By 2040, 1.3 billion tonnes of plastic will have been poured across our environment both on land and sea, enough plastic to cover the UK one and a half times over.
A troubling trend: global waste generation has grown steadily over the past five decades and is strongly correlated with income and the increasing rate of plastic production to meet global demand has had dire consequences for the environment.
Plastic waste is entering the ocean at a rate of 11 million metric tonnes a year, that will nearly triple by 2040 to 29 million metric tons per year.
Current commitments will only reduce the flow of plastic to the ocean by 7%!
But we can reduce the amount of plastic entering the ocean by 2040 by 80% with a few simple steps -
- substituting plastic with alternatives.
- designing products and packaging for recycling.
- expanding waste collection rates and supporting the "informal collection" sector.
- reduce plastic waste exports.
- reducing the growth in plastic production and consumption.
- and as a transitional measure, build facilities to dispose of the non-recyclable plastic (23% of all plastic).
Around 2 billion people have no access to proper waste management (mainly in the global south), they often choose to burn and/or dump it. The Citarum river (Indonesia), Ganges river (india) and yellow river (china) show the result of unchecked plastic pollution in rivers.
The plastic entering the ocean through these rivers continues to break down but does not decomposing creating a horrifying accumulation of microplastics along the ocean floor which is steadily becoming more prevalent in our food supply.
In these areas waste pickers are the unsung heroes, roughly 11 million waste pickers collect about 60% of plastic waste for recycling.
Once plastic has been made its very difficult to get rid of, the only way to permanently eliminate plastic waste is by pyrolysis/combustion and while plastic has kept many frontline workers safe through the pandemic PPE is creating another wave of plastic pollution.
The fate of our plastic planet is still undetermined, will it be too much or can a joint effort turn things around? only time will tell.