres - Stream Drift Chart of the World
Figure 15: Cradle to Cradle in Practice - Nutrient Cycles
BDP Biodegradable Plastic
BPA Bisphenol A
EC European Commission
EEA European Environmental
EEC European Union Community
EuPC European Plastic Converters
EU European Union
ICC International Costal Cleanup
LCA Life Cycle Assessment
NGO Non-Governmental Organization
POP Persistent Organic Pollutants
UNEP United Nation Environmental Programme
WCED World Commission on Environment and Development
The living standard within Europe is constantly improving. This has implications on individual consumption behavior, as we are currently having more options and are buying more products than ever before. Therefore, we tend to develop the attitude of giving each product less attention and to make use of its interchangeability. Within this consumer paradise we might be encouraged, but definitely not forced to consider the entire life cycle of our used applications. This clearly results in a creation of far too much waste. Plastic carrier bags are often seen as a synonymous for our “throw-away” society. After all, proliferation of plastic has already been forecasted in the 1940s, where the coming generation of the 70s became a synonymous for the ‘plastic age' (Yarsley & Couzens, 1945 as quoted by Thompson et al., 2009b: 2151).
The German Economic News recently published: A whale has perished in front of a coast, because he swallowed too much plastics waste (Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten, 2013). This is just one of the many breaking news which has lately been published. In this case, the sperm whale has been found with a stomach filled with 59 pieces of plastic, having a total weight of 17 kg. Alarmingly, these as well as similar incidents have been increasing. Plastic is an integral part of our everyday lives, and so is waste. The Gyres institute1 formulates correctly the great paradox, which states that plastic's longevity is not coherent with its actual design. Its design is developed to throw away the product.
Economic importance and benefits of plastic are undeniable. However, recent studies on the accumulation of plastic debris within the marine ocean have every reason to be disturbing and to provoke a controversial debate. Just as disturbing are the numerous marine species that ingest or are entangled by plastic. My motivation for writing this paper stems especially from the alarming documentary ‘Plastic Planet' by Werner Boote (2009) in which he depicts the omnipresence of plastic, with a special focus on plastic waste. Additionally, he could successfully draw attention to related health issues. Even by knowing about the danger of plastic, due to its worldwide proliferation and wide range of applicability, it becomes impossible to avoid the material in our daily life. Huge astonishment also arises from focal institutions' refusal to take responsibility.
“The 20th Century has been described as the century of plastics. In view of the current developments, in this century plastics will also shape the future” (EuPC, 2009).
This is exactly the point where this research starts. It focuses on drawbacks of a steady growing plastic industry with special emphasis on emerging environmental and human health concerns of the ubiquitous plastic material and its chemical additives. A further objective is to analyze potentials of market instruments and the Cradle-to-Cradle approach, by considering their abilities to ensure a sustainable development. As a potent example, I am looking into omnipresent plastic carrier bags and the huge effect that changes can have on environmental sustainability.
Therefore, the main research question is whether plastic has the potential to be sustainable. The central discussion focuses on which measures are feasible and can contribute to a sustainable solution in order to alleviate ecological and social damage. Additionally, the question arises of whether the problem requires a national or an overall European arrangement.
In contradiction of being named as plastic society, this century is also undergoing a change in terms of sustainability. The awareness for this subject has been sharpened not only in literature, but it has also influenced legislations, businesses and end-consumers. Even though the term sustainability has become ubiquitous and linked to nearly all areas, it is still often misused, misapplied and exploited as a marketing tool. Sustainability itself is markedly profound and its exact representation requires a special dedicated paper. For the purpose of this paper, the often-cited Brundtland definition is used that defines sustainable development as “.development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED, 1987: 43). The question arises if this does account for plastic. To answer this question, plastic properties, plastic industry, and its development will be outlined in the following.
