recycling simply does not work to reduce the amount of plastic in the world”.
And although the public’s enthusiasm for anti-plastic campaigns is partly motivated by the feeling that it is a simpler and more solvable problem than climate change, the two issues are more closely connected than most people realise. Seven of the 10 largest plastic producers are still oil and natural gas companies – as long as they are extracting fossil fuels, there will be a huge incentive to make plastic. A 2016 World Economic Forum report predicted that by 2050, 20% of all oil extracted across the world would go towards making plastic. “Ultimately, plastic pollution is the visible and tangible part of human-made global change,” the scientists Johanna Kramm and Martin Wagner wrote in a recent paper.
This is the paradox of plastic, or at least our current obsession with it: learning about the scale of the problem moved us to act, but the more we push against it, the more it begins to seem just as boundless and intractable as all the other environmental problems we have failed to solve. And it brings us up against the same obstacles: unregulatable business, the globalised world, and our own unsustainable way of life.