Disposing of plastic trash will be one of the biggest problems we face in 2012. The oceans are filled with plastic items that have washed out to sea (or been dumped from ships), and several coastal communities in California have banned plastic bags.

It’s a problem in Europe as well: Five hundred tons of Christmas tree lights, not to mention food wrappers, plastic bottles and broken toys, will be thrown away in the UK this year, and only a tiny proportion will be recycled.

The EU recycling rate of 33% is much more than here in the US, where we recycle about 15%. The other two thirds of unrecycled plastic is enough to cover the 48 contiguous states in plastic food wrap. The 85% of plastic that is dumped in US landfills could cover China in plastic wrap–every year.

But plastic has its benefits: It’s much lighter weight than other types of packaging, thus it saves fuel and in turn, reduces emissions. And since plastic is made from petroleum and does not disintegrate in landfills, plastic buried in the ground is another way of sequestering carbon so that it will not contribute to climate change.

In the Guardian, Juliette Jowit writes: "What would a world without plastic look like? Earlier this year, Austria-based environmental consultancy Denkstatt imagined such a world, where farmers, retailers and consumers use wood, tins, glass bottles and jars, and cardboard to cover their goods. It found the mass of packaging would increase by 3.6 times, it would take more than double the energy to make and the greenhouse gases generated would be 2.7 times higher."

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