Skip to content
Plastic waste interview with Dr. Bauske (WWF)

Plastic waste interview with Dr.Bauske (WWF)

Today I had an appointment with Dr. Bernhard Bauske from WWF for an interview on the topic of plastic waste in the environment. He has been working for the WWF for over 20 years and knows the current plastic waste situation better than almost anyone else. I am delighted that he took the time for a personal interview. If you have any further questions, simply write them in the comments section of the plastic waste interview below.

Dr. Bauske, could you briefly introduce yourself and your work? What does your day-to-day work look like?

Dr.Bauske: My name is Bernhard Bauske. I work for WWF Germany and, more precisely, I work in the marine conservation department, which of course also deals with many other marine issues such as fisheries, protected areas and coral reefs. I deal specifically with the topic of Plastic waste in the world's oceans and I am in close contact with the international WWFs, which are also working on this issue. Together, we are investigating the main causes of plastic waste and developing strategies to prevent plastic waste in the sea in the future. A large proportion of plastic waste comes from the land, due to inadequate waste disposal. We have therefore decided to focus our work on the prevention of plastic waste and the proper controlled collection of waste before it enters the oceans.

We are addressing the question "Why is waste disposal inadequate in many countries?" and have identified major differences between Germany and countries in South East Asia. The reasons for these differences are the legal framework, people's personal attitudes and the lack of funding for waste disposal in the respective countries. In Germany, we have partial funding from the industry, which means that waste is collected via the dual systems such as the "Yellow Bag" and then reused, sorted and recycled. This is paid for by the industry via license fees on packaging. However, this system does not yet exist in many countries. This aspect is an important part of our daily work, as we are calling on politicians to adapt the framework conditions in the direction of a global convention on plastic so that it is collected again and does not end up in the environment. We also want extended product responsibility for packaging to be transferred to the companies that place this plastic packaging on the market. To achieve this, we need to reach out to politicians, the public and, above all, companies. Another aspect is local WWF projects on the ground.

These projects deal with the questions of how plastic waste can be reduced and how consumer communications can be made more effective. My current tasks are to organize and coordinate these projects and to promote public relations work at a political level. Recently, for example, I was in Vietnam for a WWF Vietnam project in the Mekong Delta. The problem here is that a lot of waste is simply dumped in the countryside due to a lack of waste treatment capacity. The Mekong region is often flooded and takes the plastic waste into the sea via canals and tributaries of the Mekong. We want to improve waste separation and make it easier to process the organic fraction into compost, for example.

Where does all the plastic waste in oceans and rivers around the world come from?

Dr.Bauske:As conditions vary greatly from region to region and many different figures have to be used, it is very difficult to give a general answer to this question. In some cases, we have sources that can be traced back to the sea, for example lost fishing nets or other items used in fishing. Although a lot is thrown over the railing without permission that does not belong in the sea, most plastic waste actually enters the sea via the land.

Because the waste is not collected properly or ends up on seashores and rivers, it is gradually washed into the sea. Our focus is on the Southeast Asia region, because we believe this is the main source of plastic waste in the sea (Christoph: according to this study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation82% of the plastic waste lying on the seabed comes from Asian countries). The reason for this is that people are consuming more and more as a result of growing prosperity. What used to be sold here naturally and unpackaged in wooden or banana leaves is now sold packaged in plastic. The sales channels have also changed. Purchases are no longer made exclusively at local public markets, but also in supermarkets.

The amount of packaging waste is therefore increasing, but waste disposal cannot keep pace. We had a similar problem here in Germany until the 1980s, but we solved this problem to some extent in the 1990s with the Packaging Ordinance, which transferred some of the responsibility for collecting packaging material to industry. These regulations do not yet exist in South East Asia. It is a combination of a lack of funding and appropriate communication of the plastic problem. If people are to separate their waste properly, the right conditions must also be created. A great deal of persuasion is still needed in this area.

What about microplastics?

One point that I have not yet mentioned is microplastics. Microplastics are deliberately added to certain products such as cosmetics and then end up in the oceans via drains and sewage treatment plants. But microplastics are also released through abrasion from textile fibers or car tires. While the microplastics in cosmetics can already be prevented by banning the addition of plastic to cosmetics, the microplastics caused by abrasion from textiles or car tires can probably only be prevented by further developing wastewater treatment plants and improving product development. Many countries do not yet have wastewater treatment plants.

Which animals suffer most from plastic waste? And what were your worst and most formative experiences with plastic waste? in the environment? 

Dr.Bauske:I have seen the gannets in Heligoland. Gannets haul in plastic waste as nesting material, get tangled up in the plastic and hang themselves in it. However, plastic waste also affects larger marine animals in particular, such as sea turtles, seals, whales and dolphins. Whales and dolphins have to come to the surface to breathe. If this is not possible because they are entangled in fishing nets or other objects, they suffocate. Cords and lines can also cause the animals to strangle themselves on the garbage. Seabirds in particular mistake the plastic waste for food and ingest the plastic pieces. This gives them the feeling that they are full, even though they are not.

