DW.com — Giant petrochemical companies have announced a wealthy alliance to tackle plastic pollution. But there’s little talk of scaling back production to help the environment.
The day my close childhood friend turned 2 years old, The New York Times published an in-depth article entitled “The Promise and Perils of Petrochemicals.”
It offered an insight into the complexities and “alchemy” of synthetics manufacture, and claimed that products such as plastics are often created more to meet the needs of industry than those of the consumer. In the same breath, it warned that large-scale production could, in years to come, become an environmental hazard.
That was in 1977. Fast forward to the here and now, and that prophecy is graphically borne out in abundant images from across the world of clogged waterways, dead wildlife and trash heaped as far, high and wide as the eye can see.
Even the author of the decades-old caution might have struggled to imagine how, in the intervening 40 plus years, global and globalized society would go from an annual production of some 50 million tons — equivalent in weight to around 150 Empire State Buildings — to 335 million tons in 2016, as figures from Statista show.
Yet it has. And despite the fact that of the overall 8.3 billion tons of plastic we’ve churned out to date, 91 percent has not been recycled. According to a 2016 report by the World Economic Forum, we’re on track to quadruple our total output by 2050.
Given that plastics, left to their own devices and exposed to even the very worst extreme weather, can take many hundreds of years to break down, environmentalists are calling for a solution that goes beyond cleanups and bans on selected single-use items.
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