Traditionally, life cycle assessment (LCA) has been a proper tool to rate the degree of sustainability. LCA rates the impact on the environment by looking at a product's energy, material, and waste flows. The lifespan includes the design, material extraction and usage, manufacturing, waste stream, storage, distribution, up to the end of product life considering either disposal or recycling. It pursues the goal to improve each stage, referring to its environmental qualities, and cost reduction (Business Dictionary, Accessed: June 2014). In the third chapter the life cycle assessment, associated with the Cradle-to-Grave approach is reviewed in more detail and compared to the Cradle-to-Cradle approach.
Bakelite was considered to be the first synthetic polymer in 1907. From then on the plastic industry has experienced a rapid growth, especially between the 1940th and 1950th (Thompson, et al., 2009a: 1973). Nowadays, the favorable properties and benefits of plastics are undeniable, thus, the material has become indispensable. Low weight allows for energy savings, especially in beverages, packaging, and production of airplanes and automobiles, while packaging contributes to material conservation. Inexpensive production, particularly by taking into account huge mass production and inexpensive resources for plastic, enables a corresponding low product price. Low prices and versatility both lead to a widespread use of plastic in the medical sector, e.g. for health appliances, where plastic has become highly beneficial (Andrady & Neal, 2009: 1980-1982). Thus, disposable medical devices consist mostly of plastic that has shown to be an indispensable material for this purpose. Hence, demand for plastic is growing in the medical sector. Also, plastic makes even technological innovations possible, thus it is widely used in entertainment sectors, constructions, household appliances, clothing, and nowadays even in care products and foods2. These characteristics accelerate popularity and proliferation of plastic. Additionally, plastics “...offer a lot of value for money...” in comparison to alternatives (Wurpel, et al., 2011: 23). Thus, it contributes to innumerable benefits for mankind. But there exists a distinction between the vital use in the medical sector and unnecessary wastage of disposable plastic that serves the convenient consumer society. Therefore, plastic in medical field will not be considered, rather will this paper focuse on consumer goods (North & Halden, 2009: 2-4).
"The damaging and lasting effects of plastics in the environment stem primarily from applications whose long-term harm clearly outweigh any short-term benefits realized - often merely as a matter of convenience. This can be seen most readily in the differences between using polymers in applications that are produced in limited quantities and provide significant benefits - such as prosthetic limbs, medical gloves, etc. - and in those that are simply convenience items, such as plastic bags and bottled water." The situation is further described as (...) "societal conundrum stemming from the reliance on plastics" (North & Halden, 2009: 7-8).
As mentioned, the main problem is plastic's low direct monetary value. In comparison to alternatives, waste disposal costs for plastics are also relatively low. Whereas the waste disposal of a plastic coffee cup costs one to two euro cents, a porcelain mug may be priced with at least one to two euros. Another economic point that contributes to a low price is the fact that plastic producers do not internalize externalities. Therefore, the price does not reflect negative effects and true social costs. Thus, the price remains low and quantity demanded high. If consumer behavior and the waste management system remain unchanged, costs paid by governments and institutions for cleanup actions might skyrocket (Wurpel, et al., 2011: 23).
Nevertheless, current explosive growth of plastic production contains some remarkable drawbacks. Plastic consists of synthetic organic polymers and is therefore a chemical product based on petroleum (Rios, et al., 2007: 1231). Its production requires 4 % of the world's annual petroleum production, a non-renewable raw material and moreover, energy for its manufacture consumes additional 3-4 % (Hopewell, et al., 2009: 2115; EC, 2013a: 8). Typically plastic is not only made of synthetic polymers derived from petroleum, but is also supplemented by chemical additives (Thompson, et al., 2009b: 2154). There exists a great range of different plastic groups, each with different varieties and properties, from which six major types account together for 80% of the European demand. In descending order Polyethylene (PE-LD, PE-LLD, PE-HD 29%), Polypropylene (PP 19%), and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC 11%) are enjoying the highest market share, followed by Polystyrene (PS), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and Polyurethane (PUR) (See Appendix: Figure 6 & 7). Single-use plastic bags consist mostly of high-density Polyethylene (HDPE), whereas reusable plastic carrier bags usually consist of low-density or linear low-density Polyethylene (LDPE/LLDPE) (Plastic Europe, 2012: 8; BIO Intelligence Service, 2011: 9).
