Drowning in Plastic: How can we make sustainable consumption the easy choice for consumers?

Research suggests that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. As attitudes around the use of plastic begin to change, Consumers International’s Andreia Pinto explores the further impacts made by those who continue to use plastic and what countries such as Rwanda are doing to limit its use.  

The Current Crisis

We’ve only been mass-manufacturing plastic for 60 years, but in that time have produced an impressive 8.3 billion tonnes – the equivalent weight of a billion elephants! Less impressive is that only 9% of this has been recycled. Instead, waste plastic is left to pollute our land, seas and air. Every minute, the equivalent of one garbage truck of plastic is dumped into our oceans, in landfills or burnt in incinerators, releasing harmful emissions. And if no action is taken by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans.

The Consumers International 2019 Summit in Portugal, 30 April to 1 May, will be discussing the importance of collaboration for new economies and sustainable consumption, and production as a way to reduce the urgent threats posed by rising plastic waste.

Consumers call for a wave of change

Consumers all over the world are calling for a wave of change, but it is not so easy to take responsibility and action as an individual consumer, even if the intention is there. Often there are no real alternatives available as nearly every common product sold in supermarkets, including fruit, toothbrushes, cleaning products, toilet paper and coffee capsules, are encased in or made of plastic.

As a result, eliminating plastic from society will require a much more concerted effort than providing reusable straws at coffee shops or a ban on plastic bags. Instead, a systematic change is needed - one that takes us closer to a circular economy to find ways to ensure businesses have incentives to recycle plastics and prevent waste, and marine litter. This is why, earlier this year, for the first time ever, the European Commission established the European strategy for plastics in a circular economy to transform the way plastic products are designed, used, produced and recycled in the EU, and help reach global climate commitments. EU governments have also finally agreed to ban single-use plastics and guarantee manufacturers take responsibility for what happens to their plastic products and packaging after sale. In 2021, labels informing consumers about the presence of plastics in products and about the environmental impact of littering will come into force. 

Countries are also taking targeted steps – the UK has introduced legislation to ban the sale and manufacture of microbeads and is making retailers and producers of packaging pay for the full cost of collection and recycling. Mumbai has banned plastic bags, bottles and cups, fining or jailing businesses and citizens caught using single-use plastic, and Rwanda aims to fully transform into a sustainable nation by 2020, and become the world’s first plastic free nation.

Our Work with Sustainable Consumption and Production

As a global organisation we know how important it is to work together to achieve change, especially on something as important as sustainable consumption and production. Consumers International is part of One Planet Network, working on its Consumer Information Programme in collaboration with the United Nations.

One Planet Network supports the Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring sustainable consumption and production. This goal wants countries to do more and better with less, and promotes the role that everyone, from producer to purchaser, plays in protecting the environment. This includes educating consumers on how to live more sustainable lifestyles, good consumer information through standards and labels, companies adopting sustainable practices, and countries investing more in scientific and technological innovations to stimulate sustainable consumption and production.

Consumers International also coordinates the Green Action Fund, providing awards through our partner SSNC, to consumer organisations who want to campaign, build awareness or influence governments to make the change to more sustainable patterns of consumption. Winning projects over the past few years have successfully gone on to raise awareness on a range of issues, including: sustainable fishing, recycling and sustainable transportation. From 2018, projects have focused on encouraging cultures of community sharing and collaboration to create sustainable access to goods and services, while also reducing stress on the planet.

In order to protect the planet and provide plastic-free products that do not damage the environment or negatively impact current and future generations, governments, businesses and NGOs need to work together and share insights and perspectives on sustainability and plastic production.

Help us promote real solutions which benefit the world’s environment, society and economy, and ask the critical question we will be exploring at our international Summit: how can we make sustainable consumption the easy choice for consumers?