Society’s addiction to plastics is pushing the environment to the limit. Despite the recent media focus on plastic as an environmental issue, its popularity as a raw material continues to rise – experts estimate production will increase by a further 40% over the next decade.
However, in a recent engagement insight, Full cycle: investing for a circular economy, Dr. Christine Chow, Director, and Emma Berntman, Engagement, Hermes EOS, explain that behind the demonisation of plastic itself lies the need for a paradigm shift in the way we produce and consume goods – one in which we can participate as investors as well as consumers.
There are reasons for the ongoing ubiquity of plastic: it is cheap, lightweight and waterproof. Plastic has become emblematic of the problems inherent in the traditional consumption-led economic model. Its durability and visibility mean we are now literally seeing it everywhere: of the 8.3bn metric tonnes of plastic ever produced, an estimated 4.9bn tonnes have been discarded rather than incinerated or recycled.
While it is possible to reduce the environmental impact of plastics, such as the Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) widely used in drinks bottles, through more effective and comprehensive recycling, the way plastic is used in other products makes recycling almost impossible. This is because they were never designed to be recycled: they remain part of an economic model in which products are produced, used and thrown away.