There will soon be more plastic than fish in the sea, Ellen MacArthur study warns

We are making 20 times more plastic than we did 50 years ago — and much of it is being thrown into the sea

Andrew Griffin
Wednesday 20 January 2016 15:17 GMT
Plastic waste is seen at the plastic waste exhibition "Sea, The Last Leg" in down town Amman November 19, 2014
Plastic waste is seen at the plastic waste exhibition "Sea, The Last Leg" in down town Amman November 19, 2014

There will be more waste plastic than fish in the sea by 2050, unless the industry helps to clean the seas, a new report warns.

The production of plastic is growing hugely and could account for 20 per cent of all oil production in the next few decades, a report from the Ellen Macarthur Foundation has warned.

The production of plastic is up by 20 times in the last 50 years, the report warns. And only a tiny proportion of that huge amount of plastic is actually recycled — with 40 per cent of it thrown in landfill and most of the rest thrown into fragile ecosystems like the sea.

The rest of it is burned. That saves energy in creating heat, but it also means that new plastics have to be used — using up more oil to make the plastic bags and containers that are required.

The world needs to rapidly transform to stop plastics from becoming waste, the report from the record-breaking sailor’s foundation warns.

“This report demonstrates the importance of triggering a revolution in the plastics industrial ecosystem and is a first step to showing how to transform the way plastics move through our economy,” said Dominic Waughray of the World Economic Forum, where the report was launched. “To move from insight to large scale action, it is clear that no one actor can work on this alone; the public, private sector and civil society all need to mobilize in order to capture the opportunity of the new circular plastics economy.”

The report recognised that the use of plastic was integral to much modern industry. But it is also in inefficient material, almost always being used just once and generating huge amounts of waste, both of plastic and the fossil fuels required to make it.

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