Topic 1 Plastic pollution

“If nothing changes, in 2050 there will be as much plastic waste in the oceans  as there are fish.”

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation

Plastics drastically changed our society and economy. Their low cost and their functionality, increases their usage in all sectors.

The current plastics system poses significant economic challenges, with an estimated annual material value loss of EUR 70-105 billion globally, as well as environmental ones, including the estimated annual release of 75 000 to 300000 tons of microplastics into EU habitats.

Since the fifties, plastic production has never stopped increasing and this trend is expected to continue.

Growth in global plastic production from 1950 to 2014

Production from virgin petroleum-based feedstock only (does not include bio-based, greenhouse gas-based or recycled feedstock)

A crucial challenge of the linear plastics economy is the omnipresent and persistent plastic pollution, resulting in economic and environmental costs to society. Since the beginning of its mass production in the 1950s, humankind has produced about 8.300 million tons of plastics and in 2016 the global production of plastic was 335 million metric tons. The estimated waste is 5800 million tons of plastic, of which 4900 million tons has been disposed in landfills.

When plastic items are not properly discarded, they end up disperse in nature and pollute major water sources.

The micro-plastics are challenging to deal with, and they are disturbing the ecosystem resulting in pollution and animals suffering.

More than 99% of plastics are derived from oil, gas and coal — all of which are non-renewable resources. If current trends continue, plastic could account for 20% of the world’s total oil consumption by 2050.

The process of extracting, transporting and refining those fossil fuels, then manufacturing plastic, produces billions of tons of greenhouse gases. After use, plastic waste is often incinerated, which generates GHG emissions. If growth in plastic production and incineration continue, cumulative emissions by 2050 will be over 56 gigatons of CO2e, or 10–13% of the total remaining global carbon budget.