The mass production of plastics began just six decades ago and in that time we’ve already churned out 8.3 billion tonnes of it. In 2019, global plastic production reached 368 million metric tonnes per year. That figure went down marginally by 0.3% in 2020 due to Covid’s impacts on the industry.
Only 9% the world’s plastic is recycled and that includes recycled plastic bottles. So where does the 91% of plastic we throw in the recycling go?
Plastic takes more than 400 years to degrade, so most of it still exists in some form. Only 12% has been incinerated.
Sadly, much of the world’s plastic has made its way into the ocean via local waterways and other means. Ocean currents disperse it all over the map, making it very hard to retrieve. It breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces and as a result the sea is estimated to hold 51 trillion micro plastic particles.
These tiny particles have become part of the food chain. It’s been detected in our salt, our fish and our water and recent study estimates we eat a credit card worth of plastic every week. At this point we’ve all heard the prediction that by 2050, there’ll be more plastic than fish in the ocean if we don’t slow down.
So what’s the solution?
Environmental engineer at the University of Georgia Jenna Jambeck says that it will take a global approach of rethinking plastic chemistry, product design, recycling strategies and consumer use.
For the time being while these solutions are rolling out, avoiding plastic helps reduce demand for plastic and diminish the production of petroleum based virgin plastics.
The average Australian produces 130kg of plastic per year, with less than 12% of that being recycled. By making small shifts as often as possible, we can influence the people around us to do the same and reverse the trend of plastic consumption.
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