Will creating a circular economy for plastics stop ocean pollution?

Here’s a shocking fact for you.

The amount of plastic waste which gets into our oceans every year is expected to almost triple by 2040 - to a staggering 29 million tonnes.  This would bring the total plastic waste in our oceans to 600 million tonnes by the same date, unless radical action is taken.

Needless to say, these are pretty stark statistics.

They are however also the inspiration behind a new two-year research project ('Breaking the Plastic Wave') which highlights the failure of the current, existing global campaign to stop plastic pollution from flowing into our oceans.

Instead, the project’s creators (The Pew Charitable Trusts and B-Corp SYSTEMIQ Ltd) offer a comprehensive, evidence-backed report which recommends an ambitious plan to tackle the problem.  In essence, they are calling for a total rethink of the global plastics industry shifting it to a circular economy, focussing in part on a global shift to reuse and recycle.  This, the report concludes, could reduce the annual flow of plastic waste into our oceans by as much as 80% over the next 20 years.

What is a 'circular economy'?

This circular model separates creating something from the consumption of the Earth’s finite resources.  There are 3 main planks to the concept:

  1. Design waste and pollution out of the economy – For example, from a manufacturing perspective ensure that items are made without causing excess waste and via the use of green energy rather than fossil fuels.
  2. Keep products and materials in use – Reuse and recycle existing products and their component parts wherever possible and have incentives in place to make this commercially & financially viable on a global scale.
  3. Regenerate natural systems – Use the economic activity to fund projects which combat climate change and pollution (such as ocean plastic clear-up schemes) and invest in more green energy schemes.

The circular economy highlights the importance of a system needing to work with the planet instead of against it.  A system that benefits everyone, including businesses (large and small) and individuals, both locally and globally.

One particular aspect of a circular approach means moving to a ban on single-use plastics and to using already existing materials to make new plastic items, in instances where this is needed.

Are there problems with this approach?

In short, yes.  Whilst creating a circular economy for plastics will certainly be a great help, there are some plastic products which by their very nature are very difficult to recycle.  In such instance's alternative, planet-friendly materials should be sought.

For example, most plastic toothbrushes on the market are not recyclable; because their small parts often getting stuck in the required machinery, but more commonly because the composite nature of the materials they are made from (a mixture of different grades of plastic and rubber) are tricky to separate back out into their component parts.

Given that the average person uses 300 toothbrushes in their lifetime and that there are 7 billion people on the planet (and rising), this means that unless we all consciously make the switch away from plastic toothbrushes, this could result in 2.1 trillion pieces of single-use plastic going into landfill and our oceans, which could have been avoided.

None of us want to imagine quite how big that plastic mass could be, even with the Earth’s 361 million km² of ocean.

So, will creating a circular economy for plastics stop ocean pollution?  By itself, no.  All of us need to totally rethink our own use of plastic (including plastic toothbrushes) and take steps to move to different, sustainable alternatives which don’t cause the same level of pollution and waste.  By each playing our part, we become part of a wider drive which encourages change at a global level and only by all working together will we help stop plastics from polluting the ocean.

Small actions x lots of people = Big impact.

Make the change from plastic to sustainable bamboo toothbrushes now and help preserve our Planet, for you and your children. Sign up to make a difference today.

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