A focus on plastic

Plastic is a useful and valuable resource – but the pollution linked with it is destructive

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by Emma Lupton, Associate, Analyst, GSI, BMO GAM

2018’s Earth Day, World Environment Day and World Oceans Day, all focused on the theme of beating plastic pollution, through prevention and solution provision, highlighting not only the severity of the issue but also the rapid increased awareness. We see ocean plastics as a significant risk for companies and are engaging them, where relevant, on the topic.

Plastic is a useful and valuable resource – but the pollution linked with it is destructive, and ultimately unnecessary. Runaway plastic waste has a significant negative impact on the environment and ecosystems, and is harmful to human health. Furthermore, we firmly believe it is “bad for business” as it can lead to missed cost savings opportunities from recycling, as well as brand damage. With millennials and younger generations driving a significant generational shift in how we think about the future, the protection of brand reputation is increasingly paramount to the long-term success of a business.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), at the current rate of pollution, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050 (by weight), with at least eight million tonnes of plastic entering the ocean annually. Studies have found that half the plastic produced is single use, with packaging being the largest contributor – accounting for close to 40% of total plastic use1 (14% of all litter comes from beverage containers, not including tops and labels, which would raise the percentage if included).

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Sea birds and marine animals like turtles, dolphins and seals can easily get caught in plastic bags, old fishing nets and other debris. They, as well as fish, are also eating plastic, mistaking it for food, which can lead to starvation and malnutrition, as well as plastic also entering the human food chain. In 2016, Plymouth University reported survey results disclosing that plastic was found in 33% of fish caught in the UK, including cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish. The impact on human health from the consumption of contaminated fish, or plastics in general, is currently not well understood, however research is being done in this area. A global survey analysed tap water and found that 83% of samples contained plastic particles2, which has prompted the World Health Organization to launch a review into the health impacts of plastic in drinking water.

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Picture from Pixabay

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