Plastic is among the materials that are most present in the day to day of consumers and that have become the ballasts that the environment must deal with. Plastic, as it is known today, is a very recent invention. The development of modern plastic begins in the early twentieth century and the popularization of its use started after World War II, when its massive and low-price production began. The plastic was not only resistant, it was also cheap. This are two crucial characteristics when becoming very attractive and enter homes around the world.
Since then, its use has come to many and varied functions, so much that it is practically impossible to imagine living in a world where plastic is not present. However, this ubiquitous presence also imposes certain problems. The plastic is too resistant and it takes many years to biodegrade, which makes its use have a direct impact on nature.
The report “The State of Plastics”, prepared by the UN, allows to learn about the state of things and, from its conclusions, to draw a few lessons about what should be done regarding plastic.
The disposable plastic is being overused
The data of plastic and its global use are overwhelming. The conclusions of the report make this clear: a lot of plastic is being used and it has a very short useful life.
The production of plastic since 1950 has managed to surpass that of other materials and most of the plastic is designed for consumers to use only once and then getting rid of it, which makes the data even more worrisome. One only has to think about the shopping cart with which you come back from the supermarket to visualize it. Everything comes packaged with plastics that consumers cannot use again. Only 9% of the plastic produced in the world has been recycled. The rest is accumulated in landfills or ends up straining in the environment, as evidenced by the large waste islands that drift in the oceans.
The cost of this reality is very high for the environment, but it also has a direct impact on the economy. Some studies indicate that the industries of tourism, fishing and transport lose – and only in the Asia-Pacific region – 1.3 billion dollars each year because of them. Another fact: only in cleaning the plastics on the beaches, Europe spends 630 million euros every year.
In addition, the situation is even more complex, because the prospects for the immediate future are not very promising. Societies will continue to use plastic massively. In fact, the expectations are that in the next decade the plastic production will shoot even more. The UN estimates that by 2050, if production keeps pace, landfills and oceans will accumulate 12,000 million tons of plastic.
Enhancing alternatives and recycling
This situation is creating a context in which citizens, governments and companies will have no choice but to act. They will have to position themselves in a clear way in front of the plastic and promote the use of alternatives or their recycling.
Actions such as the regulation that, since a few months ago, has prohibited the free delivery of plastic bags in shops throughout the European Union or the prohibition of their manufacturing and use (as in Rwanda or Kenya) create legal frameworks that limit the incorporation of more plastic to the already in circulation. Some companies, from technological like Samsung to the food industry like Starbucks, already have or are in process of eliminating the plastic from some of its elements, such as packaging.
But these initiatives are not the only ones that must be put in place. As recalled in the UN report, “it is not possible or desirable to eliminate all the plastic of society.” The plastic will still be present and will continue to be necessary as well. In the future, both the most distant and the most immediate, it will be necessary to reduce its use as much as possible and, above all, it will be necessary to recycle as much plastic as possible.
Those billions of plastic waste that are estimated to be created by 2050 should not end up in the ocean or in a landfill, but in a recycling process.