The new plastic economy – saving our oceans from plastic

I see a future for our litter-filled oceans. According to the report The New Plastic Economy – Rethinking the future of plastics from January of this year, some of the biggest plastic producers have taken a step in the right direction. There is a plan to prevent our oceans from containing more plastic than fish in thirty years. Now we just need more leaders with the courage to follow through.

Bali – I have read descriptions of this island painting it like heaven on earth. Green rainforests, beautiful beaches and turquoise ocean. Not only that. Bali lies in the Coral Triangle, an area with the world’s highest biodiversity of marine species. My three daughters and I went there after the New Year. We wanted to experience nature, be together, and get a little more in touch with ourselves. We had gotten a tip that Seminyak was the place to go, but were later warned by my nephew, an experienced visitor to Bali and a surfer:
“You can’t go there now – not during the rainy season. The water is full of plastic garbage,” he explained.

Two tourists that we met at our hotel in Ubud confirmed this warning. They had been to Seminyak and had literally been swimming in plastic garbage.
I’m glad I didn’t see it, but then and there I realised the seriousness of the situation. The knowledge of how we are filling our oceans with litter stuck in my mind, gnawing at my thoughts, and casting a dark shadow over the incredible beauty we saw and experienced on the plastic-free side of the island. What should we do? What can we do? What does it matter if I religiously sort my plastics for recycling in Lund when plastic garbage is washing up onto beaches all over the world?

It’s easy to feel hopeless, but at the same time I realised I must trust that the vast majority of earth’s citizens do not want this, that there are courageous leaders who can and will lead us in the right direction. We must believe that there are courageous leaders who will not lose their way when the quarterly report is just around the corner. Courageous leaders who will look instead for long-term profitability beyond the demands of individual shareholders. Leaders who dare to invest in both the company and the world we have been entrusted with from our children and coming generations.

Giants who give hope
In the Ellen MacArthur Foundation report entitled The New Plastic Economy – Rethinking the future of plastics, around 40 companies collaborated, including such giants as Coca Cola and foods and personal/home care conglomerate Unilever. The purpose was to create a sustainable system for the global plastics industry where the goal is that 70 percent of all plastic packaging will be reused or recycled. Compare this with the meagre 14 percent we currently achieve.

The report gives me hope, strength and courage. There are leaders that I want to follow. Even if – as the report authors assert – it requires substantial efforts from major plastic producers and the entire supply chain right down to and including the consumer, something good is starting to happen.

This report marks a major milestone, calling out specific actions to capture opportunities for redesign and innovation, reuse, and recycling. It’s now up to us all to get it done. Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, plastic production is expected to double over the next 20 years from the staggering 300 million tonnes of today. In other words, we can no longer sit and wait for someone else to fix this problem. The oceans and their inhabitants are longing for courageous leaders who can and will take responsibility for future plastic production and followers who view a reduction in plastic consumption as an obligation.
Either we pass down to our children the oceans of the world filled with disposable trash, or we continue to make courageous and wise decisions.


A few facts worth reflecting over:
* Nearly 40 tonnes of microplastics from hygiene products alone are released into the Baltic every year.
* It takes 100 years to break down a disposable plastic cup.
* Every year ships dump 6.5 tonnes of plastic garbage into the ocean.
* Around 8,000 cubic metres of garbage wash up onto the Bohus coastline every year. Ninety percent of this garbage is plastic.
* The plastic that ends up in our oceans does not change form. With time, it appears to break down into its most basic components but researchers have found that the plastic simply fragments into microscopic plastic particles that float around in the water like artificial plankton.
* Every third blue mussel living along our Swedish west coast contains plastic particles.