Plastic Pollution here to stay?

We have all seen, either first hand while on holiday, or in the media, the appalling tonnage of plastic waste building up in our oceans and in countries where it has been shamelessly dumped.

In 2019, the WWF found that each of us could be ingesting the equivalent of a credit card of plastic every week containing toxic chemicals, including PFAS, which are also known as ‘forever chemicals’, because they break down very slowly and are becoming linked to some serious health issues. 

However, during April, I was hopeful that a Global Plastic Reduction Treaty might place restrictions on the production of plastic, reducing it by 40% over 15 years to protect human health and our environment.

The global plastic reduction target would be legally binding, like the Paris agreement to to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C.

Global plastic production has soared from 2m tonnes in 1950 to a massive 348m tonnes in 2017 and is expected to double by 2040. Can you remember life in the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s before single use plastics existed? Now they are ubiquitous!

We like to think that when we painstakingly rinse and sort our plastics that we are ‘doing our bit’ for the environment. Sadly, In the UK, we recycle less than half of our plastic waste. A survey by the charity Recoup suggests that only 7% of plastic film, which accounts for 70% of our plastic waste, is recycled.

The majority of our waste is exported to be ‘recycled’ or incinerated abroad. Turkey is one of the biggest destinations for the UK’s plastic waste and the amount being exported to lower income countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia is increasing.

In 2021, the environmental group Greenpeace found that exported plastic waste was being illegally dumped and burned in Turkey. In 2020, it found that the burning of exported plastic in Malaysia was polluting soil and water with chemicals known to damage the nervous system and other organs including the brain.

Added to this, about 11m tonnes of plastic leaches into our oceans each year, causing terrible problems to wildlife and by 2040 the scale of this marine plastic waste pollution is likely to triple.

So who are the top polluters in the UK?

  • Coca-Cola tops the list being responsible for 17%.
  • McDonalds comes in second, responsible for 11%.
  • PepsiCo comes a close third
  • Together, these biggest polluting brands were responsible for 37% of all branded pollution collected during the audit.

Given all that pollution, the prospect of an international treaty to cut plastic at source raised my spirits. It was pioneered by two countries of the global south, Rwanda and Peru.

However, just as in COP 28 where 2,456 fossil fuel lobbyists undermined the final outcome, something similar seems to have happened here, resulting no final agreement to reduce the £610 billion plastic production industry.

It would appear that key countries of the global north capitulated to pressure from lobbyists, so although the proposal was supported by 29 countries including Australia, Denmark, Portugal and the Netherlands, the UK and US were not among them.

Once again, the future of humanity, our health and our complex eco-systems, are being put at risk by vested interests. They simply don’t include the needs of the environment and humanity in their calculations of profit.

Against these odds, will anything we do as individuals make any difference? Probably not. Should we still do it? ABSOLUTELY!


*Data from the Dirty Dozen Report by Surfers Against Sewage 2023

Primary Sources:

Clare Carlile, Ethical Consumer

Friday 15th of March 2024

Sandra Laville, The Guardian 3rd May 2024


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