In knowledge of negative properties and additional increasing petroleum costs, researchers and producers are keen to look for alternatives. The next chapter analyzes bioplastics that were touted as promising alternatives, but indeed, are not as effective.
Bioplastics include two types of alternative plastics, namely biodegradable and bio-based plastics, which will be explained in the following3.
Mostly, biodegradable plastic (BDP) provides a welcoming solution for customers. However, what the majority does not seem to realize is the fact that it is not suitable for the home composting. In contrast, BDPs can only biodegrade in industrial installations under very specific conditions like constantly high temperatures and humidity (EC, 2013a: 16). Neither do they fit for home compost, nor do they decompose in a reasonable time if thrown away. Even though they contain specific additives that should accelerate degradation, it only results in a faster fragmentation. Biodegradable materials, deposited in landfills, release methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times worse than CO2. However, methane could be captured under certain conditions and used as an energy source. BDP is either bio-based or petrochemicalbased in origin, but mostly it is a combination of both, in order to fulfill desired properties. Therefore, it offers no environmental improvement at all (Song, et al., 2009: 2128-2130).
Bio-based plastic signifies that the material's origin is renewable. These are plastics that are produced from maize, rice, sugar cane or potatoes. Even though it implies a reduction in the use of fossil resources, it does not necessarily imply a reduction in emission and greenhouse gases. After all, production, harvest, and transportation of bio-based plastics are energy intensive. Hence, there exists no ideal type of plastic considering the greenhouse gas emission (BIO Intelligence Service, 2011: 10). Therefore, LCA of bio- based plastic cannot be assessed as better than the conventional plastic. Additionally, the plastic's end of life cycle is not taken into account and neither is the probability to be thrown out as litter. Questionable and highly debated is also, whether fertile land should be used for bio-products instead of for vital food for the ever-growing world population.
Nonetheless, bioplastic would also need to be cost-effective to be competitive against the traditional plastic counterpart. Due to large costs this is currently not the case. Spreading of bioplastic is therefore still restricted and industry was not able to gain a strong foothold in the market up to now. Nevertheless, in times of increasing oil prices, awareness of environmental and human health impacts, and strengthening regulations on waste, it gains in importance. So far bioplastics have mainly penetrated in packaging and beverage sector (See Appendix: Figure 8). Huge growth in demand is expected for plastic in general, but particular bioplastic producers are looking forward to a promising future in which they expect to dominate and become especially spread in Asia (See Appendix: Figure 9 & 10). Still, the only effect biobased and biodegradable plastic have so far is to falsely soothe the conscience of the consumer (Song, et al., 2009: 2129). Therefore, the following course focuses mainly on traditional plastic industries.
Plastic Industries are indeed prospering markets and of major economic importance, employing even more than 1.45 million people in Europe (2012). The combined turnover (including plastic producers, converters and machineries) of at least 59,000 companies reached an amount higher than €300 billion. Not only are plastics an omnipresent consumer good, but also a major material for industries themselves (EC, 2013 a: 5).
Plastic has unique advantages in comparison to other materials, and therefore it has become a popular product of which up to 288 million tons per annum are produced globally. From this huge amount Europe has manufactured 20%, which accounts for 57 million tons. Consequently, Europe ranks behind China as the second largest global plastic producer (See Appendix: Figure 11 & Figure 12). The plastic industry is booming, especially because recycling is not common and hence, the manufacturing of plastic is growing inexorably (Plastics Europe, 2013: 10-12).
