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Plastics in the Ocean are Costing us in the Trillions, annually

Plastics in the Ocean are Costing us in the Trillions, annually

Researchers find that plastic pollution is costing the world in the trillions annually, exclusive of all economic factors. All communities benefit from capturing plastics before they end-up in the Ocean.

It’s eye opening to see the headlines: “Marine Plastic Pollution Costs the world up to 2.5 Trillion a year, researchers find.” And this doesn’t take into account the health implications, the lost economic value from loss in fisheries, nor the lost tourism due to coastal plastic pollution.  
Unclaimed plastics cost us in all of the above categories. There are increasing numbers of diseases – nervous system diseases, rise in inexplicable infertility etc. – within the last ten to twenty years. Researchers have been finding that babies born after 1999 all have plastics in their bloodstream. No causation have been established yet, the only thing that should be enough for us to know is that plastics don’t belong in our system, just as petroleum doesn’t, the stuff it’s made from. 

Economically, here are some other numbers to help with just a linear thinking:

  • Over 400million tons of plastics were produced in 2018. 
  • Only 9% of plastics that are made to date have been recycled. 
  • Plastic’s value is anywhere between $200 to $3,000 per ton for processing. 
  • Somewhere between 8 to 12 million tons get lost into the Ocean every year.

Take the lowest economic value ($200/ton) and the above facts, put them together. That’s about over $2 Billion annually just lost to the ocean. Aside from that take the stuff landfilled, on-top of the 8 million tons. 50% of plastics produced are for packaging – that makes it 200 million tons of packaging was produced in 2018. Let’s say best case scenario, that we recycled 9% – the global recycling rate (packaging is mostly non-recyclable but still, conservative estimations here). 91% of 200 million tons is 182 million tons that is NOT recycled. At the lowest quality of plastic that’s about $36 billion annually – lost. And remember these calculations are only looking at 50% of what’s been created, they don’t cover the cost of plastics in products – toys, toothbrushes, electronics, lighters, caps, shoes, etc. Things that we all use daily, and don’t even think about recycling because we know they aren’t recyclable. Things that usually have a higher grade, higher value plastics.  The capturing of this 50% of plastics is untapped, across the world.

Back to our “recyclables” estimations. For some, perhaps the above $30-40 Billion might not seem like worthwhile reasons to change an entire infrastructure or invest in the future. (This is based on a true comment). These are very conservative estimations, and this only shows what we’re SAVING, not the economic value of the products that would be created from what is saved and recycled. This also does not take into account the amount that would be saved from lost forests and habitats etc. There is a much higher overall, holistic economic gain that cannot be placed into numbers.

Somehow we’ve normalized the loss of our own resources we’ve paid to make and purchase. For some reason we all view this as being dirty, worthless, pointless – and most importantly – somebody else’s problem. Our own resources we’ve paid to make and purchase – what does that mean? Think of silver or gold. Would you toss those out? Even after it serves a purpose at the very end of their life – they’re sold to somebody who can rework the material to make something more valuable. Because we say gold is valuable. The same thing even with petroleum. It’s so valuable we go to wars over it, and yet plastic is made of petroleum and we toss it.

The lack of proper recycling is costing us many times over what we’d be investing! If we’re able to raise $100 million we’d be able to cause an enormous change in the amount lost into the ocean and landfills just within the first 24 months. We’d start capturing billions of dollars of material with the $100 million investments. Would probably not even take that long to begin seeing results, based on expert estimations. There is a LOT of low lying fruit that has accumulated in the past few decades. 

Among the factors that these numbers don’t cover are also the loss of opportunity and economies IF those plastics are returned back into circulation. This will require additional machinery, and labor to create alternative, new, and more durable products – essentially creating a brand new industry. There are plenty of economic value in investing into coastal clean-ups and recycling as well as many reasons why this makes financial sense even beyond savings, cost avoidance and environmental benefit. Finally, the world is coming to understand and see this. And with this recognition the shift in mind-set is bound to accelerate! 

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