There is simply too much plastic in our stomachs. The prospect is that by 2050, almost every seabird will have plastic in its stomach, which is not the way it should be. When you see the pictures of coasts that are completely covered in plastic waste, it's frightening. Then there are the microplastics that we don't even see. Plastic is a material that does not biodegrade and exists for hundreds of years in the environment and especially in the oceans. Plastic simply does not belong in the environment. All plastic must be collected and treated, that's the point.

If plastic is such a big problem, why isn't plastic consumption being reduced by law?

Dr.Bauske:It's a question of weighing up the options. Plastic as a material is relatively easy and inexpensive to produce. Plastic can be used as packaging, make food more durable and guarantee longer transportation routes. The question is what the consequences will be. The consequence may be that plastic packaging continues to be used, or that goods are increasingly sourced regionally, so that packaging is not necessary due to the shorter transportation routes. The economy is set up in such a way that the corresponding structures exist at the moment.

As a consumer, I can only shop regionally and without packaging, but for many products it is not yet possible to do without plastic. As soon as food spoils more quickly because it is no longer packaged, we also have to fear environmental damage. After all, the production of food also consumes energy and resources. So it cannot be avoided everywhere, but the consequence for the consumer should be to shop regionally and without packaging.

What developments do you expect from society and politics in the coming months and years with regard to the issue of plastic waste in the environment?

Dr.Bauske:The topic of plastic waste is high on the agenda at the moment. I notice this both in the public debate and in my private life. When I say that I'm concerned about plastic waste, many people know exactly what I'm talking about. The hope now is that measures will be taken, especially by industry and politicians, to at least slow down the release of plastic into the environment. However, these measures could also be short-lived and quickly fade away, as is the case with climate protection, for example. In the case of plastic, it may fail because companies are not prepared to take action against the Plastic waste in the environment but do not want to incur any further costs for recycling the plastic packaging they put into circulation.

As WWF, however, we must continue to demand this until proper waste disposal is co-financed. In Vietnam, for example, a small waste fee is now charged per household. But it is unacceptable that households have to bear these costs and the industry that puts plastic waste into circulation does not contribute to the costs of disposal at all. If I produce packaging, I must also ensure that it is returned. This is a central demand of the WWF.

How can everyone support WWF and other environmental organizations in the fight for clean rivers and oceans? 

Dr.Bauske:Two ways are decisive. Firstly, of course, there is personal behavior. The need for packaging is also increasing in Germany, as convenience products such as Coffee2Go and fast food are increasingly being bought. This means that the need for packaging is higher than when everyone cooks their own meals at home. But e-commerce is also driving up the amount of plastic packaging. So everyone can help to achieve the goals of environmental organizations such as the WWF by adopting environmentally conscious behaviour.

On the respective websites, the organizations provide the appropriate rules of conduct (Rules of conduct WWF) The BUND, for example, has a List with cosmetics that contain microplastics. NABU organizes Plastic waste collection campaigns on the beaches. We at WWF currently have a Ghost Network Project on the Baltic Sea, where the aim is to recover lost fishing nets. We are constantly presenting other projects around the world, where we are of course also dependent on donations. At a local level, local associations are also calling on people to clean up the forest, for example. These are all positive contributions that everyone can personally support in order to rid the environment of plastic waste. 

Thank you very much for the pleasant interview, Dr. Bauske.

In particular, the interview highlights the causes of plastic waste in the environment worldwide. The reasons for the excessive plastic waste on land and sea are therefore not only due to the environmentally harmful behavior of each individual, but also in particular to the legal regulations and the possibilities for the disposal and proper recycling of plastic waste in the individual countries. In my opinion, this is the right approach for WWF to take. With our Plastic-free communitywe are tackling the plastic problem from the other side by learning to live plastic-free together. We are taking the right path.

Now it is important to sensitize everyone to the issue of plastic waste and to take them along on this journey. I look forward to your comments and will be happy to answer any questions you may have. Best regards, Christoph
PS: If you want to find out more about how you can easily make your everyday life plastic-free, then click here for the relevant article on the topic Plastic-free - living without plastic.

Coffee box Suggestions for improvement Newsletter

* Links with asterisks are so-called Affiliate linksIf you click on it and buy something, you automatically and actively support my work with, as I receive a small share of the proceeds - and of course nothing changes in the product price. Many thanks for your support and best regards, Christoph!

Christoph Schulz

Christoph Schulz

I'm Christoph, an environmental scientist and author - and here at CareElite I'm campaigning against plastic waste in the environment, climate change and all the other major environmental problems of our time. Together with other environmentally conscious bloggers, I want to give you tips & tricks for a naturally healthy, sustainable life as well as your personal development.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *