Single-use plastic production has steeped despite nations taking a pledge to fight plastic pollution. According to a recent study published by Plastic Waste Makers, an additional 6 million metric tonnes (MMT) of single-use plastics were produced in 2021 as compared to 2019. And virgin fossil-fuel polymers contributed 15 times more to this growth than recycled feedstocks.
Waste collection is funded through taxation, and plastic waste is mostly incinerated, landfilled, or exported in developed countries, and almost 85 percent of global waste collection is chronically underfunded and mismanaged, the study states.
According to the study, plastic packaging, and disposable plastic items such as bags, straws and cutlery that are used only once and then thrown away, account for a third of all plastics consumed globally. Evidence shows that single-use plastics are the most damaging to people and the planet, almost all single-use plastics contain chemical additives that enhance performance and aesthetics, several of which are known to be harmful to health, the study highlighted.
As per the findings of the study, more than half of the world’s single-use plastic waste could be traced directly to just 20 petrochemical companies. Waste collection is funded through taxation, and plastic waste is mostly incinerated, landfilled, or exported in developed countries, and almost 85 percent of global waste collection is chronically underfunded and mismanaged, the study states.
Compared to 2019, there is an urgent need for the petrochemical industry to address the single-use plastic waste crisis through transition to circular models of plastics production. The study states how the waste crisis is deepening and has significant consequences for climate and net zero ambitions. And recycling of plastics requires urgent intervention.
While plastic has become our go to material. But study states, in the next five years, global production of virgin single-use plastic polymers from fossil fuels is forecast to increase by over 30 per cent. Most of this new plastic will be destined for developing countries where waste is widely mismanaged. An environmental and human health catastrophe looms.
We as society have to come together and look for alternative methods to reduce the single-use plastic we are consuming and generating. We can follow the Reduce, Reuse and Recycle practice in our day-to-day life.
According to a report by the UNEP, on ‘Reuse’ option it endorses transforming the throwaway economy to a reuse society, by creating an enabling environment to ensure the reuse market has a stronger business case than the single-use plastics market. It further adds that reuse systems provide the highest opportunity to reduce plastic pollution (a reduction of 30 per cent by 2040) by replacing some of the most problematic and unnecessary products.
‘Recycling’ can help reduce plastic pollution by an additional 20 per cent, if only it becomes a more stable and profitable venture.
We can also look for alternative materials like bamboo, jute, cotton, wood to replace the plastic we are using for our daily use.
As per the UNEP report, Internationally agreed policies can help overcome the limits of national planning and business action, sustain a flourishing circular global plastics economy, unlock business opportunities and create jobs. These may include agreed criteria for plastic products that could be banned.
Prioritising reusable products is not only critical for environmental health, but it can also be cost-effective. Single-use alternatives made of other materials are not intrinsically better, meaning that they should be reused when possible too. Such as, a paper shopping bag may need to be used four to eight times to have a lower environmental impact than one single-use plastic bag, the report adds.