A new report presented to the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos, Switzerland, this week puts into sharp focus the threat plastics represent to the world’s oceans.
Currently the world is dominated by this ubiquitous material, from the packaging on the food we eat to the technology we use every day, there is no getting away from it.
If current trends continue, a new report has revealed that by 2050, plastic rubbish in the ocean will outweigh fish.
According to the new report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, launched at the WEF meeting in Davos, an astonishing 95 per cent of plastic packaging is lost to the economy every year after single use, costing an estimated US$80 to US$120 billion.
While a mere five per cent is recycled effectively, around 40 per cent is buried in landfill, and a third of all plastic produced each year finds its way into the world’s oceans.
Since 1964, plastic production has increased by a factor of 20, and currently production stands at around 311 million tonnes a year.
This figure is expected to double again within the next 20 years, and quadruple by 2050, as developing nations consume more plastic.
The rubbish that currently finds its way into the oceans already has harmful impacts on the wildlife.
However, it is not just about the amount of plastic that ends up in the oceans, it is also about the fossil fuels that are needed to create it.
Currently, the production of plastics uses around six per cent of the global production of oil, by 2050 this could rise to 20 per cent.
The report calls for a complete rethink of the manufacture of plastics, and then how to deal with the mountains of waste it produces.
“This report demonstrates the importance of triggering a revolution in the plastics industrial ecosystem and is a first step to showing how to transform the way plastics move through our economy,” explained Dominic Waughray of the WEF, which jointly released the report along with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
“To move from insight to large-scale action, it is clear that no one actor can work on this alone.
The fact that the price of oil is now so low means that recycling old plastics is now vastly more expensive than producing new ones, and with the economies in the developing world growing bigger, so is the market for plastic.
Part of the solution is to rethink how plastics are used, reducing the use in packaging for example, and reuse as much as possible.