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Plastic pollution is a global threat that has now passed an irreversible threshold. The vast majority of plastics produced (approximately 91%) are buried in landfills, incinerated, or left to pollute our natural environment. As a whole, the plastic industry emits more than 850 million tonnes of greenhouse gases annually, mostly coming from production of virgin plastics.
Plastic is everywhere. In fact, there the total mass of plastic in our world today is more than double that of all living mammals on the planet. But what is plastic?
In its most simple definition, plastic is a synthetic material made from polymers that can be molded into a shape. In fact, there might be products you are using right now that you don’t realize are made from plastic, but they are. Everything from chewing gum and tea bags to wet wipes and menstrual products contains plastic. That polyester shirt you just bought? It’s made from plastic. But by far, the most prevalent use of plastic is in packaging.
Source: Plastics for Change
There are technically three types of plastics that sit under this category: (1) petroleum-derived and biodegradable, (2) non-petroleum derived and biodegradable, and (3) non-petroleum derived and not biodegradable.
Source: FAO, 2021
Non-petroleum-based bioplastics are made (at least partially) from renewable resources like corn or sugar cane, but they cost more to make, can be chemically identical to petroleum-based plastics, and release methane in landfills.
The plastics industry (from material sourcing to waste management) is responsible for 850 million tonnes of GHG emissions annually, and at the current pace could reach 1.34 billion tonnes by 2030. The majority of emissions come from the early stages of material sourcing (i.e. fossil fuel extraction) and resin production where every ton of plastic produced releases around 5 tons of CO2.