Some very smart people have some very smart plans to fix this.
As the saying goes, there are plenty of fish in the sea.
But it might be just as true — if not quite as applicable — to say, "There's plenty of plastic in the sea, as well."
In fact, a new report from the World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur Foundation predicts that by 2050, our oceans will be filled with more plastic than they are fish. Currently, the ratio of fish to plastic (in weight) is 5:1, but that's changing quickly.
This is likely happening because we love plastic but hate recycling.
As it turns out, only 14% of plastic ever gets recycled. Of the 78 tonnes (around 86 U.S. tons) of plastic produced each year, 40% of it winds up in landfills, and 32% leaks into the soil and oceans.
That's not great. This behavior hurts the world economically: Because most plastic packaging is used just once, somewhere between $80 billion and $120 billion worth of plastic gets discarded each year. It also hurts us environmentally: In addition to the dumping in the ocean, producing plastic has a negative impact on climate change.
So, what's there to do? Well, some very smart people have some very good ideas.
Those ideas are actually the crux of the New Plastics Economy report. It's an achievable three-step plan to change our relationship with plastics, hopefully helping the world both environmentally and economically.
Here's what they recommend:
We really need to start recycling. That might mean creating new incentives for consumers to recycle, and it probably involves making the process of recycling more efficient as well as looking into bio-degradable plastic alternatives.
2. Reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean by encouraging multi-use packaging.
It would be smart to shift to multi-use plastic packaging that has some after-use value. Making it economically advantageous to keep using the same piece of plastic over and over (even if it's for different issues) could save us.
3. Move away from traditional, fossil-fuel-based manufacturing.
Instead of making plastic through traditional methods, we need to put an emphasis on creating technology that allows us to more efficiently manufacture plastic via "bio-based" materials like plants or captured greenhouse gasses.
While steps 2 and 3 are mostly about manufacturing, there are some important things we can do as consumers.
Namely, we can stop throwing plastic away! When you toss it, it winds up either in a landfill (not good) or in the ocean (even worse). And while, sure, it may take a little more effort to recycle, you really are helping the environment in the long-run.
I mean, if we want our oceans filled with this...
...instead of this...
...we need to step up our recycling game. You in?