Forget what they told you about the rise of religions by 2050. A few days ago the Cologny-based World Economic Forum issued a warning that mankind can ignore only at its own peril.
On January 19, the Swiss non-profit organisation said that there will be more plastic than fish in terms of weight in the world’s oceans by 2050.
“In a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain 1 tonne of plastic for every 3 tonnes of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish (by weight).”
That means plastic will nearly quadruple by that time. And, without a doubt, such a situation is devastating for our planet.
The most commonly used plastic is Polyethylene Terephthalate, popularly known as polythene. It is used to make the most ubiquitously available bags used for everyday purposes. But it is also the most dangerous to living beings, especially animals.
The chemical property of polythene is such that is does not dissolves and ends up killing animals that consume it.
Another dangerous plastic is the Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC). Commonly used in making pipes, watch straps, garden hose, and shoe soles, the PVC is durable and can withstand aggressive environmental factors.
According to researchers, around 165 million tonnes of plastic lies in the ocean as of now, where they remain in their non-decomposed state for hundreds of years.
Around 8 8 million tonnes of plastics are dumped into the oceans each year. This rate of dumping is set for a horrific rise in the coming years – by upto four plastics per minute, according to WEF.
In its report, ‘The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics’, WEF cites that most plastic packaging is used only once.
“Ninety-five per cent of the value of plastic packaging material, worth $80 billion-$120 billion annually, is lost to the economy after a short first use. Only 14 per cent of plastic packaging is collected for recycling,” it cites.
Seventy per cent of the plastic ends in either the ocean or in a landfill, both of which harmful to the environment. China is the largest producer of plastics in the world.
At the same time, there has been a slew of bans or rules restricting the use and manufacture of plastics across the world.
The production of plastic bags below 20 µm (micrometre) in thickness was banned in India in 2002 but a very sloppy implementation means that one can find polythene bags almost everywhere in the country. Sikkim is the only state to have achieved a ‘plastic-free’ status.
The report suggests that to ensure the survival of oceans – and, therefore, humanity – we need to switch to a “new plastics economy”.
The plan is to include more recycling, reusable packaging, and compostable plastic packaging.
This appears to be a better solution than banning plastics use outright. In Europe alone the plastics industry employs 1.45 million people; the number is significantly higher in developing economies.
According to The European House Ambrosetti study, India has over 22,000 companies engaged in the business of manufacturing plastics, employing over 4 million people.
The WEF suggests that a Global Plastics Protocol should be established that will coordinate large-scale pilots and demonstration projects, engaging all stakeholders across the value chain including policy-makers and businesses.
Besides, scientific research in the area should be encouraged howsoever arduous they might appear at first. Most importantly, communication regarding the ‘new plastics’ method should be clearly set forth.