There's no such thing as a slow week for news in plastics. Let's open up my reporters' notebook and look at a few topics related to sustainability that are on my mind.
First, despite significant efforts to solve the ocean plastic litter problem, it's getting worse.
A new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, called "Breaking the Plastic Wave," predicts that the amount of plastic going into oceans annually will nearly triple by 2040. The current estimate is 11 million metric tons per year. In just 20 years, that will rise to 29 million tonnes.
And that already takes into account all of the government and industry efforts underway to reverse the problem. So yes, it could be even worse.
The report recommends a variety of potential solutions, but one strikes me as being really radical: to stop expanding virgin resin capacity. According to the report, if global plastics consumption can stay at about the current level and industry can work to make a more circular economy for plastic, then we can make real progress on the ocean plastic problem.
Halting resin expansion is something that we've been seeing more frequently from environmental groups and some legislators. It's a proposal that could cause real economic pain, especially in North America, which has a feedstock cost advantage thanks to plentiful natural gas.
Getting plastics to be part of a truly circular economy would have benefits beyond reducing ocean plastic. But I'm skeptical that it will happen voluntarily. So be prepared for more legislative attempts to restrict plastics.
Also, let's not forget that the world has a waste management problem, not just a plastic waste problem. If government action ends up encouraging production of single-use items made from other materials, that doesn't really solve the problem. In fact, it could make it worse.