Pressure to reduce the use of plastics – especially single-use plastics – has been fast, helped by the recent David Attenborough Blue Planet documentary. After an excellent Green Drinks talk by Andrew Coleman from Surfers Against Sewage in Nov 18, we’ve decided to take the bull by the horns. We’ll soon be launching a local campaign for Steyning, Bramber and Beeding to become ‘Plastic Free Communities’ based around the Surfers Against Sewage model.
A series of working groups have been set up to take it forward. They will be looking at talking with local businesses, working with schools, churches and other local groups, linking up with our three Parish Councils, and running events to engage the wider community. If you’re interested in getting involved, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Otherwise, stay tuned for further news!
Figures to Boggle the Mind
How much plastic is there?
Most plastic is a post-war creation, early Bakelite excepted.
Global annual production rose from
- 2 million tonnes in 1950 to
- 380 million tonnes in 2015
Current annual production is expected to double by 2034.
The total amount of plastic produced up to 2015 was 7,800 million tonnes – that’s nearly 8 billion tonnes – of which approximately half, 3,900 million tonnes, was manufactured in just the last 13 years of that period.
The biggest use of plastic is in packaging, especially single-use packaging that is either discarded or (sometimes) recycled. Approximately
- 42% of all plastic is made for packaging
- 19% goes to building and construction.
Most packaging plastics leave the “use” phase within a year, while construction plastics can last for decades.
In the course of 2015, it is estimated that 302 million tonnes left the use phase, i.e. were discarded.
What happens to it when it’s served its useful purpose?
There are three possible outcomes for plastic waste:
- reprocessing/recycling (though recycling delays rather than eliminates the need for eventual disposal)
- thermal destruction, aka incineration. This sometimes involves energy recovery, but can be a dirty business depending on how well regulated individual plants are)
- disposal in landfill or simply being dumped
By the end of 2015, the total of all plastic waste ever generated had reached 6,300 million tonnes.
- 12% (800 million tonnes) has been incinerated
- 9% (600 million tonnes) has been recycled
- 60% (4,900 million tonnes) has been discarded and is now in landfill or is simply drifting free-range through the environment and the seas, gradually breaking down into tiny particles – microplastics – with an as yet uncalculated effect on human and animal health.
For more details, check out this 2017 paper by Geyer, Jambeck and Lavender Law: