Plastic, (not so) fantastic?
Have you ever noticed how much single-use plastic is surrounding us? Just think about an average day. Waking up in the morning and grabbing an apple before running out of the door. Nowadays even fruits, like apples, have the tenancy to be wrapped up in plastic. When eventually arrived at work, who doesn’t start their day with a nice cup of coffee? Most companies own a big automated coffee dispenser, which is right at our service. And it usually serves coffee in a plastic cup. Just a quick swirl with a stirrer to mix the sugar…
That is how you end up with 3 single-use plastics in the garbage before your working day has even started… A real addiction to plastic!
Time for some facts!
Did you know that since the start of the production of everyday plastics, in the 1950’s, more than 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics have been produced? That is equal to 8.300.000.000.000 kilograms produced in nearly 70 years… Actually, plastics have outgrown most man-made materials!
The researchers at the University of California stated that by 2015, 6.3 billion metric tons had already become waste. Unfortunately, only 9% of this grand pile of waste was recycled, while 12% was incinerated. The rest of the pile, a whopping 79%, is already disposed of as waste.
To sum that up: an estimated 5 billion metric tons of plastic are currently roaming the planet, labeled as trash. That number equals the weight of nearly 36 million blue whales or more than the weight of 833 million African bush elephants! Let that sink in for a minute…
Circular Economy, what?
The article also presents that at least 2.6 billion metric tons of plastics are still in use. You can do the math; there’s more plastic labeled as waste than actually being useful! Can you imagine if we didn’t need to produce any new material but just started to recycle the giant waste pile, which is already there? This is what we eventually need to grow into; a regenerative economy.
So, what about these recycling facts? Sadly, I could not find data about the recycling of plastic waste worldwide – but I did find data generated by PlasticsEurope. This document covers the recycling data generated by Europe (including Norway and Switzerland) from 2006 to 2016.
As you can see in the graph, listed below, a total of 27.1 million ton (2.700.000.000 kilogram // the weight of 19.286 blue whales) of plastic waste is collected in Europe (2016). 11.3 million ton (41.7%) of material is used for energy recovery while 8.4 million ton (31.0%) is actually recycled. Yet still, 7.4 million tons (27.3%) is actually dumped! Luckily, over the last decade, the regeneration and recycling rates have gone up, while the dumping has decreased! But we still have a long way to go… Please keep in mind that these numbers only cover the waste collected in Europe!
So, what can we do to help?
Single-use plastics are all around us and hard to immediately ban from your lives. You could start by refusing to use plastic bags or cups. But in any case: Please. Separate. Your. Waste! Why? All the plastics that end up in the regular trash will be incinerated. There’s no way that helps to close the cycle towards a circulatory economy since no raw materials can be regained. There’s also a big chance that the plastics will end up on land or ocean. And eventually, in the stomach of your dog, or fish you’re planning to eat.
Change starts with awareness. Awareness starts with knowledge.
I hope you gained a bit more while reading this article.