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The world is choking on plastic, says UN

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Up to five trillion grocery bags are used each year and like most plastic garbage barely any is recycled, the UN said on Tuesday as it warned the world was choking on trash, reported Dawn (Pakistan).

In a report for International Environment Day, the UN warned at current levels the planet could be awash with 12 billion tonnes of plastic trash by the middle of the century.

“Our oceans have been used as a dumping ground, choking marine life and transforming some marine areas into a plastic soup,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, in the report released in New Delhi.

“In cities around the world, plastic waste clogs drains, causing floods and breeding disease. Consumed by livestock, it also finds its way into the food chain.”

Most of this plastic garbage clogging waterways and landfill is single-use items like straws, bags and cutlery.

The report said the five trillion plastic bags consumed each year equalled nearly 10 million plastic bags per minute. “If tied together, all these plastic bags could be wrapped around the world seven times every hour.”

Some 79 per cent of the plastic ever made has ended up dumped, with hardly any reused or destroyed despite recycling and other initiatives to curb use, the report said.

Just nine per cent of the nine billion tonnes of plastic the world has ever produced has been recycled. Only a little more — 12 per cent — has been incinerated.

This leaves only landfill, oceans and waterways as the resting place for the world’s plastic trash, where it takes thousands of years to decompose.

Plastic clogging sewers — a major problem in Delhi and slums across the developing world — can spread disease or wind up in the stomachs of animals, the UN said.

In India, plastic has been found inside dead cows while a whale in Thailand died after consuming waste bags.

Garbage floating at sea costs fishing, shipping and tourism industries in Asia-Pacific $1.3 billion a year, the report says.

The UN said more than 60 countries had introduced bans and levies on single-use plastic items like bags. But better waste management, financial incentives to change consumers’ buying habits and research into alternative materials were needed to make any real change, it added.

“To meet the rising tide of plastics, we urgently need strong government leadership and intervention,” the report said.

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If Coles and Woolworths are serious about tackling plastic waste, why aren’t they doing anything about disposable nappies? – reported News.com.au (Australia).

That was the question on many customers’ lips this week as both supermarkets went on a green rampage to mark World Environment Day, with Woolies announcing a ban on plastic straws and Coles saying no more plastic-wrapped bananas.

The moves come as retailers around the country prepare to phase out single-use plastic bags later this month and customers increasingly voice concerns about excessive plastic packaging, particularly on fruit and vegetables.

Retiree Adele, who asked for her last name not to be used, was furious at the plastic bag ban. She argued disposable nappies were “worse” for the environment but supermarkets wouldn’t touch them because the “lazy” people who use them “will go nuts” and there would be “uproar”.

“I paid my dues and washed cloth nappies back when I had kids, now when I’m in chronic pain I get told that the bags will be banned,” she said. “I think I have the right choose if I want my plastic bags.”

According to the South Australian government’s Zero Waste SA, about 800 million disposable nappies end up in Australian landfills every year.

Once in landfill, the plastics in disposable nappies can take 200 to 500 years to break down, while the methane released from the faeces is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Parents who switch to disposable nappies can save up to $1000 a year.

Brisbane mum Rosie Adams, 29, said she had been using cloth nappies for her baby daughter Abbie since she was one month old and would “definitely recommend” them.

She has about 40 cloth nappies and washes a batch each night after soaking them in Napisan. “She’ll go through seven to 10 a day,” Ms Adams said.

“She does go through more of them than disposables, but I have like three days’ worth and do a wash every day. I would definitely recommend cloth nappies. I have loved using them and my partner has as well. We’ve kind of integrated it into our daily routine so it’s not a hassle.”

Ms Adams said she talked about cloth nappies with other mums when they asked but she didn’t try to “preach” or convince them to switch.

“I think a big barrier for a lot of mums is just the time. They think it’s a lot more work but it’s really not,” she said. “It’s not a huge chunk of time; we have to do washing every day anyway.”

According to market research firm IBISWorld’s most recent figures, Australians spent about $984 million on nappies in 2013-14.

Disposable nappy sales make up a significant portion of the $2.4 billion sanitary paper product manufacturing industry in Australia.

IBISWorld analyst Hayley Munro-Smith points out that while eco-friendly and reusable products have gained popularity over the past five years, “as most industry products are necessities, sales have not suffered significantly”.

“Reusable cloth nappies and towels have grown in prevalence, especially with rising environmental concerns,” she writes.

“However, competition from reusable substitutes is relatively weak as disposable options are cost-effective, easy to use and require no cleaning.”

Kimberly-Clark, which makes the number one nappy brand Huggies, denies its products are filling up landfills. It says nappies only make up 1 per cent of the total volume, and that “landfills are so dry and compact they tend to ‘mummify’ their contents”.

“As a result, nothing much breaks down in landfill — even newspapers, which are 100 per cent degradable, remain intact and legible for decades,” the company says on its website.

It also argues the overall environmental impact of reusable nappies can be higher depending on how they are washed and that “both nappy systems have a similar carbon footprint”.

Environmental campaigner Jon Dee, of the DoSomething Foundation, said the ideal scenario was to use modern reusable nappies, which were “far better than they used to be and keep your baby more comfortable”.

“To keep the environmental impact of this to a minimum, wash the nappies in cold water and dry them naturally on the line,” he said.

“If you have to machine dry lots of nappies, try and use a heat pump clothes dryer. They are far more energy efficient than traditional clothes dryers.”

Mr Dee said if it was necessary to buy disposable nappies, to make sure they had the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) logo to indicate the pulp in the nappy was derived from sustainably grown trees.

FSC-certified brands include Naty Nappies, Bambo Nature, Ecoriginals, Muumi Eco, Moltex, Thankyou and Seventh Generation. Mr Dee said AsaleoCare and Kimberly-Clark had “apparently been working towards” FSC certification.

Parents should also try to buy thinner disposable nappies to reduce the amount of waste they generate. Over the past 10 years, Kimberly-Clark has halved the bulk of its disposable nappies by reducing the amount of material used.

“Finally, an ideal solution would be to have nappy and adult diaper recycling facilities across Australia, but these have yet to be set up over here,” Mr Dee said. “These could turn nappies into things like pet litter, insulation and compost.”

In 2014, Kimberly-Clark announced it was backing start-up company Relivit, which was attempting to raise $10 million to set up Australia’s first disposable nappy recycling plant in Nowra.

The plans were abandoned in 2016, however, after the venture failed to attract sufficient funding. Relivit’s former managing director, Mark Dunn, said it was disappointing.

“We had arranged a grant from the NSW Government for about $1.3 million, we needed about another $5 million from financial markets to get the plant up and running,” he said. “Unfortunately we were not able to do that.”

Mr Dunn said Relivit had a “huge reception” from its customer base and would have had 10,000 tonnes of nappies ready to recycle at launch. “The financial markets at the time had other priorities,” he said.

Coles and Woolworths declined to comment.

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