The annual flow of plastic into the ocean could nearly tripple by 2040 without sustained action, according to new analysis by the The Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ, in collaberation with The University of Oxford, University of Leeds, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and Common Seas. The "Breaking the Plastic Wave" report found that sustained worldwide changes could cut this volume by more than 80 per cent using technologies that are available today.
"Breaking the Plastic Wave" identifies eight measures that together could reduce by 2040 about 80 per cent of the plastic pollution that flows into the ocean annually, using technology and solutions available today. Among them are reducing growth in plastic production and consumption, substituting some plastics with alternatives such as paper and compostable materials, designing products and packaging for recycling, expanding waste collection rates in middle- and low-income countries, increasing recycling, and reducing plastic waste exports. In addition to improving ocean health, adopting the changes outlined in the report could generate savings of $70 billion for governments by 2040, relative to business-as-usual; reduce projected annual plastic-related greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent; and create 700,000 jobs.
While the system change scenario reduces annual ocean plastic pollution rates by more than 80 per cent, it will take an unprecedented level of action and will still leave more than 5 million metric tons leaking into the ocean each year in 2040. Fully eliminating the flow of ocean plastic pollution will require dramatically increasing innovation and investment, with significant technological advances, new business models, and a greater emphasis on research and development.
"There's no single solution to ocean plastic pollution, but through rapid and concerted action we can break the plastic wave," said Tom Dillon, Pew's vice president for environment. "As this report shows, we can invest in a future of reduced waste, better health outcomes, greater job creation, and a cleaner and more resilient environment for both people and nature."
Plastic pollution presents a unique challenge for producers and users of virgin, or new, plastics given regulatory changes, such as bans on single-use plastic items, and growing consumer concern about the impact of plastic waste in the environment. But it is also a unique opportunity for providers of new and existing materials and industries that use circular business models and reuse and refill systems, which are designed to keep products and materials in use for as long as possible.
"Our results indicate that the plastic crisis is solvable. It took a generation to create this challenge; this report shows we can solve it in one generation," said Martin Stuchtey, SYSTEMIQ's founder and managing partner. "'Breaking the Plastic Wave' leaves no viable excuse on the table; we have today all the solutions required to stem plastic flows by more than 80 per cent. What we now need is the industry and government resolve to do so."