As a contribution to the SCIENTIX STEM DISCOVERY CAMPAIGN 2022 Liceo Linguistico “Ilaria Alpi” hosted the live event: “UNDERSTANDING AND ACTING FOR A HEALTHY PLASTIC FREE SEA” on April 12th 2022, at 11.00 from the school’s Multimedia classroom.
Link to the programme: public/articoli/allegati/1/circ.n.226_liveeventprogramme12april2022.pdf
Link to the video recording of the event: https://youtu.be/mGZfoBqvOLQ
Liceo Alpi students from Class 4D were joined by the eTwinning partners from schools:
● Alytus Jotvingiai gymnasium, Lithuania https://jotvingiugimnazija.lt/
● Gymnasio of Anthousa, Greece https://blogs.sch.gr/gymanthous
The event focused on examining and understanding the paths of plastic pollution, the impact on marine ecosystems, and new technologies for observation and removal. Students also referred to different sectors of the blue economy, in a circular economy perspective and spreaded a message of active citizenship.
After watching the docufilm "a plastic ocean", our aim was to spread creatively the message containing what we learned about ocean's plastic pollution.
OUR PLASTIC WASTE COMES BACK TO US
The usage of plastic affects us and our health.
The way we pollute the sea with plastic that we use inevitably returns to us.
The fish and the various molluscs that we eat for example contain microplastics, that are plastic fragments around 5 millimeters .
Consuming this type of food regularly is very much dangerous for our health.
So, when plastic ends up in the sea and pollutes it, unavoidably it starts being part of the marine animal food chain.
As a consequence, by eating fish, microplastic goes into our organism.
A group of researchers of the Vienna University analyzed the fecal material belonging to eight people from different countries.
The fecal material was tested for 11 types of microplastic and the researchers found out that there were 9 types out of 11 in all the participants.
The predominant ones were PP and PET, mostly used to produce plastic bottles and caps.
Moreover, the participants wrote down what they were eating and it turned out that the majority of them used to consume fish.
But how much plastic do we eat in a year? And how much in our whole life?
A study proved that in a year we ingest around 250 grams of plastic. This means that in our entire life we consume about 20 kilograms.
Nevertheless we don’t have to assume that all the plastic that ends up in our organism comes from food, it also comes from the polluted air.
Plastic is polluting the air we breath, the food we eat and water we drink.
It’s obvious that the water contained in plastic bottles has more microplastics than the water coming from the taps.
On average a person assumes 90 000 microplastic particles by drinking from watering bottles and from 39 000 to 52 000 particles by eating seafood, whose consumption, despite this, continues to increase.
To produce plastics some dangerous chemicals are used such as bisphenol A and BPA, which can strain into the aliments in plastic containers. That could be even more dangerous when the food is heated in them.
This has serious effects on people’s health, in fact it could alter the DNA and the function of hormones, which lead to tumors.
It also causes infertility and obesity.
Plastics really are a serious problem that affects not only the general health of the planet we live in, but also our own.
MARINE ANIMALS WITH PLASTIC-FILLED STOMACHS
Over the past ten years, plastic pollution has become a dangerous constant in our lives, and today it represents a threat not only to mankind, but also to the entire marine ecosystem.
In 2015, a group of Dutch researchers discovered that the number of sea animals that ingest plastic and microplastic had doubled since 1997, and his number is now above 2000.
Many experiments have been conducted and it has become clear that animals eat plastic because for them it looks, smells and also feels like food since they rely mainly on their sense of smell. This clearly leads them to suffer, because once the plastic is inside their bodies, it fills their stomachs, blocks the gastrointestinal tract, reduces the feeling of hunger and, as a consequence, they eat less, feel weaker and die of starvation or in the worst-case scenario, they suffocate. Besides the ingestion, we know that plastic can be menacing as well when marine mammals- which play key roles in influencing the structure and function of the sea environment – such as dolphins, whales or seals, get tangled up in plastic nets or bags and get injuries that can cause them reduced mobility or deadly infections. In addition, a 2018 study discovered that some of those animals who eat plastic are the same who actually take part in the microplastic’s diffusion. Krill, for example, breaks microplastics down into even smaller nanoplastics that are so tiny they can even get inside cells. In fact, they are far worse than macroplastics because they can damage proteins and other major biomolecules.
