Right now, a few million Brazilians are heading to the coast. In the traffic jams that are inevitably forming on the roads, they will have some time to reflect on the quality and resilience of the maritime environment they hope to enjoy on these days of vacation and sun.
Sheet released this week the bathing conditions of 1.170 Brazilian beaches, with information collected from 12 state environmental agencies. It is incredible that a service of this importance is provided by a press agency and not by the Ministry of the Environment.
The absence of national monitoring of beach bathing, centralized by the federal government, expresses the lack of a policy of protection and sustainable use of the sea in a country that has 7.5 thousand kilometers of coast, the longest in the Atlantic.
The indicator used in this evaluation is the amount of fecal coliforms in the water, which reflects the situation of basic sanitation in the surroundings, that is, the extension of the network and the quality of sewage treatment. The survey showed that water quality has remained stabilized over the last five years.
Information is essential for citizens, but it is far from expressing the totality of waste that pollutes and threatens the oceans. The biggest threat comes from plastics, which could eliminate marine life in a few decades and cause serious damage to human health.
While there is, at least, the awareness that it is urgent to universalize basic sanitation, a goal present in all laws dealing with the subject and that could be achieved if the necessary investments were made, there are no policies to minimize or ban the growing use of disposable plastics. Citizens, in fact, are encouraged on a daily basis to use them more and more.
A study published in June in the journal Nature Sustainability revealed that 95% of the waste found in the oceans is composed of plastic. Based on 50 databases across the planet, the survey used information from 10 millions of observation points and analyzed 150 categories of waste larger than three centimeters in seven ecosystems.
The largest proportion of plastic is found in surface water (95%), followed by the coast (83%). Disposable bags, plastic bottles, food containers and food packaging, single-use items, are the items that most pollute the seas, representing almost half of human waste.
According to one of the authors of the research, Carmen Morales-Caselles, from the University of Cádiz (Spain), “we were surprised by the high proportion of takeaway items, not just from McDonald’s but such as water bottles and drinks like Coca-Cola”.
Since the beginning of the massive production of plastics, in the years 1950, the world has produced 8.3 billion tons. Currently, millions of tons of plastic are produced annually 500, according to Greenpeace. Although plastic can be used for products with a long service life, such as furniture and piping, about 50% of this production is intended for disposable products.
As the material is not biodegradable, some ends up in the oceans. According to the European Parliament, in 2018, more than 150 millions of tons of plastic waste polluted the oceans.
If the exponential growth in the use of disposables is not reversed, even 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the oceans, according to an estimate by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
The damage caused by plastic in the marine environment will be irreversible. Some types of plastic, such as Styrofoam, can take up to 170 years to fully decompose.
In the oceans, plastic is gradually divided into microfragments, which end up ingested by marine fauna, such as plankton and small crustaceans, which become intoxicated and contaminate the entire food chain until reaching human food, with consequences still unknown for health.
During an attempt to rescue a whale in Thailand, she vomited five plastic bags and died. In the autopsy, the veterinarians found 74 bags and other plastic waste, which clogged his stomach.
In 800, according to an FAO study, around 800 species of molluscs, crustaceans and fish had already eaten plastic. A survey carried out on 14 bird species in northern Europe, pointed out that 74% of them ingested plastic, showing damage to the digestive tract.
You, who are now under the umbrella, drinking that caipirinha in a disposable cup, eating a fish bait that looks healthy, he must be thinking with a clear conscience: “I’m glad I refused the straw, but for the cup, the way is to recycle”.
But the solution is not that simple, as the recycling of most plastics is not economically viable. And straws, which began to be fought as a result of an initiative by the European Union, represent around 2% of disposables.
Of all the plastic produced to date on the planet, only 9% was recycled and 12% was incinerated (which also generates environmental pollution), while 74% stayed in the environment or was transported to a landfill or dump.
The transport of waste to landfills, although it is the only solution for the thousands of tons of waste produced daily in coastal municipalities, is far from being a sustainable solution.
Waste from the four municipalities on the north coast of São Paulo (São Sebastião, Caraguatatuba, Ubatuba and Ilha Bela), after being collected, compacted and transshipped, is sent to landfills located in Jambeiro and Tremembé, in the Paraíba Valley, covering a distance of 95 km to 150 km.
The thousands of disposables, used only once and discarded, make this long journey in trucks that climb the mountain loaded, emitting CO2 and contributing to climate change, at an extremely high cost. According to Instituto Polis, these municipalities spend about 14% of their municipal budget on the management of solid waste.
The scale of this problem requires more radical public policies, such as the ban on single-use plastic disposables and a strict policy to reduce the generation of waste. It is necessary to implement reverse packaging logistics, enforcing the National Solid Waste Law, which determines that the generator must be the payer.
But the responsibility is also of the citizen, of all of us. Refusing disposable items, using a reusable bag, mug, cup and straw for personal use and changing consumption habits are part of small attitudes that make us feel contributing to a better world, in a year that we hope to be change.
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