Single Use Plastic Problems Tackled with Water Purification Solutions

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Single use plastic bottles are strangling the earth’s ecosystems. Every plastic water or soda bottle that we buy contributes to ecological degradation in the form of micro plastic — those small particles of plastic that are often invisible to the naked eye and can take thousands of years to break down.

Annual consumption of plastic bottles is set to top half a trillion by 2021. This means no matter how well-intentioned local recycling efforts may be, the earth’s oceans are in real trouble due to single use plastic. Fewer than 1/2 of the single use plastic containers purchased in 2016 reached recycling receptacles, and just 7% of those were collected and turned into new bottles. Instead, most single use plastic bottles ended up in landfills or in the ocean.

single use plastics

Most people have no idea of the devastating effects of single use plastic. But an effort by prominent sailing teams, including an innovative new water purification solution, may be changing the way people think about single use plastic. That example may be the start of other efforts around the world to change people’s single use plastic habits.

Volvo Ocean Race Stopover in Cape Town Adopts Water Purification to Reduce Single Use Plastic Consumption 

How can a city host a major tourist event without touching a single drop of municipal water? The 2017-2018 Volvo Ocean Race, which is an international sailing competition that covers 11 legs over 45,000 nautical miles (83,340 km), had an answer. This year’s Cape Town stopover generated about 32,000 liters (8,454 gallons) of daily clean drinking water for Race Village visitors through Bluewater refill points. As a result, the Volvo Ocean Race event did not impact Cape Town’s water reserves, which were low during the Volvo Ocean Race stopover due to ongoing drought conditions.

With Bluewater’s help, the Volvo Ocean Race Cape Town stopover avoided consumption of around half a million single use plastic bottles.

Bluewater’s purified water solution allowed the Race to turn polluted and waste water into clean drinking water. The company’s global overview on the development of water treatment systems is related to the environment, plant breeding, and biotechnology improvement. Their approach focuses on phytodepuration — “phyton” = plant, and “depurare” = clean, purify. That process eliminates contaminant agents from waste waters by means of complex biological and physicochemical processes involving plants in the aquatic ecosystem.

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Phytodepuration occurs naturally in ecosystems which receive contaminated waters, and it has been the classical system for water quality recovery, together with water self-purification. The process occurs in natural wetlands as well as in constructed ones. Bluewater phytodepuration is applied as photosynthetic organisms intervene, and those organisms can be plants or macroscopic or microscopic algae. Removing lead and most other toxic metal, chemical, and organic contaminants from tap drinking water, a high-performance Bluewater Pro water purifier can generate up to 1,826 US gallons (6,912 L) of purified water every day, which substantially reduces the need to purchase single use plastic bottles. The technology also slashes the water wastage commonly associated with reverse osmosis by up to 79%.

single use plastic
Photo courtesy of Volvo Ocean Race

Single Use Plastic Reductions Part of a Global Effort to Save the Oceans

Technology from Bluewater was provided in Cape Town in partnership with the Volvo Ocean Race’s Founding Sustainability Partner, 11th Hour Racing, which is an organization promoting collaborative, systemic change for the health of the marine environment. Jeremy Pochman, 11th Hour Racing co-founder and strategic director, acknowledged the importance of their partnership with Bluewater on the Cape Town project. “This offers a great opportunity to work with the local community, event stakeholders, and innovators to find solutions to a very serious environmental issue. Together with Bluewater, we can also amplify the awareness of people globally about the threats to local ecosystems and the efforts needed to address them.”

The Volvo Ocean Race strives to meet plastic reduction goals and encompasses 3 key pillars: to maximize impact, to minimize footprint, and to leave a positive legacy. Cape Town City authorities, Host City delivery partner Worldsport, and the V&A Waterfront offered support for the purified water initiative. A plastic bottle exchange in partnership with Consol Glass also allowed visitors to swap a single use plastic bottle for a stylish refillable glass bottle. One of the Bluewater machines, which generates up to 8,000 liters of clean drinking water daily, was donated to the city of Cape Town at the end of the Volvo Ocean Race stopover.

“Bluewater stepped in to help the city and its citizens after learning that Cape Town’s water reservoirs are at critical lows due to the drought conditions,” said Anders Jacobson, CEO and co-founder of Blue AB, the Swedish holding company that owns Bluewater. “Our partnership with 11th Hour Racing and Volvo Ocean Race provides us with an incredible opportunity to highlight Bluewater’s mission to provide clean drinking water to people everywhere and how our technology can make it more available for millions of consumers around the world.”

The provision of these innovative Bluewater refillable water solutions is one part of a wide-ranging project:

  • a Sustainability Education Program, which welcomes students from local schools to learn more about ocean health;
  • a Science Program that generates ground-breaking research for scientists all over the globe; and,
  • a host of interactive and immersive sustainability activities in Volvo Ocean Race Villages around the world.

The 2017-18 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race started from Alicante, Spain in October 2017 and will finish in The Hague, Netherlands in June 2018. The route takes 7 one-design sailing yachts to 12 major cities on 6 continents. The Cape Town stopover was also part of a two-day Ocean Summit to drive collaborative conversations and awareness of ocean health and plastic pollution issues. Leaders and decision makers from business, politics, science, environmental, and sporting sectors took part.

Stats You Need to Know about Single Use Plastic Bottles and Packaging

A recent report produced by Project MainStream, an initiative that brings together the World Economic Forum, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and McKinsey & Company Research, is called, “The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking of Future of Plastics.” The goals of this inquiry were to develop a comprehensive global perspective of the broader plastic packaging economy and present a vision, roadmap, and global focal point to carry an agenda forward. The report helped to build a framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design through filling in a number of knowledge gaps.

  • A staggering 32% of plastic packaging escapes collection systems, generating significant economic costs by reducing the productivity of vital natural systems such as the ocean and clogging urban infrastructure.
  • Today, 95% of plastic packaging material value, or $80 –120 billion annually, is lost to the economy after a short first use.
  • Each year, at least 8 million tons of plastics leak into the ocean — which is equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute. If no action is taken, this is expected to increase to 2 per minute by 2030 and 4 per minute by 2050.
  • If the current strong growth of plastics usage continues as expected, the plastics will account for 20% of total oil consumption and 15% of the global annual carbon budget by 2050.
  • One recent study found in Europe today 53% of plastic packaging could be recycled economically and environmentally effectively.

single use plastic

The report concluded that plastic reduction should be pursued where possible and beneficial by dematerializing, moving away from single use plastic as the default, and substituting by using other materials.

Successes like those enacted by Bluewater and its partners, which also avoided the use of a quarter-of-a-million plastic water bottles in the America’s Cup Village on Bermuda in June, 2017, speak to two issues fundamental to consuming water. First, it is possible to provide people gathered for major events the access to clean drinking water, and, second, we must work together to halt the deluge of single use plastic being dumped every year in the sea. Unique purification technologies and disruptive business thinking offer ways to reduce the plastic debris being caused by the over 500 billion plastic bottles produced every year.

Photo by Lisa Zins on / CC BY

Photo by Brain Toad on / CC BY-NC-SA

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Substack:

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