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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

The Conservation Alliance

Towards A New Plastics Economy

Towards A New Plastics Economy


Discarded plastic trash bags, Bag-it Man (credit: MountainFilm & SWP Media)


Plastic trash has become a massive pollution scourge. True to the definition, the volume of waste is 'causing great suffering' to cities, landscapes, and the oceans. It is of particular threat to marine life where vast gyres of plastics have developed. The durable material ranges in size from microscopic atomized bits, that can enter the food-chain, to floating masses of bags, bottles, and even rubber toys.

Plastics are manufactured from fossil hydrocarbons and petrochemicals that can survive for decades without deteriorating. A study, The New Plastics EconomyRethinking the Future of Plastics by the Ellen Macarther Foundation, offers a blueprint for designing a more sustainable future economy and protect the environment. According to their announcement, the UK-based foundation used circular economy principles investigate global plastic packaging flow. It found new approaches to the current plastics economy that could be adjusted to one that drastically reduces environmental externalities from discarded waste. Key findings include:

1. most plastic packaging is used only once; 2. 95% of the value of plastic packaging, worth $80-120 billion annually, is lost to the economy; 3. discarded packaging generates negative externalities to marine environments, wildlife, and fisheries conservatively valued at $40 billion; 4. recycling efforts account for only 2% of currently discarded plastics; and 5. under existing rates of plastic consumption, the oceans would contain more plastics (in weight) than fish by 2050.

The Foundation's also offered suggestions for building a more sustainable future by including innovative technological "moon shots" to create such a circular economy. The opportunity for new jobs is as large as the environmental problem itself.

            Technological Innovations for Plastics "Moon Shots"  (credit: Macarthur Foundation)

The entire Macarthur report is available here.


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