Give plastic a value again!



updated 07.Apr.2019

Nowadays, we find plastic everywhere. Almost each article in the supermarkets is packed in plastic. Often, single articles in a bigger package are each packed in single plastic covers as well. Glass bottles are old-fashioned and reusable plastic bottles become less and less used. Finally, all plastic ends as recycling waste and will be reused. But will it really be reused?
Unfortunately, many people don't take it very accurate with recyclable plastic waste and throw plastic simply into the residual waste or not recyclable waste into recyclable waste. But this is also a problem of education of the public and a problem of profit-oriented waste recovery. A yogurt cup for example, should be separated from its aluminum lid because an automatic separation is not possible. But a manual separation of such combined waste pieces is not profitable enough. Thus, such waste pieces will be delivered to the residual waste, even though all components would be recyclable.

A much bigger problem is, that waste is a kind of economic good and it is sold to foreign countries. Vast numbers of recyclable waste is transferred to foreign countries, even though it is forbidden to trade with waste, at least in Germany. But companies have come up with a clever idea: the waste is declared as resource and traded as such. There, it can be recycled with much lower environmental specifications, cheap and polluting - or as often the case: burned or even just deposited somewhere or even at the coasts where the tide cares for the "outlet" of the waste.

Despite the high environmental consciousness of the Germans, only 12 % of the recyclable garbage is actually reused. But this is not bad in a worldwide comparison. Worldwide only 2 % of the recyclable garbage is reused. The rest is polluting the environment and ends up in the sea. In the meanwhile, there are some organizations, that try to extract the garbage from the environment and seas. One is for example 4Ocean. But this is coupled with enormous work and costs. Fortunately, there are even companies that want to make use of the waste carpets on the seas and gather the waste on a grand scale and recycle it. But this task seem to be as the notorious fight against wind mills, because 4 to 13 million tons of new plastic waste is flushed into the sea per year. Thereby, the plastic does not only pollute the environment and kills millions of animals, but causes economic damage as well. The European fishing fleet experiences a loss of about 60 million Euros caused by plastic waste every year. In poor countries, the waste is even not disposed at all. Thus, it not only pollutes and poisons the environment and pollutes the drinking water, but it also offers great conditions for germs that in turn spread across the people. Although it is not that difficult to do something against this problems. Two clever entrepreneurs have founded the so called Plastic Bank. The natives can gather the plastic garbage and deliver it to them, and they get paid for it. With this money, they can take care for their families and even visit the school. Beside, the waste will be reduced and recycled and the germ source will be curtailed. Virtually a win-win-win-situation. Those two guys said (freely regiven): "We have to give plastic a value again. Only by this way, we can put an end to the pollution of the sea by plastic waste!". And they are right!

However, another big problem still resists: the so called micro-plastic. It is distinguished into primary and secondary micro-plastic. Primary micro-plastic are small plastic particles (smaller than 5 mm), that are directly released into the environment as they are. Such can be found for example in toothpastes as abrasive or in cosmetics such as peelings. The secondary mirco-plastic originates from the decay of bigger plastic pieces. The pieces fall apart into smaller pieces by sun radiation and weathering an end up as micro-plastik.
But is this micro-plastic even harmful?
As those particles cannot be decomposed, they end up in the sea as well or are taken up by animals and spread through food webs. Finally, they will be taken up by humans again. Even in drinking water you can find plastic particles. There are studies, that were able to prove physiological consequences of micro-plastic in small animals. Consequences for humans are still incalculable. The problem with micro-plastic is, that we cannot regather it from the sea. Once it is in the environment, it can resist there for decades. One good solution to reduce the new formation of micro-plastic would be biodegradable plastics. That means plastic that is degradable or edible by bacteria and biological processes. There are already some of them on the market, but are used far too rarely as they are more expensive as usual plastic and may have adequate properties for every application. But even here are some black sheep. Most of the biological degradable plastics that are declared as such, are not really degradable. Often they are plastic-polymers that are simply glued together with corn starch. Thus, they decay apparently, but they only fall apart into small plastic - micro-plastic! And thus, it is even harder to remove them from the environment.

