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Plastikmüll – Die wichtigsten Fakten kurz erklärt

Plastic waste - the most important facts briefly explained

You want to protect the environment and stop the plastic flood? That's great! Your commitment is also more important than ever, because in Germany every citizen causes around 38 kilograms of plastic waste per year for packaging alone. So if you do without plastic packaging, you are already making a decisive contribution to environmental protection. But do you actually know what plastic is made of? And what makes plastic so bad for the environment? We have answers to some of the most important questions:
largest waste producers worldwide
Source: Plastic Atlas 2019 (Heinrich Böll Foundation and Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland BUND)

1. What is plastic actually made of?

Plastic is light, stable and can take any conceivable shape. Semi-synthetic plastics are made by modifying natural polymers (e.g. cellulose to celluloid ). Synthetic plastics are through polymerization made from monomers. It works like this: Crude oil is usually used as the raw material for synthetically produced plastic. Distillation separates the crude oil into its individual components, resulting in crude petrol (naphtha), but also gas, diesel, heating oil and gas oil. The so-called cracking process then splits naphtha into ethylene, propylene, butylene and other hydrocarbon compounds. Through synthesis, the small building blocks (monomers) are assembled into polymers, i.e. large network and chain-like molecules. Various additives (plasticizers, stabilizers, flame retardants, colorants or fillers) ultimately determine the properties of the respective material (polymers + additives = plastic). Incidentally, the most commonly used plastic is polyethylene, for example in the manufacture of garbage bags or packaging film.
Plastic waste on our beaches and seas
Source: Plastic Atlas 2019 (Heinrich Böll Foundation and Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland BUND)

2. When does plastic waste rot?

The decomposition process of organic waste through the decomposition of bacteria and other microorganisms is called rotting. Other materials (e.g. metal) that are subject to gradual deterioration due to the weather are referred to as corrosion. Plastic from packaging and disposable items, on the other hand, only breaks down into microplastics and thus leaves its residues in nature. The plastic particles can now be found everywhere in water, soil and the stomachs of animals. Garbage that ends up in nature stays there for a very long time. Cigarette filters, for example, are made of cellulose but are extremely robust due to the addition of chemicals and take around 10 to 15 years to decompose. Plastic bags (2.4 billion plastic bags in Germany in 2017) take up to 500 years to decompose. A beverage carton lasts about 100 years. Plastic bottles only decompose after 450 to 5,000 years. Styrofoam has a decomposition time of 6,000 years, which is even unmeasurable if the material is not exposed to the weather. Although it consists of natural wood fibers, the decomposition process of paper is made more difficult by printing ink and additives. Paper bags take about 6 weeks, newspaper 1 to 3 years and tissue paper between 3 weeks and 5 years to decompose. As a naturally occurring raw material, metal corrodes. Aluminum takes between 10 and 100 years for this process, aluminum foil around 200 to 400 years and sheet metal even up to 500 years. Glass consists of quartz sand, so it is not an organic substance and does not rot. It takes about 4,000 to a million years to decay. As a recyclable raw material, glass should therefore definitely end up in the used glass container.
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  • 3. What is bioplastic?

    Bioplastic - what is that?

    Bioplastics are actually not that sustainable, but the supposedly good conscience encourages excessive consumption. Although it consists of renewable raw materials, it requires soil, fertilizer and, in most cases, pesticides to produce it. Complex manufacturing processes have a questionable ecological balance and recycling is also extremely difficult. If you throw bioplastic bags in the organic waste bin, they take too long to decompose and are sorted out. Although the plastic alternative is biodegradable, it usually ends up in the residual waste. Bioplastics therefore only offer a real advantage for the production of valuable and durable products. The definition of bioplastics is also not uniformly regulated and refers either to the production from renewable raw materials, to their possible biodegradability or to both. The plastic can therefore be produced organically, but not biodegradable. On the other hand, while the materials may be biodegradable, they may be made from petroleum. In order to decompose, the majority of bioplastics also require very specific conditions that are not given at all in the environment. So the best plastic waste is still the one that never occurs in the first place.
    Source: Plastic Atlas 2019 (Heinrich Böll Foundation and Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland BUND)

    4. And what is recycled plastic?

    “Packaging made from 100 percent recycled plastic!” You have certainly noticed such imprints on plastic bottles that advertise the aspect of sustainability. PET bottles are particularly suitable for recycling, 95 percent of which can be processed into PET granulate (recyclate). This can then in turn be used to produce plastic fibers (e.g. for rain jackets) or fillers. However, recycling does not yet represent a real cycle because the material is usually only used one more time. And the origin of the PET is not transparent for you as a consumer. So you cannot check how much plastic has been recycled, whether the packaging is actually made from recycled PET and where it comes from.

