Mounting plastic a concern

Thousands of tons of used plastic has been put in rubbish bins across Greece over the last few days, prompting environmentalists to repeat calls for consumers to buy products with less plastic packaging. It is estimated that Greeks use some 300,000 tons of plastic every year and about 20 percent of this is plastic that is used only once before being thrown into the trash. The cost to the consumer is extremely high – plastic water bottles alone cost around 1 million euros a year – but campaigners are more concerned about the impact that the disposal of non-biodegradable and non-recyclable plastic is having on the environment. «Plastic products need hundreds of years to degrade and, when they decompose, many types release toxic substances into the environment,» Antigone Dalamaga of the Ecological Society for Recycling told Kathimerini. One of the main ways that plastic ends up in the trash is in the form of plastic bags. Apart from taking a long time to decompose, they also slow down the biodegradation of other products. For example, a piece of meat or vegetable placed in a plastic rubbish bag could take between 30 and 70 years to decompose. «The plastic shopping bag appeared in large numbers in Greece in the 1980s. «Clearly, there was life before then, so there can be life after it,» said Dalamaga, who added that a number of cities and governments around the world are now phasing out the use of plastic bags. The recycling of plastic has yet to take off in a big way in Greece but is a difficult and costly process anyway as it involves the separation by hand of different types of plastic. Some plastics cannot be recycled at all. «We have to lessen the use of plastic,» said Dalamaga. «We do not need to ban it completely but at the moment we are using far too much plastic.»