|Photo Source: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/GSMGKwZBaWM/maxresdefault.jpg|
These scenes came to mind in my recent travels elsewhere in the Caribbean. While attending an event in a rural village, I searched in vain for a place to recycle a plastic drink bottle and was told that there was no collection of recyclable materials in this community, and precious little even in the capital city. I stared at the pile of cases of beverages stocked up for the event and could only wonder how many would make their way to the ocean to join the "island" off Honduras, or another just like it. Plastic recycling has never met its global potential with only 9-14% of used plastics making its way back into the value stream. One recent challenge is that low oil prices push down the demand for recycled plastics, as it can be cheaper to produce new resins than to recycle waste material.
This man-made issue poses a threat to many forms of marine life and to our own health. While not biodegradable, many plastics weaken under prolonged exposure to sunlight and eventually break down into small particles called microplastics, which can enter the food stream. According to some estimates, the vast majority of seabirds have ingested microplastics and there is no telling how much contamination is in the seafood that makes its way to our plates (for more details, see Forbes article http://bit.ly/2AQ594n). And the trajectory is not positive. According to a 2016 report from the World Economic Forum and the Ellen McArthur Foundation, by 2050 plastics production is expected to triple from 2014 levels, while consuming up to 20% of global oil production (http://bit.ly/2jfF0Vy). By that time, it is expected that there will be as much plastic in our oceans as fish, by weight.
So, what needs to be done to address this critical situation? How do we reverse the tide of plastics ending up in our global waters? The World Economic Forum /Ellen McArthur Foundation report describes how principles of the Circular Economy can address this growing crisis, outlining three key imperatives:
- Creation of an effective "after-use" plastics economy
- Drastic reduction of "leakage" of plastics into natural systems (including oceans) and
- Innovation in virgin plastics production to decouple it from fossil fuel usage.
|Photo Source: https://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/assets/downloads/Foundation_New-Plastics-Economy_1.jpg|
- Mechanism for dialog
- Global plastics protocol
- Development of secondary markets
- Technological innovation and
- Development of enabling policies
The time is now for us take rethinking of plastics use and reuse to a new level... our oceans depend on it.