Plastic damage to our planet may now be irreversible says new research

4th July 2021 | Recycling

The plastic in our oceans may have changed our planet forever, according to new research. Scientists say it has now reached a tipping point, triggering effects we will not be able to reverse. Recycling schemes are failing to stem the tide and capping production and banning waste exports is the last chance, say the authors of the news study. Actions that drastically reduce emissions are “the rational policy response,” say an international team.

Lead author Professor Matthew MacLeod, of the University of Stockholm, explained: “Plastic is deeply engrained in our society and leaks into the environment everywhere – even in countries with good waste-handling infrastructure.” The study in the journal Science found the pollution threat is getting worse despite better public awareness.

Plastic damage

Plastic is found everywhere on Earth – from deserts and mountaintops to deep oceans and Arctic snow. As of 2016, estimates of global emissions to the world’s lakes, rivers and oceans ranged from nine to 23 million metric tons a year. The same again is dumped on land. Quantities are expected to almost double by 2025 if business-as-usual scenarios apply.

Co author Mine Tekman, a PhD candidate at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Bremerhaven, Germany, said it is also a “political and economic” issue. Current solutions, such as recycling and cleanup technologies, are not enough – and we must tackle the problem at its root. She said: “The world promotes technological solutions for recycling and to remove plastic from the environment. As consumers, we believe when we properly separate our plastic trash, all of it will magically be recycled. Technologically, recycling of plastic has many limitations, and countries that have good infrastructures have been exporting their plastic waste to countries with worse facilities. Reducing emissions requires drastic actions, like capping the production of virgin plastic to increase the value of recycled plastic, and banning export of plastic waste unless it is to a country with better recycling.”

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