Plastic Manufacturing & Processing Are Still Increasing, Study Finds

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Plastic — once seen as a marvel of modern science with uses from packaging to textiles — is now a scourge polluting our waterways, exposing us to PFAS “forever chemicals” and making its way into our bloodstreams in the form of microplastics.

Plastic production doubled worldwide in the 20 years prior to 2019, according to a team of researchers writing in The Conversation. Up to 20 percent of the planet’s oil production could be taken up by plastic manufacturing and processing by 2040, using 15 percent of the yearly carbon emissions budget.

“Most of the plastic we make ends up as waste. As plastic manufacturers increase production, more and more of it will end up in our landfills, rivers and oceans. Plastic waste is set to triple by 2060,” the research team said.

The study, “The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics,” was published by the World Economic Forum.

A Center for Climate Integrity report from earlier this year — The Fraud of Plastic Recycling — said the plastics industry was well aware that widespread plastic recycling was unrealistic, but led the public to believe it was feasible.

In The Conversation, the authors of the new study said plastics producers have promoted the idea that how much of their product is produced is irrelevant as long as we — the customers — recycle.

The researchers discovered that this is far from the truth. They found a direct correlation between plastic production and increased plastic pollution.

“[A] 1% increase in plastic production leads to a 1% increase in plastic pollution, meaning unmanaged waste such as bottles in rivers and floating plastic in the oceans,” the researchers wrote. “Not only that, but over half of branded plastic pollution is linked to just 56 companies worldwide. The Coca-Cola Company accounts for 11% of branded waste and PepsiCo 5%. If these companies introduce effective plastic reduction plans, we could see a measurable reduction in plastic in the environment.”

According to experts, it is estimated that an additional 53 million tons of plastic waste will end up polluting the world’s oceans each year by 2030.

“Plastics can cause real damage to our health. Our first exposure to them starts in the womb. In the seas, plastics can choke turtles and seabirds. On land, they can poison groundwater. Socially and economically, plastic pollution now costs us about A$3.8 trillion a year,” the researchers said.

The researchers looked at five years of litter audit data — global surveys of environmental waste — to get an idea of types of plastic waste and their volumes. The data included more than 1,500 audits from 84 countries. The audits found that 48 percent of litter was brand-name, while the remainder was unbranded.

To figure out production levels, the team looked at data reported by major plastics companies to a circular economy organization, then compared it with branded plastic pollution data.

They found that 13 companies each added one percent or higher to the overall branded plastic problem. The companies all produced beverage, food or tobacco products that were mostly packaged using single-use plastic.

Roughly 36 percent of plastic pollution worldwide comes from single-use plastics.

“Even when collected, single-use plastics are a difficult waste stream to manage as they have little or no recycling value,” the researchers wrote. “Then there’s the fact recycling is not a circle, as the famous logo might suggest. The more we recycle plastic, the more degraded it becomes. Eventually, this plastic becomes waste. If recycling and landfilling can only go so far, the missing piece of the puzzle has to be capping plastic production.”

The researchers said this would involve manufacturers being required to reduce their plastic use over time while adopting sustainable and safe alternatives as they come along.

They added that countries could set measurable goals for phasing out hazardous, non-essential and unsustainable single-use plastics like plastic bags, cutlery and take-away containers; work on designing sustainable and safe products to reduce demand for new plastic worldwide while increasing reuse, repairing, refilling and recycling; and invest in non-plastic substitutes and alternatives that have improved environmental, social and economic profiles like reusables.

“One thing is certain – current trends mean ever more plastic, and more plastic means more plastic pollution,” the researchers said.

This article originally appeared on EcoWatch and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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This article originally appeared on EcoWatch and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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