International Food

IFPRI: Food and Beverage Companies Largest Culprits in Environmental Damage

Gilbert Ekugbe

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has stated that of the $75 billion in estimated annual environmental damage due to plastics, food and beverage companies are the largest culprits, responsible for 23 per cent of the cost.

IFPRI in a statement on its website added that the global food system also has a plastic problem, maintaining that macro and micro-plastic pollution is contaminating aquatic and agricultural ecosystems threatening food security.

According to IFPRI, plastics are entering food chains, threatening both animal and human health. The report stated that to curb these problems, policies that limit a particularly dangerous trend such as the rise in single-use plastic production and distribution; encouraging more nutritious and ecological alternatives to throwaway items must be a central component of a healthy and resilient food system.

“Plastics play an important role in many industries, from medicine to construction.

But more than one third of annual plastic production is, by definition, expendable: Cheap, single-use plastics that are used once and then thrown away,” IFPRI said.

IFPRI added: “Seventy nine percent of disposable plastics end up in landfills or in our natural environments; 12 per cent are burnt. Only 9 per cent of plastic waste ever produced has been recycled. At current growth rates, plastics will account for 20 per cent of fossil fuel demand by 2050 up from approximately 6 per cent in 2016 and contribute 15 per cent of the annual global GHG emissions budget rising from 1.7 Gt of CO2 equivalent in 2015 to 6.5GtCO2e by 2050.

The statement pointed out that single-use plastic waste items especially bags, bottles, wrappers, food containers, and cutlery have become invasive species in rivers, seashores, seafloors, and open waters, stressing that a recent global database of litter indicates that such consumer waste is the single biggest category.

“On average globally, there is a piece of plastic waste per every meter of shoreline, plus 18,000 pieces of floating plastic litter per each square kilometer of ocean,” IFPRI noted.

“This problem will not be solved by campaigns to change consumer littering habits or to encourage recycling; the issues are systemic. For example, wealthy countries that produce the most plastic waste per capita often export much of it to poorer countries, which have even weaker recycling infrastructure if any at all. Since markets do not incentivize recycling, most plastic waste continues to be dumped or burnt,” IFPRI stressed.

The report further stated that plastic waste pollution of aquatic and agricultural systems threatens food security, warning that oceans and marine life bear much of this brunt, with an estimated negative annual impact of $13 billion on ocean ecosystems.

The institute added that marine life suffers from ingesting plastic that also enters the human food chain, or by being entrapped or suffocated, noting that ruminant livestock regularly ingest plastic waste, posing a growing threat to human health, particularly in low-income countries. “Slaughterhouses around world have reported finding plastics inside livestock; the prevalence is particularly high among African countries. Indigestible plastics lead to many adverse health effects, including low milk yield, reduced weight gain, reduced draft ability, and other comorbid diseases and mortality, costing some farmers millions of dollars annually in lost productivity. As with seafood, these chemicals enter the human food chain through milk and meat products,” IFPRI noted.

He added, “Humans ingest or inhale around 50,000 microscopic plastic particles a year; the health effects of chronic plastic exposure are not fully known, but the evidence so far indicates it likely has negative impacts, particularly on human endocrine and immune systems.

“For communities living near plastic production facilities and other kinds of petrochemical plants, the health risks are clear: Higher rates of cancer and other serious health problems. These risks disproportionately impact vulnerable populations.

“IFPRI’s mission is to end hunger and malnutrition, and to sustainably reduce poverty.

Given the food security risks posed by plastic production and pollution, and the unfortunate trend of low income countries becoming dumping grounds for plastic trash from wealthy countries, solving the plastic crisis and eliminating its impacts on food systems globally is integral to achieving that mission.”