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Plastics

Overview

plastic on a beach Greg Armfield WW275057

Plastic waste is choking our planet. It’s killing marine species, polluting the air we breathe, and putting stress on our oceans and rivers. Plastic is everywhere in part because it has a lot of advantages over more traditional materials. For instance, plastic is essential in preventing food waste, keeping medical equipment sanitary, and as a lightweight packaging alternative that reduces greenhouse gas emissions. But as useful as it may be, plastic doesn’t belong in nature.

Every year, an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic enter our oceans—that’s one dump truck every minute. Plastic takes hundreds of years to degrade, and it’s detrimental to wildlife in ways we are only just beginning to understand. Unless we repair our fundamentally broken global system of plastic production, consumption and waste management, it’s projected that by 2050, the total amount of plastic waste in the oceans will weigh more than all fish, and 99% of seabirds will have ingested plastics.

Many of us go the extra mile: we recycle, carry reusable bags and cutlery, or look for products with sustainable packaging. But no person, community, organization or government can tackle this issue alone. WWF’s vision of No Plastic in Nature by 2030 calls for addressing the problem at its root. Half of all the plastic that’s ever been produced was made in the last 15 years, and if we leave plastic pollution unchecked, it will only continue to wreak havoc on nature.

To end the flow of plastic into nature, we need to go beyond piecemeal solutions and rally everyone – from business to governments and individuals - around a comprehensive blueprint for change.

Our oceans are haunted by ghost nets: Why that's scary and what we can do

Ghost nets don’t only catch fish; they also entangle sea turtles, dolphins and porpoises, birds, sharks, seals, and more. Since hundreds of animals can be caught in a single net, you can see just how monumental this threat is.

sea turtle and net WW24369 Jordi Chias

Why It Matters

  • One Planet Perspective

    As we work towards a solution for the plastic waste crisis, we must do it in a way that does not negatively impact other critical issues that are affecting the environment, including the climate, forests and food waste.  For example, when companies substitute paper products for plastics, we must ensure that the paper comes from responsibly managed forests, particularly those certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Otherwise, we’re just shifting the environmental cost to another part of nature.

  • Wildlife

    WWF’s 2018 Living Planet Report found that global biodiversity declined by 60% between 1974 and 2014. Over 800 species are negatively impacted by plastic waste, but we’re only just starting to understand the effects of plastics on our ecosystems.

  • Communities

    Plastic pollution has far-reaching implications for local communities by posing a public health risk, decreasing fish stock, and contributing to climate change. Communities in developing countries are particularly vulnerable to the effects of plastic pollution. In areas with poor infrastructure, polluted coastlines where plastic accumulates can create a favorable breeding environment for disease-carrying organisms such as insects and rodents. And, plastic production represents up to 8% of global petrol use – on par with the aviation industry – and incinerating plastic waste pollutes our air all while contributing to climate change[1].

  • Need for Circular Systems

    Only 9% of plastic waste in the US is recycled each year. When plastic ends up in nature, this waste affects the fishery, maritime, and tourism industries, causing an estimated $8 billion in economic losses annually.

    Our current waste management system and recycling infrastructure cannot properly manage the volume of virgin plastic constantly entering the system. When we throw out plastic instead of recapturing and recycling it, we miss an important opportunity to recapture the value of the resources already used for the production of our plastics. There is more than $2 billion worth of plastic material sitting in the United States’ landfills at this very moment.  WWF is advocating for a holistic solution that curbs plastic pollution and its many associated consequences.

What WWF Is Doing

Everyone takes action

Each one of us is part of the solutions needed for a plastic revolution. WWF works to raise awareness about ways we can address plastic waste in our daily lives, through the choices we make about our consumption and habits. Whether it’s skipping some single-use plastic packing or carrying a reusable water bottle, we educate our WWF members and activists about the impact they can make to help end plastic pollution.

collecting plastic WW170012

Ghost gear

A major threat to marine biodiversity, abandoned fishing gear, or ghost gear, is estimated to comprise up to 10% of plastic waste in our oceans, by volume. While this may seem like a small number, ghost gear is the most harmful form of plastic pollution to marine species. Ghost gear continues to capture wildlife well after it’s abandoned, pollute habitats, and enters the food web as it degrades. Ghost gear impacts 45% of all marine mammals on the Red List of Threatened Species[1].

A Plastics Revolution

WWF’s campaign “No Plastic in Nature” aims to fix a broken system using a holistic approach. There is no single solution to plastic pollution, we need a combination of strategies and engagement from all actors. By engaging all actors – government, businesses, and the public – we can examine every aspect of the life cycle of any given plastic material, and identify key elements that are ripe for intervention. 

While our aim is to eliminate the leakage of plastic into nature by 2030, we have also set a goal for 2021: establishing a global legally-binding agreement to end plastic pollution. Such an agreement would introduce specific targets and pave the way for each nation to devise an action plan for addressing the plastic pollution epidemic. WWF is committed to engaging with the United States government and securing our elected officials’ support on this “Paris for Plastics”.

Engaging private sector

Companies are uniquely positioned to help drive large-scale transformative change, by improving their own plastic pollution footprint as well as influencing other key stakeholders like governments and consumers to do the same.

Through WWF’s activation hub, ReSource: Plastic, we seek to redesign how businesses source, use and dispose of plastics. To learn more about ReSource: Plastic, please visit resource-plastic.com.

In coordination with several global consumer brand companies, WWF has also established the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance (BFA), a science-driven organization which aims to evaluate diverse bioplastic feedstocks to better understand the potential sustainability opportunities of each. The BFA helps the bioplastic industry’s emerging supply chain move in a positive direction.