Global plastics waste could be as destructive as climate change, ecologists warn

They warn that plastic waste tonnage is steadily building up in the world's oceans and coastal ecosystems and will imperil the health of plants, animals, and humans across the globe.

Jeremy Morrow | Jun 30, 2017

   

Forty years of campaigns promoting recycling haven't put a dent in the nonstop growth rate of human plastics consumption, according to ecologists who forecast that the world will buy and discard half a trillion bottles a year by 2021. They warn that plastic waste tonnage is steadily building up in the world's oceans and coastal ecosystems and will imperil the health of plants, animals, and humans across the globe.
Euromonitor International's global packaging trends report states that consumers worldwide bought 480 billion plastic bottles in 2016, a sharp increase from the 300 billion they bought a decade ago. At the current growth rates, the world will go through 583.3 billion a year in another four years.
"The plastic pollution crisis rivals the threat of climate change as it pollutes every natural system and an increasing number of organisms on planet Earth," said Hugo Tagholm of the marine conservation group Surfers Against Sewage.
Fewer than half of the bottles bought in 2016 made it into recycling bins. The majority ended up in landfills or in the ocean: Between 5 million and 13 million tons of plastic leak into the oceans each year, where they are ingested by birds and sea life.
Plastics are making their way into our bodies, as well. Researchers at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom researchers reported finding plastic in about a third of fish caught in British waters. And scientists at Ghent University in Belgium recently calculated that people who regularly eat seafood swallow up to 11,000 tiny fragments of plastic every year.
"Current science shows that plastics cannot be usefully assimilated into the food chain. Where they are ingested they carry toxins that work their way on to our dinner plates," Tagholm said.

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