The Sheer Scale of Plastic Waste, and the Future…

Plastic waste began to generate serious news coverage in the wake of the Blue Planet II documentary series in 2017, but not everyone is yet aware of the sheer scale of the problem.

‘Breaking the Plastic Wave’ is a new 2020 report from the PEW Trusts (a collaboration between Oxford University, Leeds University, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Common Seas), which explains that: “plastic production, first developed in the 19th century, soared during the 20th century, from 2 million metric tons in 19501 to 348 million metric tons in 2017,2 becoming a global industry valued at US$522.6 billion,3 and it is expected to double in capacity yet again by 2040.”

And this is particularly bad news for our oceans, already grossly polluted by plastic waste and microplastics: “Without action, the annual flow of plastic into the ocean will nearly triple by 2040, to 29 million metric tons per year (range: 23 million-37 million metric tons per year), equivalent to 50 kg of plastic for every metre of coastline worldwide.”

You can read the full report ‘Breaking the Plastic Wave’, as well as an executive summary.

The Story of Plastic, from The Story of Stuff team, uncovers the the economic reality of the plastics cycle and Big Oil’s role in it, along with the human and environmental costs of this vast, global industry.

So how do we fix this? ‘Breaking the Plastic Wave’ advocates a System Change Scenario, which would reduce plastic pollution by 80% by 2040 – based on existing technologies – but this requires coordinated and motivated input from government and industry globally. Let’s hope they get there.