We're drowning in plastic
People want to reduce their plastic footprint, but the problem is too large to be solved by households alone. The industry have to take responsibility.
Did you brush your teeth today? Put your make-up on? Got dressed? Ate cheese on bread for breakfast? Drove your car to work? Been to football practice in the evening? Plastic is everywhere. From our toothpaste to our artificial turfs.
Plastic is a fantastic product. It's made our everyday life both safer and easier. It's durable, lightweight, flexible - and above all: cheap. Unfortunately, the huge growth in production and consumption has caused us to drown ourselves and nature in plastic.
We're drowning in a material that - after all we know - can last forever. Every year we throw away huge amounts. All over the world. Almost daily we can read about fish with their stomachs full of plastic, birds with plastic around their necks, micro-plastic in our drinking water and scientists discovering plastic inside the human body.
Did you know that over 380 million tons of plastic is produced annually in the world and that approximately half of that is produced for single use?
Did you know that it takes 450 years to break down just one plastic bottle?
Did you know that more than 15 tons of plastic end up in the ocean every minute?
Fortunately, plastic is high on the international agenda
Politicians around the world have proposed new laws and restrictions aimed at reducing especially single-use plastic. In Norway, for example, disposable cutlery and plates, chopsticks, straws, Q-tips and plastic balloons will be banned from 2020. While the EU will ensure that all plastic packaging sold can be reused or recycled by 2030.
In other words: A lot is happening. Also in Trondheim. These days, Ducky.eco, together with Future in our hands, is organizing a Plastic Challenge for households in five Norwegian municipalities. The households are competing to reduce their plastic footprint as much as possible. They recycle, reuse, replace plastic with other, more sustainable products, pick up plastic trash in their neighborhoods and leave their cars in the driveway. People are making a fantastic effort. Because people want to - and people can.
The idea behind this campaign is that change starts with action...
...and to prove that every contribution makes a real difference when many individuals act together. Nevertheless, the plastic problem is too large and pervasive for it to be left to consumers alone. While the UN is adopting a zero vision to end ocean plastic waste, the plastic and petroleum industries are planning to produce and use much more plastic in the years to come. They invest heavily in increasing the world's consumption of plastic based on fossil fuel and gas.
Did you know that if we continue to increase consumption at the same rate as we do now, the world in 2050 will produce and use almost four times as much plastic as today - about 1124 million tonnes of plastic a year?
Emissions for the plastic value chain are on par with emissions from all aviation worldwide.
If we continue to increase consumption at the same rate as we do now, the world in 2050 will produce and use almost four times as much plastic as today. A new Paris deal? Increased consumption of plastic also means increased emissions - from various links in the plastic value chain; recovery, shipping, refining and combustion of the plastic when it's no longer being used.
Buying and selling plastic garbage is a huge industry, making more than $5 billion a year. Instead of expensive sorting and treatment at home, many countries have exported the problem to countries with poorer waste management. And as a result, a lot of plastic waste from the US and Europe gets lost.
Only 9 precent of all plastic ever produced has been recycled, with an additional 12 percent incinerated, according to a plastic report from the UN's GRID center in Arendal. The rest has ended up in landfills or directly into nature. Asian countries, such as China, which previously received large quantities, are drowning in the material and don't want any more of it. This has led to a plastic-garbage crisis in the world.
The Norwegian plastic recycling scheme is shrouded in mystery.
The municipalities are only responsible for collecting plastic from consumers, while Grønt Punkt provides shipment to a sorting plant and is responsible for returns and recycling in Norway.
Grønt Punkt is a company owned by the packaging material companies, where packaging manufacturers finance the scheme through a fee on plastic packaging. Norwegian household plastics are collected and pressed together in Norway before most of them are shipped to Germany, where they are sorted.
What happens next is more unclear. Some are recycled, some are sent to other countries and some are incinerated. Although plastics may not go astray in Germany, it is possible that it will displace other plastics from German recycling facilities which must then be incinerated or passed on. In the worst case, it ends up in nature.
Plastic is a complex, global and structural problem that we as consumers unfortunately cannot solve alone.
That is why we are at the forefront of our plastic challenge and encourage Trondheim Renholdsverk, importers, manufacturers and Grønt Punkt to clean up their own mess.
Isn't it about time that we, in Norway, take responsibility for our own plastic?
If you want to maintain consumer trust, make sure our sorted plastic turns into new products! The plastic challenge proves that people are more than willing to both wash, sort and stack plastic as long as we see that it's useful and that you also take responsibility.
Did you know that the recycling symbol on the plastic packaging doesn't say whether the packaging can actually be recycled, only that a fee has been paid to Grønt Punkt?
Did you know that if you bang your head against the wall for an hour you consume 150 calories? (That's wasted energy).
First published in Adresseavisen "Vi drukner i plast".