(UR) Reykjavik, Iceland — There is a new island in the North Pacific, and it’s growing at an alarming rate. This island, unlike many others, is not being created by volcanic or tectonic activity; it’s being created by humans. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, otherwise known as Plastic Island, is huge — it reaches from the west coast of North America to as far away as Japan. It’s also growing. The problem, many sources agree, is our use of plastics.
Since its invention, plastic has changed our lives. It’s all around us in the water bottles we use, the packaging our food comes in, our cell phones and computers — the list goes on. Problematically, while many facilities exist to semi-effectively recycle this chemically-based product, around 80 percent of our plastic containers end up in landfills where they cannot and will not biodegrade. According to available data, 10 percent of globally manufactured plastics end up in the ocean — most of this in the form of plastic shopping bags and single-use water bottles.
One potential solution to this problem seems simple: if plastics are going to end up in the ocean, why not make them out of the ocean?
For Icelandic product design student, Ari Jónsson, the realities of plastic use are obvious — people, despite the environmental damage, keep using plastic. That being the case, Jónsson began engineering a plastic-style container that begins biodegrading the moment it is empty. Made from agar, a gelatinous algae-based product that can be molded into different shapes, the bottles require very little motivation to break down once used.
There are some serious benefits from Jónsson’s design. Particularly, how handy it is for the uninformed and unaware. Despite being recyclable to a certain extent, most water bottles are made from PET (polyethylene terephthalate), a compound that does not biodegrade. Given its photodegrading properties, PET bottles that end up in landfills and oceans do not experience the necessary conditions to break down in any serious way, causing a lot of buildup. Additionally, one of the increasingly popular replacements, PLA (polylactic acid), also ends up in people’s garbage or recycling — two places it will not biodegrade effectively.
It comes down to an awareness issue — if people are not recycling plastics that can be recycled, and placing compostables like PLA in landfills where they will never biodegrade, then why not cater to their ignorance? While that might not literally be Jónsson’s thinking on the matter, this logic appears to have informed his invention.
A bottle that breaks down naturally the moment you’re done using it, made from natural organic matter, is perhaps the best way to begin moving towards a solution. In fact, it is genius in the face of our ignorance. Since we have known about the dangers of plastic for years and have had access to recycling for decades — yet still throw plastic directly into the garbage — perhaps we need to be treated like children and have that dangerous toy taken away from us.
This article (These Algae-Based Plastic Water Bottles Biodegrade After You’re Done Using Them) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Chris “Kikila” Perrin and UndergroundReporter.org. If you spot a typo, please email the error and the name of the article to firstname.lastname@example.org. Image credit: Flickr/Kate Ter Haar