We live surrounded by plastic. Over time, this material has become an awkward travel companion. Omnipresent in all kinds of products, for a few years now, it has been a worrying presence in oceans, seas, and beaches around the planet. That is why numerous initiatives have been launched, by both public and private institutions and organizations of all kinds, to fight the scourge of plastic. One of them is the Natura Program by Banco Santander. 

Santander Natura Programme

Banco Santander is one of the financial institutions with the highest volume of responsible investment.It allocates funds to various social, friendly governance, and environmental projects, such as the Natura programme, this way reinforcing its commitment to society and the environment.

In the last year, more than 450 volunteers, including employees, pre-retirees, and retirees, along with their families and clients of the bank, have collected more than a ton of waste, garbage, and plastic from different beaches on the Galician coast and the Ribera del Guadiana, relying on their main image of a luxury ambassador, swimmer Mireia Belmonte. Natura’s next goal is to reach many other areas of the country.

In addition, Banco Santander will promote other activities for children such as making nests with recycled material and placing them in trees, or bird workshops so that they learn about nature and the importance of caring for it.

Are we responsible for the planet?

It is estimated that every year seas and oceans receive up to 8 million tons of garbage. A figure that, according to Greenpeace, is equivalent to 800 times the weight of the Eiffel Tower and which could cover the island of Manhattan 34 times.

Of all that rubbish, the exact amount of plastic is unknown. However, it’s estimated at 5-50 billion fragments, not including pieces on the seabed or on the beaches.

Islands of garbage

There are 5 garbage islands around the world made up mostly of microplastic. Two are in the Pacific, two in the Atlantic, and one in the Indian Ocean.

The largest is known as the Pacific Great Spot and is located between Hawaii and California. Experts often refer to it as an area larger than Texas.

They say that what we see is just “the tip of the iceberg”, as only 15% floats on the surface, while 70% sinks to the seafloor, and 15% remains in the water column.

What is the impact on marine wildlife?

The degradation of plastic in the marine environment is much slower than that on land. Although the time for a plastic to disappear depends on the type and environmental conditions to which is exposed, studies reveal that a bottle made from the material takes an average of 500 years to decompose, while a glass takes 65 to 75 years.

Entanglement, suffocation, strangulation and malnutrition are some of the effects that plastics have on marine wildlife. In addition, microplastics incorporate chemical contaminants that can end up on our plates via the food chain.

It’s an increasingly dire situation, as plastics production is estimated to be close to 500 million tonnes by 2020, an increase of 900% since 1980

Impact on the economy

The accumulation of plastic waste not only damages marine fauna, it also has an impact on the economy. So-called “ghost fishing” is an example of this, as the result of the abandonment of nets and traps meant to catch numerous fish which end up dying, greatly reducing fish stocks.

The cleanliness of coasts and beaches also makes up a significant cost for governments. In Europe alone, governments spend around 630 million euros on this work.

The tourism sector is also suffering from the consequences. Waste’s presence on coasts gives off a negative image, and as a consequence, the number of visitors goes down, as does income and jobs.

Is recycling enough?

Reducing the consumption of plastics is everyone’s responsibility, i.e. those who manufacture the product, those who consume it, and the governments responsible for managing the waste they generate.

Less than a fifth of plastic is recycled around the world. A worrying figure, although in 2018 the largest increase occurred in the 22 years of history of recycling household packaging in Spain.

Over the past year, the habit of Spanish people to separate their packaging grew 12.3%, according to data from Ecoembes, the company in charge of recycling in Spain. That is, in 2018, every Spaniard separated and deposited 15.7 kg of plastic containers, cans and cardboard in the yellow containers.

Technology and the environment

Technological development has made it possible to create new, more effective cleaning methods.

One example is OC-Tech, which has a low draft catamaran (something which allows it to move closer along the coast) to collect waste in places that are difficult to access.

Another initiative is The Ocean Cleanup, U-shaped flotation cylinder that captures solid remains in the Pacific area, where the huge plastic island is located. Boats passing through the area where it operates will be able to collect the waste more easily.

The big news, increased awareness and concern

Confronted with figures that keep growing, the good news is that environmental awareness is increasing. A barometer developed in 2017 by the Centre for Sociological Research (CIS) noted that 76% of Spanish people show interest in environmental news. In fact, in 2018 Spanish people were the second most concerned population in regards to the environment and climate change at 51%, only surpassed by the Japanese, with 52%.

According to a survey conducted by consultancy group IPSOS, concerns about global warming and climate change in 2018 were 37%, with 35% regarding pollution and 34% regarding waste management. In 2017, these numbers were around 30%. As for pollution by plastics and other non-recyclable products, Spain’s concern reaches 82%, above the international average of 81%.

That’s why more than half of Spanish people are calling on the Government to take specific measures to prevent a future catastrophe, and even to sanction those who don’t recycle.

Banco Santander: Efficiency Plan 2016-2018

In 2016, Banco Santander launched its efficiency plan by which 250 initiatives with an investment of 69.8 million euros have been developed, focusing mainly on energy saving, raw materials, waste and emissions reduction, and raising awareness amongst their employees.

In terms of electricity consumption, their goal was to reduce it by 9% in two years in the G10 countries and they have done it. Another important aspect was also achieved: a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, by a further 9%, a target that was set in 2016. Banco Santander also set out in that year to reduce paper consumption by 4%, and has done so by 26%.

The entity presided over by Ana Botín is already working on the new 2019-2021 efficiency plan, with objectives like increased use of green energy and more environmental management systems.

Ecomar Foundation and Banco Santander

‘Sea in Blue’ is an initiative of the Fundación Ecomar and Banco Santander, which was launched to carry out cleanup work on the coasts of Pontevedra with the help of volunteers of the financial institution. Something that has over time, since been repeated in other areas of Spain.

The first outing took place on the island of Cortegada, in Vilagarcía de Arousa, where 27 volunteers collected 117 kilos of garbage. Another day on the beach of Ladeira, in Bayonne, more than 50 volunteers collected 148 kilos. Other areas have also been cleaned, such as Doniños (Ferrol), where 175 kilos of waste were removed, or the beaches near the mouth of the Guadalhorce River (Malaga), where more than 120 kilos were collected, which were then sorted for recycling.