To make matters worse, the microplastic contamination is noxious not only for biota’s health but also for humans’ health. Most of the marine litter in the ocean is poisonous. The main reason why is that big pieces of plastic waste free floating in the ocean, such as plastic beverage bottles or food wrappers, undergo leaching. They get weathered and degrade, dividing into smaller pieces, becoming microplastic and, at the same time, releasing carcinogenic chemicals. Secondly, the debris absorbs the organic pollutants waterborne from industry and agriculture, accumulating POPs and becoming toxic poison pills extremely deleterious for marine habitats and ecosystems, as well as the well-being of people. The problem lies in microplastic ingestion. When aquatic animals shallow these harmful particles, the toxins stuck on them transition into their tissues and organs, migrating mainly into the muscles and the fats, the parts we commonly consume. This means we both ingest microscopic pieces of plastic and toxic substances while eating seafood. In fact, plastic debris doesn’t only harm the ocean’s wildlife — it’s adversely affecting the human food chain, too.
This is why we must take the toxicity of marine plastic pollution as an extremely serious issue and prevent the plastic waste from increasing and spreading widely.
Microplastics are small bits of plastic, 5 millimeters or less.
Researchers have found microplastics in marine and terrestrial life. They cause pollution by entering natural ecosystems from a variety of sources, including cosmetics, clothing, food packaging, fishing activities and industrial processes.
Please, be aware of the fact that there are two different classifications of microplastics:
Primary microplastics are directly released into the environment as small plastic particles. These are intentionally engineered particles, like those found in some consumer and industrial products and cosmetics.
Secondary microplastics are the result of the degradation of large plastic waste, like plastic bags and bottles, into smaller plastic fragments when exposed to our environment. An example of secondary microplastics present on the ocean come from clothing, due to the erosion of polyester, acrylic, or nylon-based clothing, often during the washing process. This process of breaking down large plastic material into much smaller pieces is known as fragmentation.
But do you know that microplastics also enter the human body? Plastics degrade slowly (often over hundreds to thousands of years), and because of that microplastics have a high probability of ingestion and accumulation in the bodies and tissues of many organisms. Yet researchers are unsure about the volume of microplastics a body can tolerate or the damage it may cause. Scientists have shown that these substances can weaken immune function and hinder growth and reproduction. By eating the animals present on the human food chain, we unconsciously absorb the microplastics present on those animals.
When products with microplastics are used, the microplastics go through the water filtration system and into the ocean, but because of their small size they are likely to escape capture by the preliminary treatment screens on wastewater plants. These beads are harmful to the organisms in the ocean, especially filter feeders, because they can easily ingest the plastic and become sick. Various annelid species have microplastics in their gastrointestinal tracts and also crustaceans integrate microplastics into both their respiratory and digestive tracts. Plastic particles are dangerous because they are often mistaken by fish for food.
Small animals are at risk of reduced food intake due to false satiation and resulting starvation.
In summer 2021, it was reported that a fish had broken a world record — it contained 915 synthetic particles, the most ever recorded.
Not only fish and free-living organisms can ingest microplastics. Even scleractinian corals, which are primary reef-builders, ingest microplastics. Microplastics stick to the exterior of the corals. The adherence to the outside of corals can be harmful, because corals cannot handle sediment on their exterior. They have to secrete mucus, expending energy in the process, increasing the likelihood of mortality.
The harmful effects of microplastic ingestion is an issue of concern especially in case of seabirds. The toxic effect of plastic fragments has negative effects on their body which could cause alteration in the feeding behavior, reproduction and mortality.
In conclusion, microplastics are such a concern because it is difficult to clean them up due to their size.
EFFECTIVE GOVERNMENT RESPONSES TO THE GLOBAL PLASTIC POLLUTION PROBLEM
How have the society, industries and governments all around the world responded to the global plastic pollution problem? This is a problem that impacts everybody and that should matter to all of us.
The main problem related to plastic is single-use plastic, which is also what many countries are focusing on to try to get rid of it.
The term “single-use” means "made to be used once only" and refers to "items whose unchecked proliferation are blamed for damaging the environment and affecting the food chain," according to the dictionary.
This means that we use this kind of plastic once only, and then we just throw it away causing it damage our environment. For example, cutlery (knives, forks); plates, straws, containers, plastic used for packaging.
To show you how government reacted to this problem around the world, we are going to illustrate 2 examples of 2 different countries.
The first one is China. In China the government set a goal for 2025, which is to control plastic pollution, substantially reduce the amount of plastic waste in landfills in major cities, create a plastics management system and advance research into alternative products.
The plan will be implemented gradually. It will start in large cities and then expand to smaller towns. Non-biodegradable plastic bags will be banned in shopping centres, supermarkets and home catering by the end of 2020 in the largest cities. China will support the use of alternative materials, such as cloth, paper or biodegradable bags. And it will encourage the recycling and disposal of plastic waste.
In Peru, a decree has been issued whose goal is to replace single-use plastics with "reusable, biodegradable plastic or other materials whose degradation does not generate contamination by micro-plastics or dangerous substances.” Peru's Congress has also passed a law to phase out single-use plastic bags across the country over the next three years. According to Peru's Environment Ministry, the country uses 947,000 tons of plastic each year, while 75 percent is thrown out and only 0.3 percent is recycled.
Let’s have look at the regulations which have been adopted here in Europe and that directly affect us.
• The EU is taking steps to reduce plastic pollution by setting strict new regulations on single-use plastic products, reducing the quantity of waste plastic released into the environment, especially on beaches.
• The Council agrees with the Commission's proposal to design single-use beverage containers in such a way that their caps and lids remain attached to the bottle.
• Until 2023, paper plates with plastic coating are included in the list of products whose consumption will be reduced.
• All-plastic plates will be banned.
• the EU also want to improve water quality by reducing plastic waste in the sea and microplastics released into the environment (which is a goal for 2030)
Moreover, we found out that many industries and companies made initiatives in order to fight this problem:
• Two hundred and fifty organizations responsible for 20 percent of the plastic packaging produced around the world have committed to reducing waste and pollution. The initiative is called the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, and it includes a diverse group of members including the city of Austin, clothing company H&M, Unilever, PespsiCo, L'Oreal, Nestle, and Coca-Cola.
• Branded as “No Straw November,” the campaign is a push to eliminate single-use plastic. They're pushing 500 businesses to commit to only serving plastic straws upon request. The No Straw November campaign is also lobbying cities and regional governments to pass ordinances that encourage businesses to use fewer straws. Individuals are also being asked to sign an online pledge to limit their own personal consumption of single-use plastic.
• The airline has lounges in the U.S. and around the world. A representative from the company says the lounges won't serve drinks with straws, and plastic won't be used for flatware. Plastic water bottles will no longer be served, and reusable bags will be given to customers taking food to-go.
To sum up, we saw that there have been many initiatives made by industries and governments in order to reduce or eliminate plastic pollution, but we all have to be aware that this problem impacts us individually, too. So we all have to fight it and do our best to save our planet.
PLASTIC WASTE – AN UNFAIR TRADE
Although plastic waste can be seen as a trade between developed and developing countries, it is without any doubts an unfair trade.
Developing countries accept plastic waste from developed countries because this is a potential way to have an income - Poor countries see plastic waste as an opportunity for their populations. But if we explore this aspect a little further, it becomes immediately clear that for these countries the situation is only getting worse. As a matter of fact, children work as plastic waste pickers, trapped in child labour, deprived of their childhood, health and education.
During this project we have discovered a particular aspect of plastic pollution: how it is used as an exchange for money. For instance, in the Philippines there are two main dumps known as Smokey Mountains I and Smokey Mountains II.
Smokey Mountain I operated as a 2 million metric ton waste dump for more than 40 years and it was closed in 1995. The garbage tip contains so much methane, which was produced by garbage within it, that when it reaches a certain temperature it causes fires. This creates smoke that comes out of the top of the pile and it filters over the city of Manila.
