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According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year – equivalent to the weight of the entire human population. The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) projects that plastic production will grow 60% by 2030 and triple by 2050. Currently, only 9% of all plastic produced is recycled, 12% is incinerated, and the rest is found in landfills or as uncontained litter, says UNEP. This has an enormously negative effect on the environment and all living things within it.
Recycling as it functions now is a limited solution. Recycled plastics are high cost with low commercial value, making recycling rarely profitable and requiring considerable government subsidies. “Wishful recyclers” often try to recycle non-recyclables, making the system even less cost and resource-efficient. Research from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation suggests that only 2% of plastic is recycled into products with the same function, and less than 8% is “downcycled” to something of lower quality, the remainder is waste.
Incineration is deeply detrimental. According to the UNEP study, incinerating plastics releases toxic gases like dioxins, furans, phthalates, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls (BCPs) into the atmosphere, and poses a threat to vegetation, and human and animal health. “Burning of plastic waste increase the risk of heart disease, aggravates respiratory ailments such as asthma and emphysema and cause rashes, nausea or headaches, and damages the nervous system,” says the study. Landfilling has a much lower climate impact than incineration, but the placement of landfills can be associated with similar environmental injustices.
Plastics that escape recycling, incineration and landfilling and make their way into the environment don’t affect the land alone. According to National Geographic, 73% of all beach litter is plastic and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation report also suggests that if plastic pollution continues at its current rate, oceans will contain at least 937 million tons of plastic and just 895 million tons of fish by 2050.
On top of the direct pollution plastics cause, producing one ton of plastic generates up to 2.5 tons of carbon dioxide. Plastic Atlas reports 90% of plastic is produced from feedstock obtained from fossil oil and gas, the extraction, transportation, and production of which is also massively harmful to the environment. The authors of the CIEL report estimate that 12.5 to 13.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide are emitted per year while extracting and transporting natural gas to create feedstocks for plastics in the United States, with an additional 1.686 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide being released while clearing land for oil and gas transportation.
For every phase of the plastic life cycle, there are ways to reduce emissions and pollution.
Tech startups, too, are tackling the problem of plastics from several angles.
Looking for more ways to make your operations sustainable? Here are some steps you can take away from plastic:
ARTÉMIA has been committed to sustainability and what are now called “green” solutions since 2005, long before such terms were commonplace. We are not only dedicated to implementing such practices for ourselves, but to sharing such information with our partners and clients.
Are you a business looking to increase your own commitment to environmentally sound principles or are you developing tech-based solutions to environmental issues and in search of a team to help bring your project to market? Let’s talk! Please give us a call at (415) 351-2227 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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