Prof Janek Ratnatunga on “Green Swan: The Existential Cost of the Plastic Pandemic”

‘Green swans’ are the consequences of the risks we humans create for ourselves by pumping contaminants into our air and water, destroying our ecosystems, and destabilizing our climate. Some causes of an impending green swan event, like global warming are well studied, and were discussed at length at COP 26. However other causes remain ‘hidden’ – such as the looming plastic pollution pandemic that can have equally devastating consequences of triggering a green swan event as green-house gas emissions – which in hindsight will be seen as being obvious.

This seminar will consider the ‘Whole-of-Life’ costing issues related to plastic production vs. plastic consumption. The energy consumed and the carbon emitted in plastic production will be contrasted with the air and water pollution caused by the excessive littering of plastic consumption. It is shown that ‘green’ is not necessarily ‘clean’.

It recommended that we go ‘Back to the Future’ of the 1950s and ban all plastic single-use consumption products. If such a drastic move is not politically feasible, then it is argued that the only workable solution to curb excessive plastic pollution is for governments to impose a cap-and-trade system with ‘plastic-credits’; i.e., one similar to a carbon credit system.


Prof. Janek Ratnatunga

Professor Janek Ratnatunga is CEO of the Institute of Certified Management Accountants. He has held appointments at the University of Melbourne, Monash University and the Australian National University in Australia; and the Universities of Washington, Richmond and Rhode Island in the USA. Prior to his academic career he worked with KPMG.