TCoPS - 10

The unique properties of
plastic have led to it playing an
important role in society. Plastic
is a unique material; often lightweight,
resilient, waterproof and cheap. These
properties have established it as the
material of choice for many different
products, from clothing and scientific
equipment to solar panels and car
components. Plastic therefore plays
many important roles in society. In
particular, plastic has been used as
an essential material in ensuring
both food safety and food security;
packaging of food products prevents
food loss, waste, and contamination,
protects foods from pests and diseases,
and increases shelf life. Plastic has
also played a crucial role in limiting
the spread of COVID-19 and reducing
fatalities from the disease;31
personal protective equipment and the
medical equipment used to save lives
are made entirely or partially of plastic.
As such, we are in the " age of
plastic " , with plastic production
almost doubling over the past two
and expected to more
than triple by 2050.33
Increased production has led to a
flood of plastic pollution entering
the oceans. As plastic has become
more important for society, plastic use,
in particular single-use plastic, has
risen. Much of the plastic produced is
designed to be used only once.35
has led to a dramatic rise in plastic
waste. Humanity now produces more
than 200 million tonnes of municipal
solid plastic waste annually. 36
is equal to around 523 trillion plastic
straws which if laid lengthwise could
wrap around the world approximately
2.8 million times.37
Plastic pollution causes countless
detrimental impacts and has
become a major global concern.
Plastic pollution poses a threat to
both people and the planet.41
It also
Waste management
systems are inadequately prepared to
deal with this large volume of plastic
waste, resulting in an average of 41%
of plastic waste being mismanaged.38
Of this mismanaged waste, about 47%
leaks into nature and becomes plastic
pollution, often making its way into the
ocean. More than 11 million tonnes of
plastic enter the ocean every year.39
What is mismanaged plastic
waste? Mismanaged plastic
waste refers to any plastic waste
that is openly burned or that is
directly dumped or leaked into the
causes damage to economic industries,
in particular fisheries and tourism.42
Plastic takes hundreds to thousands
of years to degrade, imposing ruinous
costs onto future generations. As
awareness of the detrimental impacts
of plastic has risen, so has public
concern. Plastic pollution is now
regularly cited as one of the top three
major environmental concerns from
the public's perspective globally.43
Over the past decade awareness
and understanding of the
detrimental impacts and
potential solutions to the problem
have increased significantly. The
threat of marine plastic pollution
first emerged in the 1970s with
reports of plastic pellets in the North
Atlantic and was later cemented by
the discovery of the Great Pacific
Garbage Patch in 1997.44
about the negative impacts of plastic
across its lifecycle and the more
recent focus on microplastics has
Figure 1:
Measured in metric tonnes per year
Source: Geyer et al. (2017)


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