Recycling is Not Enough: Why World Economic Forum Members Must Commit to Stopping Plastic Pollution

Still photo from the film 'Plastic China'. China receives ten million tons of plastic waste per year from most of the developed countries around the world. 

As the World Economic Forum continues in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 23-26, Plastic Pollution Coalition together with partner organizations called on WEF members to take action to stop plastic pollution citing China's recent ban on plastic waste imports and the critical need to reduce the increasing amount of plastic produced across the globe.

Timed with start of the forum, PPC's partner organization the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) released new research on the state of plastic recycling worldwide and the immediate and potential long-term effects of China’s ban.

'"The China ban is a wake up call," said Meadhbh Bolger, a contributor to the research from Friends of the Earth Europe. "Almost half of the plastic Europeans put in their recycling bins is exported, and there is a complete lack of transparency as to where it ends up. European governments and businesses must be held accountable for the massive amounts of plastic waste we generate."

The U.S. is no exception: Americans alone discard more than 30 million tons of plastic a year with less than 8 percent recycled. 

"For many years, industry has not held itself accountable for the environmental and health impacts of the waste that their products create," said Froilan Grate, executive director of GAIA Philippines. "Our communities cannot afford to continue shouldering the costs of pollution associated with the increasing amount of waste they do not have the capacity or sole responsibility to manage."

Researchers found plastic producers have planned a massive scale-up over the coming decades, fueled by cheap fossil fuel extraction like shale gas, and companies are not only designing plastic to be difficult or impossible to recycle, but the overwhelming flood of new plastic into the market thwarts any chance of recycling keeping up.

"Without bold action now, we will not protect our oceans from filling up with more plastic than fish by weight," said PPC CEO Dianna Cohen in an open letter to WEF members. "Without audacious goals, we will not stop our landfills from continuing to accumulate millions of tons of plastic every year."

PPC calls on World Economic Forum Members to set measurable reduction goals, including ramping up to a minimum 50 percent recycled content in all plastic products by 2025; designing for reuse or meaningful recyclability in all plastic products by 2025; and achieving a Davos free of single-use plastic by 2019. 

"The mad scramble for alternative destinations or disposal options spawned by China’s decision should compel companies and exporting countries to look for ways to cut back on the ever increasing amount of plastics in the marketplace," said Von Hernandez, Global Coordinator of Break Free From Plastic. "...This is the only viable way out of this crisis."

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