The European demand of plastic is slightly lower, requiring 45.9 million tons. Traditionally, EU exports of plastic products have exceeded imports and thus, the EU became a net exporter. Plastic products were for 23.2% exported to extra-EU countries in 2012. The main trade partners were Russia (3.0%), Switzerland (2.9%) and USA (1.7%). In comparison, the EU exported 26% of primary plastic to the rest of the world in 2012, principally to China (4.9%), Turkey (3.9%), Hong Kong (2.1%) and Russia (2.1%) (Plastic Europe, 2013: 13, 19).
However, competition in this industry is constantly growing and plastic markets are increasingly shifting towards Asia, especially to China (Plastic Europe, 2013: 11-13). This shift of the market combined with a stricter European regulatory framework adds to the challenge that the European plastic industry has to face in order to maintain its level of competitiveness.
Concluding, plastic industries have gone through a rapid development. Nevertheless, products disposed within a year are of special interest, which account for 50 % of the total production. This leads self-explanatory to a large amount of plastic waste and also explains the continuously growing market of plastic production. Therefore, it is essential to outline the waste plastic market and waste hierarchy in the following chapters. Also, it illustrates the necessity to consider and improve the entire life cycle, which will be discussed later on. The next subchapter focuses on the packaging industry and especially on plastic bags (North & Halden, 2009: 2, 8).
Virtually every second good in Western Europe is wrapped in plastic. Hence, it is not astonishing, that packaging producers account for the largest consumption of plastics in Europe with up to 40% (Plastics Europe, 2013: 13).
Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten
Figure 1: European Plastics Demand by Segments in 2012, Self-constructed based on Plastic Europe, 2013: 13.
Particularly significant is the fact that single-use applications account for about 50% of plastic, from which the majority belongs to the packaging sector (Hopewell, et al., 2009: 2115). A number of polymers types are used for packaging that is mostly enriched with chemical additives like fillers, plasticizers, and colorants (Song, et al., 2009: 2127). Within the EU, packaging materials are regulated under the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (94/62/EEC)4 that has been amended over time. Predominantly, it is concerned with the problematic of plastic waste and sets targets and requirements for packaging waste to be recycled, recovered, and incinerated. Additionally, the packaging has to be labeled or marked accordingly, the reduction of hazard substances is promoted and minimum standards concerning safety and hygiene have to be met. The EU aspires to harmonize national measures of packaging and its waste. However, plastic waste is not explicitly managed, though it is covered under the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive. Member states are therefore only able to introduce measures that do not restrict free movement of goods in the internal market (EC, 2013a: 6). Currently, the proposal has been outlined to adopt the reduction of lightweight plastic carrier bags to the Directive5, therefore current state of plastic bags is provided in the following.
Plastic bags are versatile, convenient, water and tear resistant, and moreover, they are mostly free of charge, hence, strikingly popular and widely used. The use of plastics in general and plastic bags in particular is so customary and pervasive that it fails to be noticed accordingly. The European Union counts an estimated number of 250-300 producers of plastic carrier bags. European producers mainly enjoy a competitive and strategic advantage for plastic bags as they own specific machines. Even though, the competitive pressure on parts of Chinese competitors rises (BIO Intelligence Service, 2011: 11).
An estimated 98.6 billion plastic carrier bags were used in 2010 in Europe, from which 89% account for single-use ones. It follows that the EU citizens used an average of about 198 plastic carrier bags, and thereof 175 pieces were single-use types. Still, the amount varies within in the EU and differs from 18 bags used in Ireland to 71 bags in Germany and 421 in Bulgaria. Alarmingly, the number of those plastic bags being littered amounts up to eight billion. Additionally, nearly half of the collected plastic bags (48.7%) ended up in landfills and only 6% haven been recycled (EC, 2013a: 4; Summers, 2012). In Germany alone, 10,000 bags are issued per minute (Deutsche Umwelthilfe). Nevertheless, a shift away from single-use, non- biodegradable plastic bags in the EU production is apparent. The amount decreased from 0.90 Mt in 2007 to 0.73 Mt in 2010. For this, the number of multiple-use has increased from 0.78 Mt in 2007 to 0.87 Mt, whereas 0.02 Mt of single-use biodegradable were constantly placed on the market. According to estimations, plastic bag production enjoys a market value of up to €2 billion (BIO Intelligence Service, 2011: 11f, 48f).
