Plastic! But how much? And where does it come from? Questions ahead of the roundtable « An Abyss of Plastic Wisdom, A Solutions-Oriented Dialogue »

On 19th of November, The SeaCleaners will be organising an exceptional roundtable discussion entitled "An Abyss of Plastic Wisdom, A Solutions-Oriented Dialogue", at the laboratory of the United Nations initiative: UN Decade "A Clean Ocean".

A roundtable organized by The SeaCleaners

During this online debate, The SeaCleaners will bring together a unique panel of scientists, policy makers, industry and media to discuss and identify science and technology-based solutions to change the way we think about plastics and their value chain.  

At the same time, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has just published the report “From Pollution to Solution – A Global Assessment of Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution”.   

Ahead of the roundtable, The SeaCleaners explore three of the issues addressed in this report:   

1.Plastic flows: Plastic! But how much? And where does it come from? 
2.The impact of plastic on biodiversity 
3.Degradation of plastic waste into macro & micro plastics

Plastics have become a marker of the current geological era: the Anthropocene, and have given their name to a new microbial habitat known as the plastisphere.   

The cumulative global production of primary plastics between 1950 and 2017 is estimated at 9.2 billion tonnes and is expected to reach 34 billion tonnes by 2050.   

To date, it is estimated that this global production has generated almost 7 billion tonnes of plastic waste. Of this amount of plastic waste, less than 10% has been recycled.   

“Without urgent action, the 11 million tonnes of plastic that currently enter the ocean each year will triple over the next 20 years. This would mean that between 23 and 37 million tonnes of plastic would enter the ocean each year by 2040.
This is equivalent to 50 kilograms of plastic per metre of coastline worldwide.”

UNEP From Pollution to Solution - A Global Assessment of Marine Litter and Plastic Pollution, 2021

These are the words of UNEP to sum up the urgency of the plastic problem.   

In light of this data, the UNEP report stresses that there is an urgent need to know how to reduce the volume of uncontrolled or poorly managed waste streams flowing into the oceans and how to increase the level of recycling. 

Plastic! But how much? And where does it come from? 

Plastics have been found from the top of Mount Everest to the Mariana Trench, in ice, freshwater, lakes, rivers, oceans and air (macro plastics, micro plastics and nano plastics).   

The sources of plastic waste are clear and well-illustrated in the following figure :

Major sources and sinks of microplastics and marine litter - Credit UNEP
Major sources and sinks of microplastics and marine litter - Credit UNEP

The main sources of marine litter and plastic pollution are land-based (as opposed to marine activities) and UNEP estimates that 80% of marine litter comes from land-based sources. So we need to better control the land-based pathways first.   

According to the current report, three quarters of the 7,000 million cumulative tonnes of plastic produced that became litter between the 1950s and 2017, or 5,250 million tonnes, was discarded and placed in landfills. They are therefore part of the uncontrolled and poorly managed waste stream, or have been dumped or abandoned in the environment, including at sea.   

Global production is expected to increase to 11 billion tonnes per year by 2050 if we continue on our current path without drastic measures  

A deeper understanding of the sources and pathways of poorly managed waste would help mitigate the problem through solutions such as  

– Strategic placement of waste collection facilities   

– Raising community awareness  

– Better understanding of waste sources. 

For NGOs seeking curative solutions like The SeaCleaners, it is of utmost importance to determine where the plastic slicks are. A combination of on-site observations, linked to satellite observations and model-based estimates and predictions of possible slick drift, gives us the facts to act effectively and in a targeted manner with collection means, and to rehabilitate as many ecosystems as possible in the shortest possible time.  

Read the SeaView article: Plastic! But how much? And where does it come from? 

“An Abyss of Plastic Wisdom, A Solutions-Oriented Dialogue”, The SeaCleaners roundtable, laboratory of the UN initiative: UN Decade “A Clean Ocean”.   

19th November 2021   

Time: 11:00am-1:00pm (Central European Time) 

Online event – Free access with registration  

All info and registration