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Scientists call for global ban on virgin plastics by 2040

Plastic production has increased rapidly over the last sixty years, finding a permanent home in our oceans.  Biologists say the only way out is to halt its use completely.

The convenience, cleanliness, and cost-effective production of plastic is what lead to a widespread demand for the material.

Paradoxically, plastic has caused a massive inconvenience for us today (understatement of the year), by littering our environments and sparking costly research and design projects seeking ways to mitigate the global pollution problem.

The solution is not an uncomplicated one. Plastics in our ocean are breaking down into smaller pieces as we speak, with many microplastics so tiny they are undetectable to the human eye.

Marine life is plagued with bellies full of these plastics, but the issue extends beyond just your local fish. Ninety-three percent of humans have BPA in their system, the chemical that’s used to make plastics, meaning we too have ingested unwanted materials as a result of our reliance on convenience packaging.

In August of 2020, up to 21 million tonnes of microplastics were estimated to be floating around the Atlantic Ocean alone. That’s ten times more than previously determined, an amount that’s basically inconceivable – have you ever seen 21 million tonnes of anything?

The good news is environmentalists are already developing impressive prototypes to clear up ocean plastic, like the sailboat ‘Manta’ we featured recently in an article on Thred.

And while these sustainably run technologies designed for ocean clean up are wonderful, they won’t be able to keep up with the task of ridding seas of plastic if we continue producing at the rate we currently are.

Ocean Plastic Cleanup

Scientists now suggest a binding global treaty amongst nations is needed, committing them to ceasing the production of new plastics by 2040.

It’s recommended that the treaty be comprised of three phases: phasing out newly made plastics, creating a circular economy for existing plastic, and starting a worldwide clean-up of plastic waste.

The latter two are already happening on small scales.

Companies converting plastic into reusable, recycled pellets are already in operation. The pellets are then softened and restructured into cosmetic bottles, car parts, or other useful packaging which is purchased by value-aligned brands.

One company doing this is ‘The Plastic Bank’ operating in Haiti. Citizens collect plastic litter from beaches, roadsides, or from elsewhere in their community and exchange bags of it for useful items like phone chargers, cooking stoves, or cash.

The operation has created loads of local jobs and delivers a new social recycling system that financially benefits those involved in the project, as well as their environment.

To help slash the production of single-use plastics, Blue Avocado has designed leak-proof, reusable bags made from recycled materials.

‘(Re)zips’ can be used to store fresh produce and other perishables when shopping. Blue Avocado also accepts returns of the bags and recycles them when they come to the end of each use cycle.

With designs for major clean-up projects underway, and the number of recycling projects increasing, it appears the next major step is a formal, global commitment to stop producing new plastic materials which will only add to the growing waste problem.

Recent scandals have shown wealthy countries like the UK are not equipped to deal with the current amount of single-use plastic their citizens throw away daily.

If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that we can change our habits and way of life when we really need to. Altering the materials we use to package and store products could simply be treated as another facet of our ‘new normal’.

At COP26 and The UN’s Ocean Conference next summer, tackling the plastic problem is a listed priority. We’ll be looking out for developments at both meetings and look forward to hopefully reporting on a confirmed date for halted plastic production.