However, some characteristics do have remarkable drawbacks referring to environmental impacts. For the purpose of illustration: an estimated 60 million tons of CO2-Emission are generated through the global annual consumption of a trillion plastic bags. Additionally, low weight and degradation resistance are major challenges once plastic bags end up on landfills or in the environment. The plastic bags ending up on landfills within the EU correspond to the electricity production of 1.6 nuclear power plants (Deutsche Umwelthilfe, 2014).
The majority of plastic bags consist of polyethylene, which requires the raw material fossil crude oil. Thus, this type is not sustainable as long as it is not recycled. Disposable plastic bags made of biodegradable plastics are even worse. After all, the production of this plastic bag uses 70% crude oil, and only 30% renewable raw materials. As mentioned earlier, renewable raw materials consist of consuming agricultural cultivation of energy crops. In addition, biodegradable plastic bags from household collections are limited recyclable and hinder recycling of conventional plastics. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the composting of biodegradable plastic bags is the most polluting one of all disposal routes. Composting these plastic bags neither contributes to build up humus, nor does it provide nutrients for plants. In contrast to crude oil-based carrier bags, biodegradable plastic bags must be thick-walled in order to have the same tear resistance (Deutsche Umwelthilfe, 2014).
The labeling ‘Blauer Engel' indicates products made from recycled plastic. However, once discarded, they do have the same effect as regular ones (Umweltbundesamt, 2013). Unfortunately, there exists no perfect substitute (BIO Intelligence Service, 2011: 33). The LCA does not indicate an improvement through biodegradable and bio-based plastic bags. Additionally, the LCA concludes that cotton bags need to be used 131 times more often, paper bags up to three times and a heavier plastic bag four times, in order to outweigh a single-use plastic bag due to the larger carbon uses (Summers, 2012). Nevertheless, LCA leaves littering and corresponding consequences out, which is why it is considered in chapter 2.5 in more detail. Before, current disposal options are outlined referring to the European waste hierarchy.
In the following, the Waste Framework Directive 2008/98/EC (WFD) according to the EU is explained, in order to get an overview about the product's end of life options and the resulting consequences (EC, 2014a). In general the EU generates up to three million tons of waste every year: Here, manufacturing and construction are the main contributors (EC, 2010: 2). An approximated 10% of the total waste generated stems from plastic (Thompson, et al., 2009b: 2154).
Not only is the amount of waste constantly increasing, but also is waste itself becoming more and more complex. Safe handlings become particularly challenging for products, which contain a combination of plastics, precious metals and hazardous metals. Thus, the end-of-life procedure is decisive and of greatest importance. Specialists declare that a second revolution of plastic is necessary, which considers the entire life cycle of plastic (North & Halden, 2009: 2). The waste hierarchy below provides an overall guideline, but financial and environmental costs have to be taken into account additionally.
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First of all, there is a need to clarify essential terms that form a prerequisite for the subsequent text. In the following the different treatments of post-consumer plastic waste will be assessed in more detail, referring to the EU waste hierarchy (EC, 2014a) and Hopewell, et al. (2009).
