Plastic is one of the most ubiquitous materials in modern society. It’s lightweight, versatile, and durable, making it an ideal material for a wide range of applications. However, the convenience of plastic has come at a cost. We are now drowning in plastic, and the consequences are severe. In this essay, we will explore why we are drowning in plastic and what we can do to address this issue.
Firstly, plastic production has increased dramatically in recent decades. In the 1950s, global plastic production was around 1.5 million tonnes per year. By 2019, this figure had risen to over 368 million tonnes. This growth in production has been driven by a range of factors, including population growth, urbanization, and the rise of consumer culture. As more people move to cities and middle-class lifestyles, the demand for plastic products has grown exponentially.
Secondly, plastic is extremely durable and takes hundreds of years to degrade. This means that the plastic waste we produce remains in the environment for a very long time. In fact, it’s estimated that over 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced since the 1950s, and around 60% of this has ended up in landfills or the natural environment. Plastic waste is now found in every corner of the world, from the depths of the ocean to the top of the highest mountain.
Thirdly, there is a lack of effective waste management systems in many parts of the world. According to a report by the World Bank, around 2 billion people lack access to formal waste collection services, and much of the plastic waste generated in these areas is either burned or dumped in open landfills. In many developing countries, plastic waste is a major environmental and health hazard, contributing to air and water pollution and causing harm to both humans and wildlife.
Fourthly, the rise of single-use plastics has exacerbated the plastic pollution problem. Single-use plastics, such as straws, coffee cups, and water bottles, are designed to be used once and then thrown away. These products make up a significant proportion of the plastic waste generated worldwide. In fact, it’s estimated that around 50% of the plastic waste produced globally is from single-use plastics.
Fifthly, the plastic recycling system is flawed. While recycling is often touted as a solution to the plastic pollution problem, the reality is that much of the plastic that is collected for recycling is not actually recycled. According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, only 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling globally, and just 9% is actually recycled. The rest either ends up in landfills or the natural environment or is incinerated.
Finally, the oil and gas industry, which provides the raw materials for plastic production, has a vested interest in the continued growth of the plastic industry. As a result, they have been actively promoting plastic use and blocking efforts to reduce plastic consumption. This includes lobbying governments to block or weaken legislation that would reduce plastic use, and funding misleading advertising campaigns that promote the supposed benefits of plastic products.
So, what can we do to address the plastic pollution problem? Firstly, we need to reduce our consumption of single-use plastics. This means bringing our own reusable bags, cups, and containers, and avoiding products that come in excessive plastic packaging. We can also support businesses that are committed to reducing their plastic footprint.
Secondly, we need to improve waste management systems, particularly in developing countries. This means investing in infrastructure to collect and process plastic waste, and providing education and support to help communities reduce their plastic use.
Thirdly, we need to invest in more sustainable alternatives to plastic. This includes developing new materials that are biodegradable or compostable and supporting businesses that are using more sustainable materials.