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Tackling plastic pollution: EU bans single-use plastics for a better tomorrow

Dr. Sami Asad
Professor of Sustainability & Ecology

Tackling plastic pollution: EU bans single-use plastics for a better tomorrow

EU's ban on single-use plastics: A timely decision

On Wednesday 24th, the European Parliament approved a proposed law banning certain single-use plastics, from mini shampoo bottles to plastic bags [1]. This ruling would enact sweeping changes to the types of packaging allowed for product use and could not come at a more critical time!

The growing plastic problem

Increase in single-use plastic production

The EU has seen a 25% increase in single-use plastic production between 2009 to 2021. The current recycling structure is insufficient to meet this growing volume, with ever-increasing amounts of this plastic making its way into our oceans and ecosystems.

Impact on marine life

In our oceans, 914 different species of marine animals, including seabirds, whales, and sea turtles, have been entangled in discarded fishing nets or ingested single-use plastics. In fact, scientists predict that 99% of all seabird species will be negatively impacted by oceanic plastic pollution by 2050 [2,3]!

The long-term effects of plastic pollution

Micro and nano plastics

However, the real challenge is determining what the long-term impacts of these plastics will be. Not only does plastic remain in the environment for decades, but weathering continually fragments these plastics into smaller and smaller particles. Determining the impact of these micro and nano plastics is undermined by difficulties in tracking microplastic concentrations in ecosystems. Furthermore, we still don’t have reliable data on what even constitutes a toxic micro/nanoplastic level!

Potential consequences for the earth system

Scientists predict that our continued plastic pollution, in combination with our inability to remove and difficulty tracking plastics could have massive repercussions for our earth system. We could be seeing a major shift in carbon and nutrient cycles, soil and aquatic ecosystem health and ecotoxicity which could have dramatic consequences on our society, from undermining the planets ability to absorb CO2 and fight climate change, to reduced fisheries volumes leading to increased food insecurity [3]!

Challenges and necessary actions

Limitations of the EU ruling

While the EU ruling represents a crucial step forward to preventing these impacts, it's not without limitations. Exemptions and loopholes, particularly regarding paper-based packaging and reliance on member states to implement measures could result in a patchwork of regulations across the EU, potentially hindering plastic pollution reductions and the transition to a circular economy.

Need for collective action

What’s needed is drastic action from both governments, businesses, entrepreneurs, non-governmental actors and consumers. This ranges from advocating for effective, science-based policy, entrepreneurs developing innovative environmental plastic removal systems and sustainable packaging solutions, to businesses applying a systems thinking mindset in order to incorporate circularity along packaging supply chains.

Become a leader in climate advocacy at Tomorrow University

Tomorrow University is at the forefront of educating and preparing future leaders to tackle such environmental challenges. Our programs, such as the Impact MBA in Climate Leadership and various 3-month Impact Certificates equip our learners with the necessary skills to advocate for science-based policies, innovate in environmental technologies, and apply systems thinking for sustainable solutions. At the core of all our programs are sustainability and innovation, ensuring that every course is geared towards creating impactful, forward-thinking solutions to global problems.

Learn more about how you can make a difference with Tomorrow University.

[1] EU Parliament backs clampdown on single-use plastic packaging | Reuters

[2] Quantitative overview of marine debris ingested by marine megafauna - ScienceDirect

[3] Threat of plastic pollution to seabirds is global, pervasive, and increasing | PNAS

[4] The global threat from plastic pollution | Science

Dr. Sami Asad
Professor of Sustainability & Ecology
Dr. Sami Asad
Professor of Sustainability & Ecology

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