The problem with plastic
Lightweight, cheap to produce and transport and virtually indestructible, plastic has been a miracle material across countless industries. The downside of course, as we are all becoming acutely aware, is that there is far too much of it in circulation.
Globally, between 8 – 12 m tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean every year it’s been estimated that more than 150 million tonnes of plastics have accumulated in the world's oceans. Here in the UK, it’s believed that plastic pollution along our coastline has got 10 times worse since 2000.
From plankton to pilot whales, algae to albatross – no ocean life remains free from the effects of this plastic waste. 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and 1 million sea birds are killed by plastic pollution annually. It was the plight on the Albatross, which led to our founder Natalie Fee, setting up City to Sea in a bid to do something to stop the flow of plastics into our oceans.
A growing catastrophe
Our addiction to plastic is out of control! Over the last 20 years we’ve produced more plastic than in the whole of the last century. Global production of plastics has increased twentyfold since the 1960s and despite the massive increase in public awareness and concern brought about TV shows like Blue Planet, it is expected to double again over the next 20 years. and almost quadruple by 2050.
We now produce over 300 million tonnes every year globally – half of which is single use.
Of the more than six billion tonnes of plastic waste produced by 2015, only 9 per cent has ever been recycled. Of the rest, almost all of it is now in the landfill or the natural environment (79 per cent) with the remainder incinerated. Recycling it would seem, is not the answer.
How does it get into our oceans?
Unfortunately, over 80% of marine litter comes from land-based sources – this means it’s caused, in part by us and our everyday actions. A significant amount comes from just 10 rivers around the world, made worse in developing countries by a growing consumer culture, and a lack of any real recycling infrastructure.
Single-use plastics items are among the items most commonly found on beaches and represent an estimated 50% of marine litter.
Sadly, a huge proportion of the plastics we ‘recycle’ in the UK actually end up being exported to developing countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam where they are landfilled, burnt or worse – end up in our oceans.
Plastics and climate change
If the plastic industry has its way, rising plastic production will account for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. That’s about the same as the entire current emissions of the transportation industry – planes, trains, cars, buses and all.
And the industry push is powerful – currently, over $200 billion is being invested in factories, pipelines, and other infrastructure in the U.S. that will rely on shale gas (from fracking) to supply feedstock to the plastic industry. The need for us to push back is real, and it’s urgent.
It has been estimated that plastics production and the incineration of plastic waste give rise globally to approximately 400 million tonnes of CO2 a year.
Microplastic not so fantastic
Microplastics, the tiny pieces of plastic which are formed when bigger pieces break down in our oceans are now found everywhere from pristine mountain tops’, to the deepest trenches at the bottom of our oceans. It’s even found in the seafood we eat and the water we drink.
The average seafood consumer in the UK will be ingesting about 11,000 plastic particles every year already. There's some food for thought!
What can you do to help?
City to Sea are committed to preventing plastic pollution at source – reducing the need for recycling in the first place by advocating reuse and providing practical solutions to single-use items.
Find out more about our campaigns here.
Check out our top 12 ways to reduce single-use plastic here.