In a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain 1 ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish (in terms of weight), according to a report by the World Economic Forum.
Nowadays, plastics are found in every aspect of our life, but unfortunately almost 1/3 of all plastic produced ends up into the environment – mainly the oceans -, according to the report of WEF titled 'The New Plastics Economy – Rethinking the future of plastics'. The report was made in cooperation with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey & Company.
Plastics in figures
Plastic production is constantly growing, and we are now producing 20 times more plastic than we did 50 years ago (mostly packaging). It is estimated that production will be doubled in the next 20 years and eventually, by 2050 we will be making more than 3 times as many plastic materials as we did in 2014.
Note: Production from virgin petroleum-based feedstock only (does not include bio-based, greenhouse gas-based or recycled feedstock)
Source: PlasticsEurope, Plastics – the Facts 2013 (2013); PlasticsEurope, Plastics – the Facts 2015 (2015).
Environmental consciousness aside, the numbers speak for themselves: 95% of plastic packaging is thrown after only one use, meaning that significant economic value ($80-120 billion) is lost in a blink! Although 14% of plastic is recycled, the rest ends up in landfills and in the environment (40% and 32% respectively), with a small percentage of 14% being processed through incineration. This amounts to 8 million tons of plastic (1 full truck per minute) ending up in our oceans each year. At this rate this will grow to 2 trucks per minute by 2030, and 4 trucks per minute by 2050!
The ratio of plastics to fish in 2014 was 1:5, but it is estimated to become 1:3 by 2025 and by 2050, there could be more plastic than fish.
In 2014, the plastic production accounts for 6% of global oil production and 1% of the global carbon budget, but it is estimated that it will account for 20% and 15% respectively by 2050.
Source: Plastics Europe; ICIS Supply and Demand; IEA World Energy Outlook (2015) global GDP projection 2013–2040, assumed to continue to 2050; Ocean Conservancy and McKinsey Center for Business and Environment, Stemming the Tide: Land-based strategies for a plastic-free ocean (2015); J. R. Jambeck et al., ‘Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean’, Science (13 February 2015); IEA World Energy Outlook 2015 central ‘New Policies’ scenario oil demand projection 2014-2040, assumed to continue to 2050; J. Hopewell et al., ‘Plastics recycling: Challenges and opportunities’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 2009; IEA CO2 emissions from fuel combustion (2014); IEA World Energy Outlook Special Report: Energy and Climate Change (2015); Carbon Tracker Initiative, Unburnable Carbon (2013)
What is needed is that everyone starts acting in the direction of minimizing plastics use. Limit single-use packaging to a minimum, use reusable packaging, recycle more, drastically reduce leakage into natural systems, create an effective after-use plastics economy and decouple plastics from fossil feedstocks are some initiatives that public and private sector should take straight away.