Plastic has become quite an obsession for us over the last year or so – especially the issues with marine litter and the scary abundance of single use plastics entering our waste streams. This is one of the reasons why we have become involved with the World Cetacean Alliance ‘Untangled’ Project, which involves designers and artists creating new pieces from fishing gear rescued from beaches around the country. Of course, as plastic based products, these pieces of netting and fishing gear – known as Ghost Gear – float about, photodegrading over time into smaller pieces and eventually ending up in the food chain as small fish eat the plastic and larger fishes eat the smaller fishes.
And this is true of all plastics that are in our oceans – not only Ghost Gear. Every piece of litter in our oceans that is plastic based will gradually degrade and be eaten – killing vast numbers of fish and mammals in the process. We have not even started to realise the issues that plastic causes to our own bodies, as we ingest fish that have eaten (and stored toxins from the plastic) in their own bodies.
Plastics are a huge, global issue, that are not going away. Yet, plastics that have become ubiquitous with our throwaway culture are actually valuable and essential materials.
So, it was great to see that the circular economy specialists, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation publish a report on the issues with plastic, and how the whole industry could be transformed if we worked in a more circular nature. This makes perfect sense – our production of plastic has increased 20x over the last 50 years and is only set to increase, whilst plastic itself is a perfect material for reuse – so long as it is recovered, and not leaked into our oceans.
This ‘leakage’ of plastics from the waste stream into our oceans is currently estimated at being a staggering 32%. If we rethink ocean plastic as a resource for recovery and of value, rather than of waste, then we could go a long way.
And something needs to be done – as the projections are that if we continue with the business as usual model with plastics, there will be more plastic in our oceans and seas than there are fish, by weight, by 2050.
That’s a scary thought indeed…
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. To move from insight to large scale action, it is clear that no one actor can work on this alone; the public, private sector and civil society all need to mobilize in order to capture the opportunity of the new circular plastics economy. – Dominic Waughray / World Economic Forum
Want to read more? You can download the full report here.
(images courtesy of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation)