The insights of La Saponaria

Plastics at sea: solutions? Marine plastics

Plastic is suffocating the sea and its inhabitants. We can no longer ignore the problem and we have to face it from multiple points of view. Making Zero Waste choices is one way, choosing products made of sea plastic is another. The important thing is to act now.

Plastic is the symbolic material of our time: it has entered so much into our everyday life that it is difficult to think of an object that does not contain polymers. What are its characteristics? It’s the longest-lasting synthetic product, it degrades completely only in hundreds of years. From 1950 to 2015 its production grew from 2 million tons to 380.

The problem we’re all experiencing? Only part of the plastic we use is properly eliminated or recycled. The rest? It ends up in landfills or directly in the environment, on land or at sea, favoring the alteration of ecosystems too delicate. It’s been calculated that 4 to 12 million tons of plastic end up in the seas around the world every year, causing 80 percent of marine pollution.

By 2050, according to the World Economic Forum, plastic in the oceans will weigh more than the fish inside

Waste enters the sea driven by the wind or dragged by urban waste and rivers. The rest is produced directly by vessels sailing the seas, mainly fishing vessels but also merchant and tourist vessels of all sizes.

The sea is full of plastic

From the Mariana Trench to the poles, plastic residues have been found virtually everywhere in the seas and oceans.

Bottles, packaging, fishing nets, bags and any other plastic object once finished in water breaks into smaller fragments due to erosion and currents.

As shown by several experts, these fragments, which can reach microscopic dimensions of less than 5 mm in diameter, constitute one of the main causes of death by suffocation of many fish and seabirds because they are mistaken for food.

Because of this, 115 marine species are at risk, from mammals to amphibians.

Accidental ingestion of plastic mistaken for plankton or jellyfish is such a common phenomenon that 52% of sea turtles have been affected.


The rivers of plastic

A study dated October 2017 and carried out by some German researchers, identified 10 the most important rivers for the transport of plastic waste at sea, responsible for about 90% of the plastic garbage present in the seas.

This study is based on the analysis of plastic samples and the processing of data acquired from previous research, in particular, the research focuses on the analysis of a global collection of information on debris of various sizes present in the water column, both microplastic fragments (particles <5 mm) and macroplastics (particles >5 mm)combined with information on the waste management system in the areas concerned.

The Yangtze River, in China, has been referred to as the largest "transporter" of waste. Indonesia, on the other hand, was one of the main contributors to the Asian continent, with four Javanese rivers of particular concern, the Brantas, Solo, Serayu and Progo rivers, carrying 38,900 respectively, 32,500, 17,100 and 12,800 tons of plastic per year.

As for the European waterways, not many studies have been carried out, but the existing ones show that the Danube, every year, transports in the Black Sea from 530 to 1500 tons of plastic, while across the Reno they end, 20 to 21 tonnes of plastics in the North Sea each year.


The plastic island

Where do all the plastics that are carried by the big rivers go? In the oceans. The currents carry them and now a real monster roams the Pacific Ocean: they called it Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the Plastic Island. A huge pile of garbage in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Its real extent is not yet known: it is spoken of 2 times Texas or the entire Iberian Peninsula. The fact is that no one really knows its dimensions, which are constantly growing.

But of the 8 million tons of plastic that man throws into the sea every year, only 1% is visible, tangible, measurable. The rest? It’s the missing plastic problem, the missing plastic problem. According to The Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch nonprofit who has been studying and collecting plastic in the oceans for years, a large amount of garbage is sinking under the big islands in the middle of the Pacific. Plastic would therefore have been circulating in the ocean currents for some time even at great depths. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch would therefore be just the tip of the iceberg. Below, according to analysis, moves an authentic mass monster dozens, perhaps hundreds of times higher. The microplastics are colonized by algae and other microorganisms and are therefore now penetrated into the ecosystem.

The fish that eat plastic and microplastics then end up on our table, so the plastic also enters the food chain.

Let us add that by 2050, according to the World Economic Forum, the plastic circulating in the oceans will weigh more than the fish that inhabit it. The oceans are suffocating in a sea of plastic.



The situation in the Mediterranean Sea

But we should not think that the problem of plastic at sea is due exclusively to distant countries and only affects the oceans. Currently there are seven islands of garbage scattered all over the world, one also in Italy, in the Mediterranean, between the Island of Elba and Corsica. Most of its debris comes from the Arno as well as from the Tevere and the Sarno and is only visible for a few weeks. Long for the moment a few tens of kilometers the garbage stain continues to expand.

