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    Will Polish invention revolutionise the fight against plastic?

    The problem of how to effectively dispose of the vast amount of plastic and plastics we produce is a challenge for governments in many countries around the world. Specialists are constantly looking for new methods to solve the problem of lingering plastic more cheaply and efficiently. Polish scientists from the Wrocław University of Life Sciences are working on a project that may revolutionise the current fight against plastic.

    Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, global production of plastic products and plastics reached nearly 370 million tonnes in 2019, with China accounting for nearly one-third of production and the rest of Asia another 20 per cent. Production in Europe is around 59 million tonnes, with Germany accounting for the largest share. The huge production of plastics also means that there is a problem with plastic waste, which is a growing challenge for countries in different parts of the world.

     

    The European Union is trying to combat the overuse of plastic by restricting plastic cutlery, cotton buds, and straws on the market. From 2021, a “plastic tax” has been introduced, based on the principle that the EU coffers receive 80-euro cents for every kilo of plastic waste in EU countries that is not recycled. Additionally, initiatives to reduce the use of plastic are also being introduced by state governments. In mid-September, the bankier.pl portal reported that the Polish government is speeding up work on a project that envisages covering plastic bottles with a deposit. It is expected to be – according to speculation – from 50 groszy to even 2 zlotys.

     

    Legal regulations limiting the trade in plastics are one side of the coin; the other side is the need to develop efficient methods for recycling and processing plastics. Although hard limits for recycling rates (55% of all plastic waste in 2030) appear in European targets, the numbers are still not fully satisfactory. According to Eurostat data for 2018, less than 1/3 of plastic waste is recycled and nearly 25% of it is landfilled. Recycling rates vary widely across the EU.

     

    The Supreme Audit Office report from early 2021 recommended that the Polish authorities “accelerate work on implementing solutions that will move the waste management system in Poland towards a closed-loop economy,” which included improving the effectiveness of selective waste collection, introducing a deposit system, and implementing “extended producer responsibility” related to the costs of waste collection and management.

     

    In addition to legal action by governments, scientists around the world are bent on solving the plastic problem.

     

    Polish scientists from the Wrocław University of Life Sciences are currently working on a system for biotechnological decomposition of microplastics, i.e., plastic particles that can accumulate in animal organisms. Researchers will take samples from different environments to find the microorganisms that help break down plastic.

     

     – The plastics decomposed in this way will disappear because they will be fed by microorganisms that can eat such small particles – explains Dr Piotr Biniarz from the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Sciences at UP.

     

    Enzymatic recycling is just one innovative solution to combat plastic waste. Recently, a Polish company, Handerek Technologies, developed a recycling technology that makes it possible to produce raw material for fuel from plastics.

     

    The technology, implemented by the company, has been developed for about 10 years. In an interview with Business Insider, Handerek claimed that he received inquiries about it from various parts of the world. The head of the company claimed that processing all the waste produced during the year in this way would allow the production of fuel in the amount of 3-4 per cent of the total mass of consumed fuels.

     

    The problem of lingering plastic is getting worse every year. A study by the Environmental Investigation Agency indicates that the environment is currently being polluted by around 6 billion tonnes of plastic. Over the past 65 years, plastic production worldwide has increased by more than 18,000 per cent, according to the agency. Solving this problem will be one of the greatest challenges of civilization.

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