Plastic waste

Plastic waste


EFRI became the first higher education institution in CEE (Central and Eastern Europe) that is discontinuing disposable plastic



The Faculty of Economics and Business in Rijeka decided to replace all disposable plastic items with available alternatives. That will make us the first scientific teaching institution in CEE, which is actively committed to the work environment without plastic waste. The European Parliament passed a law that will prohibit disposable plastic items such as plates, cutlery, drinking straws etc. in the EU as of 2021.  According to data from the European Commission, more than 80% of marine waste is plastic, and products covered by the new law at the European Union level make up 70% of marine waste.


Plastic items are manufactured in a few seconds; they are used for a few minutes after which they end up in a junkyard where they need a few hundred years to break down. Except for the fact that by the year of 2050 the plastic in our oceans will surpass the number of fish, the harmful impact of plastic straws to the health of people may serve as an additional motivation to replace them with acceptable alternatives, such as biodegradable paper straws, glass straws or something else.

University of Rijeka, Faculty of Economics and Business is especially devoted to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, etc, confirmed by the fact that we are the first higher education institution in Central and Eastern Europe that has calculated its carbon footprint. With the same aim, University of Rijeka, Faculty of Economics and Business has discontinued disposable plastic items, taking concrete steps to encourage employees and students to develop environmental awareness and action accordingly.






Plastic Straws – Scourge for the environment, but also human health

Apart from the obvious negative impact on the environment, there are a number of health reasons that make it necessary to eliminate straws once and for all.

A single plastic straw is manufactured in seconds; we use it for 10 minutes, after which it most likely ends up in a junkyard (or worse, in the environment, where it takes 500 years to break down. Therefore, straws are only one of the plastic products for disposable use covered by the European Commission's proposals for the reduction of plastic waste. They target 10 plastic products that are most commonly found on the European beaches or in the sea, and together they make 70 percent of all plastic objects in the sea. In addition to the European Commission's initiative, some companies (such as Starbucks and McDonald's) announced the removal of plastic straws.

But apart from being a real scourge for the environment, they don't seem to be as harmless as they may seem for human health. An article published in the Washington Post has cast a light on the second negative effect of plastic straws: their direct influence on human health. According to the author Christy Brissette – a nutritionist and a dietician - except for the obvious negative impact on the environment, there are a number of health reasons that it is necessary to eliminate straws once and for all.

To begin with, drinking through a straw could cause more air to enter the digestive system, increasing the probability of bloating and gasses. Also on the list is the greater risk of cavity (because straws direct the sweet and sparkling beverages directly to certain teeth) and even wrinkles because the regular use of straws can lead to the same kind of wrinkles around the lips that smokers have.

According to Brissette, materials and chemicals used in manufacturing plastic straws can also be a great cause for concern. It is suspected that one of them, polypropilen, can penetrate the water and influence the levels of estrogen in humans. Therefore, it is recommended to avoid all other plastic products, especially if they come in contact with food, as plastic generally poses a threat to health by releasing Endocrine disruptors which are chemicals that interfere with the hormonal work. 


Except for the fact that by the year of 2050 the plastic in our oceans will surpass the number of fish, this should serve as an additional motivation to forget the plastic straws and replace them with acceptable alternatives, such as biodegradable paper straws, steel or glass straws.

Plastic straws are becoming a big taboo, especially in the case of big companies. Starbucks plans to put them out of use by the year 2020. Seattle was the first city that implemented the "plastic” rule by completely removing all similar plastic products from cafes and various businesses. San Francisco should be the next city to implement this rule. But the straw is just the tip of that big plastic iceberg. During the 2015 plastic products on the world level amounted to about 300 million metric tonnes. According to that it is calculated that each of 7.6 billion people in the world annually produces 25.3 tonnes of plastic waste. Another big problem is the industry of plastic packaging that is still rising. It seems that straws are actually just a part of the problem, but many will say they are a good start to solving the problem. "Straws are what we perceive as the beginning of what we hope will lead people to think about how much damage global plastic pollution does. Straws are designed for short and disposable use and after that they become garbage, "Dianna Cohen of Plastic Pollution Coalition said. The straw is only a part of the problem, and Cohen is one of the ones on the way to convincing people how it's necessary to use less plastic. And start right away.

Another big concern are human habits or our inability to step away from plastic. It is normal nowadays to dine out or use food delivery and most of the time that includes plastic containers that are thrown out after one use. But food is not the only problem. More than 79 percent of plastic waste ends up in the dumps or somewhere in the countryside, no matter what bin you throw your plastic into. The other 12 percent gets incinerated in the incineration plants, so the particles end up in the atmosphere. Only around the remaining nine percent end up recycled. This is data from the report in Science Advances published in 2107. "It’s great what Starbucks announced about straws, but just take a look at how much more plastic they have. It's all funny.”, said Cohen. Other companies don't reduce the use of just straws. Recently, the food giant Aramark, a company that co-operates with schools, prisons, hospitals in 19 countries across the world, announced it would reduce the use of straws by 60% by the year of 2020. The use of straws will only be left for persons with special needs that need help drinking fluids. They announced they were going to cut down the use of plastic utensils, plastic bags and ' various packaging materials ', writes Business Insider. Every piece of plastic produced in the world starts as a product from a piece of coal, oil or natural gas. They were natural polymers, including materials like animal horns and rubber, but the kind of plastic that we are using as packaging today didn't exist until 1907 when the first synthetic plastic was made from fossil fuel-Bakelite. Because of the way these new polymers are processed a large amount of plastic can never be fully recycled. That is what once made them special, compared to fragile objects made of glass and porcelain. But today, this indestructibility of plastic that remains in landfills, on roads or in nature, is a big problem, especially since it remains there for thousands of years without decomposing.

