Modern technology in the battle against plastic
The plastic story
I have lived in the south of Spain since 1976 and I love it here. After living in many European countries, I ended up here by coincidence and luck. My guest country has been kind to me and over the many years, not without effort I must say, I have been able to transform an abandoned farm into my little paradise.
I have followed the political ups and downs and had to adapt to new rules and regulations, which overall, have been positive to the country. I have observed that we also suffer the consequences of Global Warming/Climate Change. Winters are getting milder and the summers are getting hotter.
This is especially evident this summer (2019), as one heatwave follows the other, and it is not funny. Last year, the same as this year there are huge fires in Portugal and Spain. Often whole villages have to be evacuated and nature is destroyed.
I have observed something on my farm and this is the first time ever. I have a drip-system for the orange trees. The field is divided into 2 parts. On the field is the place where you only have to open a valve to then close the other valve and the water flows to the other part to irrigate.
As I said I have never seen this before. Big black ants, who live in the 200-year-old cypress tree, came down, climbed over some plants, and marched to the close by the place where the valves are situated. There is one spot at a connection where there is a little humidity, it does not leak so there is no need to repair. For the ants, it is sufficient as a water source and they came to drink by the hundreds. I think they must be suffering the heat.
It will only get worse with time as you can see on this YouTube video.
By the year 2100, the temperatures will be so high that nobody will be able to live in Spain or Portugal anymore. Everybody will have emigrated to the north.
My post is not going to be about the extremely hot weather but about things which are related and also about a couple of very simple solutions, which, if they were to be implemented worldwide, could make a big difference. This is a post telling you what is happening in the south of Spain.
On the Costa del Sol, with Malaga as the province capital, there are some serious environmental problems. Plastic overload, cigarette butts, and tattooed fruits and vegetables. Let’s start with plastic.
The alarm bell is ringing on the Costa del Sol
Plastic has invaded us in the form of textile fibers from clothing, all kind of plastic items on the beaches, plus a huge load of microplastics on the seabed of the Alboran Sea, which is part of the Meditteranean Sea. To make you understand this here come some data.
Of microplastics, 30 particles are found in 1 kilogram of sand. This equates to 500 particles in 1 m2. You can hardly see these particles as they are less than 1 millimeter in diameter.
In marine sediments, it is even worse. Between 130 and 300 particles can be found in 1 kilogram of sediment.
Sand samples have been analyzed and the sources of these microplastic particles come from plastic bottles, cellophane, and textile fibers. You might wonder about the textile fibers, but that can easily be explained. After each washing, an article of clothing loses some fibers and since almost all clothing is made from polymers such as polyester, you can see where it comes from.
Because a washing machine does not filter the fibers, these are all released to the wastewater treatment systems. In summer the wastewater treatment plants are overloaded and cannot cope with the volume as there are too many people, so part of these fibers end up in the sea. The type of fiber which is the problem is the acrylic fiber.
One important factor should not be forgotten. As those microplastics are so small and everywhere, they can be inhaled by humans and animals alike causing grave danger to their health.
Then there are the so-called macroplastics. Larger particle sizes that are visible to the naked eye but still relatively small. Their sizes are between 2.5 millimeters up to 5 millimeters in diameter, and they come from a rope, bottle caps, cotton buds, polystyrene, and many more sources.
There have been 72 clean up actions between 2013 and 2018 and 25.000 objects were collected. It all helps but we can do a lot better.
The sources of micro and macro plastics are from; tourism, 26%; maritime transport, 18%; sanitation, 8%; fishing activity, 1% with the remainder undetermined.
We need to move away from plastic bottles and cellophane. Doing that would be very positive and have an immediate impact. We can replace plastic rings holding a six-pack of beer with a more biodegradable product and let’s not forget that the plastic straws can also be replaced. All these items can cause marine life great harm. Turtles, dolphins, sea lions and seabirds might get entangled in these items.
Adult birds have been observed feeding plastics to their young. In general, animals cannot distinguish plastic from real food. Plankton consumes microplastic particles, small fish consume microplastics and the plankton, and because it is bioaccumulative, it is in the food chain. Small fish are food for bigger fish, other animals, and humans. If we do not inhale, or drink it, we will eat it. Not a pretty picture.
The danger of cigarette butts
I have written a post on cigarette butts, which is a huge polluter worldwide. Up till now, when going to the beach, people would put the stub in the sand and that was it. Slowly but surely people become conscious that this is not a good idea. In certain places, before stepping onto the beach, people are handed small ashtrays, so that helps.
In most of the municipalities of the Malaga province, there have been talks about making the beaches smoke free. This proposal came from the regional health authorities and is now being discussed in the meetings of the town halls.
When you know that 1 cigarette end contaminates 8 liters of water, it makes you think about what you are swimming in. The fact that a cigarette filter takes 10 years to decompose, and leaks tar, lead, and nicotine in the meantime, makes one realize this should not be thrown out into the environment.
As beaches are public places, there should be no smoking on them. The same rules should apply here, as in other public places, where smoking is strictly forbidden. People need to get used to the idea, but I am sure this new regulation will soon become the norm here. The cleaning of the beaches is paid by the local tax money, which then could be used for something else.
Smoke-free beaches in Spain
There are already 7 regions in Spain which have smoke-free beaches. There are some beaches in Galicia, Asturias, Catalonia, Murcia, the Balearic Islands, and the Canaries. In Andalucia, there is only one, up till now, in the province of Granada. On the Motril beach, smoking is no longer allowed. In case you should plan a holiday to Spain with a beach visit included you might like to read this link on the do’s, and don’ts on the beach.
Stop plastic wrapping of produce
Some time ago, I also wrote on the overload of plastic wrappings for fruits and vegetables. Then you have those annoying stickers, which will end up in the landfills. Items were generally wrapped in plastic simply to label them and put an identification sticker on them. All this wrapping is nonsense as nature provides most of her products with a natural wrapping, the skin or peel. There is a better method to mark the items that has been recently introduced.
There are local companies who have switched over, from using plastic to wrap their produce, to tattooing their fruits and vegetables with a laser system, which does not damage the inside and neither the skin. One company, BioAlgarrobo, has been using this technologically advanced method for over a year and is very pleased with the results.
It is obvious there is still a lot to be done to make the world a cleaner place. The best thing is to start with where you live. Do not throw your waste out, put it in the recycle bins. No more cigarette butts on your beach and even if it is still allowed to smoke there, do not dirty the sand with the cigarette ends.
Go shopping with your own bags and you could ask your supermarket when they will start to tattooing the fruits and vegetables you buy. Everything helps, let us start now.
Source: Newspaper SUR in English, June 7th to 13th 2019, article by Ivan Gelibter. Article on Cigarette Butts same newspaper and date, by Angel Escalera.
Photo Source: Pixabay
We can do quite a bit about improving our immediate environment. Perhaps you like to read the following post.