The worst option is the disposal in landfills, which is still the predominated way to dispose plastic waste. Nine European countries, among other Germany, Luxembourg and Denmark, have already introduced a landfill ban (a directly acting instrument), and have nowadays dispose less than 10% of post-consumer plastic waste in landfills. In contrast, the other EU countries are having at least a disposal rate of 40% or more (except France and Finland), with Malta (88%) and Cyprus (85%) having the highest disposal rates (Plastics Europe, 2013: 26). Landfilling is clearly not sustainable. Chemical and energy components are vanished via disposal in landfills and cause contamination of land resources (North & Halden, 2009: 2). The main environmental problems are atmospheric effects and hydrological effects. The first one is characterized by the huge production of toxic methane via rotting organic matter. Combined with various chemicals toxic gases are released that deteriorate air conditions. The hydrological effects refer to reduced water quality near landfills and wildlife being infected or threatened trough the mixture of chemicals (Skye, 2014). Additionally, biodegradable waste is not able to be degraded completely and often produces methane. In the case that methane is converted into energy, an average municipal landfill plant may supply 20,000 households with electricity. On the other hand, an average landfill also accounts to a leachate for to 150 m3 per day. The annual commercial value of landfill materials would add up to €5.25 billion (EC, 2010: 7). Furthermore, landfill spaces become limited in urbanized nations, which is why incinerators become a highly attractive option (Andrady & Neal, 2009: 1982; Song, et al., 2009: 2130). An average 38.1% of wasted plastic ended up in landfills in 2012 hence, landfill maintains the predominant way of disposing plastic waste (Plastics Europe, 2013: 23).
Incineration with Energy Recovery
Recovery refers mainly to an incineration of waste with energy recovery. Modern waste incineration plants produce electricity, steam and heating for buildings, and might also be used as fuel in certain industrial processes. After all, plastic represents a chemical restructured form of oil. However, in the case the waste is not properly burned, hazardous chemicals will cause negative environmental and health impacts. Thus, it is not an efficient way of managing used materials. Especially at high temperatures plastic releases chemicals. These are, for example, greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, related toxic and carcinogenic air pollutants (North & Halden, 2009: 2). Still, the recovery rate for plastic packaging waste6 is strikingly high. Within the EU in average 63.4 % has been recovered. Austria, Lichtenstein and Germany recover up to 100%, whereas the rate for Greece (33%), UK (35.1%) and Malta (29.6%) remains lower (Eurostat, 2014).
Finally, it is to point out that nations that have introduced a landfill ban are more likely to make a predominant use of incinerators, which cannot be seen as a sustainable solution either. Recycling
Recycling indicates to reuse materials. Nevertheless, the decisive distinction is that materials are integrated into new products and therefore energy is required. Plastic recycling started in the 1970s and has become a dynamic component of the plastic industry up to now. It offers various opportunities to improve the environmental footprint of plastic and enables closing material cycles - at least for a certain period of time. Not only does recycling prevent plastic to end up on landfills, but it also reduces the amount of oil needed.
Nevertheless, even though recycling theoretically provides an acceptable alternative, the practice is much more challenging. Plastics are rarely pure but consist of highly contaminated non-plastic substances. As impurities are difficult to deal with in manufacturing, mostly low- quality products result from scrap. The elimination of impurities through high temperature does not provide an option either, as the plastic would be destroyed. Thus, organic contaminants cannot be burned off (Tietenberg & Lewis, 2010: 426). Recycled materials that become low-value products are also called to be down-cycled. However, there might be a small proportion generated into high-value products for which the term up-cycled is used.
Accordingly, the recycling rates for plastic packaging waste7 are significantly lower than the recovery rate. Within the EU 34.3% have been recycled in 2012. The recycling rate ranges from 75.5% in Slovenia to 2.6% in Liechtenstein (Eurostat, 2014).
Additionally, recycling is associated with (high) costs. These include transportation, processing as well as labor costs. Still, recycling becomes a tempting alternative in times of increasing oil prices. As a result, product design has a decisive role and is gaining in importance. This is particularly true in cases where the scrap stays within the factory, giving incentives to produce homogeneity scrap and to minimize the processing process. But considering individual behavior and their disposal cost (transportation costs), markets for scrap do not always work so effectively and efficiently. The rational individual would favor the costless alternative of throwing away products instead of brining them to distant recycling factories even though this is costly for society8 (Tietenberg & Lewis, 2010: 427).
