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Plastics are remarkable materials: versatile, durable, and cheap to produce on a truly massive scale. Unfortunately, the very qualities that make plastics so useful to humanity ensure that we will be living with their environmental impacts for centuries to come. As it breaks down to the microscopic scale, degrading over hundreds or even thousands of years, plastic waste is consumed by wildlife, absorbs and carries toxic compounds through our soil and waterways, and forms entangling webs that exact a huge toll on the ocean’s biodiversity.
The problem is accelerating. To date, humanity has manufactured over 8 billion metric tons of plastic—all of which still persists in the environment. If current trends continue, the next 8 billion metric tons will be produced in only 15 years. By 2050, the entire current stock of plastics in the environment will account for just 28% of the world’s plastic waste.
The world urgently needs a wholesale reevaluation of its relationship to plastic: from how it’s manufactured and engineered, to what purposes it’s used for, to the ways we take responsibility for those plastics already accumulating on our planet.