As we are coming towards the end month Plastic Free July, a global movement to encourage people be part of the solution to plastic pollution, we are also approaching the Plastic Overshoot Day on July 28, 2023.
What is Plastic Overshoot Day?
The Plastic Overshoot Day marks the point when the amount of plastic waste generated exceeds the world’s capacity to manage it, resulting in environmental pollution. Each country has its own Plastic Overshoot Day, which is determined by the amount of plastic waste generated and the country’s capacity to manage it. While some nations boast exceptional waste management systems capable of efficiently managing their waste influx, the same cannot be said for others.
For instance, countries like Norway have implemented exemplary waste management systems that effectively address their waste challenges. These nations possess the infrastructure, resources, and practices necessary to handle the plastic waste they generate responsibly. However, in stark contrast, several countries, including India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Thailand, the Philippines, and unfortunately, my home country Ecuador, experience their Plastic Overshoot Day as early as January 6th. Literally, the year has just begun, people are still keeping up with their new year resolutions, yet waste management systems cannot cope with the sheer volume of plastic waste produced within such a short span of time. This situation not only compromises the environment but also poses a significant challenge to the overall well-being of communities and ecosystems.
What does a lack of waste management mean?
Recent research conducted by EA reveals alarming statistics regarding the plastic crisis that looms over our planet.
These figures underscore the two major issues at the core of the plastic crisis. Firstly, there is the ever-increasing production and use of plastic, which contributes significantly to the overall problem. Secondly, the lack of adequate waste management infrastructure poses a significant challenge in effectively dealing with the vast amounts of plastic waste generated.
While addressing plastic production is undoubtedly crucial, it is equally imperative to focus on improving waste management practices. Waste management encompasses a broad range of processes and actions required to handle waste from its inception to its final disposal, including waste collection, transportation, and treatment. Unfortunately, the report 'Breaking the Plastic Wave' reveals that approximately 2 billion people worldwide lack access to appropriate waste collection services, exacerbating the issue further and highlighting the waste inequality that exists in the world and needs to be addressed to solve the plastic crisis.
Furthermore, the current waste management systems are inadequate to handle the type and volume of waste being produced. The composition of plastic waste often does not align with existing waste management practices, making it exceptionally challenging to treat and dispose of effectively. As a result, only 9% of plastic is recycled, most of it ending up in open-burning, landfills, illegal dumpsters or the environment, causing significant impacts on the environment and human health.
Resolving this complex issue requires substantial investment and poses significant challenges. According to the World Bank, the projected global solid waste management costs are expected to surpass a staggering $375 billion by 2025. This highlights the urgent need for governments, organizations, and individuals to allocate resources towards developing and implementing efficient waste management strategies on a global scale.
Solving the plastic crisis requires the collaboration of multiple stakeholders. From governments, to businesses and individuals alike. Achieving a successful transition to a more circular plastics economy requires a collective commitment and action from everyone involved.
Additionally, governments should allocate substantial resources to invest in waste management infrastructure, ensuring that proper systems are in place to handle plastic waste effectively. Businesses, too, bear a significant responsibility in tackling the plastic crisis. They must be held accountable for the plastic they produce and take proactive steps to reduce its impact. This entails minimizing plastic in their products, embracing sustainable materials with higher recycled content, and designing products that are durable and recyclable. And of course, us, individuals, as consumers, play a vital role in driving change through our choices and actions. It is crucial to adopt responsible consumption habits, opting for products with minimal plastic packaging and actively seeking out alternatives to single-use plastics. As well as properly disposing of our plastic waste to support recycling efforts Improtantly, individuals also have the power to demand accountability from both businesses and governments, urging them to fulfill their responsibilities in addressing the plastic crisis.
Transitioning to a circular plastics economy is challenging. Especially in those countries that lack waste management infrastructure but still have high plastic consumption and disposal. These countries, often developing economies, heavily rely on plastics but lack the capacity and resources to manage plastic waste effectively. In such cases, it is essential for developed countries to step up and provide support. This includes mobilising financial resources, sharing knowledge and technology, and, importantly, refraining from exporting their plastic waste to these countries.
A fair and equitable transition requires solidarity, ensuring that no country, business or individual is left behind and that the burden of plastic waste is not unfairly placed on those who cannot cope with it.
By fostering collaboration, promoting sustainable practices, and providing support where needed, stakeholders can collectively work towards resolving the plastic crisis and transitioning to a circular plastics economy. The path ahead is challenging, but with a shared commitment and a comprehensive approach, we can create a future where plastic waste is minimized, resources are conserved, and the well-being of the planet and future generations is safeguarded.