The Disastrous Consequences of Plastic Pollution – and How to Invest in Alternative Materials
Dear Fellow Fed Up Investor,
What’s the world’s biggest problem?
Bad as they all are, my vote goes to pollution.
It’s hard to fathom just how polluted the world is – especially the “Undeveloped” World.
I saw this first-hand during my travels through Asia some years ago.
One time I was on a train going over a bridge in India that spanned the Yamuna River, the largest tributary in India (it runs 855 miles).
It’s also the fifth most polluted river in the world.
From my train, it looked like a river of sludge.
Another time I was in Kathmandu, Nepal.
After having been there for a few days, I woke up one morning in a coughing fit.
Out came some blackish phlegm.
From that day onward, I wore a mask any time I ventured out into the city.
This was in 1993.
(I can only imagine how polluted it is there now.)
Of course, you don’t have to go to Asia to see terrible pollution.
Litter lines many of our streets and sidewalks and beaches here in North America.
Empty water bottles, candy wrappers, sandwich containers, face masks….
You know what much of this litter’s made up of?
Yup – plastic.
Plastic is the world’s biggest pollution-related problem
Plastic is a double-edged sword.
It’s cheap and lasts forever – that’s the good thing about it.
That’s the bad thing about it, too.
• Plastic grocery bags take 10 to 20 years to decompose
• Plastic sandwich bags take 1,000 years
• Plastic bottles, 450 years
• Plastic sanitary pads, up to 1,000 years
• Plastic coffee pods, 500 years
The problem is that plastic doesn’t decompose like organic material.
Aside from a few organisms that can break down some plastics, most plastics keep their molecular form indefinitely.
It’s mind-boggling just how much plastic we throw away
The World Economic Forum says that up to 13 million metric tons of plastic ends up in our oceans every year.
That’s the equivalent of a garbage truckload worth every minute.
All that plastic’s having a dire effect on marine life (I’ll expand on this sad fact in a moment).
A documentary called A Plastic Ocean tries to wake us up to just how bad the problem is.
It’s a horrifying program.
Much of it focuses on what are known as garbage patches, which are huge areas of an ocean where plastic and other debris collects.
They’re formed by rotating ocean currents called gyres, which pull debris into one location.
There are five known garbage patches in the world, two each in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and one in the Indian Ocean.
That honor goes to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the central North Pacific Ocean.
It’s between Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast… and is actually larger than the state of Texas!
Plastic pollution of our oceans is getting worse
Get this – by 2050, the total volume of plastic in our oceans will surpass that of fish!
And by 2050, scientists predict that 99% of seabirds will have ingested plastic… and a million of them will die every year as a result.
Sea turtles also ingest plastic.
Some starve after doing so because they think they’ve eaten enough.
Yes, their stomachs are full… but full of plastic, not food.
Dolphins, whales and fish are also dying from ingesting plastic at an alarming rate.
In fact, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates that plastics kill 100,000 marine animals every year.
(One dead whale found off the Philippines had 88 pounds of plastic waste in its stomach!)
Plastics in the ocean pose a hazard to humans, too
That’s because fish and other sea animals eat these plastics.
That, of course, contaminates them… not to mention the humans who eat these animals.
What kind of toxins are we talking about?
Try lead, cadmium, mercury, and BPA (health-bisphenol-A) on for size.
These toxins have been linked to cancers, birth defects, immune system problems, and childhood developmental issues
There’s also DEHP (diethylhexyl phthalate) – another potent carcinogen found in some plastics.
Then there are the toxins that plastics absorb on their way to the ocean to consider, too.
After watching A Plastic Ocean, I swore to never buy food contained in plastic again
But soon afterward, I found that it’s a practically impossible vow to keep.
Just about any food you buy is shrink-wrapped in plastic… or stuffed inside a plastic container… or contained in a plastic bag or package of some sort.
Yes, most fruits and vegetables in the produce section aren’t wrapped in plastic.
But what do most people do when they buy produce?
They plop their fruits and vegetables into a handy plastic bag dispensed from one of those cylindrical gizmos hanging above the produce section.
All that plastic just accumulates in our landfills, rivers, lakes and oceans.
Clearly, we have a huge problem.
And I find it appalling that it’s hardly on anyone’s radar.
But there is hope.
And it could well be coming from an unlikely source.
Weed to the rescue!
Or to be more accurate, hemp.
A kind of “plastic” can be produced from hemp.
And it’s superior to typical plastic (which is made from petroleum) because it decomposes in about six months or less.
In other words, it’s biodegradable.
Hemp-based plastic has many other advantages over petroleum-based plastics…
Hemp “plastic” is non-toxic
Conventional plastics are loaded with toxins, like BPA (Bisphenol A).
They’re terrible for you.
That’s because they’re endocrine disruptors, which can wreak havoc with your body’s hormone production and regulation.
They do so by mimicking the estrogen hormone.
Result – a hormone imbalance that can stimulate tumor development.
Endocrine disruptors like BPA can also cause cancer, diabetes, impaired immunity, birth defects and other serious health issues.
This is bad news, because 93% of Americans over the age of 6 test positive for BPA.
By contrast, hemp-based “plastic” contains no toxins.
Most plastics are produced from petroleum and contain a laundry list of toxins aside from BPA, including benzene and vinyl hydrochloride – chemicals known to cause cancer.
Worse, the byproducts of typical plastic production contaminate our water and soil.
But hemp-based plastics aren’t toxic. And the process used to produce them is relatively friendly to the environment.
Hemp can be used to make virtually anything now made from petroleum-based plastics, including…
- Car Parts
This list is only a fraction of hemp products that could help free the environment from petroleum-based plastics.
Hemp plastics are stronger than petroleum-based plastics
Hard to believe, but true.
In fact, hemp-based plastics are five times stiffer – and 10 times stronger – than polypropylene, one of the most used plastics.
They’re also a lot lighter (not to mention safer).
Bottom line – hemp provides durability and strength, while also being lightweight.
Hemp plastic is a renewable resource
A hemp seed enriches its environment the moment it enters the soil.
Hemp is a sturdy plant with deep roots.
So it helps prevent soil erosion and reduces water pollution.
It can also be cultivated in the same soil for years without jeopardizing quality.
There is one problem with hemp, though…
And it’s this –
Hemp hasn’t been adapted for mass cultivation, like wheat, corn, soybeans and other crops.
The main reason?
It had been outlawed in the U.S. for nearly 80 years.
As a result, hemp hasn’t benefited from modern breeding and genome advances.
But that’s changing fast because a tiny company called Calyxt (Nasdaq: CLXT) has successfully transformed the hemp genome.
That development enables the selective breeding of hemp.
It also allows agricultural scientists to improve hemp traits through gene editing.
Through this technology, new hemp varieties can be grown on a massive scale.
The industrial hemp market is growing like crazy
The industrial hemp market was worth about $5 Billion in 2019.
By 2026, a new report by Facts and Factors says it should reach $36 billion.
That would amount to a compounded annual growth rate or CAGR of 34%.
So will all this growth transform the plastics market?
Maybe… but it’ll take a while.
Obviously, petroleum giants like Exxon want to keep pumping out toxic plastics.
They simply make too damn much money on the stuff.
(The plastics market was worth $578 billion in 2020, according to Statista, which they project will be worth $750 billion by 2028.)
But every sea change in a market begins with one small step.
If enough people demand alternatives to petroleum-based plastics, the market will have no choice but to accommodate them.
For my part, I’m going to renew my vow to avoid food sold in plastic and stop using those damn plastic bags in the produce section.
Care to follow my lead?
Keeping it clean,
Contributing Editor, Dear Retail
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