The covid pandemic increased the amount of plastic used globally in our efforts to try to keep covid-19 from spreading.
Plastic gloves, plastic bags instead of canvas shopping bags, plastic in face mask fibers, plastic face shields and even those syringes the medical professionals use to vaccinate us all. Plastic water bottles, more takeout food in Styrofoam containers, more plastic garbage bags as we cleaned more and took out the garbage more often, and don’t forget all that bubble wrap for all those online orders….Think about what plastic you used over the past 15 months, for example. Now multiply that times 320 million Americans or 7+ billion people worldwide.
Reuters called it “The Plastic Pandemic.” Now you’ll understand why every year between 4.8 and 12.7 million tons of plastic pieces end up dumped into oceans across the globe. “One garbage truck of plastic is discarded into our oceans every minute. Approximately 5,000 items of marine plastic pollution have been found per mile of beach in the UK,” where the G7 is being held this week, according to Condor Ferries.
The planet is 71% water and 96.5% of that water is ocean.
All that plastic washes into our oceans from landfills, breaking into microfibers that even end up in fish. You may have heard about fish and birds strangling in plastic soda carriers, but you may not want to know about how much plastic is consumed by marine life – fish that may end up in a restaurant or market of your choosing.
“More than 1,200 species are impacted by plastic, through ingestion or entanglement — both of which can sicken or even kill them,” according to the marine preservation nonprofit 5Gyres. “Birds, fish, turtles, dolphins, sharks and even whales can be poisoned or trapped by plastic debris, waste, and garbage.”
As the G7 Summit leaders convene in the U.K. this week, one of the biggest producers of plastic, Nestlé, and UK supermarkets, including Aldi which has gained a bigger presence in the U.S. as well, signed an open letter calling on the G7 nations to declare a commitment to tackle this crisis as part of their climate talks.
“Some 300m tonnes of plastic waste [are] produced every year,” The Guardian quotes the letter as saying. “Less than 10% of all plastic has ever been recycled. The rest piles up in landfill, is incinerated, or ends up littering our natural environment for centuries.” The letter continued that, “The pandemic has only sent us deeper into this crisis….Globally, 3m face masks are thrown away every minute – amounting to 129bn every month – mostly disposable, mostly plastic,” The Guardian quotes the letter as saying.
Pew Charitable Trusts describes the problem as a “solvable” one. All it takes is the will – on the part of policymakers, business leaders, and consumers. “With roughly 11 million metric tons of plastic flowing into our ocean each year… (But) that flow could be reduced by 80% over the next 20 years, largely through technologies, business
processes, and policy models that already exist,” Pew and their partners on the study reported. They published their findings recently in a report, called “Breaking the Plastic Wave,” and a corresponding paper in Science, Companies can revise their manufacturing process to use more recycled materials, including plastic, or to eliminate plastic altogether, for example.
Plus, each of us can choose another option besides the plastic one.
Plastic it’s not just bad for the ocean, it’s also bad for climate change because plastic is made from petroleum – from fossil fuels. “Plastic, most of which does not decompose, is a significant driver of climate change,” Reuters wrote. “The manufacture of four plastic bottles alone releases the equivalent greenhouse gas emissions of driving one mile in a car, according to the World Economic Forum, based on a study by the drinks industry. The United States burns six times more plastic than it recycles, according to research in April 2019 by Jan Dell, a chemical engineer and former vice chair of the U.S. Federal climate committee. But the coronavirus has accentuated a trend to create more, not less, plastic trash.”
As the G7 finance leaders called for mandatory reporting on financial institutions’ climate risk exposure to eliminate the inconsistencies in how companies and countries handle this currently.
Saying in their final communique according to Reuters that, “We support moving towards mandatory climate-related financial disclosures that provide consistent and decision-useful information for market participants…,”This will help mobilise the trillions of dollars of private sector finance needed, and reinforce government policy to meet our net zero commitments.”
As Gréta María Grétarsdóttir, Chief Innovation, CSR and IR Officer at BRIM in Iceland wrote me, “It is important for policymakers in the US and Iceland to make sure that the infrastructure is ready when decisions are made. It is not possible to force regulations if the local infrastructure is not ready. Local communities must, for example, be ready to sort and recycle waste to support the circular economy.”
The question is: Will the G7 include dramatic mandatory reductions in the use of plastic as part of their joint commitments to combat climate change, and provide for the infrastructure to manage that reduction? And if so, how will they be held accountable for meeting those commitments?