    5. Is paper always the better alternative?

    no! Of course it's better if you use paper instead of plastic. But you only act in a really environmentally friendly way if nature is not damaged elsewhere for the substitute products. For example, did you know that over 15 billion trees are cut down every day? It is therefore best to always use recycled paper. The packaging also makes a significant difference. Just think of the commercially available kitchen rolls. Even if you choose a product made from recycled paper, the packaging film is usually made of polyethylene. That makes little sense. So it's great to choose environmentally friendly products that are also packaged plastic-free. But it would be even better if these products were also recyclable! And with kitchen rolls it even works very well! There are now reusable bamboo kitchen rolls that you can easily wash in the washing machine at 40 degrees. Compared to paper, the bamboo fibers are particularly absorbent and are ideal for gently cleaning all surfaces. A kitchen roll made of bamboo is as productive as 60 conventional paper rolls made of wood! This saves money and saves trees. Bamboo is a fast-growing raw material whose fibers are extremely durable, resilient and elastic. All in all, a really sustainable household helper for the plastic-free kitchen.
    pollution in the seas
    Source: Plastic Atlas 2019 (Heinrich Böll Foundation and Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland BUND)

    6. How does plastic harm our environment?

    Garbage residues are harmful foreign bodies in our ecosystem. Did you know that there are about 4,000 chemicals in a cigarette filter, enough chemicals in a liter of water to kill half of the animals living in it? Microplastics also pollute forests and inland waters. Depending on the environment, the values ​​are many times higher than in the sea. The chemicals released during the decomposition process contaminate the soil and thus get into our groundwater. Animals can become entangled in larger plastic parts or die in agony from swallowing smaller parts. Is plastic waste recycled? Barely! According to the Plastic Atlas 2019 of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, 67 percent of the 5.2 million tons of plastic products produced in Germany in 2017 were incinerated and only 15.6 percent of them were processed. As one of the world's top exporters, Germany ships 14 percent of the waste to Asia, for example, in certified plants and then allows these amounts to appear positively in the German recycling rate. In many countries, however, there are inferior detection and control systems and a poor recycling infrastructure, which is why most of it is incinerated, landfilled or discharged into the sea under catastrophic environmental standards. This leads to serious pollution of the air, soil and water and primarily affects the local population.
    plastic in the human body
    Source: Plastic Atlas 2019 (Heinrich Böll Foundation and Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland BUND)

    7. Is plastic toxic to me?

    Yes! From production and use to disposal, plastic poses a health risk for you. Plasticizers in films, impregnation of outdoor jackets, flame retardants in electrical appliances and furniture - plastic products contain an average of 7 percent chemical additives. These pollutants are not firmly bound, escape over time and get directly into our bodies. They damage the immune and reproductive systems, all organs and cause allergies and sometimes even cancer. As a consumer, you can hardly recognize the pollutants contained. In contrast to cosmetic products, toys, furniture and textiles do not have to show the amount of pollutants. If this plastic is then recycled, the pollutants are also found in the new products. Because more than half of the plastic products in this country are burned, numerous toxins also get into our environment, the air we breathe and eventually into our bodies.
    Source: Plastic Atlas 2019 (Heinrich Böll Foundation and Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland BUND)

    8. Is the legislator doing anything about the plastic flood?

    Yes, fortunately! The production of many single-use plastic items is now banned in the EU. As you have probably already read, the new law that came into force on July 3rd, 2021 prohibits all member states from manufacturing many single-use plastic products for which there are already sensible alternatives on the market. This includes, for example, stirrers, cotton swabs, plates, cutlery and cups made of plastic and polystyrene. paper, cardboard, bamboo or even edible materials offer sensible alternatives. Other polluting products, such as wet wipes, must be clearly labeled. The aim is to curb plastic waste and counteract the throwaway mentality - for responsible use of limited resources. Would you also like to save more plastic in everyday life? Then take a look at our online shop. Here you will find next to the reusable bamboo kitchen roll many other alternative products, such as bamboo swabs , beeswax towels and Bamboo cutlery on the go. And 100% plastic-free packaging is also a matter of course for us!

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