A new report has claimed that by the middle of this century there will more plastic, by weight, in the world's oceans than fish.
The World Economic Forum/Ellen MacArthur Foundation study, "The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics," said that while delivering many benefits, “the current plastics economy has drawbacks that are becoming more apparent by the day..
In a statement the foundation, created by the British sailor who twice set a world record for solo circumnavigation of the globe on a sailboat, said: “Given projected growth in consumption, in a business-as-usual scenario, by 2050 oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish (by weight), and the entire plastics industry will consume 20 percent of total oil production and 15 percent of the annual carbon budget.
“In this context, an opportunity beckons for the plastics value chain to deliver better system-wide economic and environmental outcomes, while continuing to harness the benefits of plastic packaging.
“The New Plastics Economy envisages a new approach based on creating effective after-use pathways for plastics; drastically reducing leakage of plastics into natural systems, in particular oceans; and decoupling plastics from fossil feedstocks.”
The 118-page report claimed that 95 percent of plastic packaging — worth between $80 billion and $120 billion — was lost to the economy every year.
“A staggering 32 percent of plastic packaging escapes collection systems,” the report went on, “generating significant economic costs by reducing the productivity of vital natural systems such as the ocean and clogging urban infrastructure.
“The cost of such after-use externalities for plastic packaging, plus the cost associated with greenhouse gas emissions from its production, is conservatively estimated at $40 billion annually — exceeding the plastic packaging industry's profit pool. In future, these costs will have to be covered."
The American Chemistry Council noted in a statement Jan. 19 that the U.S. plastics industry already is working to increase recycling —with 6 billion pounds recycled annually now — and recover energy from plastics that cannot be easily recycled.“Plastics makers actively support programs designed to dramatically increase plastics recycling, especially for newer categories such as rigid plastics and film," the ACC said.
The U.S. group also called attention to the international Declaration for Solutions on Marine Litter, a 2011 manifesto signed by more than 60 plastics industry related associations in 34 countries that has helped launch more than 185 projects addressing marine litter.
“We in the plastics industry welcome additional opportunities to partner with others in the shared effort to recycle and recover more plastics, and to keep plastics out of the marine environment,” the statement read.