News

Support innovation in fight against plastic

The Straits Times

The economic perspective in terms of cost and benefits of the push to reduce the use of single-use plastics, as well as the need to be objective, has been well addressed (The plastic poser for Singapore; Feb 2).

But this does not fully illustrate the urgency of the challenge facing the planet today, particularly for humans and marine life.

Speedy action, beyond objective cost-benefit analyses, is required because the environmental cost of plastic worldwide is huge. Less than a fifth of all plastic gets recycled globally, with the remainder being burned or discarded.

Photographer Chris Jordan in a TEDx talk describes how animal species like the albatross are feeding their young with plastic found floating on the ocean, suffocating and dying as a result.

Traces of plastic are also creeping into the food chain and hence the human diet. Long-term effects such as these may not be effectively factored in when it comes to cost-benefit analyses.

We need to think out of the box to solve this man-made issue. Scientists have engineered an enzyme that is able to digest a common form of plastic (Plastic-eating enzyme holds promise in fighting pollution: British, US scientists, ST Online; April 17, 2018). This drastically reduces the time needed for the plastic to break down, and has yet to be commercialised.

Speedy action, beyond objective cost-benefit analyses, is required because the environmental cost of plastic worldwide is huge.

We should focus our efforts on such solutions to plastic waste so as to move from a linear plastic economy to a circular one, significantly reducing the production of new plastic.

While not an alternative to replacing plastic with biodegradable substitutes, it would still help to reduce the scale of the current problem.

Increase funding and support start-ups with the goal of finding new ideas to solve the plastic problem. There needs to be greater urgency and focus in supporting innovation.

Prakash Natarajan