Over 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been made since its mass production began in the 1950s. Only 9% of this plastic has been recycled, the other 91% sits in landfill, floats in our oceans or has been burned. An estimated 8 million tonnes of waste plastic enters the ocean every year. Many animals mistakenly ingest plastic believing it to be a food source. This can cause injury, suffocation, starvation and often death. Plastic contaminates our air, land, sea and can enter the human body through the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe.
Demand for plastic grew from its low cost and durability: plastic is almost indestructible and a serious threat to the natural environment. The vast majority of plastics are made from finite fossil fuels extracted from the earth. Plastics do not break down. Instead, they ‘break up’ into smaller and smaller pieces, creating microplastics and nanoplastics. Both the creation and degradation of plastics releases harmful greenhouse gases, contributing to our planet’s changing climate.
We need to reassess our relationship with plastic. Plastic production from new, finite resources like oil and gas must decrease if we are to protect our oceans and wildlife. If plastic is to be used, it must fit within the circular economy model. The circular economy (opposed to the current ‘take-make-dispose’ linear model) is modelled on nature where there is no such thing as waste and is renewable and regenerative by design. Technical nutrients (like plastics and metals) are recovered to create new materials while biological nutrients (like food waste) are processed to regenerate agricultural and natural systems. The circular economy model embraces renewable energy and represents an exciting blueprint for the future where waste and pollution become a thing of the past.