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What does 8 Million Tons of Plastic Mean?

What does 8 Million Tons of Plastic Mean?

You’ve heard the 8 Million Tons of plastics entering our ocean every year. That’s the 15 trucks every minute statistic.

We have so many numbers. But what does 8 Million Tons mean to you? Or 15 trucks full of plastics every minute. What does that look like at the end of a day or a week?

People have tried to show this number with whales, shopping carts, and all kinds of creative ways. And still, we don’t really have a change. It’s too abstract a number to make sense to any of us. When humans cannot relate to something we usually choose to just ignore it.
What if we talked about this in monetary terms. Using very simple math and straightforward assumptions to make this make sense. 8 Million tons of all kinds of plastics.
For simplicity – let’s say that all of them are just plastic bottles. (They are not, the ocean is filled with nets, crates, toys, shoes, tires, etc. all though if recovered properly yield a higher value.) We know that plastic bottles are worth about 5cents a piece in NYC for the Chinese ladies who collect them. But that service is actually subsidized by somebody who pays the collectors. So, to make it even simpler – let’s say that this number is just 1 cent. Plastic bottles at the end of the day can be returned for at least 1 cent, to many grocery stores or take-back programs, because they have value. They can be turned into raw plastic if they are clean, new products can be made out of them, and that in turn can be sold to make more money.
David Katz has built a futuristic business doing just that – Plastic Bank. They founded “Social Plastic” where waste is turned into value to provide social services and goods.
So just for simplicity let’s say that is 1cent per bottle.
Now let’s look at these numbers. Our intention is not to say that this is the $ value that we are actually losing every year, this is at least that amount. To derive a possible value for the unknown – let’s take the lowest value for plastic/ton that is widely used across international markets: $450 per ton (approx .20cents/lb). The translation of 8 Million tons is then $3,600,000,000. That is $3.6Billion dollars a year. A value that has not been created or explored yet because it’s too busy going into the ocean, and those who can create this opportunity are avoiding the topic as a “problem” rather than tackling the possibilities. It’s already working in multiple markets around the world.
Using the same values – let’s make this a bit simpler. Let’s use this to mean it’s all plastic bottles. Meaning we’re refining the statement to say “one garbage truck full of plastic bottles are dumped into the ocean every minute.” If we say roughly that every garbage truck holds about $500 worth of plastic bottles – 46000 non-compressed water bottles fits into a garbage truck that’s ~ 1 metric ton. Even though the trucks have a capacity to carry 15 tons – that’s another story about compressed and non-compressed bottles. But using just 1 ton vs. 15ton capacity: the total for that is:
$270Million+ Every year –> $745,000 every day.

Ok let’s say $500 is too high a price – let’s half that amount and bring it down to $250 (approx. .08cents per pound). That is still over $135million a year of the world’s economy dumped into the abyss

Why are these numbers important to have in our minds? To see both the damage we are causing the planet and the extent of the opportunity we are throwing away. These numbers are not exact by any means. This is just loose and linear math. True those plastics in the ocean don’t have much quality to recycle any more – that’s up to us to capture them BEFORE they lose their quality. It’s also true that all plastics in the ocean, or landfills, are not made of the same grade – yes, and bottles are one of the least valuable plastics – it’s up to US to make plastics that don’t lose value on manufacturing’s conveyor belts. It is also up to us to capture what is out there before they hit the ocean. The world is too deep in plastics now to only look forward. We need to also look at what’s here. In the future plastics will be made differently and manufacturing processes will be changed and collection will be part of the design of the product and all of that utopic things. And until then, we’re still going to be making and using at least 400million metric tons of plastics every year. 


When we actually recycle – in the true sense of the word we are recovering a good portion of this. Not saying we know what the amount is, the point is to change our mindsets and instead of looking at this as “just” saving the whales, birds, ocean or environment, also include the economic impact. There is a true loss of economic value in both resource and labor, and just playing this down as a “treehugger’s mission” is not serving the world.

The opportunity in this space is practically infinite. Beyond the pictures of “doom” there are opportunities that are awaiting us to discover and solve this problem once and for all. #wereallinthistogether

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