Here is an interesting sequence from someone who has happily chronicled the amazing growth of petrochemicals over the past sixty years: (a) Dustin Hoffman learns about “plastics” from a Dutch uncle upon graduation (b) Ethylene becomes the largest-growing petrochemical and still is because of polyethylene packaging material (c) About a third of all plastic packaging ends up in lakes and oceans. (d) By 2050 the weight of plastics in the ocean will equal that of the weight of all fish in the ocean! Is there something we can do about that?Both graphics courtesy of Chemical & Engineering News, Oct. 17, 2016 and Ellen McArthur Foundation, The New Plastics Economy. Rethinking the Future of Plastics
It has now become quite clear that recycling and incineration of plastic garbage has not solved the problem of disposal of (primarily plastic) packaging material of which 70% ends up in bodies of water or landfill. Municipalities have taken baby steps to reduce the use of plastic packaging, but if we want to solve or at least mitigate this problem, much more needs to be done.
Interestingly, the plastics industry is now engaged in a campaign to increase the use of plastics packaging for produce and meats, rightly pointing out that cucumbers will stay fresh much longer on grocery shelves if they wrapped in plastic and that steaks can last weeks on shelves if packaged in more sophisticated plastic packaging than currently in use. It estimates huge reductions in food waste (important, as population grows) through greater use of plastics.
Folks (as Trump likes to say), we are heading for a messy future as by 2050 plastics share of the carbon budget will grow from the current 1% to 15% and sea levels will rise remarkably. I guess the good news is that fish and plastics will have more water to swim in.