Further barriers exist, which explains the fact that plastic is only recycled on a low scale. Obviously, landfill and incineration provide a cheaper waste disposal alternative up to now. Furthermore, recycling poses many logistic hurdles. These in turn are divided into difficulties of collecting and sorting plastics on the one hand, and on the other hand the necessity to convince consumers to make use of an implemented collection system. Due to the huge variety of plastics, recycling is very challenging and, as mentioned, commonly results in a reduced quality. Numerous chemical additives and especially unknown substances can contaminate waste streams. Nevertheless, an urgent need to promote recycling is indispensable and requires governments, industries and consumers to act. Moreover, the distinction between the technical and biological cycle needs to be considered, which is described in chapter 3.3 (Wurpel, et al., 2011: 78).
Reuse and Reduce
Reusing signifies, according to the name, to use an item on a fairly long-term basis or at least, to ensure that the item can be used repeatedly, thus, lowering the material input. The reuse approach is quite successful with PET bottles in some European countries like Germany, however for rigid containers or plastic packaging it seems less feasible. According to the plastic industry, it would indicate to switch from single-use plastic packaging to reusable options, either through a voluntary arrangement (Australia), a compulsory levy (Ireland) or an obligatory ban of lightweight plastic carrier bags (China) (Hopewell, et al., 2009: 2118).
The term minimization or reduction implies to lower the amount of waste. To achieve this, actions from governments and economic instruments are required. Through an appropriate levy the consumer would be encouraged to purchase a plastic bag only if urgently needed in contrast to the current state of convenient, free of charge plastic bags. But implementation requires special provision and must be coherent with the appropriate legislation. Additional awareness campaigns are needed to direct consumers in the desired way.
Prevention is clearly the most favored option, signifying that no waste is produced at all. On the one hand, prevention rests on plastic production, and on the other hand, on plastic waste itself, and both measures go hand in hand. More plastic being recycled enables a smaller virgin plastic production - thus, levels of the waste hierarchy do overlap. Therefore, drastic changes of the entire society are required that need adequate adaptation on the side of demand and supply, and probably require third parties to give incentives and invest in research for alternative designs (EC, 2011: 28). This will be discussed in the third chapter in more detail.
LCA studies reinforce the waste hierarchy giving priority for prevention over reuse, recycling, recovery, and disposal. As the results correspond, details of LCA are not explicitly reproduced in this paper. Finally, plastic needs to be considered as a more valuable resource that excludes by itself landfill and incinerations to be disposal options. Otherwise, landfill and incinerators should become more costly, in order to let recycling become more tempting. However, this could also lead to an increase in exports of plastic waste. Therefore, a short overview of the plastic waste market is provided.
To quantify global trade of plastic waste is restrictive, due to a limited accessibility of many countries' imports and exports. Also, measuring techniques vary across countries and not to mention the large illegal market for waste. Plastic waste is primarily exported to China, which received 7.4 million tons of discarded plastic in 2010. Europe exported 87% to China and the general amount rises inexorably. This depicts a reflection of the current EU legislation issuing ever-stringent conditions including higher landfill charges and forcing better recycling rates. Thus, businesses and local authorities prefer the cheaper alternative of exporting waste abroad. Even though shipment of hazardous waste from the EU to non-OECD countries is prohibited, a large amount of electrical products - an estimated 250,000 tons a year - is illegally transported to Asia and Africa. Investigations in 2005 have shown, that up to 47% of the waste was exported on illegal manners (Moses, 2013).
Again China holds the lion's share with 70% of the global market for recyclable, non- hazardous plastics that account for 12 million tons a year globally. About 60% of EU exports of plastic waste went to Asia in 2011. Due to high prices paid by Asia, the market has boomed in the last ten years (EEA Report, 2012: 21). Germany, as a leading plastic industry in Europe, is one of the top five exporters (Görlitz & MacDougall, 2013: 4). The downside is that waste-picking is done by more than 15 million people mostly in developing countries. Useless plastic is often being burned or dumped, releasing toxins. Clearly, appropriate working conditions and safety measures are predominantly not guaranteed for workers (Moses, 2013).
