The Guardian • Issue #2050


Anna Pha

Australians spend more than $570 and consume around 500 litres per person on bottled water per annum – second only to Singapore. The total expenditure in 2021 was $15 billion. This is despite the availability of safe drinking water in most parts of the country. Imagine if that money were redirected to countries that do not have safe drinking water. UN University researchers estimate that close to 600 billion polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles were discarded globally in 2021, resulting in over 25 million tonnes of PET waste – more than double the 12 million tonnes produced in 2000.

Carbon dioxide is produced at every stage of the plastic value chain – including being burnt, buried, or recycled, not just extraction of oil and manufacturing,” Carbon Tracker reports. Its analysis found that plastic releases roughly twice as much CO2 as producing a tonne of oil.

Plastics as they break down are an environmental and health hazard to animals and humans. “A growing plastic smog, now estimated to be over 170 trillion plastic particles [is] afloat in the world oceans mostly made up of micro-plastics.” (Fight Back CPA South Australia)

Australia remains addicted to plastics with 3.5 million tonnes used in 2018-19. Plastic recycling rates remain low. Only 13 per cent of plastics are recycled and 84 per cent are sent to landfill. “Industry is selling plastic recycling to the world as the solution … but they know full well this is greenwashing designed to maintain business as usual as they drip feed relatively small quantities of recycled plastic into the virgin feedstocks,” said Jack Bemmer, the secretary of Zero Waste Australia and campaign director for the National Toxics Network told Michael West Media. The recycling of PET plastic, such as found in drink bottles, is 83 per cent to 93 per cent more expensive to recycle into a new bottle than to produce a new one from raw materials.

By 2050 it is estimated that plastic in the oceans will outweigh the fish. As the plastic breaks down into micro-plastics and nano-plastics it poses a significant threat to marine and terrestrial plant and animal life including humans. The plastics contain endocrine disrupting chemicals and other toxic compounds used in their production which find their way into the food chain. Toxic heavy metals added to plastic materials increase the danger to the health of humans and animals. Burning of plastic can lead to heart disease; aggravated respiratory ailments such as asthma and emphysema; rashes; nausea; headaches; or damage to the nervous system, kidney or liver. Dioxins settle on crops, waterways, and enter our food chain as do plastics ingested by fish.

“A world awash in plastic will soon see even more, as a host of new petrochemical plants – their ethane feedstock supplied by the fracking boom – come online. Major oil companies, facing the prospect of reduced demand for their fuels, are ramping up their plastics output.” ( Companies such as ExxonMobil, Shell, and Saudi Aramco are increasing, not reducing, their output of plastic which is made from oil and gas, and their by-products. They are hedging against the possibility that an effective global response to climate change might reduce demand for their fuels. Plastics are expected to drive half of oil demand growth between now and 2050, according to the International Energy Agency, unless governments take decisive action to ensure they are rapidly phased out.

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