It is estimated that 1.3 billion tonnes of plastic is destined to end up in our seas and our landfill by 2040 unless we take action now. A global model suggests that this is the scale of the increasing plastic problem over the next 20 years. Dr Costas Velis from the University of Leeds said the number was “staggering” but that we had “the technology and the opportunity to stem the tide”, in a report published in the Journal of Science. “It’s difficult to picture an amount that large, but if you could imagine laying out all that plastic across a flat surface, it would cover the area of the UK 1.5 times.
“It’s complex [to calculate] because plastic is everywhere and, in every part of the world, it’s different in terms of how it’s used and dealt with.”
The researchers tracked the production and then disposal of plastic around the world, and then created a model based on the current increasing plastic trend, and no changes in current recycling patterns, which produced the 1.3 billion estimate. Winnie Lau from the US-based Pew Charitable Trusts, which funded the research, told BBC News that it was vital to put in place every possible solution. “If we do that,” she said, “we can reduce the amount of plastic that goes into the ocean – by 2040 – by 80%.” The researchers called for reducing growth in plastic consumption and production, substituting plastic for paper and other compostable materials, designing products and packaging that can be recycled, expanding waste collection rates in middle/low income countries, building facilities to dispose of the 23% of plastic that cannot be recycled, and reducing plastic waste exports. However even if all of these measures were adopted, there would still be 710 million extra tonnes of plastic waste in the environment in the next two decades.
Prof Jamie Woodward, also the University of Manchester, pointed out the irony in this scenario being laid out during the pandemic. “Plastic has kept many frontline workers safe through this,” he said. “But PPE waste over the next decade could be horrendous. “There are parallels with the climate change problem in that business as usual will be disastrous. We need to radically change our behaviour.”
During the pandemic, the increase in the usage of single-use plastic based surgical masks has been exponential. The general public have been encouraged to use reusable washable face coverings instead, to help reduce the environmental impact of the virus. At Bags of Ethics we have developed a range of face coverings that are sustainably and ethically made, containing no single-use plastic, that are aimed to reduce the need for surgical masks. To shop the collection, visit https://bagsofethics.org/shop/.