The waste disposal management differs between countries. As a potent example, Germany's waste management is well developed compared to others. For instance, free distributions of plastic bags in grocery stores are not usual, but they are common in clothing and electronic stores, as well as in fruits and vegetable departments. Nevertheless, German plastic bags are subject to a packaging ordinance. Producers are held liable for the waste disposal of the packaging, which they have issued. They fulfill their duty by licensing plastic bags in a dual system and thus, bear the cost of their disposal. As long as the plastic bags are disposed properly, they do not end up as litter or enter the marine environment. Mainly, they go into garbage incineration plants for energy recovery and a small amount is even being recycled. Still, the amount of improper handling of plastic bag disposal is high, especially in tourism areas and during ship operations (Umweltbundesamt, 2013).
Within this chapter environmental problems caused by plastic and related human health risks are demonstrated. They can also be described as negative externalities9. The main focus lies on the plastic's contribution to marine litter, especially in the ocean currents, as well as resulting consequences. The further objective is to represent current concerns of the plastic's chemical additives and possible implication for humans.
Marine litter can be defined as any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material disposed of or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment” (UNEP, 2005: 1). The main litter material is plastic that accounts for up to 80% of the accumulated waste, with plastic carrier bags and fishing gears being the most commonly found items (Barnes, et al., 2009: 1995). According to the “Umweltbundesamt” (2013) three quarters of all the waste found in the ocean comprise plastics. An average of 13,000 pieces of plastic litter is estimated to float on every square kilometer of the ocean today (UNEP, 2005: 4). Assessments calculate 6.4 million tons of plastic marine litter each year, whereas other estimations assume even 8 million tons of debris. However, the quantity of plastic litter is not homogenous but differs in quantity between different regions. Still, it is almost impossible to state how much plastic went into the sea each year and how much has already been accumulated yet. Mostly, estimated quantities are reconstructed from beach cleanups and ocean surveys (Wurpel, et al., 2011: 30).
Approximately 80% of marine litter is caused from land-based sources (Allsopp, et al., 2006: 6). The principal problem arises from the challenges to control the diffuse pollution and to trace back the innumerable places of origin (Wurpel, et al., 2011: 30). Obviously, marine litter results from linear life cycles of plastics, whereby plastics after consumption usually have no inherent value any longer (See Appendix: Figure 13). Investigations on the Tuscany coast in 2011 revealed that 70% of the collected plastic waste stems from plastic bags that appear often to be valueless to the customer (Shankleman, 2013). An UNEP supported International Costal Cleanup (ICC) was able to collect 7,825,319 plastic bags in the past 25 years on about 291,514 miles of costal and inland shorelines and waterways (ICC, 2011: 26).
The population/GDP density, traffic density from ships, effectiveness of local waste management systems, and ocean currents, as well as weather conditions characterize local abundance of plastic litter (Wurpel, et al., 2011: 81). Even though, the pathway of plastic marine litter is still widely unknown and requires closer examinations. Floating debris that are visible on the surface only make up to 30%. The majority of plastic litter directly sinks to the seabed for which far less investigations and scientific studies exist (World Ocean Review, 2010: 87).
1 For further information see website: http://5gyres.org/what is the issue/the problem/.
2 For further information see chapter 2.5.
3 The chapter is based on: Bund, 2014; Thompson, et al., 2009b: 2161, and European Bioplastics, 2013.
4 See for further information Directive (94/62/EEC) and amending Acts; Available at: http://eur- lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CONSLEG:1994L0062:20090420:EN:PDF.
5 For further information see chapter 3.2.
6 The total quantity of packaging waste recovered or incinerated at waste incineration plants with energy recovery, divided by the total quantity of generated packaging waste.
7 The total quantity of recycled packaging waste, divided by the total quantity of generated packaging waste.
8 For further information see chapter 2.6 Market Failures.
9 Negative externalities arise in cases when the costs of a product or decision to society are higher than that for the individual (Tietenberg & Lewies, 2010: 70-71). See chapter 2.6 for further information.
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