The plastic that straws are made of can be recycled, in theory, but in most cases it is not quite so. All of these straws end up either in landfills or in large ships that are that are getting scarce and are transporting the garbage to China. Some straws will end up in the seas, and become part of what is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vast glacier of rubbish of about 79 thousand tons. Scientists who have studied this pile of rubbish say it's twice as big as Texas, and it's floating somewhere between Hawaii and California. Experts have discovered that it is a water pit of garbage and illegal landfills that are trapped in the ocean currents. Report from the 2018 showed that "more than 99.9 percent” of it is plastic, but it is not just straws. The plastic items they identified included containers, bottles, lids, bottle caps, packing strips, ropes and fishing nets. In most cases, those who protest against plastic are choosing straws because of a photo from 2015 which depicts a sea turtle with a straw stuck in his nose. Initially, experts thought it was a parasite, but soon they realised it was a straw. They have successfully removed it, but the problem of the plastic in the sea still remains. "She became our motive for the poster. The turtle from the poster", Cohen said. Debates are now being led on whether the reduction of straw use will lead to new actions. Maybe people will think they've done enough and won't change their other habits. Researchers who have studied these human patterns say that some people are going to be encouraged to do even more, but some will just stop and think they've already done enough.

In order to change behaviour, a lot more needs to be done. Some countries have gone with a more aggressive approach. Morocco, which used to be full of plastic bags banned production, sales, and imports of plastic bags in the year of 2016. Rwanda was one of the first countries in the world to ban plastic bags in 2008. California and Hawaii followed the example. India will have disposable plastic banned by 2020. In Great Britain, on the insistence of Queen Elizabeth II, the royal estate will not be using straws or plastic bottles. But there is historical evidence that Americans can change the way they behave, improve environmental protection with monitoring the development of the economy. During the sixties of the last century, unregulated pollution caused a series of problems across the United States, from rivers in flames, oil spills and asthma attacks associated with the exhaust fumes of the car. The US has not completely solved any of these problems, but during the seventies they have started to regulate their use, which has not harmed the country's economy, and has improved the health of its inhabitants. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has helped promote a simple slogan ' Reduce, recycle and reuse '. Cohen hopes to add to that and ' decline ', in terms of refusing to use plastic trash baskets wherever you are. Psychologists will agree and say how difficult it is to change habits, but psychologist John Bargh emphasizes that ' the more something is practiced, the less effort is needed to do it '. Cohen advises you should start carrying your own containers. "It will be an exciting novelty, and in fact it is something that our parents and their parents did", she emphasizes. She will admit herself that she adores straws, and she still uses them but in alternative versions of paper, flexible steel and glass. "Plastic seem like a cheap option because all the expense it leaves on the oceans and animals is invisible. But disposable plastic use is inconvenient for our health, for the health of the oceans, for the health of the wild world in the oceans and on the mainland.” Cohen emphasizes.


20 ways to use less plastic in our everyday lives

1.       In large stores, you can find linen, mesh reusable bags for fruits and vegetables. That way you'll get rid of a bunch of nylon baggies you have to use to weigh every fruit and vegetable. Besides, you can use them in any store, wash at home, and use them again anytime.  

2.       Stop using plastic straws, even in restaurants. If you really need to use straws, buy those that are not disposable.

3.       Buy or make your own bag or a linen bag that you can use multiple times and of course occasionally wash it. One plastic bag can take up to 1000 years to dissolve. Keep them in your car, in your bag, near the door or wherever it's easiest for you to remember to take it to the store.

4.        Avoid the rubber bands because they're made of synthetic rubber, or plastic.

5.       Buy products in cardboard boxes instead of plastic packaging. Products like laundry detergent or rice, pasta, etc. Are often packaged in cardboard boxes that are much easier to recycle than plastic.

6.       Buy food, like cereal, pasta, rice, dried fruits etc. from the large containers, and fill your linen bag with the amount you need. It saves money, but more importantly it saves the environment.

7.       Use glass jars to store your pasta, cereal, tools, and cosmetic products. Buy plastic storage containers as less as possible. 

8.       For beverages, use bottles or cups designed for multiple uses.

9.       Bring your own food container with you to the restaurant when you are taking food to go. Many restaurants use Styrofoam, and that's really not necessary.

10.   Use matches instead of disposable plastic lighters, or get a metallic lighter that can be refilled.

11.   Buy a glass bottle and carry in it in order to reduce the use of plastic water bottles. The micro plastic was found in them, too.

12.    Avoid buying frozen food because their packaging is mostly plastic. Even when it appears to be in a cardboard box, actually, that also has a thin layer of plastic. 

13.   Don't use plastic utensils at home, make an effort and wash the dishes after a party.

14.   Use linen diapers for kids instead of the disposable ones.

15.   Make yourself a freshly squeezed juice or eat fresh fruits and vegetables instead of buying juice in plastic bottles. That's never as healthy as homemade juice.

16.   Make your own cleaning products using non-harmful ingredients like lemons, baking soda and vinegar. Except for not damaging your health and saving the environment from spilling chemicals into the drain, you'll reduce the use of plastic packaging in which cleaning products often come in.

17.   Take your school or work lunch with you in a container or a multi-use bag.

18.    Buy fresh fruits and vegetables instead of finely sliced ones in plastic packaging.

19.    Instead of a disposable razor, get the one that has a changeable blade, because even then less plastic will end up in nature.

20.   Think of your cosmetics - choose bars of soap instead of liquid, use pads made out of 100%cotton, use wooden brushes and combs, bamboo toothbrushes...




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