Plastic pollution and climate change are parallel global emergencies.
- Plastic is a durable material made to last forever, yet up to 35 percent of it is used once and discarded. Plastic does not biodegrade; it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces.
- There are tens of thousands of landfills across the globe. Buried beneath each one of them, plastic leachate full of toxic chemicals is seeping into groundwater and flowing into lakes and rivers.
- Entanglement, ingestion and habitat disruption all result from plastic ending up in the spaces where animals live. In our oceans alone, plastic debris outweighs zooplankton by a ratio of 36-to-1. Studies suggest that the total economic damage to the world's marine ecosystem caused by plastic amounts to at least $13 billion every year. (United Nations Environment Program).
- Even plankton, the tiniest creatures in our oceans, are eating microplastics and absorbing their toxins. The substance displaces nutritive algae that creatures up the food chain require.
- Chemicals leached by plastics are in the blood and tissue of nearly all of us. Exposure to them is linked to cancers, birth defects, impaired immunity, endocrine disruption and other ailments.
Source: Plastic Pollution Coalition, Environmental Health Sciences
Plastic pollution is costing us billions: tourism, recreation, business, the health of humans, animals, fish and birds; UNEP conservatively values such negative externalities at $40 billion, but these costs are not reflected in any return on investment calculations of companies producing and using plastic for packaging. This huge financial damage cost is outside of any financial excel sheet, making single-use plastic so cheap. In exactly the same manner the cost of nuclear energy is promoted as low, while no cost of toxic waste disposal is factored in.
If tomorrow companies producing and using plastic packaging were to pay for the after-sales damage, most of them would be out of business very quickly, however this is unlikely to happen in our current market economy - the ‘who bears the cost’ rules are too difficult to change. The challenge is enormous - economic pressures continue the exponential growth curve of plastic production.
We are yet to find a durable solution to deal with the problem at scale. A combination of regulatory support and access to fair financing will enable development and mass deployment of single-use plastic alternatives.