For nearly 70 years, plastic has been one of the most used materials in the world. Used back in 1957 to make the first hula hoop, plastic can now be found in almost every industry across the world, from toys and fashion, to even being used in medicine to mimic haemoglobin in the blood.
However, while plastic has its (many) uses, research conducted by the University of Georgia, University of California and others published in the Journal ‘Science Advances’ reveals that by 2015, humans had generated 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic (6.3 billion being waste) and that by 2050, we will see landfill sites holding 12 billion tonnes.
To put that in perspective, that is the equivalent of:
- 822,000 Eiffel Towers
- 25,000 Empire State Buildings
- 80,000,000 Blue Whales
- 1,000,000,000 Elephants
What is even worse is that across the world, only 14% of plastic packaging is recycled, and according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, if the remaining 86% of used plastics were recycled, it could generate $80bn-$120bn in revenue for the economy.
As an industry, we need to be working together to minimise the effect of plastic usage on the environment. Across the UK, it has already begun with individuals, communities and businesses doing their part to help create single-use plastic free towns and cities as part of the ‘Plastic Free Coastlines’ campaign. The campaign involves:
- Urging local government to lead change
- Encouraging local businesses to replace straws, plastic bottles or condiment sachets with sustainable alternatives
- Getting organisations to adopt the plastic free message
- Arranging community events e.g. beach cleans
- Setting up community groups to co-ordinate the actions
We’re also seeing big businesses getting involved. Coca Cola recently announced that they are increasing targets for recycled content in PET bottles and are offering reward schemes to encourage people to recycle, and RecoCard’s recent scheme has meant 1 million PVC cards have been recycled, saving 10 tonnes of plastic from being landfilled.
However, much still needs to be done, and if we want to see plastic sustainability become a success, we need to ensure that we have a more eco-friendly and sustainable future for the environment. As an industry, we need to continue to innovate to improve the way plastic is manufactured, and make it easier for the world to recycle it. We need to ensure that by 2050, our world isn’t stuck with 12 billion tonnes of plastic or we’re probably not going to have much of a world left.