Friday, March 11, 2016

More plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050

According to a new report "The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics," by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, there are over 150 million tonnes of plastics in the ocean today. At least 8 million tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean every year. This is equivalent to one garbage truck being dumped in the ocean every minute. Today, only 14% of  the plastic packaging are collected for recycling. As this is not bad enough, almost a third of all plastic packaging does not get collected, ending up in nature or clogging up infrastructure. In countries where the infrastructure is deficient, you could only imagine the added costs of plastic, money that could be spent in improving the local conditions. The report found out that after a short first-use cycle, 95% of the economic value of plastic packaging is lost to the economy, which was estimated as something between US$80 and US$120 billion annually. That is an awful lot of money!
To get to these figures, over 180 experts were interviewed and 200 reports were analyzed, which led to a main conclusion:
Image via Ian Burt/Flickr

 "In a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain 1 tonne of plastic for every 3 tonnes of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish (by weight)."

In just 34 years, plastic trash in the ocean will outweigh all the fish in the sea! Of course that can happen earlier if we keep giving it a little hand by removing more fish than we should, but let’s not digress here. By 2050, the “plastic economy” will be using 15% of the world’s global carbon budget, compared to 1% today. The so-called carbon budget is the total amount of carbon dioxide  (COs) the world could pump into the atmosphere while still having a chance of stopping short of 2 degrees of global warming. Not so hard to imagine that if plastic alone will be using 15% of it, we will be using much more than our budget. It is like treating the Earth as a limitless credit card, which does not exist in real life. The bill will come at some point and with very high interests..

However, the report leaves some room to hope. By redesigning materials and developing new technologies, it is argued that it is possible to eradicate plastic waste, creating a circular economy for plastics. They propose three key platforms:
1) creating an effective after-use plastics economy by improving global recycling efforts;
2) reducing the leakage of plastic waste into the environment;
3) decoupling plastic from the fossil fuels used to create it.

Such suggestions may sound a little farfetched, and the report agrees that the New Plastics Economy is not entirely attainable yet. Such systematic change will require major collaboration from consumers, plastics manufacturers and businesses involved in the collection and recycling and, of course, it will require the support of  policymakers.
But we can start now, we don't need nearly as much plastic as we use. Think again and take part in this change for our oceans!

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