In the 1950s, about two million tonnes of plastic was manufactured in a year.
Currently we are producing 330 million tonnes of plastic a year and this number is set to triple by 2050.
Globally, about two billion people live in communities with no formal waste management facilities.
While international attention has been on marine plastic pollution, the impact of plastic waste on the worldâs poorest populations is no less destructive, causing floods, disease outbreak and premature deaths from toxic fumes emitted from the burning of plastic waste.
Microplastic has the potential to be a silent killer.
Microplastics include broken-down plastic waste and synthetic fibres and beads found in personal hygiene products such as toothpastes and shampoos.
They are known to harm marine life and can be consumed by humans via the consumption of seafood or tap water.
In a recent study, the River Tame in Manchester was found to have about 517,000 particles of plastic per cubic metre of sediment.
This is almost double the highest concentration of plastic pollution ever measured across the world.
In another study, 83% of tap water samples in seven countries were found to contain plastic microfibres.
It also revealed that plastic contamination was found in more than 90% of bottled-water samples, from 11 different brands.
Eight hundred kilogrammes of plastic was found in the carcass of a stranded whale in France while another found in Australia contained six square metres of plastic sheeting and 30 whole plastic carrier bags.
Whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez off Mexico are estimated to ingest about 200 pieces of plastic per day.
Fin whales in the Mediterranean Sea are estimated to be ingesting close to 2,000 microplastic particles a day.
While the risk to people is relatively unknown, there are concerns that microplastics can accumulate toxic chemicals which could enter the human bloodstream.
The smallest particles that could be analysed are about 63 microns, approximately the width of a human hair.
Given the pervasive and persistent nature of microplastics, they have become a global environmental concern.
More companies are beginning to take this seriously and are putting together concrete actions to remediate the situation.
Forty-two businesses including the likes of Coca Cola, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Unilever and Nestle have promised to reduce packaging and increase recycling.
Another 15 firms have set targets in alignment with the UK Plastics Pact which is being launched by the sustainability organisation, WRAP.
The Pact has set out a list of goals that each firm must achieve by 2025.
These include eliminating problematic or unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through redesign or innovation, making 100% of plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable, ensuring 70% of plastic packaging is effectively recycled or composted and that plastic packaging contains at least 30% of recycled content.
While companies show commitment to using recycled plastic content, the finished product reaching the end-user must not be compromised and must be in safe and durable condition.
The stability and fragility of the plastic product and whether it fractures or degrades when subject to heat must be taken into consideration.
We must not just set recycling targets but also have an absolute and measurable target which brings about a significant reduction in the use of plastics and plastic packaging waste.
We need to reshape and rethink the future of plastic so that we not only retain its value but curtail the long lasting damage that plastic waste causes to the environment.
We require a fundamental transformation of the plastic lifecycle management system, and that can only be achieved by bringing together all actors in the value chain towards a shared commitment to act decisively.
Banning the use of plastic bags and single-use packaging is a first step but we need to go way beyond that.
Plastic production has to be reduced and alternatives should be encouraged.
Regulators must think about phasing out whole ranges of plastic products rather than slowly restricting individual plastic products.
More importantly, consumers must be helped to understand what they are exposed to, from the excessive use and improper disposal of plastics to how to navigate the complexity of what types of plastics can be recycled.
There are gaps in what we know about how microplastics affect human health and we require more robust, evidence-based science.
Six per cent of all the oil we extract a year goes toward plastic manufacturing.
Plastic has become ubiquitous and impossible to avoid.
It is the global packaging material of choice.
We need to rethink the use of plastics and find alternatives quickly.
BY KAVICKUMAR MURUGANATHAN VP of Environment Health and Safety at Halcyon Agri Corporation Limited..