Skip to main content

5 steps that could end the plastic pollution crisis – and save our ocean

save our ocean

A volunteer walks as he picks up plastics, during a garbage collection, ahead of World Environment Day on La Costilla Beach, on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in Rota, Spain June 2, 2018. REUTERS/Jon Nazca     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC1E38679580
Can you imagine what 93 basketballs weigh? Or what the equivalent amount of plastic looks like?
That was the average amount produced per person in 2016, according to a report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
It’s packed full of eye-watering statistics and predictions – including that if business continues as usual, by 2030 the amount of plastic pollution on the planet will double, with oceans the most visibly affected. So what can we learn and how can we turn that into an opportunity?
Taming the beast
While we all know plastic pollution is ballooning, most of us are less well versed on what can be done to tame it. That’s where the WWF’s new report, Solving Plastic Pollution Through Accountability, is helpful, offering five key areas where real efforts could reap results.
The report chimes with the World Economic Forum’s work on the New Plastics Economy, which advocates shifting from a take-make-dispose model to a circular economy in which nothing that’s made becomes waste.
“Plastic has become ubiquitous in nature creating a serious challenge for the
natural world, society and the global economy,” the WWF said. “Without systemic change to the plastic life cycle, the current plastic pollution crisis risks spiralling out of control.”
Here are the suggestions it makes for real progress:

1. Production

Cutting or limiting production is the first step. Underscoring how out of control the issue is, the report says the production of virgin plastic has increased 200-fold since 1950, and has grown at a rate of 4% a year since 2000.
Exponential growth in production.
Exponential growth in production.
Image: WWF Solving Plastic Pollution Through Accountability

2. Usage

As plastic risks becoming a dirty word, it’s worth remembering its benefits are unmatched by other materials. It is light, easily shaped and inexpensive as well as guarding what’s inside it against contamination. Far from all plastics being the enemy, it’s single-use ones, like plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, bottles and most food packaging, that pose the greatest challenge.
Currently, 40% of plastic is single-use and has a lifespan of one year, and it’s cutting back in this area that the report says will really make a difference, recommending a wholesale change in design so the majority can be reused or recycled.

3. Waste collection

Low collection rates and poor sorting is the problem here, and one that varies greatly from country to country. Industry and policy together could make a difference here. The report says mismanaged plastic waste is a “critical concern” because it is more likely to become pollution than waste managed through a controlled waste treatment facility.
“Failure to properly sort or dispose of plastic leads to waste being discarded directly into landfills or dumped into nature,” the report said. “The world’s inability to manage plastic waste results in one-third of plastic, 100 million metric tons of plastic waste, becoming land or marine pollution.”

4. Treatment

Not enough plastic is recycled, the report says, with most treated by landfilling, incineration or dumping. In 2016, less than 20% of plastic waste was recycled, it said, because the process is unprofitable and expensive compared to other treatments. Incineration capacity in Asia is predicted to grow by more than 7% a year until 2023.
“Recycling operating costs are prohibitively high due to high collection and separation costs, and a limited supply of recyclable plastic,” it said. “Collecting and sorting is a time consuming and labour-intensive process due to the high levels of mixed and contaminated plastic waste.”
All this means carbon dioxide emissions from plastic waste management could triple by 2030, while burning plastics creates other pollutants.
  More plastic is entering the food chain.
More plastic is entering the food chain.
Image: WWF Solving Plastic Pollution Through Accountability

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

7 eating habits that we know are good for us:

1. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits – Some countries are very specific about the number of servings of fruits and vegetables that we should consume daily, for example Greece says six, Costa Rica and Iceland say five. Canada even specifies the colors of vegetables to consume (one dark green and one orange vegetable a day). Serving sizes can vary by country; however, all guidelines recommend eating plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits on a daily basis.

2. Watch your intake of fats– Said in different ways, most guidelines make mention of reducing solid, saturated fats and give recommendations for replacing animal fats with vegetable oils. In Greece, olive oil is recommended, in Viet Nam it is sesame or peanut oil – demonstrating the importance of availability and cultural preference in each country’s guidelines.3. Cut back on foods and beverages high in sugar – It is generally agreed upon that processed sugar is harmful to our health. The guidelines in every country recommend to maint…

Humans are a massive minority on Earth. Why don't we act like it?

Humans are a massive minority on Earth. Why don't we act like it?

Most of us, including scientists, are blind to the full scope of the living world. This was illustrated by an informal survey which asked biologists and ecologists from elite universities two questions. In terms of mass, is the living world mostly composed of animals, plants or bacteria? And is there more global biomass on land or in the oceans? The majority of them answered both questions incorrectly.In an age of unparalleled access to information, this is a glaring gap in our knowledge. We are now equipped to close it. I joined colleagues from the Weizmann Institute in Israel and the California Institute of Technology to estimate the biomass of all kingdoms of life on Earth. The results were published in the journal of the American National Academy of Sciences, and were widely (and more digestibly) covered by the popular press.It required years of work, collecting and integrating information from hundreds of previ…

Chart of the day: These countries create most of the world’s CO2 emissions

With CO2 levels on the rise, being able to track global emissions is crucial. Image: REUTERS/Regis Duvignau Just two countries, China and the US, are responsible for more than 40% of the world’s CO2 emissions. With CO2 levels still on the rise, being able to track the global emissions hotspots is becoming more important than ever. Before the industrial revolution, levels of atmospheric CO2 were around 280 parts per million (ppm). By 2013, that level had breached the 400ppm mark for the first time. On 3 June 2019 it stood at 414.40ppm. Fifteen countries are responsible for more than two thirds of global CO2 emissions. Image: Visual Capitalist There are huge disparities between the world’s top 15 CO2 emissions-generating countries. China creates almost double the emissions of second-placed US, which is in turn responsible for more than twice the level of third-placed India.