Plastic Waste is a Huge Problem, and it could grow worse by 2040
Plastics appear everywhere, but by 2040, the challenges from plastics would be huge.
Credit, The Conversation
The amount of plastic trash in the world’s oceans could triple by 2040 to 29 million metric tons every year, making the total accumulation of plastic to hit 600 million metric tons, rising from the estimated figure of 150 metric tons, according to a report recently in National Geographic.
Last year, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report on plastic pollution in oceans and other bodies of water, saying it continues to grow and could more than double by 2030, adding 23-37 million metric tons of plastic into the ocean per year, an equivalent of about 50 kg of plastic per meter of coastline.
Meanwhile, the world now produces twice as much plastic as two decades ago, with plastic waste generated annually per person varying from 221 kg in the United States and 114 kg in European counties to 69kg, on average, for Japan and Korea, according to an OCED report.
The OECD report not only confirms the increase in plastic waste production over the past two decades, it also sheds light on the report released by UNEP in relation to plastics, as well as the report released in the past few years by the National Geographic.
Previously, scientists thought ten to 20 rivers distributed 80 percent of plastic wastes into the oceans, but in actual fact, more than 1,000 rivers carry out the function, lots of them small rivers flowing through densely populated urban areas, with 44 rivers out of the first 50 situated in Asia.
Unfortunately, their pace of work could increase in the near future, because global plastic production looks likely to rise 40 percent by 2030, with hundreds of billions of dollars investments made in new plastic production plants.
While huge investments get made in new plastic production plants going forwards, incineration and the open burning of plastics show a rise every year, and if nothing happens to bring the trend to a halt, plastic production could a rise to 29 million metric tons in 2040, especially when by 2040 four billion people in mostly rural and middle-income countries may lack the access to waste collection systems, an increase from two million people today.
Added to the lack of access to waste collection systems in rural and middle-income countries, the global share of the urban population could experience projected increases to 68 percent by 2050, with one third of the global population estimated to live in cities with at least 500,000 inhabitants, while urban areas could show a growth from 26 percent in 2000 to 38 percent in 2030.
Since a third of the global population could live in cities by 2030, it gives credence to why scientists expect a doubling in trash in oceans by 2030 and a tripling in 2040, with incineration and open burning of plastics expected to show a rise at a time of another increase in plastic production, the plastics happily brought to the oceans by small rivers passing through urbanized areas.
Already, the large amount of plastics in the ocean led to the existence of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP), estimated to weigh approximately 80,000 tons, an equivalent of 500 jumbo jets, as well as the South Pacific Garbage Patch, estimated to cover around 2.6 million square kilometers, and the Indian Ocean Garbage Patch, estimated to extend between 2.1 to 5.0 million square kilometers.
Plastics poison the marine food webs, with more than 386 marine species believed to have ingested the product, including 210 species of fish humans consume, and the figure having doubled in the last ten years, at the rate of 2.4 percent rise every year.
Through its production process and other sources, plastics in 2015 contributed 1.7 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent but experts estimate the figure to rise by 2050 to 6.5 gigatons, a figure equal to 15 percent of the amount of greenhouse gas to be emitted in keeping with the Paris Agreement goals.
Projected increases of plastic production in the near future could worsen the situation with climate change, as the amount of greenhouse gas expected to be emitted could increase the rate of warming in the seas, while more of the marine creatures could suffer extinction through the ingestion of more and more plastic materials, while the garbage patches at the Pacific and other places could expand through the rising number of plastics swept into the ocean from events connected to the urbanization and population rise.
Even a five-year delay in tackling the flow of plastics into the oceans could cause an additional 80 million metric tons of trash to flow into the oceans, so a remaking of the global plastic industry should take place. Clearing up rivers could go a long way in tackling the flow of plastics into the oceans, while a slash in the usage of plastics could suffice through an increase in the use of other solutions such as discarding filmy shopping bags for paper bags.
Plastic free products used to be sub par quality products sold in odd shops, used only by hippies, but now there are companies like http://www.anihanalife.com making products that are superior to their plastic alternatives and selling in mainstream shops like Target, and in the case of NZ, also supermarkets.
It's been interesting to see how supermarkets in nz have reacted to this. Initially it seemed like a bit of an experiment, but when it turned out that people liked the product, supermarkets started allocating more space to plastic free products and having a bigger range of brands.
This goes to show how important it is to vote with your dollar in the supermarket and other shops. As consumers, we also have the power to enact change.
The packaging industry needs to change and single use plastic bamned. It does feel hopeless sometimes as individuals though.