At COP28, the urgency to tackle the global plastic crisis has never been more apparent. Rebound, a leading force in innovation, is dedicated to transforming our relationship with plastics. A report by Statista states that the carbon dioxide emissions intensity in the Middle East was 0.36 kg per U.S. dollar (kCO₂/$15p) in 2022. The time has come for all stakeholders to shift from the age-old linear model of "take-make-dispose" to a more sustainable and resilient circular economy.
The production of plastic waste worldwide has seen a remarkable surge. In the year 2023 alone, an astounding 158,943,925 tonnes of plastic waste was generated, contributing to the urgency of the situation. Furthermore, the mismanagement of approximately 43 per cent of global plastic waste at its end-of-life stage has resulted in an additional 68,642,999 tonnes of plastic finding its way into the environment, according to a report by the EA Environmental Action.
Imagine a vibrant coastal community, now struggling to breathe amidst a sea of plastic waste. Once pristine beaches are now marred by discarded plastic bags and bottles, suffocating marine life and crushing the beauty that once thrived. This is not merely an isolated incident, but a global epidemic impacting millions worldwide.
Since 1997, the impact of plastic debris on various species has intensified, witnessing a doubling in the number of affected species from 267 to 557. Shockingly, this includes 66 per cent of marine mammals, 50 per cent of seabirds, and all seven species of marine turtles (as per findings from a WWF report), all of which face the harmful consequences of entanglement or ingestion of plastic materials. Approximately 10 per cent of the marine debris is attributed to fishing gear, with an estimated 500,000 to 1 million tonnes of fishing gear being discarded or lost in the ocean annually. The discarded nets, lines, and ropes have now accumulated to form approximately 46 per cent of the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Called ghost fishing gear, this type of plastic waste poses a grave threat to marine life.
Amidst this chaos, a beacon of hope emerges through the Ghost Fishing Gear Recycling Project. This initiative unites local fishing communities, NGOs, and creative entrepreneurs, transforming ghost gear—abandoned fishing gear—into new products such as backpacks and blankets.
The impact of the project is awe-inspiring. Since its launch in 2013, the Ghost Fishing Gear Recycling Project has removed more than 3,000 metric tons of ghost gear from the ocean. The Global Ghost Gear Initiative reports that these reclaimed materials have been successfully repurposed into over 40,000 products.
Collaborating for an innovative future
COP28 presents an unparalleled opportunity for stakeholders at every level to embark on a transformative journey, where plastic is no longer seen as a mere pollutant but rather as a valuable resource that fuels innovation within the value chain. By nurturing collaborations among governments, corporations, and research institutions, we can expedite breakthroughs in materials science and revolutionize waste management systems.
While we forge ahead, it's essential to acknowledge the noteworthy progress already achieved. The European Union's adoption of the Circular Economy Package stands out as a remarkable feat. Their ambitious goal of rendering all plastic packaging recyclable or reusable by 2030, alongside reducing the use of single-use plastic products, sets a significant precedent. As a testament to the potential rewards, Accenture's report estimates that transitioning to a circular economy could stimulate a staggering $4.5 trillion in economic benefits by 2030. These achievements illustrate the tangible gains and tremendous potential that lie ahead as we amplify our efforts to create a sustainable and plastics-free future.
With governments, businesses, and civil society rallying together, significant strides have already been made in the fight against plastic waste. The Global Plastic Action Partnership, for instance, demonstrates that transformative change can be achieved through concerted and coordinated efforts, uniting governments, businesses, and civil society stakeholders. Through this alliance, breakthroughs have been made that were once deemed inconceivable, shaping a blueprint for similar collaborations in the future. By pooling resources and expertise, the partnership has successfully implemented innovative solutions to tackle plastic waste and enhance circular economic practices worldwide.
Highlighted recently on COP28’s Instagram, Build Kubik stands out as a beacon of innovation in the fight against climate change. This forward-thinking company is doing commendable work by finding innovative solutions to repurpose hard-to-recycle plastics into low carbon materials for buildings. Their efforts align with the goals of COP28, which aims to address climate change and promote sustainable practices. The success of such ventures emphasizes the importance of collective efforts, while underscoring the enormous potential that lies ahead when all sectors effectively collaborate.
Moving forward, let us envision a future where we have forged a harmonious coexistence with plastic waste. Businesses that focus on sustainability and finding creative solutions for reducing carbon emissions play a vital role in the transition towards a greener and more sustainable future for our planet. Together, we can create a world where plastic is no longer looked upon as the enemy, but rather as a resource that can be harnessed and reused intelligently.
Maryam Al Mansoori is the General Manager at Rebound, a leading solution-oriented business committed to keeping plastics out of the environment and within the economy.