In the past 50 years, plastic has exploded in its use in nearly every industry, especially food. Plastic is durable, flexible and most importantly, cheap. Manufacturers know this and just in 2013, 299 million tons of plastic was produced. The production of this material is set to double within the next two decades and quadruple in the next 50. Unfortunately, only 14% of this plastic packaging is actually collected for recycling.
So where does it all go? About a third of all plastic packaging ends up clogging infrastructure or in nature. More than 9 million of tons of plastics end up in our beautiful oceans and stay there for hundreds of years before any decomposition. We’re essentially disposing off an equivalent of one garbage truck into the ocean. Per minute. To give you a fuller perspective, check out this infographic:
Click here for full size.
According to a just released report by Ellen Macarthur Foundation, the ocean already has a 1:5 plastic to fish ratio. That ratio will get horrifically worse for our oceans, as we are on track to have more plastic than fish (by weight), in just 34 years. This report has been compiled from nearly 200 interviews with experts and analysis of over 200 reports.
The report also estimates that by the year 2050, the production of plastics will triple. This will also result in the plastic economy accounting for 15% of the world’s carbon budget (currently at 1% now). A carbon budget is an estimate by scientists of how much CO2 the world can pump into its atmosphere, while remaining 2 degrees away from global warming.
According to the EPA, United States alone generated 254 millions of trash (12.8% plastic) in 2013 alone. Only 34% of which was recycled or composted. That means 66% of that waste ended up in our environment and oceans. Landfills are taking up precious space, leaking into our environment and ultimately destroying our planet. It can take some plastics 1000 years to biodegrade. This also ends up killing a lot of sea life such as turtles, dolphins and fish, who often get entangled in these plastics.
Here are some other facts:
- If we recycled all the plastic that we currently don’t, we could save over a billion gallons of oil and 44 cubic yards of landfill space annually. If we recycled just 1 out of 10 HDPE bottles that we currently throw out, we still would save about 200 million pounds of plastic going to landfills every year.
- We make enough plastic film yearly to shrink wrap Texas.
- Recycling plastic takes 88% less energy than making plastic from raw materials.
- A plastic water bottle contains 4 cents worth of water. About 50 billion plastic bottles are used yearly.
Where’s the public outcry?
While this report came out recently, the information has been there for over a decade. Why is no one outraged or scared? Because plastic waste is not a “hot” topic to cover. It’s not sexy enough for the media. It won’t be until we are just moments away from irreversible disaster. And we are already cutting it close. So ultimately, it’s up to you to step up and share this information.
What can we do?
The report suggests that the only way to avoid these catastrophic results would be to improve the economics surrounding plastic and the way we recycle. Waste collection, incentives to recycle and prevention of plastic into our nature are keys to stopping what’s to come in the year 2050.
Here’s what you can do right now to have an impact:
- Share this information. You’ll never know where this will end up and who will read it. Sometimes the right people simply aren’t aware of a situation.
- Recycle. If you aren’t already, do it now. 13% of all our waste in America is plastic. Another 41% is other recyclable materials. Instead, they’re being buried under ground.
- Stop using plastic bottles. Not only they are detrimental to your health by leaking chemicals like BPA into your water, it is also extremely damaging to our environment. Americans throw away over 35 million plastic bottles every year. Replace them with a reusable container.
- Buy fresh and local food. Food sometimes travels thousands of miles to reach your store. This impacts the environment, your food quality, and also affects the plastic industry. Such foods have to be packed with a ton of plastic to prevent them from going bad.
- Avoid processed foods & cook more. This goes with #4, by buying local perishable food, you’ll be forced to cook more. Don’t think you have time? Take one day out of the week to prepare something for the week ahead. Store it in the fridge and make a side dish the day of. This will actually save you time. Avoid buying as much processed foods (anything that comes in a box or wrapping) as you can. Preparing fresh meals will save your health and our oceans.
- Grow your own food. An incredible way to take charge of your own food supply, save money and prevent waste. Better yet, start a community garden.
- Avoid buying products with unrecyclable packaging. Sadly even some organic products do this to save money and use packaging that cannot be recycled. Vote with your money and avoid this kind of packaging. Or simply reach out to the company and ask them to change.
- Use re-usable shopping bags only. Some states have already banned stores from giving away plastic bags. Do the right thing and bring your own re-usable bags. Plastic bags are rarely recycled and the average American family takes home 1500 plastic bags a year! The US goes through 100 billion plastic bags annually.
- Teach your kids and lead by example. The new generation is our best hope for a greener planet. Teach them great habits and they’ll surely have a positive impact on our environment. But don’t tell them, show them.