In addition to this, people started working there when they were kids to earn money and to support their family needs: they collect recyclables like bottles, cans and plastic. As a consequence, the common diseases are pulmonary, such as tuberculosis and emphysema.
Similarly, Smokey Mountain II is a landfill at the edge of Manila Bay. It was established in 1998 and it covers an area of about 123. 5 acres which is the equivalent to 2000 tennis counts.
On top of that, it is home to 2000 families.
The ground to within two inches above it is covered in flies.
To make things worse children play and swim surrounded by plastic. They also make kites out of plastic bags and use straws as the main frame for the kite. As regards garbage, it is thrown by the river, but also by the local people, because there are no garbage collectors. Kids there work as scavengers: they collect plastic, then go to junk shops and exchange it for money. They earn 150 pesos a day, which is the same as 6 Euros and 75 cents, and then they give it to their family so that they can buy food.
But during our research we also came across some good news.
In India, for example, many teachers take part in the “No Child in Trash” programme of the Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group. They help children build their dreams, instead of picking through landfill trash.
We are thinking in particular of a teacher who is really a good example: Rakhi Goswami is a 24-year-old teacher who supports children from Delhi’s largest rubbish dumps.
Twenty-three learning centers have been set up, in response to a research highlighting the vulnerability of waste picker children.
While some children attend government-funded schools, many drop out, or must help collect waste on dangerous and toxic landfill sites after their school day. Some studies indicate that children who pick through waste are bullied into cleaning private homes, beaten by street sweepers or police and abused by the public – some are even sexually assaulted.
Goswami works in one of the learning centers to ensure a refuge and dedicated safe space for around 150 children from waste picker families to learn. They are taught science, mathematics, art and language lessons free of charge.
So our message today is as follows. We all know that our world is full of inequalities.
But it is also full of good examples and positive experiences.
SEVERAL WAYS TO SPREAD THE MESSAGE LOCALLY
We are the first generation to know we’re destroying the world, and we could be the last that can do anything about it. (WWF)
The good news is that it’s often not too difficult, expensive, or inconvenient to become more environmentally friendly. As a matter of fact everybody can do many things to help our planet. We will suggest only a few easy and practical tips that we can apply in our daily life. We’ve prepared a presentation slideshow and we are going to show you some of the infinite ways to contribute on a daily basis in saving our world.
First of all, if you’re ordering takeout at home, there’s no need to get plastic forks and knives. Furthermore, try to avoid the condiments in plastic that usually come along with your order. By the way, be aware of the fact that industries produce according to consumer demands, so if we buy and therefore, ask for only unpackaged products, the company will be forced to produce only unpackaged products.
Moreover, when you go to the supermarket try to buy loose fruit and veggies or use a disposable bag from home. Generally, you should buy foods with minimal packaging (like cereal that’s housed in just a bag, not a bag and a box) and check if the packaging was made from recycled materials. There are loads of apps that can help you. For instance, we recommend an app called Junker. This app scans the QR code on the object (that you have to recycle) and tells you in which bin to put it out.
Another smart idea that we thought of is to possibly plan out the whole week’s meals in advance. Figure out what ingredients each recipe requires, and write them all down. In this way, there shouldn’t be much food or plastic packaging left over.
In addition, you can donate your old household items so someone else can reuse them. Don’t just throw your old stuff in the trash. Consider selling it or giving it away to someone who can use it. Donate clothes and household items that are in a good condition to charities or non-profit organizations like a school or a parish.
So, what can we do to spread this important message?
Schools could play a relevant role in this sector. In other words, just as we did here, at Liceo Alpi, students can understand the importance of the oceans and the issues related to the use of plastic.
The demonstrations can also bring out the problem, such as Greta Thunberg did. It’s never too early to begin. In fact, Greta started to protest for the environment when she was only 15 years old.
But the easiest way nowadays is through social media. In fact, there are many sites and pages that people can provide to shed some light on these very important topics.
To sum up, our goal this morning has been to let the people understand that the oceans are very polluted and plastic is the major problem. Gen Z is surely able to bring out the problem of plastic in the oceans and to solve it through small daily actions.
SO DON’T USE PLASTIC, PLEASE BE UMWELTFREUNDLICH!
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