But what can I personally do against this plastic waste? How can I as a single person do something to reduce the plastic that is used or to increase the recovery of plastic from waste? What is with things, where plastic is the only way like in medicine or aerospace?
Of course, plastic is not bad from scratch. There are many fields where plastic is irreplaceable and executes important functions. One has not necessarily to reduce the consumption of plastic, but one should change the handling with plastic and plastic waste. Therefore, the consciousness of every single people is important. In the end, the industry and politic has to change something, of course. But unfortunately, they will only do something, if the public want to induce a change. Thus, every single person can do something to reduce the pollution of our seas and our environment: keep conscious that plastic has a value and that the recycling is the key to prevent further pollution. Think about whether you need that plastic bag for shopping or whether you may can take a hessian bag from home. If it is possible, try to avoid baying articles, that are packed in plastic or (if you dare this) leave the plastic package in the supermarket. Of course, disposed into the respective bin. The traders are usually obligated to take back the package as long as they sell such things. Selective buying of unpacked things as well as the leaving of the package in the shop signals to the operators that the people favor such things. Thereupon, they will also buy and claim more of those from his distributor. Alternatively you can also go to the local market instead of buying the packed fruits and vegetables from the supermarket. There, most of the articles are not packed separately and usually it is no problem to take your own box with you for sensitive food to dispense plastic bags completely. Additionally, you support local farmers and traders. It is possible to reduce micro-plastic as well. In the meanwhile, there are a lot of cosmetics and toothpaste that do not contain plastic particles. Often they use plant particles or chalk that are not only ecologically friendly, but more compliant as well. Owner of companies, that use plastic for their production, can advocate an economical use of plastic and try to follow recycling strategies. There are already multiple examples that have adjusted their production processes. Unfortunately, often only small companies.

Just be conscious what you buy and how much waste it will produce. Simply try to dispense the one or the other plastic package or plastic bag and have a look on the ingredients of your cosmetics. If every German would dispense on one plastic bag once a year, we would have 80 million plastic bags less per year! Not to talk about a worldwide dispense on plastic bags!

If you have some more nice tips, where you can refuse plastic or micro-plastic, please leave a comment. I would appreciate additional ideas and brainstorming!


  • Black plastic is not recycable in general as the sensors in recycling facilities are not able to detect black plastic as such. Therefore, those pieces will be refused from recycling and burned together with the common garbage. Thus, try to avoid black plastic packaging.

  • Huge amounts of plastic particles are released into the environment by compost that is used as fertilizer on agricultural fields. In compost facilities they are only able to filter 95 % of the plastic particles from the soil. Usually, this number arises from the weight percentage. As plastic is very light, this means that there are huge amounts of plastic in the soil, speaking of volume percentage. Furthermore, this 95 % value is meant with regard to usual plastic particles bigger than 5 mm. As studies propose, there is a much higher amount of micro- and nano-plastic everywhere, not only in compost soil.

  • Micro-plastic is everywhere. It is dispersed not only by human, waste water and streams, but also by air. It is thought, that everyone is exposed to micro-plastic every day and everywhere. Not to talk about nano-plastics (even smaller particles than 1 µm), that are yet not detectable by recent techniques.

  • A big amount of micro-plastic particles are fibers. Those fibers come from another big source of micro-plastic: closes. Closes made of synthetic materials such as elastan or polyethylene are cheap and easy to handle for manufacturer and often provide special features. But they are also easily grated off the close while in the washing machine.

  • An additional source of primary micro- or even nano-plastic particles is the traffic. Wheels are usually mainly made of synthetic materials and not of natural rubber. The wear of the wheels from cars and other vehicles can easily washed away by rainfall running directly into aquatic systems and finally into the sea or ground water. There is evidence, that in one liter of tap water (but also most bottled waters) are at least one to two plastic particles.

  • There are endeavors to label plastic components. Successful labeling and integrating this system into recycling systems would allow companies to regain their own plastic automatically. This would boost the value of creating fully recyclable plastic parts for plastic articles that are recently used only once. If a company could regain its own material in a highly purified quality, it would be easier and cheaper to reuse plastic instead of producing new plastic every time.


  • Dossier about plastic waste at the sea (German, Bundesinitiative für Bildung und Forschung)
  • Centre for European economcal science
  • Andrady, A. L. (2011). Microplastics in the marine environment. Marine pollution bulletin
  • Shah, A. A., Hasan, F., Hameed, A., & Ahmed, S. (2008). Biological degradation of plastics: a comprehensive review. Biotechnology advances
  • Picture: Pixabay
  • Dris, R., Gasperi, J., Rocher, V., Saad, M., Renault, N., & Tassin, B. (2015). Microplastic contamination in an urban area: a case study in Greater Paris. Environmental Chemistry.
  • Ng, E. L., Lwanga, E. H., Eldridge, S. M., Johnston, P., Hu, H. W., Geissen, V., & Chen, D. (2018). An overview of microplastic and nanoplastic pollution in agroecosystems. Science of the Total Environment.
  • Weithmann, N., Möller, J. N., Löder, M. G., Piehl, S., Laforsch, C., & Freitag, R. (2018). Organic fertilizer as a vehicle for the entry of microplastic into the environment. Science Advances.