Thursday 15 October 2020

More than one tonne of plastic produced per person since 1950

The amount of plastic sloshing around the planet is equivalent to one tonne of plastic being produced by every person alive on the planet since 1950 (8.3 billion tonnes produced over the past 70 years). And clearly not enough is being done to rectify the problem. It's getting worse and worse annually. The problem is exponential. Dame Ellen MacArthur's foundation has called for an international treaty. Such a treaty would obtain the agreement of signatories to commit to doing something substantive about plastic production. Others say that it is too late to mess around with treaties. It can take years to get countries to agree to treaties and when they are signed they don't stick to the agreement. This happens all the time.

Of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic produced in the past 70 years, three quarters has become waste and a third of that has been mismanaged which includes being dumped or dropped as litter. There is 150 million tonnes of it in the oceans already and every year another 11 million tonnes ends up in the oceans. You'll find plastic in all parts of all the oceans.

Plastic pollution of the oceans
Plastic pollution of the oceans. Picture in the public domain.

Urgent action is needed. It is believed that the amount of plastic in the oceans will treble over the next 20 years. The foundation's report refers to the 1987 Montréal protocol which has helped to protect the ozone layer. There is, therefore, some history in the success of treaties such as this. Germany, the Philippines and Vietnam are three countries who have called for a treaty but other countries such as Britain, the US, Japan, Australia and Canada don't support it, including the WWF.

A treaty (to be clear this is an international agreement) would place limitations on certain single-use plastic products such as straws and set targets on recycling and how to stop the products getting into the oceans.

The problem, as reported, is that although 115 countries have set up regulations regarding single-use plastic and how to limit its damage on the environment it's having little impact. Most of the restrictions concern plastic bag usage and disposal. It's a small part of the overall problem. Beach clean ups report that only 7% of items found are plastic bags.

Some major companies support the initiative such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Mars, Tesco, Unilever and Nestlé. It is not enough. There needs to be a high level of commitment by governments. A campaign group, Changing Markets Foundation, said that calls for a global treaty were "just another delaying tactic by the plastic industry". They argue that the world needs "proven legislative solutions, like deposit systems and reuse targets".

Comment: I shop at Sainsbury's in the UK. I see little, very little commitment by this large company to limiting plastic usage. They still sell bottled water when it could be dispensed in a machine and the customer brings a non-plastic container to the shop and buys it by the litre. That's just my idea but the point I'm making is that I see almost no change in the attitude of Sainsbury's with respect to limiting plastic usage over the many years that this has been discussed. 

Other supermarkets have a similar attitude in my view. The big problem with humankind is that unless individuals are personally impacted by pollution of this kind and only if it affects their health and welfare do they lobby for change. If people can't see it they don't react to it even if it is killing them or harming them in some way or other.

Plastics are certainly killing wildlife but then again people don't see wildlife so in general people don't care about it. It's like trying to turn a juggernaut around. It just doesn't happen or it takes tens of years and which point it is too late.

What has this got to do with cats? A hell of a lot because micro-plastic particles find their way into all areas of our lives. They are in the food chain. They are in marine wildlife which humans and cats eat. Cat food I'm sure contains micro-plastic particles. It affects the health of us all both the human-animal, the domestic animal and the wild species particularly marine wildlife. It is all pervasive and you cannot dissociate the domestic cat from the problem.

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