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Is Plastic Waste the Trigger for Broader Environmental Engagement?

By Doug Woodring

- Published on April 4, 2015 by Future 500

You may have read recent reports from the University of Georgia, by Jenna Jambeck and team, about the estimated amount of plastic waste that makes its way to the ocean every year. If not, the number is staggering at roughly 8 million tons per year. This is the same as placing 5 garbage bags of trash on every foot of the 217,000 miles of coastline on our planet. This estimate is only for plastic, but to put the World Bank’s estimates of global municipal solid waste (MSW) production into perspective, it would be like covering all of California in 10 yards-deep of waste each year.

The scary fact is that predictions from the World Bank also expect this number to double within 15 years, as population growth and consumption takes its toll on our resources, much of which for single-use items. In a report last year commissioned by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the annual impact to the ocean from plastic pollution was estimated to be US$13bn. Not many countries in the world are well prepared for this increase in waste.

With these metrics in mind, it is worth considering whether plastic waste is the trigger that will drive broader social engagement around environmental issues at the community level, but also in terms of driving scaled opportunities in the circular economy. Plastic is a highly valuable material, which virtually none of our communities could survive completely without today. However, its durability, lightweight, and complexity in material, are what also make it problematic for remediation and proper management, once initial use has expired.


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