The effects of plastic pollution on the environment have been colossal; plastic litter has been wreaking havoc on a multitude of ecosystems for years, which has caused unprecedented environmental chain reactions on the planet.
Plastic pollution in the ocean has notably led to disastrous consequences on the balance of marine ecosystems. Every year, 10 million tons of plastic are dumped in our oceans; that represents the equivalent of more than one truckload every minute. If current production and waste management trends continue, roughly 12 billion tons of plastic waste will end up in landfills and in naturals environments by 2050.
Research suggests that the total economic effect of plastic pollution to the world’s marine ecosystem caused by plastic amounts to at least $13 billion every year. Another study highlights that because only 14% of plastic packaging is recycled, the sum of USD 80-120 billion gets lost in the economy every year.
The plastics economy is unequivocally broken. While the demand for plastic consumption is expected to double in the next two decades, solutions are urgently needed.
In addition to damaging the economy and causing the depletion of fossil resources, plastic pollution in the ocean has been having dreadful repercussions on marine life.
If no action is taken to slow down the current rate of plastic pollution in the ocean, it is to be expected that the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by weight by 2050 according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s 2016 report.
The effects of plastic pollution on life on Earth are tragic: Millions of animals are killed by plastics every year. Over 800 species including endangered ones have been impacted by plastic pollution; 40% of marine mammals and 44% of seabird species are affected by marine debris ingestion. An estimate of 1 million sea birds dies as a result of plastic ingestion every year.
Distressingly, most of the deaths to animals are caused by entanglement or starvation. Seals, whales, turtles, and other animals are strangled by abandoned fishing gear or discarded six-pack rings.
The linear plastic system has engendered appalling repercussions on marine ecosystems.
A linear economy is a system that draws from the Earth’s limited resources to make products that are discarded after use and become obsolete. Most of those products, such as packaging, have a very short lifespan, they are seldom reused or given a second life, and often produce toxic waste.
In 2016, for example, 480 billion plastic bottles were sold across the world. And from those, only 7% were turned into new bottles.
This still very much dominant linear economic system has led to disastrous environmental consequences that urgently need to be addressed in order to avoid reaching a point of no return, plastic pollution in the ocean probably being the most prominent but in no terms the only one. Or as Ellen MacArthur says: "The linear 'Take-Make-Dispose' system is deeply flawed."
Solutions are urgently needed to counter the effects of plastic pollution.