We now churn out about 430m tonnes a year and, if left unabated, it will surely continue to grow. Indeed, experts estimate plastic consumption may nearly double by 2050. Whilst recycling technology is improving, surely the best solution is to stop producing the harmful stuff in the first place?
The good news is that there is now a chance that this huge growth will stop, and even go into reverse. This month in Paris, the world’s governments agreed to draft a new treaty to control plastics. The UN says it could cut production by a massive 80 percent by 2040.
Such a treaty - scheduled for agreement next year - cannot come soon enough.
Governments finally pulled their respective fingers out in March last year, resolving to “end plastic pollution” at a meeting of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and calling for a series of negotiating meetings on a possible treaty. The recent meeting in Paris was the second such “plastic summit”. Three more are scheduled before the end of next year.
Whisper it, but - with hard work, determination and a lot of good luck - a new plastics treaty could be agreed in 2024 and might join the Montreal protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer as a landmark success in environmental diplomacy.
It has several important advantages. It's backed by immense public concern - uniting a whole range of issues from litter to the oceans, human health to climate breakdown - which can be translated into political pressure. And no new technology is needed: UNEP says the 80 percent reduction can be achieved using proven practices.