The amount of plastic in the ocean is expected to triple by 2040, unless drastic action is taken around the globe.
A new report, published by the Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ, estimates that the amount of plastic entering the ocean each year will surge from 11 million metric tonnes to 29 million metric tonnes in the next 20 years.
This mammoth figure is equivalent to nearly 50kg of plastic per metre of coastline worldwide.
Dr Costas Velis from the University of Leeds said “This is the first comprehensive assessment of what the picture could be in 20 years’ time. It’s difficult to picture an amount that large, but if you could imagine laying out all that plastic across a flat surface, it would cover the area of the UK 1.5 times.”
The study essentially calls for a complete restructuring of the global plastics industry by shifting it to a circular economy that reuses and recycles products.
Researchers involved in the project suggested that even a five-year delay will allow an additional 80 million metric tons of plastic to slide offshore.
Can we turn it around?
Pew’s report points out that current government and industry commitments are only likely to reduce annual plastic leakage into the ocean by 7%. A far greater scale of action at the system level is vital to overcome plastic pollution.
Although this paints quite a bleak picture, industry and governments around the globe do have the capability to turn this around.
In fact, the report states that if the correct measures are put in place, we can reduce plastic leakage into the ocean by about 80% by 2040 – while maintaining other societal, economic, and environmental objectives.
To make this 80% reduction, governments need to take the following steps:
- Reduce plastic production and consumption
- Substitute plastic with paper and compostable materials
- Design products and packaging that are able to be recycled
- Expand waste collection rates in middle/low-income countries and support the ‘informal collection’ sector in developing countries
- Build facilities to dispose of the 23% of plastic that cannot be recycled economically
- Reduce plastic waste exports
Currently, over 1 million marine animals (including mammals, fish, sharks, turtles, and birds) are killed each year due to plastic debris in the ocean. This is only set to increase as plastic pollution surges. It’s time we take real action.