I used to think I was doing my part by relying solely on recycling as a way of reducing my impact and doing something “green”. Compared to mindlessly throwing something in the garbage, recycling is of course the better option. It is important to recognize how much energy, time and money goes into the recycling process.
A great example is right here on Koh Tao. The island does have a recycling centre but once everything is collected, its bundled onto trucks, driven down to ferries and shipped to the mainland. Once there, the recyclables are melted down and usually made into downgraded plastic items that are unable to be recycled again. From this one example of recycling on Koh Tao, its easy to conclude that the ideal choice is reducing use instead of relying on recycling.
Over the past 5 years, marketing departments have become very savvy in their overuse and misuse of words like: green, biodegradable, compostable, and other environmentally friendly sounding adjectives. Otherwise known as Greenwashing, consumers are continually being tricked into believing that plastic bags, takeaway containers and other single use items will over time crumble into nothing, no harm no foul. For the most part, there are no regulations that require companies to demonstrate that their environmental claims are true. Even if the claims are true and a product is for example, biodegradable, we are finding out more and more that it is still not good for the environment.
One example is oxo-biodegradable plastic bags. Additives are added to the petroleum mixture that helps the material breakdown when exposed to the elements (sunlight, heat, rain). This results in micro-fragmentation of plastic which will remain in the environment in smaller and harder to collect pieces, never fully disappearing. Once these plastic fragments enter the environment, they are easily mistaken as food by marine and land animals and these plastic fragments have now entered the food chain.
At Master Divers, we have been conducting a degradation/bio-degradation experiment to see if some of the bio-bags available on the island actually hold up to their bio claims. We took 4 different bags, two standard plastic bags and two bags with bio claims and set them up in an area that is exposed to the sun, wind and rain, with no shelter. After 4 weeks, one of the bio bags degraded as claimed, while the other 3 remained intact. Keep watching this space for more information on single use plastic and to see how our plastic bag experiment continues.