"Plastic waste is increasingly polluting the oceans and by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans"
Exclusively for Fibrenamics, Célia Vilas Boas, Executive Director of BioRumo, gives answers to several questions about sustainability in various sectors of activity. This article corresponds to the 1st part of this interview.
1. Considering the fact that the construction sector is one of the sectors with the greatest environmental impact, what measures would you point out as possible ways to achieve greater sustainability in this sector?
It is crucial that the construction sector adopts measures that integrate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aligned with the three pillars of the sustainability concept: environmental (protection), economic (growth), and social (equity).
These measures may include the adoption of digitalization and sustainable building materials that contribute to the decarbonization of the economy and the circular economy, combined with the fight against climate change by reducing carbon emissions.
The sustainable planning of the construction of the building will allow minimize an eventual demolition of the building and consequent reduction of construction and demolition waste (CDW) generated.
The rational use of natural resources, adopting measures from the beginning of a construction project, with the integration of systems for the use of rainwater and recycling of greywater, reducing energy consumption, using natural lighting and ventilation, and installing solar panels, contribute to achieving greater sustainability in the construction sector.
Other measures: installation of green roofs - in addition to the function of capturing rainwater for later reuse in irrigation or washing of common spaces, these contribute to the thermal and acoustic insulation of the construction; appropriate and optimized management of solid waste from construction and demolition, through the separation of this waste throughout the construction cycle, together with its reduction, treatment and appropriate forwarding (recovery).
2. Turning now to the textile industry, also considered one of the most polluting, do you believe that the concept of fast fashion should be rethought in order to neutralize the negative effects caused by this sector on the environment?
Currently, it is imperative that the textile industry changes its consumption paradigm, through the adoption of sustainable and more environmentally friendly practices, in order to reduce the ecological footprint, mainly due to fast fashion.
The environmental impact of the fashion world, in terms of consumption of natural resources, continues to grow, and the textile industry is the fourth industry that consumes the most of these resources, therefore compromising the access to them for future generations. In addition, the massive textile production relies on the use of plastic fibers (polyester) that, consequently, with the washing of the garments, break down into microplastics.
To minimize the impacts of the textile industry, the solution would be to rethink the complete life cycle of each piece of clothing we consume and avoid waste, from a circular economy perspective.
This would involve producing in a conscious way, and applying new technologies that move towards the recycling of all textile waste.
For example, today there are already designers who are contributing to changing the current panorama. Designers such as Ralph Lauren, Stella McCartney, and Eileen Fisher already have organic (commonly called eco-friendly) or recycled fabrics in their clothes. Thereby, they are contributing to the reduction, in textile production, of the waste of energy, water, and chemical products.
There are also other examples of procedures that contribute to the practice of more sustainable fashion, such as:
- Application of less toxic glues and natural dyes, minimizing ocean pollution and groundwater contamination;
- Use of simple fibers instead of blends, so that they can be easily recovered when reused;
- Using renewable energy and by-product fibers in the garment production process.
Although we are currently far short of collection, treatment, and recycling systems that can keep existing textiles in circulation, new technologies are beginning to emerge that are capable of recycling textile waste (including that composed of a mixture of textile fibers) back into its value chain.
3. Knowing that the European Strategy for Plastics aims, by 2030, to ensure that all plastic packaging placed on the market in the European Union is reusable, compostable, biodegradable, or easily recyclable, do you believe that this measure will allow the reduction of plastic islands, bearing in mind that, as a matter of curiosity, the garbage island in the Pacific continues to grow since 1997, being currently 3 times larger than France?
Plastic waste is increasingly polluting the oceans, and according to recent statistics, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by weight.
Reducing plastic islands is not only about recycling plastics, as the production and accumulation will always be much higher than the amount of recycled plastic. This cannot be the only solution, but the end of a set of actions that starts with the reduction of plastic consumption.
Every year, thousands of marine mammals and aquatic birds die from mistaking plastic from garbage islands for food or getting caught in fishing nets left at sea.
Consequently, human health suffers from this accumulation of marine debris. The microplastics ingested, for example, by the fish we eat pass through the food chain into our bodies.
It is therefore urgent that European society cooperates in this mission to reduce plastic islands.
The European Directive on single-use plastics (EU Directive 2019/904), which includes the commitment made in the European Strategy for Plastics, was an important step in changing the paradigm, by advocating concrete measures regarding the reduction of disposable plastics and their replacement by reusable plastics, supporting the creation of more intelligent, sustainable and innovative plastic materials.
Also, the 2020 Action Plan for the Culinary Economy, part of the European Plastics Strategy, promotes the increase of recycled plastics, emphasizing micro-plastics, bio-based plastics, compostable and biodegradable plastics.
These and other European strategies for packaging recycling and plastic reduction contribute to the reduction of plastic islands, but being a challenge of great complexity, they require investment in innovation, digital transformation, and changing behaviors, with civil society having a decisive role in accelerating this process.
See the 2nd part of this interview here.
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