24 January 2022
Our planet is drowning in plastic
Our planet is drowning in plastic pollution it’s time for change!
While plastic has many valuable uses, we have become addicted to single-use or disposable plastic — with severe environmental consequences.
Around the world, one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute, while 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year. In total, half of all plastic produced is designed to be used only once — and then thrown away. Plastic waste is now so ubiquitous in the natural environment that scientists have even suggested it could serve as a geological indicator of the Anthropocene era.
Plastics including microplastics are now ubiquitous in our natural environment. They are becoming part of the Earth’s fossil record and a marker of the Anthropocene, our current geological era. They have even given their name to a new marine microbial habitat called the “plastisphere”.
So how did we get here?
From the 1950s to the 1970s, only a small amount of plastic was produced, and as a result, plastic waste was relatively manageable.
However between the 1970s and the 1990s, plastic waste generation more than tripled, reflecting a similar rise in plastic production.
In the early 2000s, the amount of plastic waste we generated rose more in a single decade than it had in the previous 40 years.
Today, we produce about 400 million tonnes of plastic waste every year.
We are seeing other worrying trends. Since the 1970s, the rate of plastic production has grown faster than that of any other material. If historic growth trends continue, global production of primary plastic is forecasted to reach 1,100 million tonnes by 2050. We have also seen a worrying shift towards single-use plastic products, items that are meant to be thrown away after a single short use.
Approximately 36 per cent of all plastics produced are used in packaging, including single-use plastic products for food and beverage containers, approximately 85 per cent of which ends up in landfills or as unregulated waste.
Additionally, some 98 per cent of single-use plastic products are produced from fossil fuel, or “virgin” feedstock. The level of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production, use and disposal of conventional fossil fuel-based plastics is forecast to grow to 19 per cent of the global carbon budget by 2040.
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