It has been estimated that 570,000 tons of plastic end up in the waters of the Mare Nostrum every year, 33,800 plastic bottles thrown into the sea every minute.

The new alarm comes from the WWF that released the 2019 Report "Stop Plastic Pollution: how Mediterranean countries can save their sea" on the bad waste management, one of the main causes of the plastic sea that surrounds us. Turtles, cetaceans and killed fish are not enough: the polluting material is constantly increasing. And it is estimated that by 2050 it will even be four-fold.


Plastic at sea: what we can do

According to the most reliable estimates, by 2050 we will have produced more than 25,000 million tons of plastic waste, most of which comes from households.

Only a small part will be recycled or incinerated.

In our small way, if we want to defend the health of the seas and preserve their life forms, the first thing to do is to change our buying habits.

How? Applying the 4 R principles.

  • Reduce: opt for products with less packaging, cloth bags, rechargeable batteries
  • Reuse: choose the vacuum to make, glass instead of plastic
  • Recycling: selecting waste, adopting separate collection
  • Recover: produce objects other than their original function, invent new uses

The answer is therefore in choosing Zero Waste that many are rightly embracing: to quote the international Zero Waste network "We do not need a few people who practice zero waste to perfection. We need millions of people who do it imperfectly". The purpose of this network is to make people aware of the choice of products that do not have packaging or are not contained in plastic packaging.

In the cosmetic field the choices can fall on solid cosmetics, we talk about it in this article, or avoiding disposable products such as makeup remover disks in favor of wipes or disks washable and reusable, which can be found here. First simple rule that we could all adopt: abandon forever disposable plastic bottles and get a bottle.

On the one hand, we must all try to produce as little plastic waste as possible, on the other, we will need national laws and international agreements to protect the seas, and each of us can sign the petitions of the WWF or Greenpeace, which are fighting on this very point.



What do we do with all that plastic in the seas?

The problem is complex and cannot be addressed from just one point of view. It is not enough to avoid producing plastic waste. On the one hand, we must fight to ensure that plastic no longer ends up in the seas, by studying systems of collection in rivers, for example, and by demanding better waste management from individual states. But we also have to take care of going and collecting all that plastic that is accumulated, bringing it to the ground, differentiating it, processing it and making it available again for use.


Obviously it is a long work: we think about the difficulty of recovery, the cleaning of the material found, its division into colors and then its processing and fusion in order to be reused again to create new containers. Each bottle has an immense value: just think that it was calculated that in 2018, 890 tons of plastic were fished in the sea and made available for a new life. Each plastic sea bottle is equivalent to an infinite number of fish and microorganisms saved. 

Fortunately more and more fishermen are taking care of this collection and if the demand for this type of material increases, it will be easier for more and more start ups to take care of it. That’s why we decided to introduce marine plastic, or ocean plastic, into our bottle materials. At the moment you can find it in the Blueberry Mousse, and in the Shaving Mousse

We know, it’s just a drop in the ocean, but let’s think about what could happen if all the cosmetic companies in the world adopted sea plastic for even one of their products.

In 2023 we went to Jakarta, Indonesia, to get to know the fishermen of the fair project that deals with transforming the plastic of the sea in our bottles and in this article on our blog there is the story of that trip and the wonderful reality that we found.

The project of La Saponaria

The big project we have here at La Saponaria is to completely abandon virgin plastic and choose for our most sustainable packaging products. For this we have entire lines in glass (like all face creams, serums and waters of the Constitutional Face Line, oils) or recycled aluminum (such as hand creams, ointments) or recycled cardboard 100% eco-friendly (all our soaps and solid shampoos).

Another super interesting material that we’ve been using for a long time is bioplastic, a plastic from sugar cane processing that has less impact on the planet and is recyclable with normal plastic.

But we are also taking other paths, always with a view to greater environmental sustainability. The Active Pure are contained in plastic re-bottle, i.e recycled plastic after consumption. The normal recycled plastic in fact consists of industrial processing waste. The plastic that each of us collects in the differentiated is processed in a different way to be reused and is a material even greener than normal recycled plastic. Then in our path of awareness there was another precious material: the marine plastic! About all the work done on sustainable packaging in these years, you can read the dedicated page on our website.

Because Planet Earth and its seas are our home and we must all take care of them.
We want a clean sea and we want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.



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